The Seceding South Carolina Delegation

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The Seceding South Carolina Delegation
December 22, 1860
Mathew Brady
1822-1896
Page 801
Harper's Weekly:A Journal of Civilization Vol.4 No.208
Engraving from Photograph
Folio A 5 .392 Vol. 4
Newberry Library

Who are these men? By the time Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, many in the slave states had concluded that the only way to protect their interest in slavery was to leave the Union. South Carolina was the first to take action, and on December 20, 1860, it voted to secede, or separate from the Union. When that happened, all of the state’s United States congressmen resigned their seats in the House and Senate and returned home. This Harper's Weekly magazine cover shows pictures of these men, made by the artist Winslow Homer.

Homer based his images on portraits taken by the famous photographer Mathew Brady. Although Brady had very bad vision, he employed other photographers to document the people and places of the Civil War (Lincoln was often one of Brady’s most famous subjects.) He also had “galleries”—fancy showrooms—in Washington, D.C., and New York. Late in his life, Brady said in an interview, “Well-to-do visitors to New York deemed it a proper thing to come to me to have their pictures taken and to look at the collection of distinguished people whose faces looked out from my walls, and when I established a gallery in Washington the same custom prevailed here.”

It was not yet possible to reprint a photograph in books or magazines. Instead, a photograph had to be copied by hand, as Homer has done here. Then, a printmaker cut that drawing onto a block which was inked and printed on a page.

Questions:

1. Harper’s Weekly was a Northern magazine that usually supported Lincoln and the Union cause. Describe the portrayal of the South Carolina congressmen. Are they shown in a positive or negative way? Why would Harper’s decide to portray the congressmen in this way?

2. Look at all the items at the top of the page—the artist’s palette, an open book, a globe. What do these things mean? How do they relate to Harper’s claim that it is a “Journal of Civilization”?

3. In the days before television, movies and computers, newspapers were very important. Why?

Further reading:
Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War with a New Introductory Essay. Oxford University Press, USA, 1995.

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861.New edition. Harper Perennial, 1977.

“An Old-Time Photographer and His Reminiscences,” Photographic Times and American Photographer (New York) 25:681 (5 October 1894): 226. In Gary W. Ewer, “The Daguerreotype: An Archive of Source Texts, Graphics, and Ephemera. http://www.daguerreotypearchive.org/texts/P8940004_BRADY_PHOTO-TIMES_1894-10-05.pdf .


Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago

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