Only one survives today, but these were the magazines that made us laugh - and sometimes wince - with their political and social cartoons over a century of American popular humor.

The Library of Congress, pulling together 116 original cartoon drawings from six American magazines, has come up with a delightful way to sample our political, cultural and social history. The exhibit opens Sunday in the first and second-floor galleries off the Library's Great Hall.

With both gentle jabs and savage swipes of the pen, these master cartoonists punctured social shams, political chicanery and cultural silliness. Among them are Thomas Nast, Charles Dana Gibson, Miquel Covarrubias, Peter Arno, William Steig, and Whitney Darrow.

Only The New Yorker survives today. The other magazines in which the cartoons appeared - Harper's Weekly, Puck, The Judge, Life (on its demise in 1936 the name of the humor weekly was purchased for a new picto rial magazine) and Vanity Fair - have disappeared from the magazine racks, leaving cartoon humor to such as Playbody and Esquire.

Puck was the first of the comic weeklies to make it, and was soon joined by The Judge and Life in ministering to the sense of the ridiculous.

Not that others hadn't tried. There were those who tried to follow in the English Punch tradition (Punchinello lasted nine months). One comic weekly called Uncle Sam announced that "nothing immoral or scurrilous will ever appear in its columns . . ."

It lasted exactly 11 issues.

What is amazing about the cartoons on exhibit at the Library of Congress is that they can still make you laugh despite the fact that humor often is a topical commodity.

"The cartoonist often deals with the ephemeral subjects in terms of eternal and universal human characteristics," pointed out Alan Fern, director of the Library's research department.

Thomas Nast, the premier political cartoonist of Harper's Weekly, captured this in his circle of politicians, each pointing the finger of blame at the clap next to him, with the caption: "Who Stole the People's Money?"

The same satiric image cropped up years later in a 1910 cartoon and then in a 1918 version (by Edwin Marcus, who acknowledged his debt with "apologies to Thomas Nast"). It shows World War I national leaders circling Europe over the caption: "Who Caused the War?"Twas Him."

There are other cartoons that remind us that problems of the past are still problems of the present.

"Like the moth, it works in the dark" is the caption for the searing cartoon that appeared in the earlier Life on Feb. 1, 1923. A moth with the initials "KKK" nibbles and shreds the American flag.

This is the work of Charles Dana Gibson, moved by bigotry to drop the raffish style and humor of his Gibson Girls and sophisticated society cartoons.

"The cartoon is the one illustration that can document an idea," said Miltion Kaplan, research consultant for the exhibit.

And the cartoons, whether in sharp satire or gentle comment, do reflect the issues, manners, attitudes and quirks of society in their times.

Not always accorded the respect given other graphic arts, cartoons are often brilliantly drawn by accomplished artists. Covarrubias, the Mexican artist who enlivened the pages of Vanity Fair in the 1930s, used the African-mask face fo Picasso for caricature. The original drawings in the Library's exhibit, some seen side by side with the magazine reproductions, who how often subtleties of line, color and draftsmanship were lost.

One that suffered in reproduction is the William Allen Rogers drawing showing Uncle Sam embracing a lively gal whose physiognomy blends into North and South America with an hour-glass waist at the Panama Canal. The caption is: "No other arm may go around this waist."

It recalls the 1960s cartoon of the Vietnam scar being displayed by President Lyndon B. Johnson after his gall-bladder operation.