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Propaganda of the american civil war – started years before the outbreak.

  • American Civil War

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While it is commonly thought that the First World War was the first war in which war propaganda was widespread, propaganda goes back earlier than the 20th century.

Propaganda as we recognize it was used during the Napoleonic Wars, and as an art form it has been around for thousands of years, with the earliest examples dating back to around 500 BC.

As a widespread and mass-printed means of getting huge numbers of civilians to enlist in armies and fight, the American Civil War was one of the first in which print propaganda became widespread.

The American Civil War began on the April 12, 1861, but the North and South’s propaganda campaigns began a few years earlier.

In the decade prior to the Civil War, the American press began flourishing and evolved rapidly evolve in terms of technology, output, and distribution. Meanwhile, the number of newspapers expanded and a new style of weekly pictorial publications filled with comics and illustrations became popular and widespread in northern and southern states.

Abraham Lincoln and the London Punch; cartoons, comments and poems, published in the London charivari, during the American Civil War

This mass distribution of picture-based media was eagerly and voraciously consumed by the American public. It also proved ideal for distributing and disseminating propaganda and successfully pushed divisive ideologies from both sides of the divide.

Almanacs–annual publications–were widely used to push propaganda and sway opinions. In some cases the intent was noble, for instance the Pro-Union and anti-slavery almanac, (titled The Anti-Slavery Almanac ) proved quite effective at swaying opinions in northern states in favor of an abolitionist stance towards slavery.

Anti Slavery Engraving from the American Anti-Slavery Almanac, 1840

The Anti-Slavery Almanac contained woodcuts depicting the brutality of slavery and racism in the southern states and went a long way toward convincing northerners to support the abolitionist cause.

The American anti-slavery almanac 1836

Other forms of propaganda, especially some originating in the southern states, were quite the opposite. Many sought to spread particularly repugnant views. Miscegenation–sex across racial lines–was a common topic in some Southern propaganda. Other equally ugly forms of Southern propaganda focused on depicting African-Americans as unfit to serve as soldiers, since many southerners were unwilling to allow black men to serve in their army.

Recruiting poster for the Confederate States of America, Floyd County, Virginia, February 1862.

Of course, not everyone in the South was fighting in support of slavery and upholding racism. Much of the Southern propaganda was therefore simply an emotive appeal to those who were fighting for fair trade tariffs and import/export laws, and the right to self-determination.

The American anti-slavery almanac

Both the North and the South shared a need to convince men to join their armies. While one way of achieving this was by demonizing the other side, the propaganda also sought to appeal to concepts of patriotism and protecting the land of their birth.

In a time when the concepts of manliness, self-sacrifice, and doing one’s duty were taken very seriously, both sides went all-out to convince young men to enlist in their armies. To this end, they adopted a multi-pronged approach and enlistment propaganda went beyond printed media.

Recruiting poster for the 179th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, commanding officer, Capt. Bill Yerkes.

Songs praising the bravery of young volunteers became widely popular, and were especially persuasive when sung by young women. Other songs were specifically written to stir up national pride and patriotism, including Battle Cry of Freedom , When Johnny Comes Marching Home , The Battle Hymn of the Republic , Dixie’s Land, and other famous Civil War songs. Such songs had the dual purpose of encouraging young men to enlist and also boosted the morale of existing troops.

God Save the South booklet, with a rare music cover illustration, published in Richmond, Virginia

As the Civil War progressed, the propaganda and distribution channels evolved on both sides. One of the more novel ways in which propaganda was spread, particularly in the North thanks to its better access to raw materials and ink later in the war, was through illustrated envelopes.

Typical cover of sheet music, with songs depicting the individuals of the era, such as John Hunt Morgan

The envelopes were used by civilians and soldiers alike and had images either promoting the patriotism, honor, and nobility of their cause, or demonized and belittled the opposing cause. They were a great way of spreading propaganda and stirring emotions since mail was typically the only means of communication at the time.

John Clem, a twelve-year-old Union drummer boy

Read another story from us: Born in 1842 The Oldest Veteran Of The US Civil War Who Lived Until 1953!

While the propaganda created by both sides was something of a first in history thanks to printing and distribution advances, it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Just a few decades later, the First World War broke out in Europe, during which great propaganda wheels truly began to spin faster than ever before.

Visual Propaganda: Ideology in Art

Visual Propaganda: Ideology in Art

A Survey of Political Art

American Civil War

During the American Civil War, illustrated journalism and cartoons in print media became available to the American public for the first time.  “Many factors contributed to this sudden flowering: the growth of the population and the news market, the solving of many technological problems by men trained in English and American picture publishing, and an aroused popular attention to news events of national concern.  Between 1855 and 1860 the American lithographing and engraving industries flourished, several illustrated comic weeklies, including Vanity Fair , began offering their cartoon wares to the public, and most significantly three enterprising  publishers established weekly illustrated newspapers:  Harper’s Weekly, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and the New York Illustrated News ” [1].  Illustrations about events going on in the world around them captivated American audiences, and they energetically embraced this new form of information.  One result was that images alongside news stories were, for the first time, able to depict war as seen in the American Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States March 4, 1861, and as a response 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy).  The other 25 states supported the federal government (the Union). Civil war went on from 1861-1865 and after roughly four years of warfare, mostly within the Southern states, the Confederacy surrendered and slavery was outlawed.  The causes and aims of the civil war were numerous and complex.  However, the primary factors involved were slavery/abolition of slavery and this issues within the larger question of state rights.

Both the Union and the Confederates used the new development in print media to further their causes.

Besides visual propaganda being common in print news, during the Civil War there was a popular period of pictorial envelopes being produced and used.  This style of patriotism is unique in American history as it would only be utilized to such a widespread extent for a few short years at the beginning of the Civil War, and, unlike envelopes of a similar nature in other countries, these were produced independently (not by any governmental organization).  These envelopes were produced in both the North and the South and were used most commonly in letter writing.  As this was the dominant form of communication, hundreds of thousands were produced.  “New York City was considered the printing capital of the United States from about 1825 and continued to be so during the Civil War years. Despite New York’s official status as a Union state, many residents of New York City were not so assuredly in favor of the Union, or even of the war itself. In 1863 the city saw riots in Union Square and elsewhere protesting the draft and other war hardships. Such commotion in the nation’s biggest city may have added more weight to the need for distribution of pro-Union propaganda” [2].

The Persuasive Eloquence of the Sunny South

Besides newsprint, American’s also consumed a large amount of almanacs.  While produced with varying purpose, Pro-Union almanacs, such as the Anti-Slavery Almanac , were widely popular in the North.  “Almanacs were widely popular publications, read and used by the great majority of literate American adults. The Anti−Slavery Almanac was intended to instruct, persuade and horrify its readers about the evils of the American slave system and discrimination against people of color. Each of its 13 woodcuts—one for each of 12 months and one for the cover—presented an image of the evils of slavery and racism” [5].  In its portrayals of ‘the evils of slavery and racism’, it heavily relied upon classic propaganda techniques, most commonly demonizing the enemy and name calling (making the South, as a whole, appear immoral). In the following example from Anti-Slavery Almanac, through relying on  emotional sympathy from Northerners, the artist attempts to win the audiences’ denouncement of slavery and support for the Union as it demonizes the South and it’s practices of slavery.

Anti-Slavery Almanac

The Confederacy would use similar techniques to the North, but one technique that the South utilized significantly more was an appeal to fear.  This is exemplified most clearly in Southern propaganda featuring miscegenation – “the mixing of different racial groups through marriage, cohabitation, sexual relations, and procreation” [6].  The following image from Edward Williams Clay is titled “The Amalgamation Waltz” and it depicts a ballroom dance where African-American men dance with Caucasian women, while their would-be Caucasian male escorts watch from the balcony.  This image insinuates that the abolition of slavery and the amalgamation of freed slaves would result in, what would be considered horrible, miscegenation.  Thus, The Amalgamation Waltz cartoon clearly draws on it’s audience’s sense of fear.


