1876–Harper’s Weekly Cartoon–Corey Bruce
This political cartoon illustrates how the Republicans, supporting Rutherford B. Hayes, viewed the dominant forces of the Democratic Party. The setting of the cartoon takes place on the road to St. Louis, Missouri, where the Democratic National Convention was being held, as portrayed by the sign in the upper left corner. The five characters marching each represent one of the stereotypical dominant figures of the Democratic Party.
On each character in the cartoon, is a label with the word “Reform.” This is a reference to Samuel Tilden, the expected Democratic Nominee who later ended up running against Hayes in the Presidential Election. Tilden was often referred to as a reform governor from New York and therefore chose “reform” as the main theme to his campaign.
The large man leading the march was referred to as a “shoulder-hitter.” This person was a physically powerful man who typically used acts of violence to force his will upon the political system. He is dressed in the striped garment of an inmate accompanied by chains and shackles, which represents his violent nature. The tipped “sporting man” hat and the cigar were typical accessories of important and powerful men in society. In his left hand, he is shown dragging a crying “Reform Rag Baby” by the hand. The Rag Baby was typically used to represent inflation or “soft-money.” One important issue circling the 1876 election came from the push of the nation’s farmers, many who were deep in debt. They felt that by increasing the nations money supply, it would generate inflation and help them reduce their debt. They therefore demanded that the government implement a soft-money policy by increasing the money supply. This however, stirred controversy elsewhere due to feelings of uncertainty and insecurity from an irredeemable paper currency, with its fluctuations in value. The Democratic Party was divided over the issue with hard-money, gold standard supporters in the Northeast and soft-money inflationist supporters in the West and South. It is not so surprising that Tilden was a hard-money supporter unlike other potential Democratic Nominees, which provides more evidence that this cartoon is in direct reference to his potential nomination as the Democratic Candidate in this election.
Behind the “shoulder-hitter” and “rag baby” is a Roman Catholic priest carrying a document inscribed with the phrase “death to public schools.” The Catholic Priest represents the predominantly German and Irish Catholic immigrants that made up a crucial voting community for he Democratic Party. Anti-Catholic groups often accused Catholics of being loyal first to the Vatican and not the United States projecting an unpatriotic image on this primarily Democratic society. The word “Pope” as well as the Vatican symbol also appears on the document being held by the Priest. The phrase “death to public schools” refers to the primarily Protestant nature of public schools at the time. Typically, state funds had been distributed to a variety of different school systems. Catholic schools therefore received their fair share. However, Public-School supporters accused the Catholic Church of attempting to destroy the emerging public-school system.
Peaking up from behind the Priest is a member of the Ku-Klux-Klan. He is wearing the hat and mask of an Italian banditti, which symbolizes anarchistic brutality and on the hat rests a skull and crossbones, which signifies death and is a common symbol used by the Ku-Klux-Klan. This refers to two other important issues salient to this election. The use of “death” represents the Klan’s resistance to both Reconstruction as well as Black Civil Rights.
The figure in the back is supposed to look like a Tammany Chief disguised as a cigar storefront Indian on a dolly. Tammany Hall was the principal group of the Democratic Party in New York City and acted as a great influence at the state and national levels. During the 1860s and 70s, Tammany Hall was lead by the corrupt William “Boss” Tweed who finally fell in the early 1870s to the honest John Kelly. John Kelly is the man pictured as the Tammany Chief holding a hatchet and a bottle of alcohol. Because Kelly did not truly agree with Tilden’s nomination, he is being pushed by another man dressed as an inmate whose identity is unknown.