February 19, 1876

Thomas Nast


Analogies, Literature; Gubernatorial Administration, Samuel J. Tilden (NY); New York State, Government/Politics; Presidential Election 1876; Tammany Hall, John Morrissey;

Tilden, Samuel J.;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

State of New York, Executive Chamber, January 18, 1876.,

To the Senate:
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† In answer to the resolution of the Senate--more appropriations, more power, more attorney-generals, more district attorneys, more marshals, more deputy-marshals, more counsels, more legislation, more laws, more commissioners to investigate, more trials, more cases, more reports, more suits, more opinions, more resolutions, more annual messages, more penalties, more proofs, more civil actions, more indictments, more whereas, more red tape, more--that's all--for conduction these trials.


This Harper's Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast uses a parody of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist to portray Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York as a profligate spender of the public's money and as an associate of the corrupt machine politician, John Morrissey.  As the orphaned title character, Tilden cries for "More!"--appropriations, power, legislation, lawsuits, red tape, and so forth.

Previous to winning the governorship, Tilden gained great wealth as a lawyer for railroad corporations, and worked mainly behind the scenes as a talented Democratic party organizer and tactician.  He served as chair of the New York State Democratic Committee, 1866-1874, and was Horatio Seymourís national campaign manager during the 1868 presidential election.  Tilden gained greater public exposure for his role in destroying the notorious Tweed Ring in New York City. Although initially reluctant to attack fellow Democrats, he teamed with the prestigious Committee of Seventy to help topple that corrupt political ring in 1871-1872. He used his new credentials as a reformer to gain election to the state legislature in 1872 and the governorship in 1874. As governor, he added to his reform reputation by bringing the corrupt Canal Ring to justice.

Cartoonist Thomas Nast, however, maligned Tilden as a sham reformer.  The prosecution of the Tammany (or Tweed) Ring and Canal Ring on his "watch" are depicted as pocket watches (upper background), adorned by the "flags" of prison-uniform pants, topped by vultures.  The images help convey the message that the legal actions have only benefited another machine politician, state senator John Morrissey (right).  He sits in the Senate chamber wearing a belt labeled "Prize," in recognition of his former role as a champion prizefighter and his current one as the winner of the game of political influence.

During the mid-1870s, John Morrissey battled John Kelly for control of the Democratic party in New York City. In 1872, Kelly had succeeded William Tweed as the "reform" boss of Tammany Hall, and a few years later Morrissey formed an anti-Kelly faction which eventually became known as Irving Hall or the Swallowtails.  Morrissey was a long-time backer of Tilden and was claimed by critics to be the driving force behind the governor. It served the purposes of Nast, a Republican, to depict Morrissey, instead of Kelly, in charge of Tammany Hall. Using the tactic of guilt by association, the newspaper linked Morrissey to both Tammany Hall and Tilden, thus tainting the Democratic nominee with the corruption of Tammany Hall.  

In 1876,  Democrats creditably believed that they had their best chance of recapturing the White House in twenty years. The elections of 1874 had resulted not only in a Democratic House, but in the elevation of a new set of party leaders, including Governor Tilden.  His stature as a reform governor of the nationís most populous state led Democrats to nominate him for president in June 1876.

In November, Tilden would win a slim majority (51%) of the popular vote, but disputed electoral returns created a controversy ultimately resolved by a special commission which awarded the votes and the election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes by a single electoral vote.  Although displeased, Tilden reacted with equanimity throughout the controversy and accepted the final outcome.  After the election was decided, Tilden retired from public life. Following his death in 1886, the bulk of his estate funded what became the New York Public Library.

(For more information, see HarpWeek's Website on the Electoral College controversy.)

Robert C. Kennedy

April 19, 2024

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