The sale of the West Indian Islands to the USA Caricatures

The sale of the colonies in the West Indies was the subject of exhaustive discussion among the general public in Denmark, both before and after the event. The printed press played a decisive role in the debate, and caricatures were often employed to stress a point.

Two caricatures – from the newspapers Social-Demokraten and Vort Land – illustrate the form taken by the debate.

Caricature of The right of centre press change their opinion about the sale of the islands.
The right of centre press change their opinion about the sale of the islands. (Social-Demokraten, 8th August 1916).
Caricature from Blæksprutten.
The sale of the islands preoccupied all Danish politicians, who now populate the three islands. (Blæksprutten 1916)

The new standpoint of the right of centre press

Social-Demokraten published the drawing at the top of the page on 8 August 1916, a few days after the foreign ministers of Denmark and the USA had reached agreement on the terms of the sales treaty. In the view of Social-Demokraten, the right of centre press had changed its standpoint from opposing to supporting the sale. The drawing shows the editor in chief of Berlingske Tidende, Christian Gullmann, running in front; the little man is Julius Wulff of Vort Land; Harald Witzansky, editor of the liberal newspaper København is on the right; and Oskar Kalko, editor of National-Tidende, is at the back.

Social-Demokraten was not alone in its criticism. The newspaper Vort Land was fired as the organ of the Højre party following its approval of the sale of the islands.

Prime Minister Erik Scavenius and Minister of Finance Edvard Brandes as the victims of duty. (Vort Land, 14th August 1916)
Prime Minister Erik Scavenius and Minister of Finance Edvard Brandes as the victims of duty. (Vort Land, 14th August 1916)

Secret talks

The drawing from Vort Land on 14 August 1916 commented on the secretiveness surrounding the negotiations between the Danish and American governments in the summer of 1916.

It was finance minister Edvard Brandes and especially minister for foreign affairs Erik Scavenius who were responsible for the negotiations. The first rumours about the sale appeared in the press in July, but both Brandes and Scavenius firmly denied that the rumours had any substance. Nevertheless, shortly after they presented the negotiated sales treaty at a closed meeting of parliament. The treaty was signed on 4 August 1916.

Fierce criticism

It was not only Vort Land that expressed surprise. The opposition fiercely criticized the government and claimed that the ministers could no longer be trusted. Brandes replied: ”When one has to conceal something,  one conceals it if one is a decent person”, and Scavenius said that trust between political opponents was an impossibility.

The government, however, had to meet the opposition halfway, with the result that the Social-Liberal government took three “control ministers” without portfolio into the government – from the Liberal, the Conservative and the Social Democratic parties.

Caricature from Klods-Hans.
There was furious discussion between supporters and opponents of the sale of the islands in the political commission that made a thorough investigation of the question in 1902. (Alfred Schmidt in Klods-Hans 1916).