Thomas Nast's Crusading Legal Cartoons

21 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2013

See all articles by Renee Lettow Lerner

Renee Lettow Lerner

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: 2011


The cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was in his heyday a political institution, with each of his pictures helping to form public opinion. His influence reached its height in the late 1860s and early 1870s with his relentless caricatures of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall Ring in New York City.

One part of Nast’s work not often highlighted but as brilliant as the rest is his legal cartoons. Nast’s best work was done with high moral zeal, and his satire of lawyers and the legal system was no exception. His attacks grew out of frustration with the ineffectiveness of legal remedies against the Ring. He was especially incensed that prominent lawyers such as David Dudley Field not only were willing to represent members of the Ring, but could cleverly exploit legal technicalities of their own making to win advantage. Nast excoriated the corruption and bribery of the bench by the Ring, and also, more generally, the adversarial system as it was developing in America.

Keywords: Thomas Nast, legal cartoons, Boss Tweed, Tammany Hall, David Dudley Field, adversarial system, legal history, judicial corruption, railroad scandals

JEL Classification: K10, K41, K19, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Lerner, Renee Lettow, Thomas Nast's Crusading Legal Cartoons (2011). GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-1; 2011 Green Bag Almanac 59-78; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2013-1; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-1. Available at SSRN:

Renee Lettow Lerner (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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