Many cartoons regarding the Civil War were less serious and fear-inspiring as those above, often they were intended to be humorous or satirical.  Despite being more light hearted in nature, these cartoons still served to re-enforce an audiences’ attitude about a given topic.  At the time of the Civil War, the vast majority of Southerners were against African-American conscription in the military, though there was a contingent of those that believed they should be able to enlist.  The following cartoon depicts two men who, presumably, were slaves that were then entered into service, in the foreground.  The men in the foreground are featured in cartoonish and stereotypically racist ways, having a chat.  The numerous men in the background appear to be engaging in similar light hearted banter.  This is problematic because one of the men represents the Union forces, and the other represents Confederate forces.  The title “The Black Conscription” is followed with the sentence “When black meets black then comes the end of war”.  “To modern sensibilities, this is one of the most offensive of Tenniel’s cartoons, as its theme is the notion that black men are incapable of becoming good soldiers” [8].  This cartoon was intended to be humorous, but in all seriousness it served to cement the belief that black men should not be permitted to fight alongside white men, and was a blatant use of appeal to prejudice (racial prejudice) and stereotyping, and uses that solid stereotyping in transfer (a technique of projecting perceived negative qualities of a group to another to make the second to discredit it).

The Black Conscription. When Black Meets Black Then Comes the End of War. [8]

The propaganda imagery produced out of the American Civil War era generally relied upon patriotic fervor to advance the aims of the Union and the Confederacy. It is concretely true that many southern states seceded and practiced slavery, while the North -generally- supported Lincoln (enough to not, as a whole, threaten secession) and did not own slaves.  It was not set in stone, however, that because one lived in the North that they would automatically support the Union, support the abolition of slavery, oppose secession, or support these so much so that they would fight on behalf of them (or vice-verse for the South).  This is primarily what purpose propaganda served during the American Civil War – the solidification of North vs. South identity, pro-abolition vs. anti-abolition.  The efficacy of each respective side’s propaganda can still be felt easily today, close to 150 years since its occurrence. The KKK (which formed in the South as a result of the Union’s victory) is still active, as well as many other similar groups that are concentrated most densely in the South-East [11].  The song “Dixie” (oft protested as a racist relic of the Confederacy and a reminder of decades of white domination and segregation) as well as the Confederate flag are still sung and flown popularly throughout the south as symbols of Southern pride and heritage.  In the modern United States a felt North-South divide still lingers that Union and Confederate propagandists sought to instill nearly 150 years ago.


[1] Thomson Jr., William Fletcher. “Pictorial Propaganda and the Civil War.” Editorial. The Wisconsin Magazine of History Autumn 1962. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. < http://www.jstor.org/pss/4633807 >.

[2]  “Guide to the Patriotic Envelope Collection [1861-1865], 1898 PR 117.” The New-York Historical Society . Web. 07 Feb. 2012.

[3] Sasser, Patricia. “The Persuasive Eloquence of the Sunny South.” Digital Collection: South Carolina and the Civil War . University Libraries, University of South Carolina, July 2009. Web. 07 Feb. 2012. http://digital.tcl.sc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/civilwar/id/360/rec/9.

[4]  “24 May 1861: Col. Ellsworth “House Breaker and Thief”.” Weblog post. The Civil War Day by Day . UNC University Library, 24 May 2011. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. < http://www.lib.unc.edu/blogs/civilwar/index.php/2011/05/24/24-may-1861-col-ellsworth-house-breaker-and-thief/ >.

[5]  “The Anti-Slavery Almanac.” Teach US History . Web. 07 Feb. 2012. < http://www.teachushistory.org/second-great-awakening-age-reform/resources/anti-slavery-almanac >.

[6]  “Miscegenation.” Dictionary.com . Web. 07 Feb. 2012. < http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/miscegenation >.

[7] http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/xml/pretexts/gallery/figures/aas02.jpg

[8] http://arthist.umn.edu/aict/Tennielweb/PUNCH/630926.html

[9] http://ettc.net/tah/LessonPlan_Documents/Recruiting%20Civil%20War%20Soldiers–The%20Power%20of%20the%20Poster.pdf

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History of American Propaganda Posters: American Social Issues through Propaganda

Leaders throughout history have been able to use propaganda to their own needs and desires. By stirring an individual’s imagination and emotions whether it is for better or worse, figures in power who create campaigns of propaganda imagery can drive a population towards their end wants. Propaganda became a common term around America during World War I when posters and films were leveraged against enemies to rally troop enlistment and garner the public opinion. Propaganda became a modern political tool engendering good will across wide demographics and gaining favor of the country.

The following infographic takes a closer look at American Social Issues expressed through Propaganda imagery.

infographic - history of american propaganda posters

Text: History of American Propaganda Posters

What is propaganda.

Propaganda can be described as thoughts, ideas, allegations or facts, spread deliberately to further one’s own cause or with the intention of causing damage to an opposing cause. Propaganda is commonly understood to involve any medium that strikes an illicit emotional reaction to one’s thoughts or views. It is a form of biased communication that is expressed through forms of art that do not always depict one set of thoughts in a clear way. A way to clearly stir the emotions of a populace and drive a one-sided opinion, propaganda has been a tool for the powerful to convince and push the less powerful towards a purpose.  

The History of Propaganda

Although the term propaganda became common place in the United States during period of World War I, the concept has been used long since then. Some of the first to use propaganda for their own accords were the Greeks. Though the Greeks did not use propaganda as we know it now in print or movie depictions, they still used art to project their thoughts onto groups. Greeks could influence large groups of citizens and country men to their ways of thought through games, theater, assemblies, courts, and religious festivals.

After the invention of the printing press, leaders could now spread their ideas to the masses much more quickly. Philip II of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of England both used printed and written materials to organize their subjects during the Spanish Armada in the 16th century. To convince each individual nation that the other was at the aggressor, the leaders each participated in their own propaganda campaigns to distribute widespread dissent.

Newspapers during the Mexican American War sometimes took it upon themselves to influence articles and create articles that called for annexation of all Mexico by the United States. In some populations areas that were still controlled by Mexico, some U.S. writers would write or edit papers with the purpose of convincing the residents that the U.S. terms for peace should be accepted and that it was their best choice.  

American Social and Political Issues Depicted Through Propaganda

America has been using propaganda in art for over a hundred years to drive the population towards a common thought. Often the premise dispensed by the government is centered toward an idea of Americanism or pride for the country over others. However, opposition for anyone in power had the same opportunity to use these same tactics through the wide distribution of newspapers and printing machines.

The Pyramid of the Capitalist System Created in 1911, The Pyramid of the Capitalist System, this cartoon directly criticized the worst parts of capitalism. As an American cartoon published, distributed and seen by many of those who were not on the top of the hierarchical capitalistic food chain, it brought to light a social issue that many were afraid to express before.

Liberty Loan Drive Promoting the purchase of war bonds during World War I was very important for the U.S. to keep the war machine driving forward and funded. The Liberty bond driving needing a boast and public attention used an ad that inspired people to purchase bonds. The ad was successful in driving funding and raised more than $17 billion.

Help Keep Your School All-American While the United States has bene a mixing pot, the issue of racism has been difficult to address. The poster, Help Keep Your School All-American, featuring Superman, one of the most popular figures with school children at the time of the ad spoke to changing a prevalently racist outlook of America at the time.

Women in the War This poster meant to drive women into the armed service. By featuring a woman working directly with a wartime device, it helped to inspire a feeling of comfortability with women serving at home and abroad.

We Can Do It Nearly everyone is familiar with “Rosie the Riverter”, but probably not everyone is familiar with her as a propaganda peace to inspire the U.S. wartime workforce. The posters produced of her were pivotal in swinging public opinion that a woman could work in a factory and outside the house to drive the wartime machine production. From 1940 to 1945 the percentage of female U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to 37 percent.

Daisy Girl Political campaign propaganda took a strong foothold during the middle of the 19th century. At a time when nearly everyone feared nuclear warfare, Lyndon B. Johnson played off this fear and created campaigns against his opposition’s controversial comments. Though the political ad, Daisy Girl, only aired once it was still instrumental in playing on the fears of the people to swing their opinion.

Go Tell Mama! I’m For Obama Even in present day terms, America is using propaganda to stir emotion and convince others of our thinking. Artist Ray Noland emphasized the idea of community in his Go Tell Mama! I’m For Obama, playing on the ideas and sentiments of a largely community organization that needed grassroots marketing to spread advertising.  

Norwich University is an important part of American history. Established in 1819, Norwich is a nationally recognized institution of higher education, the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and the first private military college in the United States.

With Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History , you can enhance your awareness of differing historical viewpoints while developing and refining your research, writing, analysis and presentation skills. The program offers two tracks—American history and world history—allowing you to tailor your studies to your interests and goals.  

