"That Garland has Slipped"

February 13, 1886

Thomas Nast

"That Garland has Slipped"

Business Scandals; Federal Government Scandals; Presidential Administration, Grover Cleveland; Presidential Cabinet, Attorney General; Technology, Telephone;

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His Various Channels of Usefulness In Public Trust--Are At An End!

This Harper's Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast is the first of a series which attacks Attorney General Augustus H. Garland for his involvement in a telephone company scandal.  

As a Democratic senator from Arkansas (1877-1885), Garland accepted near-worthless stock from the Pan-Electric Telephone Company.  When he was appointed U.S. attorney general in 1885 by President Grover Cleveland, Garland retained his financial interest in the company (ten percent of its stock) despite pending patent litigation involving the company and the federal government.  This apparent conflict of interest led to calls for his resignation, including from Harper's Weekly, and a congressional investigation.

On February 14, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell had filed for a patent for the telephone.  Two hours later, Elisha Gray, filed a caveat, which was an official document declaring his intention to claim within three months a patent on the same invention not yet perfected.  The U.S. Patent Office and, subsequently, the federal courts awarded the patent to Bell.  Others also laid claim to inventing versions of the telephone, including a Mr. Rogers, manager of the Pan-Electric Telephone Company.  Rogers distributed his company's stock to members of Congress, including Senator Garland, in the unstated hope of favorable treatment.  If the Bell patent were to be invalidated, the Rogers patent and the Pan-Electric stock could become very valuable.  

Ignorant of the transaction, President Cleveland appointed Garland to his cabinet, whereupon the Pan-Electric Telephone Company sought the new attorney general's official approval for a lawsuit against the Bell patent.  Garland declined the request before returning for a lengthy stay at his home in Arkansas.  In his absence, the solicitor general sanctioned the Pan Electric lawsuit against Bell.  When the decision and the attorney general's personal interest in the company became public, President Cleveland reprimanded the solicitor general for not following the usual procedure of referring the matter to the Interior Department, under whose auspices the patent was issued.  The solicitor general revoked his ruling, and transferred the issue to the Interior Department, where Secretary Lucius Q. C. Lamar approved the lawsuit.

Cartoonist Thomas Nast plays on the attorney general's name by drawing a garland, which has slipped from his brow to his eyes, blinding him to the evil intentions of the Pan-Electric Telephone Company.  The telephone cord he holds is a snake, while the smiling telephone box is topped by demonic horns.  The telephone is marked with "influence" and "stock," and the fishing net beside Garland is filled with "stock."  For the artist, the attorney general's notion of justice is fishy:  fish heads appear on the symbolic sword (which is broken) and scales of justice. 

In 1884, Nast had joined other reform-minded Republicans in supporting Democrat Grover Cleveland for president over Republican nominee James Blaine, whom they considered to be corrupt.  The text in this cartoon--"His Various Channels of Usefulness in Public Trust--Are At An End!" refers to a previous statement by Blaine, then speaker of the house, to a railroad company official who had given him stock in the hope of favorable treatment.  Although Nast is careful not to impugn President Cleveland, the cartoonist clearly connects Garland and Blaine's type of conflict of interest.

In an appearance before a House committee, Attorney General Garland expressed surprise and innocence of purpose at the succession of events involving the Pan-Electric Company's lawsuit against Bell's telephone patent.  Afterward, Garland got rid of his stock, and told Rogers that the company should be dissolved.  The case against Bell's patent collapsed.  

Despite the negative press he received, Garland retained the president's confidence and remained as attorney general through the end of Cleveland's term in March 1889.  As attorney general, he worked to improve the selection and payment of U.S. attorneys and federal marshals, and established the first federal penitentiary.

Robert C. Kennedy

"That Garland has Slipped"
February 22, 2024

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