“The Democratic Trojan Horse”

July 31, 1880

Arthur Burdett Frost

“The Democratic Trojan Horse”

Analogies, Ancient Greece; Analogies, Ancient Mythology; Presidential Election 1880; Tammany Hall, John Kelly;

Hancock, Winfield S.; Randall, Samuel J.; Seymour, Horatio; Tilden, Samuel J.;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

Forewarned, Forearmed. The defenders of the city will not be misled by a 'superb' figure-head.

In this cartoon, A. B. Frost adapts the story of the Trojan Horse to the 1880 presidential election.  According to myth, Paris, a son of the king of Troy, ran away with Helen, the daughter of Zeus, the Greek god, and Leda, the queen of Sparta.  In retaliation, the Greeks sent a military expedition to rescue Helen.  After laying siege to Troy for 10 years, the Greeks constructed a gigantic wooden horse with a secret interior room where Greek soldiers were hidden.  The rest of the Greeks feigned retreat while the Trojan Horse was delivered to the gates of the city.  Assuming the Greeks had surrendered, the Trojan soldiers accepted the gift as an act of appeasement and celebrated their good fortune with a night of drunken revelry.  With the inebriated Troy soldiers unconscious or stupefied, their Greek counterparts emerged from the wooden beast to capture and burn the city.

Here, the cartoonist warns the public not to be fooled by their esteem for General Winfield Hancock.  The presidential nominee is a Trojan Horse, an empty political vessel who will allow the deceitful Democratic Party to take over the American government.  They will use national office not for the public good, but for their own personal gain and wild schemes.  Throughout the campaign, Frost, Thomas Nast, and other cartoonists for Harper's Weekly repeated the message the Hancock, while a giant for his Civil War heroism, was controlled by the disreputable and dangerous forces of the Democratic Party.  (Nast drew him as Gulliver tied down by Lilliputian Democrats.)

Born in Pennsylvania in 1824, Winfield Scott Hancock was named after Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812.  After attending a local school, Hancock was appointed to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1844.  He was assigned to the Sixth Infantry, and served in the Mexican War during its last month, winning promotion to first lieutenant.  In the 1850s, he served at Fort Leavenworth during the violence of “Bleeding Kansas” and in Utah during the “Mormon War.” 

When the Civil War began, Hancock was captain and chief quartermaster of the Southern District of California.  On September 23, 1861, he was named brigadier general of volunteers and served in the Army of the Potomac under George McClellan, who nicknamed him “Superb” after the Battle of Williamsburg (May 5, 1862).  Promoted to major general after Antietam (September 17, 1862), he performed with heroic distinction at Chancellorsville (May 1-4, 1863) and Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863).  

As a corps commander at Gettysburg, a wounded Hancock inspired his men to withstand the last, valiant effort by the Confederates, known as Pickett’s Charge.  In the spring of 1864, after six months of medical leave, Hancock returned as corps commander in Virginia under Ulysses S. Grant.  He fought in several battles—the Wilderness, North Anna River, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg—before the reopening of his wound forced him from active duty.

After the war, Hancock was promoted to the rank of major general (July 26, 1866) and served in the Indian wars in the West before assuming command of the Fifth Military District (Texas and Louisiana) during Reconstruction.  When it became clear that his understanding of Reconstruction resembled President Andrew Johnson’s, Grant, who sympathized with the Radical Republicans, reassigned him to the Department of Dakota in 1869.  In 1872, Hancock became commander of the Atlantic division, headquartered at Governor's Island, New York.

As early as 1864, some Democrats considered Hancock their best hope to wrest the presidency away from the Republicans.  By 1880, the Democratic Party, which had not elected a president since 1856, had regained some of the national prominence it held before the Civil War.  In 1876, its nominee, New York governor Samuel Tilden, won the popular vote and narrowly lost the White House in an Electoral College controversy.  In 1878, Democrats captured control of both houses of Congress for the first time in twenty years.  

In 1880, Democrats believed the American electorate was ready for a Democratic president again.  Tilden and Horatio Seymour, who had defeated Hancock to become the 1868 nominee, both declined to seek the nomination in 1880.  At the Democratic National Convention, Hancock swept to victory on the second ballot over Senator Thomas Bayard of Delaware and House Speaker Samuel Randall of Pennsylvania.  William English, a wealthy banker and former congressman, was selected as the vice-presidential nominee.

Republicans attacked Hancock’s lack of political experience (he had never held elective office) and his supposed lack of understanding of the issues.  A satiric Republican pamphlet of Hancock's "Political Achievements" contained blank pages.  When the Democratic nominee told the Paterson, New Jersey, Daily Guardian (published October 8) that “the tariff question is a local question,” he was skewered by Republicans and the press for his ignorance.  In fact, Hancock meant that the divisive issue should be decided by the voters through their elected representatives in Congress, a position taken by several politicians, including, as Democratic leaders eagerly pointed out, Congressman James Garfield, the Republican nominee.  Perception trumped reality, however, and Hancock’s explanation only made matters worse.  

The Democratic nominee was hurt even more by a bitter struggle in New York between two Democratic factions, Tammany Hall and Irving Hall, which likely cost him New York and hence the election.  In November, Garfield edged by Hancock in the popular count by only one-tenth of a percent, 48.3% to 48.2%, and 214-155 in the Electoral College, the difference of New York’s 35 electoral votes.  After the election, Hancock continued serving in the army at Governors Island until his death in 1886.

In the lower-left of this cartoon stand the symbols of the Southern and Northern wings of the Democratic Party, the former Confederate soldier and a "shoulder-hitter" (a strongman for an urban political machine).  The Southern Democrat holds a staff reading “Rag Money,” a reference to the inflationist “soft-money” position of many Democrats.  The Northern Democrat grasps a staff reading “Spoils" (meaning political patronage) on which a predatory vulture perches.  In the lower right is Henry Watterson, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, which marches beside him.  During the crisis over the disputed 1876 Electoral College returns, Watterson threatened that “100,000 men” would march on the Capitol if Democrat Samuel Tilden were not declared the presidential victor.

An uncomfortable Tilden is being hoisted to the top of the horse, as he clutches his barrel of money.  His “Cipher nephew,” Colonel William Pelton climbs up the ladder beside him.  On the rung below him, Senator Daniel Voorhees of Indiana wields his sword aloft.  In the box atop the horse sits a sullen Speaker Randall, who lost the nomination to Hancock.  Randall is flanked by the 1868 Democratic ticket:  bald-headed presidential nominee Horatio Seymour on the left and vice-presidential nominee Frank Blair on the right.  In a position to guide the entire operation from the forehead of the nominee is Tammany boss John Kelly.  The ferocious emblem on the front of the Trojan Horse seems to be a combination of a tiger, symbolizing Tammany Hall and (through guilt by association) the national Democratic Party, along with perhaps a bloodthirsty bat or a nocturnal owl.

For more information and images on the presidential election of 1880, visit HarpWeek's Presidential Elections Website

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Democratic Trojan Horse”
June 17, 2024

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