“Cronin ‘Organized Himself’”

January 13, 1877

Thomas Nast

“Cronin ‘Organized Himself’”

Alcohol; Presidential Election 1876; U.S. Constitution;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

American West; Oregon;

Sketched from descriptions of newspaper reporters.

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast deals with the disputed electoral vote in Oregon during the Electoral College controversy of 1877.

The 1876 presidential election resulted in contested electoral returns in three Southern states—Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina—and the state of Oregon. Neither the Democratic nominee, Samuel J. Tilden, nor the Republican nominee, Rutherford B. Hayes, had the majority in the Electoral College needed to win the presidency. For months, the parties argued between and amongst themselves over a resolution to the controversy. Finally, Congress established an Electoral Commission, comprised of members of both parties from the Senate, House, and Supreme Court, to settle the dispute.

In Oregon, the Democrats admitted that Rutherford Hayes, the Republican presidential nominee, had won the popular vote, but they decided to dispute one of the three Republican electors, John Watts, on a technicality. The U.S. Constitution stipulates that no elected or appointed official may serve as a presidential elector. Watts was a local postmaster, an appointive government position. He had, however, resigned his job a week after winning a slot as one of Oregon’s electors and before the scheduled meeting of the Electoral College on December 6.

Dissatisfied with such a maneuver, the Democratic governor of Oregon removed Watts as an elector and replaced him with C. A. Cronin, the Democrat who received the most votes of any Democrat in the race for presidential elector. At the December 6 meeting of the Electoral College in Oregon, the two Republican electors refused to recognize Cronin and recertified Watts. The three Republicans then cast their ballots for the Hayes/Wheeler ticket. On his own accord, Cronin reported his vote for Tilden and two votes for Hayes.

On February 23, 1877, the Electoral Commission considered the two conflicting election returns from Oregon, then voted eight to seven to award the state’s three electoral votes to Hayes. The Republican-controlled Senate affirmed the commission’s ruling on Oregon, while the Democratic-controlled House rejected it. Under the terms of the Electoral Commission Act, which specified that both houses must reject the commission’s decisions to overrule them, Oregon’s electoral votes were officially placed in the Republican column. Finally, on March 2, Hayes won an Electoral College majority, and thus the presidency, by one electoral vote, 185-184.

In this Harper’s Weekly cartoon, the Democratic elector, C. A. Cronin, is seen trudging in the snow toward the U.S. Capitol. His image, taken from partisan newspaper reports, is that of an alcoholic tramp, with bulbous nose and a whiskey “Reform” bottle on his cane. He dutifully carries his ballot for Tilden, but his journey, in artist Thomas Nast’s view, is burdened by the weight of the Oregon and U.S. Constitutions on his back.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Cronin ‘Organized Himself’”
July 14, 2024

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