James Blaine’s campaign for the Presidency in 1884 was surrounded by controversy. With his opponent, Grover Cleveland, portrayed as the ideal honest, good person, Blaine had a series of scandals that tainted his image and led to numerous political cartoons criticizing him. This particular cartoon references three of the major scandals he was involved with that proved he was not qualified to be the Republican Presidential candidate.
The two of the weights on the trap depicted in this cartoon represent the Mulligan Letters and Little Rock Bonds. About fifteen years before the election, Blaine served as speaker of the house, and was involved in passing a land grant for the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad, however as a result he received a great deal of money in bonds from the company. Once the success of the railroad company eventually waned, he sold his bonds to another man, Tom Scott, and began supporting his railroad company, Scott’s Texas and Pacific Railroad, instead. This situation was discovered by one of the men working for the Little Rock railroad company, James Mulligan, who found copies of letters from Blaine to the head of the Little Rock railroad, detailing the crooked dealings Blaine was involved with. (“1884: Cleveland v. Blaine”). Aptly named the Mulligan Letters, these were published by newspapers throughout the country as Blaine began his campaign for the Presidency, greatly hurting his credibility. The fact that the phrase “Burn this letter!” was written at the bottom of one of the letters was even more revealing, and significantly influenced the public’s opinion of him.
The other weight on the trap in this cartoon is “Guano Statesmanship,” related to Blaine’s war record through the War of the Pacific. He petitioned to the U.S. to support Peru against Chile, however many people in government doubted his reasons for wanting to give aid to Peru. There were charges that he had personal investments in Peruvian guano and nitrates, which could be used as gunpowder during battle, and was motivated to help solely because of this reason (“1884: Cleveland v. Blaine- Blaine’s Scandal Sheet”). This also works to show his dishonesty and works to convince the American people that Blaine was solely focused on doing things for personal gain, as opposed to the well being of the country.
Logan’s portrayal as a rat is in itself degrading, giving the impression that he is among the lowest forms of life that no one would or should support. As he reaches for the cheese under the trap, the “Presidency,” he will inevitably be crushed by his “o’erweening ambition,” or his cocky and arrogant goals for leading the country despite his many shortcomings. The title says it all by calling Logan “His Own Destroyer,” saying that his own actions in the past have destroyed any chance he has at winning the Presidency. Though he had experience in the government, these many scandals appear to weigh too much and will literally crush him before he can achieve his goals. The irony of the tagline at the bottom is obvious, calling it a “pleasant situation,” and adds to the impression that Blaine is not in any position to win the election. These details all combine to show to the public that Blaine is an immoral, self-centered, and ill prepared candidate compared to Cleveland.
Another important part of this cartoon to note is the tail of the rat, Blaine, which has his Vice Presidential candidates name, “Logan,” written on it. Blaine did not have a solid relationship with his VP candidate, as they disagreed on a variety of topics, however the two of them were selected by the Republican convention to run as a team. Logan did not have nearly as many scandals on his record as Blaine did, which is why he worked to stress the integrity of past Republican Presidential candidates and prove that he and Blaine would continue that tradition (“1884: Cleveland v. Blaine”). Other than that minor contribution, however, he was not seen as having any kind of influence in the campaign, and was even sometimes ignored by Blaine. His representation as Blaine’s tail, then, shows just how insignificant he was to the campaign, and diminishes his power and credibility. Indeed, a Presidential candidate with a history of corruption with an unimportant candidate for Vice President certainly combines for an unsuccessful campaign, which is exactly what Cleveland’s campaign was hoping when they began their attacks on the Republican candidates. Though the results of the election were incredibly close, it is clear that these slander campaigns had a huge impact on voter’s decisions on election day.