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1884–Political Cartoon–Corie Stretton

Unfortunately, the candidates who lose in Presidential elections throughout history are often forgotten.  During the Gilded Age in American history, there was a series of elections that were decided by a fraction of the vote, which means that we could have very easily elected the other men who ran for the position.  Despite this fact, their names are still mostly unknown.  James Blaine is the perfect example of this, competing against Grover Cleveland in the 1884 election.  While his campaign was surrounded by scandal, he still managed to come very close to beating Cleveland, losing the popular vote by only 0.3 percent.

Many political cartoons were made in reference to Blaine’s embarrassing past, with this particular cartoon acting as a reference to a group of people called the Mugwumps.  This was a group of politicians from the Republican Party who were displeased with Blaine as the Republican nomination for President, and crossed party lines to support Cleveland instead.  They considered themselves to be reformers, and believed in Cleveland’s competency as a candidate much more than Blaine’s.  They were soon known as “Mugwumps,” named after the Algonquian Indian word for an important, or self-important, person, and were subject to a great deal of criticism from the rest of their party.  Indeed, there were other cartoons drawn that showed these politicians sitting on a fence with “their ‘mug’ on one side of the fence and their “wump” on the other.  Sometimes, they were even referred to as “hermaphrodites,” or homosexuals, because they refused to support the party they came from (Frum).  “Their actions were seen as a complete betrayal of the Republican Party, and contributing to Blaine’s eventual loss in the election. 

This cartoon demonstrates the fear of the Republican Party, and how they were convinced that the Mugwumps would bring about the destruction of Blaine’s campaign.  The scene is modeled off of a story from the Bible known as Belshazzar’s Feast.  In this story, Belshazzar, the king, is having a great feast with many of his lords with a great deal of food and drink to go around.  In the middle of this dinner, “fingers of a man’s hand” appeared and wrote a threatening message on the wall that his kingdom would be destroyed, while a voice spoke about how Belshazzar had dishonored his father before him as king.  Later that night, Belshazzar was killed, and a new king took over the kingdom (“Belshazzar’s Feast Bible Story”).

Related to this story, the cartoon has the words “Republican Revolt” written on the wall in the middle of what appears to be a large feast for Blaine, his Vice Presidential candidate John Logan, and several over politicians.  Blaine, tattooed in the countless scandals he was associated with, is trying to hide from the ominous message behind pieces of newspapers, with a scared look on his face.  Like Belshazzar, Blaine would inevitably fail in his pursuits, and in this cartoon the Mugwumps are being shown as the ones responsible.  In addition, Logan is laying next to him, trying to block the message with his hand while wearing what appears to be clothes similar to the Native Americans, once again drawing a connection to the term Mugwumps and its meaning in the Algonquian Indian language.  Logan’s positioning also reinforces the idea that Logan is less powerful and less significant compared to Blaine, with him literally falling down below Blaine.

The expressions of the faces of the men seated at the feast have similar looks of fear, as they all appear to be backing away from the message or even fighting each other to run away.  The ears of the men who are attempting to escape are enlarged to resemble rats, belittling their integrity and showing their cowardice.  The “food” they are feasting on is called “Pension Pie” and “Monopoly Stew,” referencing Republican Party’s initiatives related to monopolies and pensions at the time.  Labeling all of the individuals also worked to hold them accountable to the American public for supporting a supposedly doomed candidate.  These characters range from the speaker of the New York assembly to the editor of the Chicago Tribune (“1884: Cleveland v. Blaine- The Writing on the Wall”).  The magazine where this cartoon was published, Puck, tended to favor the Democratic Party, and this preference is made even more obvious in this cartoon. 

Sources:

http://elections.harpweek.com/1884/Overview-1884-3.htm 

http://elections.harpweek.com/1884/cartoon-1884-large.asp?UniqueID=54&Year=1884 

http://www.hymns.me.uk/51-belshazzars-feast-bible-story.htm 

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/01/bring-back-the-mugwumps/7842/

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