Barnum's What Is It? drew broad publicity and large crowds during the months leading up to the 1860 Presidential election, which revolved around issues of slavery and the rights and definition of African Americans as citizens. The portrayal of an African man as the link between man and monkey became fodder for anti-Lincoln cartoons. This anti-Lincoln Currier and Ives print used Barnum's racial construct to denounce the Republican candidate and argue that slaves were not fit for citizenship. The image of the What Is It was taken from an American Museum advertisement that appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on December 15, 1860.
Source: Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum