Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures by Albert Bigelow Paine. Published by The Macmillan Company, New York and London in 1904. 583 pages and over 425 illustrations. Available via Google Books.
This is part six of a series of posts about Paine's biography of the caricaturist Thomas Nast and research I did spurred on by reading the book. - DonkeyHotey
President Ulysses S. Grant was treated by his critics to endless accusations and investigations. He was portrayed as being capable of all manor of debauchery and corruption. Republican opponents and Democrats painted Grant as a lazy, whiskey swilling, cigar munching, fast horse loving, unkept, uncouth despot, who put his desire to rule above the Constitution and placed corrupt cronies and family in jobs so they could steal. He was even accused of being too friendly with the French, supposedly profiting from selling them arms. His political opponents could be said to have had Grant Derangement Syndrome and fueled their campaign with cries of nepotism and despotism.
It turned out that Grant was not good at picking and monitoring government officials and was repeatedly embarrassed by revelations of their misconduct. His military instinct was to back up his men and this led to reluctance to act. This combination did not serve Grant or the nation well.
The real conflict had to do with Reconstruction. After the Civil War the South wanted to reconstruct their past while Radical Republicans supported the strict implementation of the Reconstruction Acts to reform Southern society and protect the rights of African Americans to vote and participate in political affairs. They also wanted to limit the political and voting rights of some ex-Confederates. There was a split in the Republican party with “moderates” favoring quick return to normalcy. They claimed this was justified because the goals of uniting the country and freeing the slaves had been met.
This quote from his autobiography states U.S. Grant's judgment of the rebellion, slavery, and the Confederate economic system (emphasis added):
There was no time during the rebellion when I did not think, and often say, that the South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North. The latter had the people, the institutions and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation. The former was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class. With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory. The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so. The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated “poor white trash.” The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor. The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor. Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and, not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them. The war was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all it cost. - Pages 507 & 508 Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant
President Grant's first term was a busy one. He used the force of the Federal Government under the Reconstruction Acts to protect civil rights and voting rights for people who had been enslaved and to disrupt the Ku Klux Klan. Grant pressed for passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution that guaranteed voting rights for African Americans. He weathered the Black Friday gold scandals. Grant was thwarted by Senator Charles Sumner in his plans to annex San Domingo (now the Dominican Republic). This led Grant to orchestrate Sumner's removal as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and earned him Sumner's disdain. Grant championed Civil Service reform and appointed the first head of the Civil Service commission. He signed the Treaty of Washington settling a dispute with the United Kingdom referred to as the Alabama Claims. Just prior to the 1872 elections Grant signed into law the Amnesty Act that restored voting rights and the right to hold office for most of the southern rebels.
A group of Republicans lead by U.S. Senator Carl Schurz were convinced that the future of the republic rested on electing “anybody but Grant.” To this end they created a third party to put forth a candidate to oppose Grant in the Presidential election of 1872. The Liberal Republican Party leaders included Senators, Congressman, Governors and even Supreme Court Justices. Many newspaper editorial pages supported the effort.
Horace Greeley was a former Whig turned Republican turned Liberal Republican. He entered the newspaper business at a young age and was editor of the New York Tribune from 1841 until he died in 1872. He served one partial term in Congress after a winning a special election. Greeley was an open minded seeker of sorts who entertained controversial ideas and people. His ideas and convictions evolved over the years and evidence of these changes were printed for everyone to see in the editorial pages of the Tribune and numerous political pamphlets he authored.
Greeley opposed extending slavery to other states and opposed secession. He supported the Emancipation Proclamation. When the South actually seceded, his first response was to let them "go in peace." He later advocated compromise with the Confederacy. He supported Reconstruction, but was among the guarantors of a bond to release Jefferson Davis from prison. He argued against the Democrats for much of his life and then joined hands with them to run against Grant.
The Liberal Republicans convened in Cincinnati in May 1872. They choose as their candidates Horace Greeley for President and Benjamin Gratz Brown for Vice President. Candidate Greeley proposed ending Reconstruction, amnesty for all Confederates and the removal of Federal troops from the South among other issues. These ideas were presented as being compatible with his support of civil and voting rights for former slaves. Greeley and Brown were also the chosen candidates of the Democratic Party.
Greeley was an eccentric thinker and he was also eccentric in appearance. He grew into a soft mush faced man with a pudgy physique and a ring of hair and neck beard around his balding head and shaved face. He wore wire rimmed glasses and long coats. He definitely had a defined persona. He may have modeled his look after Benjamin Franklin, but that just seemed out of place in mid 19th century New York. He was considered a funny looking person.
Nast proceeded to take Horace Greeley apart caricature by caricature. He portrayed Greeley as a pandering Flip-Flopper who was part of the “anything to beat Grant” crowd. He used Greeley's words to prove his point and his appearance to make him look ridiculous. Greeley's running mate was Benjamin Gratz Brown, the Governor of Missouri. The cartoonist did not have a reference photo of Brown to work from so he represented him as an “old white hat and coat” or, as we might call it, an “empty suit.” This proved so popular Nast continued to use it throughout the campaign.
Here follows the Nast cartoons of the Campaign of Caricature as mentioned in the biography.
During the election of 1872 Thomas Nast “averaged three drawings a week during the year, many of them double pages.” The volume of his work and the quality were both very high.
Thomas Nast took a trip to the Nation's capitol in the election year of 1872. During that visit he wrote many letters home to his wife Sallie, describing his adventures in Foggy Bottom. The Caricaturist was wined and dined by the Washington elite. He found himself in the company of Senators, Congressman, Cabinet Secretaries, Generals, Supreme Court Justices and the President. He saw President Grant every day. The Grants invited him to dinner on more than one occasion. “Men's” parties were held in his honor. He visited the floor of the House and Senate and was greeted by many. Many of the politicians wanted to make sure he had decent photo of them to work from.
Nast made friends with Col. Norton P. Chipman who was the Congressional Delegate from the District of Columbia for two years. The non-voting post existed between in 1871 and 1875. The office wasn't occupied again until 1971 when Walter E. Fauntroy was elected to the post. Chipman and Nast were to remain close friends for life.
The artist attended boring meetings with a “copyright man” at Fletcher Harper's request. These were industry meetings discussing the intricacies of copyright law.
Grant wins reelection by a comfortable margin. This win earns Thomas Nast more renown and respect. The gleam of victory was soon diminished. Horace Greeley's wife had died just after the election and then Greeley also passed on November 29th, 1872. This was before the electoral college had even met. The newspapers that supported Greeley attributed his demise to the virtual beatings Thomas Nast dealt him on the pages of Harper's. Nast had heard of Greeley's illness and did not publish a cartoon showing Greeley dangling over the open grave of Democracy titled, “Clasping Hands Over The Bloodless (Sar)c(h)asm”.
Mark Twain wrote to Nast:
Nast, you more than any other man, have won a prodigious victory for Grant – I mean, rather, for Civilization and Progress. Those pictures were simply marvelous and, if any man in the land has a right to hold his head up and be honestly proud of his share in this year's vast events, that man is unquestionably yourself. We all do sincerely honor you and are proud of you.
Mark Twain - Page 263
The next post in this series begins with Thomas Nast on the lecture circuit.
NEXT - Thomas Nast 7