“German-American Fantasy in Two Hemispheres”

[Louis Ernest Lesage] / Yves & Barret, sc., OU PEUT MENER LA QUESTION DE L’ALABAMA – FANTAISIE PRUSSO-AMÉRICAINE EN DEUX HÉMISPHÈRES (“Where Could the Alabama Matter Lead? – German-American Fantasy in Two Hemispheres.”) Paris, March 9, 1872.
Photogravure, 12 ¼”h x 19”w at neat line plus title and margins, later hand color. Excellent.

A fantastical and light-hearted vision of a world divided between American and Russian spheres of influence.

The cartoon appeared in the Paris magazine La Vie Parisienne on March 9, 1872, in the aftermath of the Union triumph in the Civil War and the crushing loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Its publication seems to have been prompted by the recent agreement of the United States and Great Britain to submit the so-called “Alabama Claims” to international arbitration. These claims reflected the American attempt to gain compensation from Great Britain for the ravages of the Confederate commerce raiders CSS Alabama and Florida, both built in Liverpool shipyards with the knowledge of the British government, if not its active support. Together the two raiders sank or captured more than 100 Union vessels, in compensation for which arbitration ultimately awarded the United States $15,500,000… equivalent to almost $33 billion as measured by share of GDP.

The cartoon is a riot of imagery: The Western and Eastern Hemispheres are held aloft by Abe Lincoln and the Kaiser respectively; a trans-Atlantic railway bridge connects France with the Americas; the oceans swarm with American naval vessels and the skies with fantastical flying machines; Europe has been re-named “Prussia” and the names of its countries prefixed with “Ex-;” and at top center a Union soldier bearing a sheet of Alabama Claims holds Britannia up at gunpoint. The many text boxes comment on the Alabama affair, vent French bitterness at the lack of British support during the Franco-Prussian War, and envision a future dominated by an Germany, where “after a heroic resistance, French women are sentenced to wear the fashions of Berlin.”

La Vie Parisienne was published weekly from 1863 through 1970. Its immense success seems to have been due to its astute blend of short stories, gossip and commentary, further enlivened by beautiful full- and double-page cartoons and illustrations, and all delivered in a witty, highbrow tone.

Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection, #2145.