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Nast's first depiction of Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly, January 3, 1863

The political cartoonist Thomas Nast created the first depiction of Santa Claus as a bearded, sleigh-riding resident of the North Pole.
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The cartoons were a bit of political propaganda, meant to associate the familial warmth of Jolly Old St. Nick with the Union cause.
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"Santa's Portrait," by Thomas Nast (1881)

Nast's Santa Claus cartoons were so popular that Harper's Weekly continued to publish them every year until 1886.  His portrayal of Santa Claus as a rosy-cheeked, white-bearded fellow has remained in the popular consciousness to this day.
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"The Promised Land,'as seen from the Dome of St. Peter's, Rome," by Thomas Nast (1870)

Nast had strong political convictions, chief among them a contempt for the Democratic party, the corruption of the Tammany Hall political machine in New York and the Irish-Catholics he associated with it. This cartoon shows the pope and Catholic clergy standing on top of St. Peter's, greedily eyeing the United States through a telescope.
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"A Roman Catholic Mission from England to the 'heathens' of America," Thomas Nast (1871)

This cartoon shows an English cardinal ready to shackle emancipated slaves in America.
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"The American River Ganges. The priests and the children," by Thomas Nast (1871)

The cartoon depicts Catholic bishops as crocodiles ready to devour American schoolchildren.
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"Tied to His Mother's Apron-Strings," by Thomas Nast (1872)

Uncle Sam is shown offering to free a Catholic priest from the control of the pope.
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"Wolf at the Door, Gaunt and Hungry," by Thomas Nast (1876)

These children are holding the door of the "Public-School System" against a wolf who is trying to break in. The wolf's collar is labeled "Democrats" and the tag is labeled "The Foreign Roman Church."
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"Madness (Yet there's method in it)," by Thomas Nast (1876)

This cartoon shows the United States preventing Catholic nuns from entering a school as a teacher.