Political Cartoon

In this cartoon, published in the famous London satirical magazine Punch on August 23, 1862, a disheveled Lincoln, posed as a beggar, discovers that the Union is broke and out of soldiers. (Note that Lincoln is dressed very much like “Uncle Sam,” a flag-clad personification of the US government that originated around the War of 1812 but did not become widely used until the Civil War.)

Late 1862 was indeed a difficult period for the Union. In 1862, the federal government ran the largest deficit in its history up to that time, almost $423 million, or over 7% of GDP. And the number of men “absent” from the Union army more than quadrupled, from just under 50,000 to almost 220,000, over the course of that year.

The Union’s position, however, was not nearly as dire as the cartoon suggests. The number of Union soldiers in the field actually grew from 527,000 to 699,000 over 1862 and the Treasury, though behind on some payments, did not default on its bonds. Moreover, subsequent policy changes – like the National Currency Act (February 25, 1863) and enrollment act (March 3, 1863) – increased government revenues and swelled the military’s ranks. At the long war’s end, the Union still had 658,000 men in the field compared to just 160,000 for the Confederacy and the government, although in debt some $2.7 billion, or 27% of GDP, was still able to borrow large sums on good terms.