1900–Anti-Dems Cartoon–Adam Chomski
“The Fourth of July at Kansas City” is a piece of campaign rhetoric reflecting the belief of some voters in the 1900 elections that the Democratic Party is one of chaos, corruption, and insanity. William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic opponent of incumbent president (and winner of the 1900 elections) William McKinley, is notably featured in a prominent portrait on the right side of the cartoon as a threatening figure who poses a danger to the country. The first indication of the cartoonist’s belief that Bryan (and the Democratic Party as a whole) is unfit for the presidency is the top of the barrel in the back of the cartoon that has the “16:1” ratio written on it, the silver to gold ratio proposed for unlimited silver coinage. This is a reference to Bryan’s steadfast adherence to “free silver,” a movement to tie American currency to silver that Bryan insisted would bring about better economic times. Bryan’s adherence to free silver puzzled many voters because America’s use of the gold standard had brought about economic prosperity for three consecutive years under McKinley’s term, and the Gold Standard Act of 1900 was passed enacting this practice as law. Bryan’s stance as a Silverite made voters feel he was simply stubborn for refusing to budge from his clearly defunct position. In the words of Republican congressman Thomas Reed, “Bryan would rather be wrong than [be] president.” Evidently, the cartoonist agrees.
The issue of U.S. imperialism and the country’s military action in Cuba, the Philippines, and China is also on full display. On the platform are Carl Schurz, Edward Atkinson, and William Lloyd Garrison Jr, vice-presidents of the Anti-Imperialist League, and Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Filipino rebels fighting the US. Prior to the 1900 elections, McKinley’s term was marked by wars characterized by many American voters as imperialist. American military involvement in Cuba and the Philippines was a major issue of contention on the campaign trail, an issue McKinley would later examine in what I consider to be the final piece of 1900 campaign rhetoric, McKinley’s Inaugural address. The author of this particular cartoon evidently rebukes these accusations, instead choosing to paint anti-imperialists in the same negative light as the crazy socialists and Silverites in the background.
Admiral George Dewey (left), the man responsible for capturing the Spanish Manila Bay colony in the Philippines, is also present on the platform. It is no mistake that Dewey is present standing next to Bryan’s menacing portrait: Dewey was previously in the running for the presidency until he made a fool of himself by declaring the role of president to be “easy.” Predictably, Dewey was mocked for his statement and quickly disregarded as a serious nominee for President due to his obvious lack of political experience. Placing him next to Bryan leads the viewer to believe the same fate awaits him, a sort of guilt by association. Emilio Aguinaldo’s (right) presence also paints Bryan as a traitor to his country, souring his reputation in the eyes of viewers. A banner in the upper left of the cartoon espousing Aguinaldo to be “a true democrat” solidifies the cartoonist’s intent, painting a sort of scarlet letter on the whole of the Democratic Party. The banner to the right of Aguinaldo’s states, “we express our sympathy with the boxers.” This refers to the Boxer rebellion, a protest by a group of Chinese against America’s presence in the country which was suppressed by American troops acting on McKinley’s orders. With the Boxer rebellion ongoing at the time of this cartoon’s publishing, the statement is treasonous and reflects poorly on Bryan’s character.
In addition to Bryan’s anti-imperialism, he was widely opposed to trusts and made his opposition to big business associations a key element of his campaigning. Supporters of McKinley, though, pointed to the hypocrisy of Bryan’s stance given the involvement of some of his key supporters in trusts and big business activities. The cartoonist depicts this hypocrisy with his drawing of a large block of ice labeled “Tammany Ice Trust” in the middle of the cartoon, as well as a banner in the upper left-hand corner of the cartoon stating “down with the ice trusts.” At the time, Augustus Van Wyck, New York Mayor Robert Van Wyck, and what looks to be John Carroll, the men encased in the block of ice, were associates of Tammany Hall, a political machine backing Bryan for president. During Bryan’s campaign Tammany Hall was embroiled in a scandal over New York City’s “ice trust,” and its support of Bryan calls his positions and character into question. The presence of Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison II and the sign he holds (“Wide Open Chicago,” referring to the lawlessness engendering the city’s political corruption) doesn’t help Bryan’s campaign, either.
Ultimately, this cartoon is a very powerful piece of campaign rhetoric in that it argues the viewpoints of Bryan’s opponents and exhibits the events and controversies surrounding his campaign. It is a snapshot of the political climate of the time and a reminder of why Bryan failed in his efforts to gain the vote in 1900.
IMAGE (and information): http://elections.harpweek.com/1900/cartoon-1900-Medium.asp?UniqueID=21&Year=1900