Civil War Envelopes Are Works of Art—And Propaganda

Envelopes were relatively new for American mail in the 1860s, and printers used them to take sides.

In 1861 and the years that followed, many American men found themselves far from home. Farmhands from rural New York walked the streets of Washington, D.C., serving in the Union Army of the Potomac. Boys from Maine fought in the forests of Virginia. More than 2.6 million men joined the Union Army over the course of the war, while roughly a million joined the Confederate forces. The volume of mail ticked upward with letters to distant homes, and when it was time to send a letter, soldiers and civilians alike reached for a new kind of envelope, freshly printed and decorated with red and blue flags, delicate engravings of eagles, poems about the girl left behind, or the faces of generals, whom people at home might never have seen.

There were many such envelopes to choose from: Over the course of the war, 10,000 or more Union designs were printed, says Steven Boyd, a historian at University of Texas, San Antonio. “You could buy a hundred different designs in a single packet for one dollar,” he says.

These patterns range from simple flags and mottos to macabre revenge fantasies, with the hanged bodies of Southern generals lining the road to Washington. For a brief period at the beginning of the war, envelopes were printed in the Confederacy as well, and Southerners could send letters with a portrait of Jefferson Davis, “Our First President,” or any number of depictions of the new nation's flag.

This riot of creativity was sparked by, of all things, a change in postal rates. When we drop a letter in the mail now, we don't think of the envelope as a luxury. But until the mid-19th century, U.S. postage was charged by the sheet, so people simply folded their letter and used sealing wax to close it. Reforms to make letters cheaper, however, meant that by 1851, there was a flat 3-cent rate for mail under a half-ounce and traveling less than 3,000 miles. Envelopes, made on newly invented envelope-folding machines, flew out of stationery stores.

The potential for using envelopes as advertising must have been clear early. During the presidential campaign of 1860, Americans could use paper and envelopes featuring their favorite candidates. When war broke out the next year, printers were quick to see the benefits of reusing some of their old designs. Add a couple of Union flags and a motto to a campaign portrait of Abraham Lincoln, as Boston printer James Whittemore did, and you had a new product. Add “True to the Union and the Constitution to the Last” under a picture of Stephen Douglas, who ran against Lincoln and died shortly after, and you might sell a few to his supporters.

Printing patriotic envelopes was a profitable business in the North, Boyd says. There were printers everywhere, from Nebraska to New York, and some even set up branch offices in Washington, D.C. to get their stock directly to troops. But the business wasn't without its risks. Samuel Upham of Philadelphia printed not only Union envelopes but copies of Confederate stamps and paper money, claiming he was educating Northerners who were curious about their Southern brethren. The Confederacy convicted Upham of treason and sentenced him to death in absentia. “The money was counterfeit, from their point of view,” Boyd says. A Cincinnati printer was arrested for making envelopes showing Jefferson Davis, Boyd's research has uncovered, and as far away as San Francisco, a man's stock was seized because he possessed such items.

The envelopes from the North tended to pound away on a single theme: preserving the Union. Slavery does not come up frequently, and out of more than 10,000 designs, only about 80 depict African Americans at all, Boyd says.

In the South, pro-Confederate envelopes were being sold even before the first shots were fired, says Trish Kaufmann, a collector and expert on Confederate postal history. “They were the dissidents, the ones trying to drum up patriotic fervor” first, she points out. Envelopes featuring the original Confederate flag—with seven white stars on a blue rectangle and a red-and-white-striped background—flew off the presses. When new states seceded, rushed printers scratched in new stars or just small crosses on their plates to update the flag. But the South was not a manufacturing society, and it had to import its paper, as well as inks, from England and from the North. With a Union blockade keeping ships from reaching Confederate ports, paper was soon scarce, and by 1863, very few envelopes were being printed. As a result, there are envelopes with portraits of General P.G.T. Beauregard, an early Confederate hero, but none of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, generals who rose to prominence in the second half of the war.  

But the envelopes had a value beyond their ability to keep the rain off your words and show your opinions on the war. Huge numbers went directly from stationer's shelves into special souvenir albums. In fact, Boyd says that many of those that survive today were never used. And that relates to a mystery Boyd has yet to unravel, about a set of envelopes that began to appear only after the Civil War concluded. Printed on high-quality paper, these bear racist or anti-Lincoln sentiments, the kinds of things that were very rare among envelopes printed in the South while the war was going on. “We don't know a lot about this … but I've never seen one mailed,” he emphasizes.

Boyd hopes to dig deeper into the origins of these post-war envelopes by searching through digitized issues of a magazine called The Confederate Veteran , published for former soldiers, as well as Southern newspapers. He has a hypothesis that the printers might have placed ads there, intending their products to reach that particular market. The identities of the envelopes' makers are mysterious, but their products appear to have existed solely as souvenirs.

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Civil War Recruitment Posters

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One hundred fifty years ago, the Civil War began and the fighting was brutal. Nearly 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives -- more Americans than in both World Wars combined. The armies needed men to refill rapidly declining ranks and used recruitment advertisements such as these as a means to find them. 

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to [email protected].

Art of the Spanish Civil War

Propaganda posters kept in the archives of the pablo iglesias foundation., in collaboration with, poster art during war, explore a key collection to our understanding of 20th-century political propaganda., the collection in 12 questions, what is the pablo iglesias foundation poster collection, artists and vanguards, discover the works of 15 artists who collaborated with the republic in the spanish civil war., explore the collection by colour, zoom into the posters, explore the posters in super high resolution., mauricio amster, josé bardasano, augusto fernández sastre, amado oliver, josep renau, melendreras, images of revolution and war, discover the propaganda tools that were used to spread new political ideas., how new measures impacted the general population's access to culture., focus on: films, due to cinema's popularity, films were used to disseminate political ideas., focus on: press, the press was considered a fundamental tool for disseminating not only news, but ideas., challenges of the second spanish republic, explore how artists relied on their imagination to draw people's attention to education and health., sport and education, public health, mothers, militiawomen, and workers, how are women represented in the collection, women in the spanish civil war, explore how many of the posters depict activities that women did during the civil war., the people's army of the republic, active propaganda throughout the spanish civil war., the call for solidarity, a spirit of solidarity among the population, both in spain and abroad., the call to mobilize and enlist, militias and the people's army of the republic., the defense of madrid, learn about madrid under siege after the failed coup in july 1936, through the world of posters., “they shall not pass”, supplies and fortification, what were wall newspapers, explore cultural pieces, news, political articles or comic strips attached to one paper., do it with others, let's look at some examples and what kinds of issues they dealt with., on the front lines, learn about the wall newspapers crafted on the front lines., 5th machine gun company wall newspaper, 13th international brigade wall newspaper, rakosi battalion wall newspaper, "the rising sun" wall newspaper, "heroic asturias" wall newspaper, explore more.

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Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections

Spanish civil war poster collection.

Spanish Civil War propaganda poster distributed by Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) and Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). The text contains "ambiciones militarismo guerra," "esto es el fascismo" and "destruyelo uniendo tu esfuerzo al de los demas." This translates to "ambitions, militarism, war," "This is fascism," and "Destroy it by joining the effort of others." There is also an illustration of a white dove and a blue, yellow, white and black soldier wearing a gas mask.

While much of the rest of the world maintained official neutrality during the conflict, the Nationalists received help from Hitler and Mussolini, which set the stage for the expansion of fascism throughout Europe. The Republicans were aided in their struggle by Stalin and Soviet forces, as well as by Mexico and by the interception of the International Brigades. The Brigades were composed of volunteers from other countries, including the U.S., who believed that the Spanish Republican government was the legitimate ruling power in Spain. During their time in Spain, members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade sent or brought home to the U.S. the propaganda posters created for the Republican effort during the war. Brandeis’ Special Collections has preserved more than 250 such posters, which document a conflict that resonates to this day.

Poster with 4 men and the communist flag in background. Text reads: Obreros, Campesinos, soldados, intelluales. Reforzad Las Filas  del Partido Comunista. and a red star.

Spanish Civil War posters in Brandeis Distinctive Collections

January 22, 2010

Further Reading

Nelson, Cary. Shouts from the Wall: Posters and Photographs Brought Home from the Spanish Civil War by American Volunteers: A Catalogue to Accompany the Exhibit Curated by Peter Carroll and Cary Nelson for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives . Waltham, Mass.: Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, c1996.

