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Teresa Bagioli Sickles confession, 1859

Harper's Weekly (A Journal of Civilization) was an American political magazine based in New York City. Published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916, it featured foreign and domestic news, fiction, essays on many subjects, and humor. During its most influential period it was the forum of the political cartoonist Thomas Nast.




Harper & Brothers publishing was started in 1825 by James, John, Fletcher and Wesley Harper. Following the successful example of the Illustrated London News, Fletcher began publishing Harper’s Monthly in 1850. The publication was more intent on publishing established authors such as Dickens and Thackeray, but was a great enough success to begin publishing the Harper’s Weekly in 1857.

By 1860 the Weekly’s circulation had reached 200,000. Illustrations were an important part of the Weekly’s content, and it developed a reputation for employing some of the most renowned illustrators, notably Winslow Homer, Granville Perkins and Livingston Hopkins. Among its recurring features were the political cartoons of Thomas Nast who was recruited in 1862 and would remain with the Weekly for more than 20 years. Nast was a feared caricaturist, considered by some the father of American political cartooning. He was the originator of the use of animals to represent the political parties—the Democrats' donkey and the Republicans' elephant—as well as the familiar character of Santa Claus.

Around the Civil War

Typical center spread from an 1862 publication of Harper's Weekly with depictions of the Battle of Yorktown as sketched by their "special artists."

So as not to upset its wide readership in the South, Harper’s took a moderate editorial position on the issue of slavery. For this it was called by the more hawkish publications “Harper’s Weakly.” The Weekly supported the Stephen A. Douglas presidential campaign against Abraham Lincoln, but as the American Civil War broke out, Lincoln and the Union received full and loyal support of the publication. Arguably, some of the most important articles and illustrations came from the Weekly’s reporting on the war. Besides renderings by Homer and Nast, Harpers also published illustrations by Theodore R. Davis, Henry Mosler, and the brothers Alfred Waud and William Waud.

"President maker"

Harper's Weekly Inauguration Number 1897

After the war, Harper's Weekly became more supportive of the Republican Party, playing an important role in the election of Ulysses S. Grant in 1868 and 1872. In the 1870s, cartoonist Thomas Nast began an aggressive campaign in the journal against the corrupt New York political leader William “Boss” Tweed. Nast turned down a $500,000 bribe to end his attack,[1] and eventually Tweed was arrested in 1873 and convicted of fraud. Nast and the Weekly also played an important part in securing Rutherford B. Hayes’ 1876 presidential election. Later on Hayes remarked that Nast was "the most powerful, single-handed aid [he] had."[2]

In 1884, however, Nast supported the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland for president. In doing so, Nast helped Cleveland become the first Democratic president since 1856. In the words of the artist's grandson, Thomas Nast St Hill, "it was generally conceded that Nast's support won Cleveland the small margin by which he was elected. In this his last national political campaign, Nast had, in fact, 'made a president.'"[3] Nevertheless, changing editorial policies at the journal since the death of Fletcher Harper in 1877 had placed constraints on Nast, and his contributions became less frequent.

Nast's final contribution to Harper's Weekly was his Christmas illustration in December 1886. In the words of journalist Henry Watterson, "in quitting Harper's Weekly, Nast lost his forum: in losing him, Harper's Weekly lost its political importance."[4]

After 1900, Harper’s Weekly devoted more print to political and social issues, and featured articles by some of the more prominent political figures of the time, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Harper's Weekly was absorbed by The Independent (New York; later Boston) in 1916, which in turn merged with The Outlook in 1928.

In the mid-1970s Harper's Magazine used the Harper's Weekly title for a spinoff publication. Actually a biweekly for most of its run, the revived Harper's Weekly depended on contributions from readers for much of its content.


  1. ^ Paine, 1974, pp. 181-182
  2. ^ Paine, 1974, p. 349
  3. ^ Nast & St. Hill, 1974, p. 33.
  4. ^ Paine, 1974, p. 528


  • Nast, T., & St. Hill, T. N. (1974). Thomas Nast: Cartoons and Illustrations. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-23067-8
  • Paine, Albert Bigelow (1974). Th. Nast, His Period and His Pictures. Princeton: Pyne Press. ISBN 0878610790 (The original 1904 edition is now in the public domain.)

External links

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