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Cartoon Analysis: The “Rail Splitter” at Work Repairing the Union, 1865

Use this primary source imagery to analyze major events in history.

Suggested Sequencing


As the Civil War was drawing to a close in the spring of 1865, there was debate about the terms the South would face upon its defeat. President Abraham Lincoln proposed a policy of reconstruction that sought to reunify the Union as smoothly and painlessly as possible, a theme evident in his second inaugural address in March 1865. This view was not universal, however; there were many among the “Radical” Republicans who were critical of Lincoln’s policy and felt the South should be punished for its act of treason. This political cartoon, drawn in 1865 by Joseph E. Baker, was a take on this controversy.

Sourcing Questions

  1. What was the context for the publication of this cartoon?

Figure 1: The “Rail Splitter” at Work Repairing the Union, 1865, a cartoon drawn by Joseph E. Baker.

Comprehension Questions

  1. (Figure 1) What is Andrew Johnson sitting on in the cartoon?
  2. (Figure 1) What is Johnson doing?
  3. (Figure 1) What does Abraham Lincoln appear to be doing here?
  4. (Figure 1) What do you think Johnson means when he urges Lincoln to “take it quietly”?
  5. (Figure 1) Why are Lincoln and Johnson portrayed the way they are in this cartoon?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. In what way might subjecting the southern states to hardship during Reconstruction serve the purpose of bringing the union back together most effectively?
  2. How might a policy of leniency and forgiveness toward the South be the best way to bring about effective reconstruction of the union?
  3. Identify the key challenges created by reintegrating the southern states after the Civil War.
  4. Explain how Thaddeus Stevens and the “Radical” Republicans changed Lincoln’s plan for reconstruction.

The “Rail Splitter” at Work Repairing the Union (image)

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