Tisa, John, ed. The Palette and the Flame: Posters of the Spanish Civil War . New York: International Publishers, c1979.

Illustration of a man, hands behind his head, knees up, with a cap on his head covering his eyes, relaxing on the ground, cigarette in his mouth. Text reads: "Un vago es un faccioso" with

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Powers of Persuasion

army recruiting poster

"I Want You"

by James Montgomery Flagg, 1940. National Archives, Army Recruiting Bureau

View in National Archives Catalog

Guns, tanks, and bombs were the principal weapons of World War II, but there were other, more subtle forms of warfare as well. Words, posters, and films waged a constant battle for the hearts and minds of the American citizenry just as surely as military weapons engaged the enemy. Persuading the American public became a wartime industry, almost as important as the manufacturing of bullets and planes. The Government launched an aggressive propaganda campaign with clearly articulated goals and strategies to galvanize public support, and it recruited some of the nation's foremost intellectuals, artists, and filmmakers to wage the war on that front. Posters are the focus of this online exhibit, based on a more extensive exhibit that was presented in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from May 1994 to February 1995. It explores the strategies of persuasion as evidenced in the form and content of World War II posters. Quotes from official manuals and public leaders articulate how the Government sought to rally public opinion in support of the war's aims; quotes from popular songs and sayings attest to the success of the campaign that helped to sustain the war effort throughout the world-shaking events of World War II.

Jump to Part 1 Galleries:

Man the Guns!

It's a Women's War Too!

United We Win

Use it up, wear it out, four freedoms.

Jump to Part 2 Galleries:

This is Nazi Brutality

He's watching you, meaning of sacrifice, stamp 'em out, part 1: patriotic pride.

WWII Poster

View the Man the Guns! Gallery

WWII Poster

Man the Guns—Join the Navy, by McClelland Barclay, 1942, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513519)

Keep 'em fighting. Production wins wars. Stop accidents, Printed for the National Safety Council, Inc., Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 514767)

Get hot—keep moving. Don't waste a precious minute., Records of War Production Board  View in Online Gallery

(NAID: 535107)

Masculine strength was a common visual theme in patriotic posters. Pictures of powerful men and mighty machines illustrated America's ability to channel its formidable strength into the war effort. American muscle was presented in a proud display of national confidence.

Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative, Latch on to the Affirmative, Don't Mess with Mr. In-Between. 1945, Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

It's a Woman's War Too!

WWII Poster

View the It's a Woman's War Too! Gallery

WWII Poster

Victory Waits On Your Fingers—Keep 'Em Flying Miss U.S.A., Produced by the Royal Typewriter Company for the U.S. Civil Service Commission, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 515979)

Longing Won't Bring Him Back Sooner...Get a War Job!, by Lawrence Wilbur, 1944, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513840)

We Can Do It!, by J. Howard Miller, Produced by Westinghouse for the War Production Co-Ordinating Committee, Records of the War Production Board  View in Online Catalog

Of all the images of working women during World War II, the image of women in factories predominates. Rosie the Riveter—the strong, competent woman dressed in overalls and bandanna—was introduced as a symbol of patriotic womanhood. The accoutrements of war work—uniforms, tools, and lunch pails—were incorporated into the revised image of the feminine ideal.  

(NAID: 535413)

In the face of acute wartime labor shortages, women were needed in the defense industries, the civilian service, and even the Armed Forces. Despite the continuing 20th century trend of women entering the workforce, publicity campaigns were aimed at those women who had never before held jobs. Poster and film images glorified and glamorized the roles of working women and suggested that a woman's femininity need not be sacrificed. Whether fulfilling their duty in the home, factory, office, or military, women were portrayed as attractive, confident, and resolved to do their part to win the war.

These jobs will have to be glorified as a patriotic war service if American women are to be persuaded to take them and stick to them. Their importance to a nation engaged in total war must be convincingly presented. Basic Program Plan for Womanpower Office of War Information

WWII Poster

View the United We Win Gallery

WWII Poster

United We Win, Photograph by Alexander Liberman, 1943, Printed by the Government, Printing Office for the War Manpower Commission,  Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513820)

Above and Beyondthe Call of Duty, by David Stone Martin, Printed by the Government, Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of War Information  View in Online Catalog

At the beginning of the war, African Americans could join the Navy but could serve only as messmen. Doris ("Dorie") Miller joined the Navy and was in service on board the USS  West Virginia  during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Restricted to the position of messman, he received no gunnery training. But during the attack, at great personal risk, he manned the weapon of a fallen gunman and succeeded in hitting Japanese planes. He was awarded the Navy Cross, but only after persistent pressure from the black press.

(NAID: 535886)

Pvt. Joe Louis Says—We,re Going to do our part . . . and we'll win because we're on God's side, Records of the Office Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513548)

During World War II, racial restriction and segregation were facts of life in the U.S. military. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of African Americans participated wholeheartedly in the fight against the Axis powers. They did so, however, with an eye toward ending racial discrimination in American society. This objective was expressed in the call, initiated in the black press for the "Double V"—victory over fascism abroad and over racism at home. The Government was well aware of the demoralizing effects of racial prejudice on the American population and its impact on the war effort. Consequently, it promoted posters, pamphlets, and films highlighting the participation and achievement of African Americans in military and civilian life.

We say glibly that in the United States of America all men are free and equal, but do we treat them as if they were? . . . There is religious and racial prejudice everywhere in the land, and if there is a greater obstacle anywhere to the attainment of the teamwork we must have, no one knows what it is. Arthur Upham Pope, Chairman of the Committee for National Morale, in America Organizes to Win the War

WWII Poster

View the Use It Up, Wear It Out Gallery

WWII Poster

When You Ride Alone You ride with Hilter!, by Weimer Pursell, 1943, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 516143)

Save Waste Fats for Explosives, by Henry Koerner, 1943, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513832)

Waste Helps the Enemy, by Vanderlaan, Records of the War Production Board  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 533960)

During the war years, gasoline, rubber, sugar, butter, and meat were rationed. Government publicity reminded people that shortages of these materials occurred because they were going to the troops, and that civilians should take part in conservation and salvage campaigns.

Astronomical quantities of everything and to hell with civilian needs. Donald Nelson, Chairman of the War Production Board, describing the military view of the American wartime industry.

WWII Poster

View the Four Freedoms Gallery

WWII Poster

Ours...to fight for—Freedom From Want, by Norman Rockwell, ©1943 SEPS: The Curtis Publishing Co., Agent

Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513710)

Save Freedom of Speech, by Norman Rockwell, ©1943 SEPS: The Curtis Publishing Co., Agent, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513711)

Save Freedom of Worship, by Norman Rockwell, ©1943 SEPS: The Curtis Publishing Co., Agent, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513712)

Ours...to fight for—Freedom From Fear, by Norman Rockwell, ©1943 SEPS: The Curtis Publishing Co., Agent, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513666)

President Roosevelt was a gifted communicator. On January 6, 1941, he addressed Congress, delivering the historic "Four Freedoms" speech. At a time when Western Europe lay under Nazi domination, Roosevelt presented a vision in which the American ideals of individual liberties were extended throughout the world. Alerting Congress and the nation to the necessity of war, Roosevelt articulated the ideological aims of the conflict. Eloquently, he appealed to Americans' most profound beliefs about freedom. The speech so inspired illustrator Norman Rockwell that he created a series of paintings on the "Four Freedoms" theme. In the series, he translated abstract concepts of freedom into four scenes of everyday American life. Although the Government initially rejected Rockwell's offer to create paintings on the "Four Freedoms" theme, the images were publicly circulated when The Saturday Evening Post, one of the nation's most popular magazines, commissioned and reproduced the paintings. After winning public approval, the paintings served as the centerpiece of a massive U.S. war bond drive and were put into service to help explain the war's aims.

We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want . . . everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear . . . anywhere in the world. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Message to Congress, January 6, 1941

Part 2: Staying Vigilant

WWII Poster

View the Warning! Gallery

WWII Poster

WARNING! Our Homes Are in Danger Now!, produced by the General Motors Corporation, 1942, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 516040)

Keep These Hands Off!, by G. K. Odell, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

A study of commercial posters undertaken by the U.S. Government found that images of women and children in danger were effective emotional devices. The Canadian poster at right was part of the study and served as a model for American posters, such as the one below, that adopted a similar visual theme.

