This unlikely trio are connected . . . Abraham Lincoln, Santa Claus and Thomas Nast

“Most people do not associate Santa Claus with war, but in fact the connection goes back to Santa’s very beginnings. Our popular image of Santa was created by cartoonist Thomas Nast during the Civil War. Nast’s first Santa illustrations, published in the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly, featured Santa visiting dejected Union soldiers.” *

Self-caricature by Thomas Nast, 1859.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

“Nast’s work in support of the Union cause was considered highly successful; in fact, it is said that even President Lincoln appreciated the artist’s work- he supposedly commented, “Thomas Nast has been our best recruiting sergeant. His emblematic cartoons have never failed to arouse enthusiasm and patriotism, and have always seemed to come just when these articles were getting scarce.”

Santa Claus before Nast was a tall, thin man; it is Nast who made him the fat, jolly, bearded man that we have today. For Nast, Santa was something of a propaganda tool. In his famous Christmas scene, which appeared in the January 3, 1863, issue of Harper’s Weekly, Santa, in his first appearance in a Nast cartoon, is shown entertaining Union troops by hanging Jeff Davis in effigy.

Santa Claus in Camp, detail
Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863

But not all of Nast’s Christmas work was overt propaganda. He also shows that even in the midst of the war, there was still some joy to be found in the Christmas holiday. In the far background of this drawing, some soldiers are chasing what appears to be a wild boar, perfect for Christmas dinner, while others play games, including the time honored medieval sport of climbing atop a greased pole to claim a prize. The drummer boys in the foreground, surprised by the jack in the box, tells us that children are in this war, too. In other Christmas cartoons, he reminded readers of the harsh reality of Christmas during wartime, especially the separation of soldiers fromtheir loved ones.

Thomas Nast, perhaps the most famous of 19th Century political cartoonists, has left his mark on both American politics and popular culture. It is because of Nast that we have the donkey and the elephants as symbols for the two major political parties in the United States, it is because of Nast that we have a goateed Uncle Sam, and it is because of Nast that we have the modern Santa Claus.”

Merry Old Santa Claus
Harper’s Weekly, January 1, 1881

*The first paragraph of this article is from
The New-York Historical Society’s blog.
Click here to read more.

The balance is from an article by Niles Anderegg, “Thomas Nast and Civil War Christmas” which appears on the website of the Lincoln Cottage,
a national historic monument in Washington, DC.
Click here to explore the site.

Betts Bulletin Editor: Allison Gray Sanders

Presidential Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon

president-obama-pardons-turkeyEach Thanksgiving, the President “pardons” a hand-selected turkey (or two)! Tater and Tot, fine birds who hail from Iowa, were the participants at President Obama’s final ceremony of reprieve, November 23, 2016.
Tales of spared turkeys date back to the Lincoln days. According to one story, Lincoln’s son Tad begged his father to write out a presidential pardon for Jack the turkey, who was destined for the family’s Christmas table, arguing it had as much a right to live as anyone. Lincoln acquiesced and the turkey lived.



Thomas “Tad” Lincoln in military-style uniform, c. 1860


November 19, 1963: President John F. Kennedy laughs with officials at the presentation of a Thanksgiving turkey by the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board in the Rose Garden of the White House on November 19, 1963. President Kennedy pardoned the turkey stating “Let’s Keep him going.” Photo Credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/NARA

“Sparing the bird from a sure fate at the dinner table and ensuring the rest of its days are spent roaming on a farm, doing whatever it is turkeys love to do, is one of the more whimsical duties of the President  . . . .  You’re probably wondering: Where did this very serious business of the Presidential turkey pardon come from anyway?”



Click here to read more from the White House’s definitive history of turkey pardoning.





white-turkeyThis year, the turkeys arrived from Iowa, and relaxed at the Willard Hotel prior to the White House ceremony. To enjoy an account of their pampered upbringing and journey to the Capitol, Click here

What do a pumpkin patch, a spy, and a future president have in common?

The Pumpkin Papers

“Alger Hiss was a highly regarded adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On Aug. 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a senior editor at Time magazine, told the House Un-American Activities Committee that Hiss had given him State Department secrets as a Communist underground member in Washington a decade earlier.


Whittaker Chambers, 1948

Chambers claimed that he, in turn, passed the documents to the Soviet Union. Hiss denied everything, saying Chambers was just a casual acquaintance.

Chambers took investigators to his Maryland farm and produced a hollow pumpkin. Inside, they found microfilmed State Department documents – documents Chambers said he received from Hiss.


The hollowed-out pumpkin at Chambers’s farm that contained two rolls of undeveloped film. Chambers led House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigators to the pumpkin on December 2, 1948.

He also handed over typewritten copies of government documents. In the course of the trial, prosecutors produced an old typewriter once owned by Hiss and his wife; they said the typewriter was used to copy the documents, and alleged Priscilla Hiss had done the typing.


Alger Hiss testifying

There was no trial for spying because the statute of limitations had expired on espionage. Hiss’ first jury deadlocked on perjury charges. At a second trial in 1950, Hiss was found guilty of lying to the grand jury when he denied giving Chambers the documents and said he had not seen Chambers after
the first of 1937.

Hiss was convicted of two counts of perjury, disbarred and thrown in jail for three years and eight months.


Richard M. Nixon examines microfilm

Richard Nixon, a freshman congressman at the time, rose to fame on the coattails of the scandal.

Alger Hiss died in New York City on November 15, 1996. He was 92.”

Copyright 1998 CBS. All rights reserved.

To read more about the infamous case,
Click here to connect with the CIA website

America’s First Labor Day Parade

First labor Day Parade, 1882

First labor Day Parade, 1882

On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. After marching from City Hall, past reviewing stands in Union Square, and then uptown to 42nd Street, the workers and their families gathered in Wendel’s Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This first Labor Day celebration was eagerly organized and executed by New York’s Central Labor Union, an umbrella group made up of representatives from many local unions.

Labor Day Parade, 1904

Labor Day Parade, 1904

New York’s Labor Day celebrations inspired similar events across the country. In 1894, Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.

Eight-hour day banner

Eight-hour day banner, Melbourne, 1856

The Eight-Hour Day movement is part of the early history of the celebration of Labor Day in many nations and cultures.

Nowadays, Labor Day is associated less with union activities and protest marches and more with leisure.

For many, the holiday is a time for family picnics, sporting events, and summer’s last hurrah.

Text from the Library of Congress “Today in History” Archive.