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1876–Cartoon–Corey Bruce

This cartoon was illustrated by A.B. Frost based on a George Colt design. It appeared in Harper’s Weekly on September 2, 1876. The underlying message of this cartoon was to paint Samuel J. Tilden as politically corrupt. In 1868, Tilden acted as campaign manager for Horatio Seymour, the Democratic Party Nominee and Chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee. A year after that election, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune and a Republican, wrote a public letter to Tilden accusing him of allowing the New York Democratic Party to commit voter fraud. The actual letter written to Tilden from Greeley is placed in the upper right corner of cartoon. The Republicans felt that, by bringing this back into the spotlight, they could convince voters that Samuel Tilden was and still is a corrupt politician.

The rest of the illustration uses imagery representative of a scene from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In that story, Macbeth, the main character, murders to the good King of Scotland, Duncan, to gain power and rule. One of Duncan’s generals, Banquo, suspects that Macbeth has gained his power through an evil deed and voices this to the kingdom. Because of that, Macbeth ordered the murder of Banquo as well. Banquo then appears to Macbeth in the form of a ghost continually condemning him for his sins.

Pictured in the cartoon is Samuel J. Tilden as Macbeth sitting in a chair in his study. He appears horrified, guilt stricken and embarrassed as the ghost of Horace Greeley, the Republican Presidential Candidate in 1872, stands over him in condemnation. Here Greeley is pictured as Banquo’s ghost. As he points to the letter he had earlier written to Tilden, he is essentially haunting him of his past sins of corruption. Picturing Greeley as a ghost, also symbolizes his death before the Electoral College casted their votes in 1872.

Though this is blatantly an attack on Tilden and the Democratic Party by the Republican Party, it is not farfetched to see it as an inadvertent attack on the Democratic Nominee by his own party. Horace Greeley, in the election of 1872, ran as a Liberal Republican against Radical Republican, Ulysses S. Grant. Greeley, however, was nominated by the Democratic Party. So even after Greeley wrote that letter to Tilden, the Democratic Nominee in 1868, accusing him of allowing voter fraud, the Democratic Party still endorsed his nomination in the following election. The cartoon does not only illustrate the political corruptness of Samuel J. Tilden, but it also symbolizes a weakness in the Democratic Party, especially in their decisions over the past three elections.

Despite Republican efforts to burry Tilden as a strong opponent, the election of 1876 was one of the most controversial and close elections in American history. Samuel J. Tilden outpolled Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote and had 184 electoral votes to Hayes’s 165. However, twenty votes went uncounted and were disputed in three states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, each party claiming those states. The twenty disputed electoral votes were ultimately given to Hayes, giving him the victory over Tilden.

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