(NAID: 513550)

Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them. Buy War Bonds., by Lawrence B. Smith, 1942, Produced for the Government Printing Office for the U.S. Treasury, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513572)

We're Fighting to Prevent This, by C. R. Miller, Think America Institute, Kelly Read & Co., Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 516102)

Public relations specialists advised the U.S. Government that the most effective war posters were the ones that appealed to the emotions. The posters shown here played on the public's fear of the enemy. The images depict Americans in imminent danger-their backs against the wall, living in the shadow of Axis domination.

Commercial advertising usually takes the positive note in normal times . . . But these are not normal times; this is not even a normal war; it's hell's ideal of human catastrophy [sic], so menace and fear motives are a definite part of publicity programs, including the visual. Statement on Current Information Objective Office of Facts and Figures

WWII Poster

View the This is Nazi Brutality Gallery

WWII Poster

This is Nazi Brutality, by Ben Shahn, 1942, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

Lidice was a Czech mining village that was obliterated by the Nazis in retaliation for the 1942 shooting of a Nazi official by two Czechs. All men of the village were killed in a 10-hour massacre; the women and children were sent to concentration camps. The destruction of Lidice became a symbol for the brutality of Nazi occupation during World War II.

(NAID: 513687)

We French Workers Warn You...Defeat Means Slavery, Starvation and Death., By Ben Shahn, 1942, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the War Information Board, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513688)

The Sowers, by Thomas Hart Benton, 1942, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

Artist Thomas Hart Benton believed that it was the artist's role either to fight or to "bring the bloody actual realities of this war home to the American people." In a series of eight paintings, Benton portrayed the violence and barbarity of fascism. "The Sowers" shows the enemy as bulky, brutish monsters tossing human skulls onto the ground.

(NAID: 515648)

Many of the fear-inspiring posters depicted Nazi acts of atrocity. Although brutality is always part of war, the atrocities of World War II were so terrible, and of such magnitude, as to engender a new category of crime—crimes against humanity. The images here were composed to foster fear. Implicit in these posters is the idea that what happened there could happen here.

Under their system, the individual is a cog in a military machine, a cipher in an economic despotism; the individual is a slave. These facts are documented in the degradation and suffering of the conquered countries, whose fate is shared equally by the willing satellites and the misguided appeasers of the Axis. Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry Office of War Information

WWII Poster

View the He's Watching You Gallery

WWII Poster

He's Watching You, by Glenn Grohe, ca. 1942, Gouache on cardboard, Records of the Office of War Information  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 7387549)

Someone Talked!, by Siebel, 1942, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of War Information  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513672)

...Because Somebody Talked!, By Wesley, 1943, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513669)

Wanted! For Murder, by Victor Keppler, 1944, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

A woman—someone who could resemble the viewer`s neighbor, sister, wife, or daughter—was shown on a "wanted" poster as an unwitting murderess.

At least one viewer voiced objection to the choice of a female model. A letter from a resident of Hawaii to the Office of War Information reads, in part, "American women who are knitting, rolling bandages, working long hours at war jobs and then carrying on with 'women's work' at home—in short, taking over the countless drab duties to which no salary and no glory are attached, resent these unwarranted and presumptuous accusations which have no basis in fact, but from the time-worn gags of newspaper funny men."

(NAID: 513599)

Concerns about national security intensify in wartime. During World War II, the Government alerted citizens to the presence of enemy spies and saboteurs lurking just below the surface of American society. "Careless talk" posters warned people that small snippets of information regarding troop movements or other logistical details would be useful to the enemy. Well-meaning citizens could easily compromise national security and soldiers' safety with careless talk.

Words are ammunition. Each word an American utters either helps or hurts the war effort. He must stop rumors. He must challenge the cynic and the appeaser. He must not speak recklessly. He must remember that the enemy is listening. Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry Office of War Information

WWII Poster

View the Meaning of Sacrifice Gallery

WWII Poster

You Talk of Sacrifice..., Produced by Winchester, Records of the War Production Board  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 535236)

Have You Really Tried to Save Gas by Getting Into a Car Club?, By Harold Von Schmidt, 1944, Printed by the Government Printing Office, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 513630)

Miles of Hell to Tokyo!, By Amos Sewell, 1945, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the War Manpower Commission, Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 515009)

To guard against complacency, the Government promoted messages that reminded civilian America of the suffering and sacrifices that were being made by its Armed Forces overseas.

The mortal realities of war must be impressed vividly on every citizen. There is a lighter side to the war picture, particularly among Americans, who are irrepressibly cheerful and optimistic. But war means death. It means suffering and sorrow. The men in the service are given no illusions as to the grimness of the business in which they are engaged. We owe it to them to rid ourselves of any false notions we may have about the nature of war. Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry Office of War Information

WWII Poster

View the Stamp 'Em Out! Gallery

WWII Poster

Stamp `Em Out!, Produced by RCA Manufacturing Company, Inc., Records of the Office of Government Reports  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 515473)

More Production, by Zudor, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the War Production Board, Records of the Office of War Information  View in Online Catalog

(NAID: 7387556)

The Government tried to identify the most effective poster style. One government-commissioned study concluded that the best posters were those that made a direct, emotional appeal and presented realistic pictures in photographic detail. The study found that symbolic or humorous posters attracted less attention, made a less favorable impression, and did not inspire enthusiasm. Nevertheless, many symbolic and humorous posters were judged to be outstanding in national poster competitions during the war.

War posters that are symbolic do not attract a great deal of attention, and they fail to arouse enthusiasm. Often, they are misunderstood by those who see them. How to Make Posters That Will Help Win The War, Office of Facts and Figures, 1942

Additional Media

Song:   "Any Bonds Today?"


"any bonds today bonds of freedom that's what i'm selling any bonds today scrape up the most you can here comes the freedom man asking you to buy a share of freedom today, any stamps today we'll be blest if we all invest in the u.s.a. here comes the freedom man can't make tomorrow's plan not unless you buy a share of freedom today".

Speech:   President Roosevelt's Address 

Transcript: Excerpt from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Message to Congress on January 6, 1941

"the first is the freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. the second is the freedom of every person to worship god in his own way—everywhere in the world. the third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. the fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world." (applause).

Video:  Bugs Bunny

Video Description: Bugs Bunny enters stage right in front of a backdrop of Archibald McNeal Willard's painting, "Spirit of '76" showing three colonial soldiers with a fife, drum, and flag. Bugs wears a patriotic red and white striped top hat with a band of blue and white stars that he waves and tosses off stage left. Bugs sings "Any Bonds Today?", dances and throws blue papers printed with "Bonds" toward the audience. Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig, in Army and Navy uniforms, join Bugs onstage. The trio dances and sings in front of a backdrop showing a combat scene with ships and planes. As the song ends with a musical flourish, the cartoon fades to a gold background with a Minute Man on the left and the slogan "For Defense Buy United States Savings Bonds and Stamps."

  • Corrections

War on Paper: Propaganda Posters from the Spanish Civil War

Propaganda posters from the Spanish Civil War tell the story of an epic struggle to win the hearts and minds of all who could fight.

spanish civil war propaganda posters

The Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) was one of the most brutal and bloody conflicts of all time. Spain may have been the battleground, but the scope was far larger, as people from all over the world joined or were forced to join in a war of ideologies.

Fascism and communism (and anarchism and a host of other ideologies that opposed fascism) went head to head, represented by the Nationalists and the Republicans, respectively. Countries aligned with either of those philosophies used Spain as a testbed for their military equipment.

The war wasn’t just fought in geographical locations. It was fought by appealing to people’s political conscience. Recruitment and support were critical, and ideology was promoted through propaganda. While the cinema was a new and powerful weapon in this arsenal, it was the reams of posters that captured the hearts and minds of the target audience.

The Roots of Visual Propaganda in the Spanish Civil War

atacar es vencer

The position of the Republican side of the conflict relied heavily on influence from the Soviet Union, which invested heavily in providing visual propaganda to what it saw as a region ripe for communist revolution. This proved immensely effective as the Soviet government had made, by that time, massive strides in the effective use of propaganda through film and posters in the Soviet Union . Furthermore, it should be noted that the Republicans gained no help from democratic powers in Europe, which had declared neutrality in the conflict.

