“‘All Quiet on the’ Hudson”

October 27, 1877

Thomas Nast

“‘All Quiet on the’ Hudson”

Civil War, Battles; Civil War, Remembrance; State Elections; Wars, American Civil War;

McClellan, George B., Sr.;

American South; New Jersey; Virginia;

"Mr." George B. M'Clellan In His Element Again--"Running For Something."

In this cartoon, artist Thomas Nast uses a military motif to caricature the New Jersey gubernatorial campaign of George B. McClellan, the former Union general who unsuccessfully challenged Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1864.  

Following his defeat in the presidential election, McClellan spent three years in Europe, returning in 1867 to accept a position with marine engineer Edwin A. Stevens to head the construction of a newly designed warship called the Stevens battery, a floating ironclad battery intended for harbor defense.  McClellan, who lived with his family in Manhattan, rented an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City.  In 1869, the project ran out of money, McClellan resigned, and the ship was eventually sold for scrap metal.  

In 1870, he became chief engineer for the New York City Docks, and built a second house on Orange Mountain, New Jersey.  After resigning as chief engineer in the spring of 1873, McClellan established Geo. B. McClellan & Co., Consulting Engineers & Accountants, and then left for a two-year sojourn through Europe.  His essays on Europe were published in Scribners’s, and his analyses of contemporary military issues in Harper’s Monthly and The North American Review.  In 1876, he campaigned actively for Samuel Tilden, the Democratic presidential nominee, delivering speeches in several states.

In 1877, the Democratic Party in New Jersey was divided into several contentious factions, producing a deadlock in the race for the gubernatorial nomination.  At the state convention in early September, a delegate surprised many in the assembly by putting forward McClellan’s name.  The response was enthusiastic, and he was nominated on the first ballot.  The general, who was attending dedication ceremonies for a Civil War memorial in Boston, had apparently expected his name to be presented, but had not anticipated receiving the nomination.  He accepted the call and, still only 50 years of age, hoped that it would return him to public service.  McClellan drew large, adoring crowds as he stumped across the state, and achieved victory in November by almost 13,000 votes.  Attendance at his inauguration in January 1878 was so numerous that the ceremony had to be held outdoors.

In this cartoon, the scene aboard the “N.Y. & N.J. Ferry Line” accomplishes several purposes.  It reminds viewers that McClellan worked on the Stevens Battery project, the expensive effort (1867-1869) to build a floating battery on the Hudson River that ended in failure.  It also alludes to his three years (1870-1873) as the chief engineer for New York City’s Department of Docks, and therefore implies that his residency in New Jersey is politically opportunistic.  McClellan's Republican opponent, William Newell, took Nast's point one step further by claiming that the general was not legally a resident of New Jersey.

Furthermore, the illustration brings to mind images from 1864 in which Nast and other Republican cartoonists depicted the Democratic presidential candidate aboard the Union ironclad Galena, watching the Battle of Malvern Hill in the background.  Those likenesses indicted McClellan for his failure to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond.  In May 1862, the Galena, part of a Union flotilla approaching Richmond, was badly damaged by Confederate fire, but McClellan refused to order nearby Union land troops to assist it.  That incident was followed by the Battle of Malvern Hill, the final debacle of the McClellan's failed peninsular campaign. 

Here, the theme of McClellan’s allegedly poor military leadership is repeated in visual jibes ascribing to him a tendency to retreat in the face of the enemy:  his hobbyhorse, map, and book (all center-right) are dedicated to retreat.  The caption’s proclamation that the gubernatorial candidate’s “element” is “running for something” suggests both political opportunism and cowardly flight.  Several posters around McClellan paint the Democratic Party as purveyors of vote fraud, while the one in the lower right associates the Democratic Party with the former Confederate rebels and Northern Peace Democrats (“Copperheads”).  The latter was a common tactic of Republicans called “waving the bloody flag.” 

During his three-year term, McClellan oversaw elimination of state taxes on individuals, deep cuts in government spending, and reduction of the state debt by 23%.  As governor, he encouraged industrialization, the founding of trade schools throughout the state, and the establishment of the New Jersey Bureau of Statistics of Labor and Industries.  He also reorganized the state militia, providing it with updated weaponry.  The limited responsibilities of most governors in the late-nineteenth century permitted McClellan to continue pursuing his personal business interests and writing his memoirs.  In late 1880, he moved his family to Gramercy Park in Manhattan two months before the expiration of his gubernatorial term, and commuted to Trenton when obliged to attend to the duties of office.

Over the next few years, McClellan and his wife spent winters in New York City, Augusts at a resort in New Hampshire’s White Mountains or Maine’s Mount Desert Island, and the rest of each year in New Jersey.  In 1884, he campaigned for Grover Cleveland, the Democratic presidential nominee.  In early 1885, McClellan was expected to be named secretary of war in the Cleveland administration (1885-1889), but his candidacy was torpedoed by Senator John McPherson of New Jersey, a member of a Democratic faction that begrudged the general’s gubernatorial nomination in 1877.  George B. McClellan died of a heart attack on October 29, 1885.

Robert C. Kennedy

“‘All Quiet on the’ Hudson”
July 14, 2024

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