“By Repealing They Resume …”

August 26, 1876

Thomas Nast

“By Repealing They Resume …”

Presidential Election 1876; Symbols, Democratic Tiger; Symbols, Tammany Tiger; Tammany Hall, John Morrissey; U.S. Economic Policy, Money Question;

Hendricks, Thomas; Tilden, Samuel J.;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

Extremes have met, and now you can't tell which is which.

The confusion over the Democratic ticket's position on monetary policy during the 1876 presidential campaign is the focus of this Nast cartoon.  The two heads of the interlocked Democratic Tiger are those of Governor Thomas Hendricks of Indiana (left), the vice-presidential nominee, and Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York (right), the presidential nominee.  John Morrissey, the powerful political boss from New York City, encourages them by waving $10,000 bills for buying votes.

The "money question," as contemporaries called it, was one of the most persistent, conspicuous, and controversial issues in the late-nineteenth century.  It surfaced during the Civil War when the federal government suspended the gold standard and began printing and issuing paper currency (called "greenbacks") in order to help finance the extraordinary costs of the war.  Hard-money advocates believed that gold stabilized, in turn, the money supply, the national economy, and American society.  Soft-money proponents thought that expanding the money supply with more greenbacks or (later) silver would result in inflation, which would be good for debt-ridden Americans (primarily, farmers).

In 1875, Congress passed the Specie Resumption Act, which stipulated that beginning in January 1879 the federal government would redeem (legally exchange) greenbacks with gold.  That meant the United States would essentially return to the gold standard.  The four-year span before implementation was to allow time for the U.S. Treasury to build up an adequate reserve of gold, and for the public to adjust to the policy.  Although an economic depression in the mid-1870s increased support for the greenback movement, the return of economic prosperity helped the law go into effect as scheduled.  

The Democratic Party was particularly divided on the money question, with (as the road signs in the cartoon indicate) those in the West tending to favor soft-money and those in the East hard-money.  Hendricks was a former hard-money man turned soft-money enthusiast.  He had been selected as the vice-presidential nominee partly to offset the hard-money views of the presidential nominee, Samuel Tilden.  Yet, during the campaign, Hendricks equivocated on the issue, satisfying neither side.  In this cartoon, he turns in the hard-money direction, despite his "soft soap" (meaning soft-money) collar.  

Meanwhile, the hard-money Tilden endorsed a proposed repeal of the fixed date for the resumption of gold payments.  That was a concession to inflationists who saw the date-repeal as a first step toward their goal of total revocation of resumption.  The Democratic presidential nominee's convoluted statement that the date-repeal would lead to a more effective process of resumption is mocked in the cartoon’s paradoxical title:  “By Repealing They Resume—By Resuming They Repeal.”  Mirroring Hendricks, “Hard Soap” Tilden turns in the soft-money direction.

This is one of several cartoons in which Nast drew the Democratic ticket as a two-headed tiger.  Through that clever image, the artist conveyed several points.  Since the creature had two minds of contradictory opinions, but shared one body, it was unable to go anywhere or get anything done.  Thus, it was a visual metaphor for anarchy and incompetence, as well as for conflicting views on monetary policy. 

Nast's frequent use of the Tammany Hall Tiger to symbolize the national Democratic Party, as in this cartoon, was also a way to associate the national party with the corruption and venality of New York City's notorious political machine.  Although John Morrissey was a key supporter of Tilden as governor and presidential candidate, both men had broken with Tammany Hall.  Morrissey was boss of the Irving Hall political machine, with which Tilden was affiliated.  Applying guilt by association, Nast and Harper's Weekly continued to link Tilden to Morrissey, and Morrissey to Tammany Hall. 

In addition to depicting Morrissey waving money for votes, the cartoonist identifies Tilden as a corrupt corporation lawyer through use of the “usufruct” label (enjoying the benefits of property that belongs to someone else) and the barrel-of-money symbol (in the left-background). When Tilden used "usufruct" in his letter accepting the presidential nomination, Republicans seized the opportunity to mock the Democrat with his own legalistic jargon

Robert C. Kennedy

“By Repealing They Resume …”
July 14, 2024

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