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Through propaganda, the Republicans generated the desire to fight for a just cause that was liberal and focused on equality. The Nationalists, however, used unity as their overarching theme, rejecting the chaos and disorder that the Republicans represented. By doing this, they promoted allegiance to a single, powerful leader that could guide them through troubles – Francisco Franco .

Both sides, however, appealed to a plethora of human emotions to guide their propaganda messages. Along with visually striking imagery, posters and the symbolism employed conveyed messages to a population with varying levels of literacy, from the well-educated urbanites to the illiterate rural population.


aprieta fuerte companero

Representing the enemy as semi-human or non-human made it easier to distinguish the enemy as the “other.” This standard idea saw massive popularity in the 1930s, not just in the Spanish Civil War propaganda but in propaganda from other countries as well, and from both sides of the political spectrum. Of note were the German posters depicting Jews and communists and animalistic and evil sub-humans.

In the same vein, Republicans and Nationalists did so as well, depicting each other as snakes, reptiles, ogres, gorillas, and a plethora of other creatures lacking the qualities of humanity that were desirable.

Protecting the Family

spanish civil war propaganda jamas

In defending traditional norms, such as religion and social mores, the Nationalists put a strong emphasis on protecting the family. By using imagery of mothers and children under threat from communism, they could appeal to the emotions created by familial links. Just as the poster above suggests communism will destroy the family, so does the one below, with a more direct message.

spanish civil war propaganda familia

Religion as a Propaganda Tool

spanish civil war propaganda cruzada

The use of religious themes played an important part in the propaganda campaign of the Nationalists. By doing so, they managed to sway the support of much of the conservative demographic. The poster above declares Cruzada – España espiritual del mundo (“Crusade – Spain is the Spiritual Leader of the World”). Through this caption, the poster likens the Nationalist cause to that of a crusade, and in so doing, reduces their enemies to infidels. Given Spain’s history with Muslim conquest and Spanish reconquest , this message strikes a particularly powerful chord.

Appeals to Power

spanish civil war propaganda crush fascism

Propaganda is not simply powerful imagery, but it is also imagery of power. It taps into the deep need for many human beings to feel powerful. This dynamic was certainly not lost on the creators of Spanish Civil War propaganda and was found in visuals from both sides of the political spectrum.

The clenched fist is one of the most common symbols of power, and it is found here in Rafel Tona’s (1903–1987) poster above, which encourages the Catalunians to crush fascism by joining the air force.

por las armas

The above image also promoted a sense of power – a fist tightened around a rifle – signifying the necessity to fight in order to secure the fatherland, food, and justice. Behind the image is the Falangist symbol of arrows and a yoke, signifying the importance of fighting for rural traditions. This was particularly useful in appealing to the conservative, rural demographic, which formed the basis of the Falangist Movement’s support.

spanish civil war propaganda los nacionales

Populists with cults of personality are enticing targets for political cartoonists who paint these characters in satire, thus diminishing their target’s attempts to create an image of all-powerfulness. In other words, no amount of power and character presentation can save you from satire.

The above poster by Juan Antonio Morales (1936) is a perfect example of derision as a propaganda device, belittling the allies of the Nationalists. Represented are the church, the Moors, Benito Mussolini ’s Fascist Italy on the left, and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany on the right. The mast is a gallows, and from it hangs the nation of Spain with the Nationalist motto of Arriba España (“Up with Spain”). The juxtaposition here shows the hollow words leading to the death of Spain. Although it is unclear what type of bird is depicted, it is possibly a vulture waiting to scavenge the remains of a dead Spain.

spanish civil war propaganda el generalisimo

In a slightly Cubist , cartoonish style, the above image conveys a frightening image of General Francisco Franco in opposition to the Nationalist idea of him as a heroic savior. Behind him are the servile sycophants holding his cape. They represent the military, the capitalists, and the church.

The swastika on Franco’s jacket indicates that he is a puppet of the Nazi regime.


spanish civil war propaganda international brigade

Perhaps one of the most popular themes in Spanish Civil War propaganda is that of camaraderie and fighting for a just cause that is far bigger than the concerns of the individual. Posters appealed not just to Spanish people but to people worldwide who shared the ideals of the Republicans or the Nationalists.

The Republicans drew much international support from individuals by the tens of thousands. The Nationalists, although receiving a few thousand recruits from Ireland, England, the Philippines, Belarus, Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Belgium, relied more on support in the form of divisions already formed and under the control of the governments of Franco’s international allies. Italy, Germany, and Portugal supported the Nationalist cause. Of particular note was Germany’s Condor Legion , which had a significant hand in helping the Nationalists win the war.

Evocations of Disgust and Guilt in the Propaganda Posters of the Spanish Civil War:

spanish civil war propaganda madrid

One of the most potent emotions able to influence human beings to take action is the feeling of disgust. A powerful example of this is a poster from the Republican Ministerio de Propaganda which shows an actual photograph of a dead child. The assumption is made clear that the child was murdered by Nationalist forces. Images like these are extremely powerful and generate widespread feelings of anger and guilt over not having done something to prevent it. A modern example is the photograph of two-year-old Alan Kurdi, who died with his family in the Mediterranean after fleeing the Syrian Civil War .

que haces tu para

The notion of guilt is commonly combined with disgust to shame the viewer into action, as seen by the above poster designed by Augusto (Augusto Fernández Sastre) in 1937, and refers to the brutal bombardment of Madrid by the Nationalists.

Propaganda posters during the Spanish Civil War reflected the ideology of the proponents as well as the social and cultural mores of the people whose minds they intended to sway. Reaching through a vast spectrum of themes, the Spanish Civil War gives us an in-depth look at the visual psychological devices used to elicit the emotions the creators and distributors needed to wage an effective war against their mortal enemies.

Further Reading & Sources:

Hardin, Jennifer Roe. Fighting for Spain through the Media: Visual Propaganda as a Political Tool in the Spanish Civil War. 2013. Boston College University Libraries. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/151480207.pdf

Garganese, Robin. Propaganda posters in the Spanish Civil War: Exploring visual and political narratives. October 2022. Europeana. https://www.europeana.eu/en/blog/propaganda-posters-in-the-spanish-civil-war

Vergara, Alexander. Images of Revolution and War. University of California San Diego.


The Virtual Wright Museum Art. https://www.virtualwrightmuseum.com/soldier

Double Quotes

The Spanish Civil War Between Two Other World Wars

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By Greg Beyer Assistant Editor; African History Greg is an editor specializing in African History and prolific author of over 100 articles, with a BA in History & Linguistics and a Journalism Diploma from the University of Cape Town. A former English teacher, he now excels in academic writing and pursues his passion for art through drawing and painting in his free time.

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Spanish Civil War Posters

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About this collection

  • Spanish Civil War Collection

99 digital objects.

Propaganda posters produced by a variety of political parties during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. Images were digitized from original posters held by the UC San Diego Library.

From the Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection

  • Posters--Spain--1930-1939
  • Propaganda--Spain--1938
  • Anti-fascist movements--Spain--Posters
  • Political posters, Spanish
  • Spain--History--Civil War, 1936-1939--Posters
  • War posters, Spanish

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Spanish Civil War Posters

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Propaganda Posters of the Spanish Civil War

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Emerging America, in a partnership with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, has a produced a primary source-filled lesson on the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) – arguably the start of World War II. In this complex conflict, all sides used propaganda to sway the opinions of Spanish citizens and nations around the globe. The most apparent form of propaganda used was posters created by each side of the war. The Library of Congress has over 120 colorfully detailed posters. Students will use these posters to discuss and evaluate the tools of persuasion. Students work collaboratively to provide evidence for their views in a class presentation.  Aligned to Common Core and Massachusetts State History standards .

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Art of the Spanish Civil War: Political Propaganda and the Modernist Avant-Garde

Kacper Grass 1 April 2019 min Read

propaganda posters civil war

Toni Vidal, CNT-FAI, 1936, Library of Congress (originally published in the Barcelona newspaper “Tierra y Libertad”)

April 1, 1939 marked not only the end of the Spanish Civil War but also the fall of the Second Spanish Republic. The victory of General Francisco Franco’s rebel forces resulted in the overthrow of Spain’s leftist Republican government and its subsequent replacement with a Nationalist dictatorship that would last until Franco’s death in 1975.

Commemorating the 80th anniversary of the spanish civil war.

