“Make Way for the Uncrowned King”

August 18, 1888

William A. Rogers

“Make Way for the Uncrowned King”

Irish Americans; Presidential Election 1888; Symbols, Republican Elephant;

Blaine, James G.; Harrison, Benjamin; Reid, Whitelaw;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption

According to cartoonist W. A. Rogers, the real power behind the throne in the Republican Party is James G. Blaine of Maine, the presidential nominee of 1884, not the 1888 GOP standard-bearer, Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana.  In this cartoon, Blaine arrives in the grand style of an Indian prince:  in a regal carriage atop an ornately decorated Republican Elephant, and attended by servants--an Irishman on the left, and top advisors Whitelaw Reid, editor of the New York Tribune, and Congressman William Walter Phelps of New Jersey on the right.  On the ground, the Republican masses bow deeply out of reverence for their "uncrowned king," while Harrison scurries from the path of the trumpeting elephant and its royal rider. 

James Blaine was a former congressman (1863-1876), speaker of the House (1869-1875), senator (1876-1881), and secretary of state (1881).  His presidential nomination in 1884 provoked a bolt of liberal, reform-minded Republicans (nicknamed "Mugwumps"), such as editor George William Curtis and cartoonist Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly, to the banner of Governor Grover Cleveland of New York, the Democratic nominee and eventual winner.  

An intelligent, talented, and charismatic politician, Blaine was widely loved by the Republican rank and file.  He enhanced his political support by campaigning for Republican candidates during the 1886 congressional and state elections, but left for Europe in June 1887 telling his loyalists not to make efforts on behalf of his presidential nomination.  Yet the expectation of his candidacy continued unabated during his overseas travels.  The North American Review, for example, praised him in its series on "Possible Presidents" as "a man of genius in the sphere of state-craft."

In December 1887, President Cleveland placed the tariff question at center stage in his annual message to Congress by controversially calling for across-the-board cuts.  Blaine quickly granted an interview to the New York Tribune's Paris correspondent in which he forcefully condemned the Democratic president's push for lower rates.  Supporters of the Maine Republican interpreted his response as a signal that he was entering the presidential sweepstakes in 1888.   The press immediately designated him the frontrunner, and friends inundated him with letters of encouragement.

However, in January 1888, Blaine informed the Republican national chairman, B. F. Jones, that he was not a candidate for the presidency and did not want his name placed in nomination.  There were several reasons for his decision.  Although most "Mugwump" opponents from 1884 had not returned to the Republican Party, he wanted to avoid any possible acrimony at the 1888 convention (and was in Scotland when it met in June).  He also was something of a hypochondriac, who feared that his health was not sound enough.  Furthermore, the 1884 race had been costly to him financially and, perhaps most important of all, personally.  The constant belittling of his character and the whispering campaign about his marriage had taken their toll on Blaine and his family.

Also, by this time, Blaine was expecting to return to the State Department in a new Republican administration.  Indeed, the week before this cartoon appeared, Harper's Weekly reported that Harrison had announced that he would appoint Blaine secretary of state upon his election.  The newspaper's lead editorial noted that Blaine was "as much the acknowledged chief and leader of his party as Mr. [Henry] Clay of the Whigs during the Harrison campaign of 1840" (i.e., William Henry Harrison, grandfather of the 1888 candidate).  Harrison's statement contained an assertion that the Republican nominee would be head of his administration, which, as editor Curtis wryly pointed out, "implies a feeling that there is some question upon the point."

The setting of the featured cartoon parodies the planned celebration for Blaine's return to New York City in August 1888 after his 14-month sojourn in Europe.  In the same issue of August 18, Harper's Weekly reported that the Republican leader's ship was delayed for two days, compelling the event's organizers to hold the parade in his honor on the evening of August 9, before his arrival.  Representatives from 29 states and three territories had gathered to greet the absent honoree, and an estimated 8-10,000 participated in the torchlight procession.  Blaine's ship docked the next morning, and he was driven to the Fifth Avenue Hotel "without delay and without display."

As President Harrison's secretary of state, Blaine chaired the first Pan-American Conference (1889-1890) and advocated reciprocal tariff agreements between Latin America and the United States.  Relations between the two men deteriorated over the years, culminating in Blaine's resignation from the cabinet in 1892 to seek the Republican presidential nomination against Harrison.  The president, however, was renominated on the first ballot, with Blaine and Governor William McKinley of Ohio in a near-tie for a distant second place.

James G. Blaine died in Washington, D. C., on January 27, 1893, and was interred at Oak Hill Cemetery.  In 1920, his remains were transferred to Blaine Memorial Park in Augusta, Maine.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Make Way for the Uncrowned King”
February 22, 2024

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