“Carl Is Disgusted with American Politics”

August 24, 1872

Thomas Nast

“Carl Is Disgusted with American Politics”

Presidential Election 1872; Symbols, Uncle Sam;

Schurz, Carl;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

Uncle Sam. "Look here, stranger, there is no law in this country to compel you to stay."

Following press reports that Senator Carl Schurz, leader of the breakaway Liberal Republican Party, was dismayed by the presidential campaign of 1872, cartoonist Thomas Nast, a fellow immigrant from Germany, reacted unsympathetically by pointedly suggesting the senator return to the fatherland.  The artist shows a disheartened Schurz, who has been pining for his German homeland by playing "My Heart is at the Rhine."  Uncle Sam, smoking a cigar like Republican nominee Ulysses S. Grant, explains to Schurz that he is not legally bound to stay in the United States.  Visible through the door is an ocean liner and an advertisement announcing:  "Steamers to Germany/Nearly Every Day/Passage Cheap."

No one had done more to create the national Liberal Republican movement of 1872 than Carl Schurz, a U.S. senator from Missouri.  For several years, he and other reform-minded Republicans had become dissatisfied with the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877).  Their opposition was provoked by administration scandals, the president's expansionist foreign policy, his seeming resistance to civil service reform, and their desire to move beyond the issues of Reconstruction.  On January 24, 1872, Schurz judged the Grant administration to be irredeemable and issued a call for a national convention of liberals to nominate a candidate for president.

Schurz chaired the Liberal Republican Convention, which convened in Cincinnati on May 1, and delivered the keynote address in which he envisioned a new era of reform in America.  He was shocked, however, when delegates rejected his presidential candidate, diplomat Charles Francis Adams, and nominated Horace Greeley, the maverick editor of the New York Tribune.  To make matter worse, Schurz's main political foe in Missouri, Governor B. Gratz Brown, was nominated for vice-president.  However, the senator stoically campaigned for the Greeley-Brown ticket, which was also endorsed by the Democratic Party in July (notice the poster on the right).

Nast used the motif of Schurz at the piano in several cartoons.  The artist may have been inspired by news reports of a post-convention meeting of Schurz and other disappointed supporters of Adams' candidacy:  “Mr. Schurz was unable to speak, but going to the piano, played with the skill of the accomplished amateur he is ... There was not a dry eye ... in the whole company …”  

By the late summer, Schurz's sentiment that things had gone seriously awry was shared by other leaders in the Greeley campaign.  In this cartoon, the lower-right poster proclaims that North Carolina had voted Republican in the early state elections.  It foretold the gloomy fate of the Liberal Republicans in the upcoming presidential election.  That November, Grant won a second term by defeating Greeley 286-66 in the Electoral College and 56%-44% in the popular vote.

In 1875, the Missouri legislature declined to elect Schurz to a second term in the U.S. Senate, and he resumed work as a journalist.  In 1876, he returned to the Republican fold to support the candidacy of Rutherford B. Hayes, and was rewarded by President Hayes with an appointment as secretary of the interior (1877-1881).  In 1884, Schurz again broke with the Republican Party to support the presidential candidacy of Democrat Grover Cleveland.  Schurz served as editor of Harper's Weekly from 1892 to 1898, and then took a leading role in the anti-imperialist movement.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Carl Is Disgusted with American Politics”
July 14, 2024

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