Today, 80 years after the end of the conflict, the legacy of both the Second Spanish Republic and the Franco regime continue to be controversial subjects of political debate. What remains clear, however, is that the three years of civil war had a profound impact on the country’s cultural sphere, as the most prominent artists of the day used their talents and means of expression to react to what was happening around them.

Art of the Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War is particularly noteworthy for the international impact that it had, especially in artistic and literary circles. George Orwell’s experience fighting for the P.O.U.M., one of several pro-Republican militias, is recorded in his memoir Homage to Catalonia , while Ernest Hemingway’s work as a foreign journalist during the war served as an inspiration for his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls . Jean-Paul Sartre’s short story The Wall is an existentialist account of the condemnation and execution of prisoners by Nationalist soldiers, which was the tragic fate the poet Federico García Lorca, among many others. In Spain, the most prominent artists of the modernist avant-garde were mobilized to react—some producing overt political propaganda posters and others expressing their views through more abstract works.

Republican Versus Nationalist Propaganda

Political propaganda posters have become an icon of the civil war era, as both Republican and Nationalist forces employed artists to rally support throughout the duration of the conflict. Most Republican posters were produced in the socialist realist style, which had already become the official artistic form in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Common themes included idealized depictions of peasants or proletarian workers, socialist symbolism, as well as official communiques from the government or allied militias. Indeed, Nationalist propaganda shared many of the same artistic qualities, except that the extremely traditionalist or patriotic slogans and fascist imagery made it more akin to the realism that was characteristic of political posters in Nazi Germany.

Art of the Spanish Civil War

Many Republican poster artists came from Barcelona, as the Catalan region had a long tradition of revolutionary thought and served as a Republican stronghold throughout the war. Among them, Carles Fontserè was one of the most prolific and influential. His poster Llibertat! (Catalan for “liberty”) depicts a peasant wearing a red neckerchief, with his right hand clenched in a fist and wielding a sickle. Behind him waves the red-and-black flag of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (F.A.I.), which together with the National Confederation of Labor (C.N.T.) formed the backbone of Spain’s anarcho-syndicalist movement that stood loyally behind the Republican army during the war.

Art of the Spanish Civil War

Shortly after the outbreak of the war, the Ministry of Agriculture passed a decree by which all the land that belonged to supporters of the military rebellion would be turned over to the country’s peasants. This way, nearly a third of the country’s arable land was redistributed to some 300,000 peasants, creating even deeper divisions in an already split society. To spread news of the reform, the Valencian artist Josep Renau created a poster whose heading read Peasant: Defend with Weapons the Government that Has Given You the Land . Like Fontserè’s Llibertat! , Renau’s poster also features a peasant wielding a sickle, but in his raised right hand he also holds a rifle. The butt of the rifle features the word “decree”, while the weapon’s bayonet pierces through the heart of a snake. The snake, here labeled the “factious landlord”, was a commonly used symbol to depict what were seen as the evil and treacherous forces of the Nationalist rebels.

Art of the Spanish Civil War

While most of the political propaganda posters produced during the war were in support of the Republican government, the Nationalist rebels also made an effort to gain popular support. As if alluding to the works of Fontserè and Renau, Juan Cabanas’ call to arms similarly featured a raised fist clenching a rifle, with the slogan  To Arms: Country, Bread and Justice serving to help legitimize the Nationalist cause. Nevertheless, many differences stand out. The bright colors commonly seen in left-wing propaganda have been replaced with the predominance of black and brown, although the powerful presence of red remains. The main symbolism here is the incorporation of the yoke and arrows in the background, which Franco adopted from the heraldic badge of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the so-called “Catholic Monarchs” who reconquered Spain from Muslim rule at the end of the 15th century. Also noteworthy is the seal of the Department of Visual Arts – National Service of Propaganda, which featured an eagle that served as a prototype for what would become the country’s coat of arms after the Nationalist victory.

The Reaction of the Avant-Garde

While some artists became directly involved in the production of political propaganda, others chose to pursue more abstract and innovative ways of depicting the turmoil of the civil war era. The most prominent of Spain’s surrealist and cubist painters utilized their signature techniques either to actively take a stance or simply allude to what was happening around them. Whichever the case, the civil war had a great impact on the artwork created during this time.

Art of the Spanish Civil War

Though he had never mixed art and politics in the early stages of his career, the thematic focus of Joan Miró’s work took a decisively activist turn after he was invited to participate in the International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life, held in Paris in 1937. Together with Pablo Picasso and Renau, Miró saw the event as an opportunity to spread international awareness about the plight of the Spanish Republic. Originally intended to be a postage stamp, Aidez l’Espagne (French for “Help Spain”) ultimately took the form of a poster inspired by the political propaganda that was being circulated around the cities and towns of Spain. In it, Miró depicts the common theme of a peasant with a clenched fist, although he abandons realistic representation and incorporates the flat, bright colors that were characteristic of his style. Underneath the image, he writes: “In the present struggle I see, on the Fascist side, spent forces; on the opposite side, the people, whose boundless creative will gives Spain an impetus which will astonish the world.”

propaganda posters civil war

Like Miró, Picasso had refrained from creating political art until the Paris Exposition of 1937. The two sheets of The Dream and Lie of Franco contain nine individual prints that were originally meant to be sold as postcards to raise funds in support of the Republican government. This plan, however, was never realized, and the work was finally assembled with an accompanying prose poem as a satirical critique of Franco. For example, the first image of the first sheet shows the general destroying a classical sculpture with a pickaxe, while the subsequent one depicts him with an exaggeratedly large penis, waving a sword and a flag. Though the work largely disappeared into obscurity after the civil war, it is notable for containing studies that were later incorporated into what would become the artist’s masterpiece: Guernica .

Art of the Spanish Civil War

On April 26, 1937, German and Italian war planes executed a bombing raid over the Basque town of Guernica, an operation that gave the Nationalists a significant advantage on the northern front. While the exact death toll of the bombing remains disputed, civilian casualties certainly numbered in the hundreds, and the Basque government has even claimed that over 1,600 were killed in the attack. The horrific massacre served as the inspiration for Picasso’s Guernica , a massive work that stands at 3.49 meters tall and 7.76 meters long. After its completion, the work was first displayed at the Paris Exposition and later exhibited at other venues around the world to raise funds for the Republican cause. Today, a full-size copy of the work hangs at the entrance to the Security Council at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York City to remind world leaders that the destruction and suffering of war is seldom limited to soldiers on the battlefield.

Art of the Spanish Civil War

Unlike Miró and Picasso, Salvador Dalí never took a definitive stance during the war. At various times in his life, he manifested support for both communist and fascist ideals, frequently shifting from one extreme to the other. His refusal to explicitly renounce his Nationalist leanings sparked considerable criticism among his contemporaries, the most vocal of whom was George Orwell, who later wrote in an essay that “one ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dalí is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being”. Like his political views, Dalí’s artwork was equally ambiguous. His prophetic  Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) , created shortly before the eruption of the conflict, depicts a tortured body tearing itself apart in a barren wasteland. While it can be assumed that the body is an allusion to the state of the Spanish Republic at that time, the significance of the boiled beans, much like the artist’s true beliefs and sympathies, can only be speculated by the viewer.

Art of the Spanish Civil War

Upon returning from France after the Nationalists had declared victory in 1939, Dalí found that his home had been destroyed and that his sister had been imprisoned and tortured by Franco’s soldiers. As another catastrophic war was looming in Europe, Dalí fled to the United States, where he painted The Face of War , placing his own handprint in the painting’s lower right corner. Following the Republican interpretation of snakes as a symbol of Nationalist treachery, one could interpret this work as implicitly blaming Franco for the devastation of Spain during the civil war. Nevertheless, after the end of the Second World War, Dalí returned to Franco’s Spain and, later in his life, even met with the general to paint a portrait of his granddaughter.

Art as a Reminder of the Past

General Franco died on November 20, 1975, a date that marked the beginning of Spain’s return to democratic rule. In April 2019, the same month that the country commemorates the end of what was the bloodiest and most divisive period in its modern history, the Spanish people go to the polls to participate in what will be their 14th general election since the democratic transition. Unfortunately, however, the deep divisions left by the civil war can still be felt, as the resurgence of regional separatist sentiments and the rise of radical parties on both sides of the political spectrum have come to show. Perhaps for this reason, if for none other, it might do good to return to the art of the Spanish Civil War, for it serves as a stark reminder of what can happen when neighbors turn on neighbors and friends turn into foes.

