1888–Anti-Harrison Political Cartoon
From COMM 458 student Ryan Castle:
This piece of rhetoric is from the 1888 election between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. Harrison was a Republican from Indiana and Cleveland was a New York Democrat running for his second term in office.
This piece of rhetoric is important in that it highlights how these two candidates ran their campaigns. Historically, candidates would not campaign and Cleveland adhered to this tradition by leaving all of his campaigning to be done by his vice president, Allen G. Thurman. In fact, the only actual campaigning done by Cleveland was “front porch campaigns,” common to the era, in which he would receive delegations and make pronouncements from his home town in New York. Harrison, on the other hand, took a very active approach to his campaigning by the standards of the era. Unlike Cleveland, he would have newspapers cover his front porch campaigning and had one of the most well-funded campaigns of the time.
Another important issue regarding this political cartoon is that it takes us back to the election of 1840 in which Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry Harrison, won and became the ninth U.S. president. Especially important is the fact that William Henry Harrison was regarded as the war hero in the battle of Tippecanoe, an aspect that gave him a considerable edge in the election of 1840. William Henry Harrison, leading an army of 1,100 against a reform movement by an eastern tribe to halt the sale of Indian land to whites, fought a battle that was seen to have improved the safety of white settlements in Indian territory and destroyed the confederation of eastern tribes. Benjamin Harrison, however, had his own war credentials as he commanded Indiana volunteers in the Civil War. Although this political cartoon compares Benjamin Harrison to his grandfather in a negative light, the war record of him and his grandfather were nevertheless positive attributes he carried with him to the election that granted him popularity among former Union soldiers.
The cartoon depicts Grover Cleveland extending a bag full of money to Benjamin Harrison that reads “10,000 courtesy of Pius John to help carry Indiana.” This illustrates his well funded campaigning and suggests that he received money from Pius John, a wealthy merchant who was considered the “father of advertising” at the time. It also suggests that Benjamin Harrison’s strength among voters in Indiana, a swing state at the time, is obtained solely through charitable donations by wealthy businessmen like Pius John. This attack holds it’s own weight in that there was speculation that large amounts of money were being used to purchase votes in key swing states, including Indiana, throughout the election. Another interpretation is that since Cleveland won the state of Indiana in the 1884 election, this contribution would be needed in order for Benjamin Harrison to win the state in the present election.
Also, Benjamin Harrison is portrayed as wearing a hat too big for his head. This hat is supposed to be his grandfather’s, William Henry Harrison, and suggests he does not compare to the heroic reputation of his grandfather, despite his participation in the Civil War, given that he associates himself with wealthy individuals. This brings us back to the type of political campaigning prevalent in the 1840 election where personal attacks determined the victor. William Henry Harrison was running as a war hero while his opponent, Martin Van Buren, was portrayed as rich and snobby, insinuating that Benjamin Harrison would better fit the latter category.
This piece of rhetoric is interesting in that it does not place emphasis on either candidate’s stance on the tariff issue which was the biggest issue of this campaign. It is especially interesting given that Cleveland initiated the tariff issue when he proposed a dramatic reduction in tariffs in his annual message to Congress. It was believed by Benjamin Harrison, however, that the United States, being a low-cost exporter at the time, needed high tariffs in order to combat foreign competition. This put Cleveland in an awkward position since it hurt his position among farmers and veterans, further enhancing the edge that Benjamin Harrison had already gained among these groups given him and his grandfather’s war record. Perhaps this explains by its own means why the issue wasn’t brought up by Cleveland.
Interestingly, while this political cartoon had some substance in that it highlighted a devious deed going on at the time (the issue with purchasing votes in Indiana) and attempted to attack one of Harrison’s strongest attributes, the stronger campaigning orchestrated by Harrison was probably the most important factor that led to his victory in this election.