All the News That’s Fit to Draw: Political Cartooning and the Presidency

All the News That’s Fit to Draw: Political Cartooning and the Presidency
Helen Taft: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Three to five class periods


When the Tafts were in the White House, there was no television news, no radio news, nothing but newspapers to let people know what was happening and what was thought about it.  A particularly vivid way to communicate about issues of the day was the political, or editorial cartoon, which was used extensively from about the middle of the 19th century until today, when they are still very much a method of commenting on important contemporary issues.  Then, as now, no subject has provided more topics for exaggeration and caricature than the presidency and the person who occupies it.


Students who participate in this activity will learn some of the history of political cartooning in the United States, recognize a political cartoon, be able to identify the main idea, the symbols, and the exaggeration and caricature in political cartoons, and compare and contrast cartoons from William Howard Taft’s presidency with contemporary cartoons about the Bush presidency.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Several contemporary political cartoons from the editorial pages of students’ local newspaper


1.  Using the first four web sites listed below, students should explore the history and nature of editorial and political cartoons. 
2.  Since the use of symbols is critical to the meaning of political cartoons,  students should spend some time thinking about and discussing the role of symbols in American life.  Divide students into small groups, asking each group to list a set of symbols that they encounter every day and what each symbol stands for.  Examples might be the McDonald’s golden arch, team mascots, traffic signs, etc.
3.  In the large group, discuss how and why symbols are used and why they are effective.
 Back in their small groups, ask students to consider the meaning of the following symbols:  elephant; donkey; Uncle Sam; a dove; a dollar sign ($); the Statue of Liberty; the American flag, an olive branch.  How many different meanings can students come up with for each symbol.  Compare these meanings in the larger group.
4.  Having considered the meaning of symbols, and again in small groups, ask students to analyze cartoons about William Howard Taft (see website below) and also some contemporary cartoons about President Bush, either from the Cagle Professional Cartoonists Index (see website below) or from their own local newspapers.  The following questions, taken from the Cagle website, should be useful:

  • What is the event or issue that inspired the cartoon?
  • Are there any real people in the cartoon?  Who is portrayed in the cartoon?
  • Are there symbols in the cartoon?  What are they are what do they represent?
  • What is the cartoonist’s opinion about the topic portrayed in the cartoon?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the cartoonist’s opinion?  Why? 

5.  Finally, compare and contrast the Taft cartoons with contemporary ones.  Are there any similarities?  Differences?  What do you have to know about the period in which the cartoons were drawn to understand the symbolism used?  To what extent do you think editorial or political cartoons are a powerful communication tool?

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by asking students to draw their own political cartoons, on any issue that interests them.  These could then be displayed for everyone in the class to see, or for the whole school.

Sources & Resources:

Editorial and Political Cartoons in U.S. History
Political Cartoons
Daryl Casey’s Professional Cartoonists’ Index
Political Cartoons of Thomas Nast
Cartoons about William Howard Taft 
This lesson plan was inspired by: Mark Adams, “Political Cartoons: Introduction to Symbols” at , and Teacher Guide! Grades 9 through 12/Lesson Plans, “Analyzing Editorial Cartoons” at , and then adapted by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.