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propaganda posters civil war

Kacper Grass

Student of language, literature, and politics. Travels, sails, and tends to appear at festivals. Discovered a passion for art and writing along the way. Currently resides south of the Pyrenees under the Iberian sun. Prefers pilsners to porters. Fascinated by Beckett, relaxed by Ravel, and firmly convinced that the Sex Pistols (damn the Ramones!) started punk rock.


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Propaganda & Printing

Discover how both sides used propaganda to further their cause.

Both the Roundheads and the Cavaliers used propaganda to convince people to support them. Much of this propaganda took the form of cheap, printed pamphlets.

  • Propaganda : Information of a biased (one-sided) nature which is shared in order to promote a political cause or point of view.
  • Censorship: Checking material and preventing anything deemed unacceptable from being printed.
  • Tract: A leaflet or pamphlet which makes a declaration or appeal to its reader.

Paper Bullets

Andrew Marvell, a poet writing in the seventeenth century said that:  

“Lead, when moulded into bullets, is not so mortal as when founded into letters”. 

He was suggesting that words are like weapons and that these ‘paper bullets’ can be more deadly than real bullets.

Before the British Civil Wars, printed material was censored, and it was illegal to print domestic news (news from inside the country) at all. Those who were rich enough could pay for a handwritten newsletter to be sent to them. News and gossip circulated this way. When the Star Chamber (a court) was abolished (got rid of) in 1641, censorship ended and there was an explosion of printed material. 

The war created a hunger for news and more people could read than ever before. Both sides recognised the power of the printed word. Propaganda in newspapers and pamphlets could be used to win and hold onto support. Each side wanted to tell their story first and they could do this very quickly. Some accounts of events appeared in print only a week or so after they had happened.

Printed political pamphlets (or tracts) were read all over the country. Captain John Hodgson wrote that papers ‘flew up and down in every place’. This was everyday cheap print, which was never intended to be kept, but some of it has survived.

Find out about political pamphlets and other types of propaganda used during this period by clicking on the boxes below.

Types of propaganda

Click on the images below to see examples of different types of Civil War propaganda.

propaganda posters civil war

Political pamphlets and cartoons

propaganda posters civil war

Commemorative medals

propaganda posters civil war

Portraits and paintings


  1. Civil War Propaganda Poster

    propaganda posters civil war

  2. Pin on civil war posters

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  3. Civil War Poster Set of 12 Posters with Banner , Social Studies

    propaganda posters civil war

  4. Image result for American Civil War Posters

    propaganda posters civil war

  5. Manhattan Rifles 1862, author unknown [Recruitment Poster, American

    propaganda posters civil war

  6. 10 Civil War recruitment posters & broadsides (1861-1864)

    propaganda posters civil war


  1. Propaganda Of The American Civil War

    The American Civil War began on the April 12, 1861, but the North and South's propaganda campaigns began a few years earlier. In the decade prior to the Civil War, the American press began flourishing and evolved rapidly evolve in terms of technology, output, and distribution.

  2. American Civil War

    American Civil War - Visual Propaganda: Ideology in Art American Civil War During the American Civil War, illustrated journalism and cartoons in print media became available to the American public for the first time.

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    A way to clearly stir the emotions of a populace and drive a one-sided opinion, propaganda has been a tool for the powerful to convince and push the less powerful towards a purpose. The History of Propaganda. Although the term propaganda became common place in the United States during period of World War I, the concept has been used long since ...

  4. PDF Dueling messages: Propaganda in the Civil War

    During the Civil War, propaganda as illustrated journalism and cartoons in print media came into widespread use for the first time. The Civil War was the first time an event had been so widely ... Union recruitment posters made appeals to patriotism and liberty, often urging prospective conscripts not to wait to be drafted. Confederate posters ...

  5. The Visual Front

    Propaganda posters constitute one of the most poignant documents that remain from the Spanish Civil War. As the remarks of numerous eyewitnesses demonstrate, the posters provided an essential part of the visual landscape in which individuals living the tragedy of the war went about their daily business of survival.

  6. Civil War Envelopes Are Works of Art—And Propaganda

    Civil War Envelopes Are Works of Art—And Propaganda Envelopes were relatively new for American mail in the 1860s, and printers used them to take sides. By Veronique GreenwoodNational Geographic...

  7. Civil War Recruitment Posters

    Like the posters in later wars, the propaganda in this gallery (mostly Union, as Confederate posters are rare) used patriotic effigies such as Lady Liberty to entice recruits.But in contrast with ...

  8. Art of the Spanish Civil War

    Art of the Spanish Civil War Propaganda posters kept in the archives of the Pablo Iglesias Foundation. In collaboration with. Poster art during war Explore a key collection to our understanding of 20th-century political propaganda. Learn about the collection The Collection in 12 Questions

  9. Posters: Spanish Civil War Posters

    The collection of Spanish Civil War posters in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division consists of approximately 120 posters created between 1936 and 1939.

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  11. Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge

    Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge ( Russian: Клином красным бей белых!, Klinom krasnym bey belykh!) is a 1919 lithographic Bolshevik propaganda poster by El Lissitzky. In the poster, the intrusive red wedge symbolizes the Bolsheviks, who are penetrating and defeating their opponents, the White movement, during the Russian Civil War .

  12. Spanish Civil War Poster Collection

    During their time in Spain, members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade sent or brought home to the U.S. the propaganda posters created for the Republican effort during the war. Brandeis' Special Collections has preserved more than 250 such posters, which document a conflict that resonates to this day.

  13. Powers of Persuasion

    Enlarge "I Want You" by James Montgomery Flagg, 1940. National Archives, Army Recruiting Bureau View in National Archives Catalog Guns, tanks, and bombs were the principal weapons of World War II, but there were other, more subtle forms of warfare as well. Words, posters, and films waged a constant battle for the hearts and minds of the American citizenry just as surely as

  14. The Visual Front

    Ministerio de Propaganda. Halftone, black & white, orange; 80 x 56 cm. ... The failure to conquer the capital of Spain until the very last days of the war created a significant rallying point for loyalist forces. Images of the tragedies of Madrid's struggle were portrayed in propaganda pamphlets and posters in an attempt to rally support on ...

  15. War on Paper: Propaganda Posters from the Spanish Civil War

    Propaganda posters from the Spanish Civil War tell the story of an epic struggle to win the hearts and minds of all who could fight. Jul 29, 2023 • By Greg Beyer, Assistant Editor; African History The Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939) was one of the most brutal and bloody conflicts of all time.

  16. Spanish Civil War Posters

    Spanish Civil War Collection Extent . 99 digital objects. Description . Propaganda posters produced by a variety of political parties during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. Images were digitized from original posters held by the UC San Diego Library. Creation Date. 1936-1940; Location Of Originals . From the Southworth Spanish Civil War ...

  17. Propaganda Posters of the Spanish Civil War

    6-8, 9-12 Type: Emerging America, in a partnership with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, has a produced a primary source-filled lesson on the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) - arguably the start of World War II. In this complex conflict, all sides used propaganda to sway the opinions of Spanish citizens and nations around the globe.

  18. Art of the Spanish Civil War: Political Propaganda and the Modernist

    Political propaganda posters have become an icon of the civil war era, as both Republican and Nationalist forces employed artists to rally support throughout the duration of the conflict. Most Republican posters were produced in the socialist realist style, which had already become the official artistic form in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.

  19. Propaganda posters in the Spanish Civil War

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  20. PDF The Propaganda POSTERS of WWII

    The U.S. government produced posters, pamphlets, newsreels, radio shows, and movies-all designed to create a public that was 100% behind the war effort. In 1942 the Office of War Information (OWI) was created to both craft and disseminate the government's message. This propaganda campaign included specific goals and strategies.

  21. Russian Revolution: Ten propaganda posters from 1917

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  22. Propaganda & Printing

    Propaganda: Information of a biased (one-sided) nature which is shared in order to promote a political cause or point of view. Censorship: Checking material and preventing anything deemed unacceptable from being printed. Tract: A leaflet or pamphlet which makes a declaration or appeal to its reader. Paper Bullets

  23. Photographs of Child Victims in Propaganda Posters of the Spanish Civil War

    Abstract and Figures. This article examines propaganda posters from the Spanish Civil War that used photographs of child victims in an attempt to galvanise support for the Republican war effort ...