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War! Or No War, Frances Palmer, 1846. Lithograph on woven paper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1846, with a major influx of Irish immigrants to the United States just beginning, American caricaturists had yet to develop an extensive and easily recognized visual language to communicate Irishness. Instead of the more simian facial and body features they later sometimes borrowed from British caricatures of the Irish, American artists initially relied on external cues such as geographical markers and language to identify Irish ethnicity.

The lithograph on the cover of this issue of Éire-Ireland depicts tensions around the land disputes in northern Oregon in the 1840s. Both Great Britain and the United States lay claim to this territory, and for some, as far away as in New York, the compromise of the 49th parallel boundary seemed inadequate. In this 1846 print, the title War! Or No War indicates the stakes for this controversy. Artist Fanny Palmer displays two Irish immigrants in conversation; the figure on the left takes the more pacifist stance, saying “Ike! say the 49th & let’s settle it amercably.” The more aggressive response is “No Sir-ee I goes for the hull of Oregon or none—I do & don’t do nor-thin else.”

The artist carefully situates such debate in the Bowery (the men stand before the Bowery Theater), a New York City neighborhood known for its working-class Irish community. By identifying ungrammatical Irish speech patterns in her image, Palmer emphasizes how the Irish were becoming active political participants in their new home—a trend that intensified throughout the century, as this ethnic group became the country’s first organized voting bloc. But except for the prominent chins and highly developed upper bodies of the working class figures in the lithograph, it conveys only a faint taint of the characteristic simianality that was to develop in later nineteenth-century visual depictions of Irish Americans.

See Sharrona Pearl, “White, with a Class-Based Blight: Drawing Irish Americans,” pp. 171–99. [End Page 8]



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