“Marvelous Equestrian Performance of Two Animals”

October 8, 1864

Frank Bellew

“Marvelous Equestrian Performance of Two Animals”

Analogies, Circus; Civil War, Copperheads/Peace Democrats; Civil War, Elections; Presidential Election 1864;

McClellan, George B., Sr.; Pendleton, George;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

By the celebrated Artist, Professor George B. Mac, assisted by the noted Bare-back Rider, George H. Pendleton, on his Wonderful Disunion Steed, PEACEATANYPRICE

N.B., The beautiful creature, PEACEATANYPRICE, was sired by JOHN BULL, and dam'd by AMERICA.

In late August 1864, the Democratic National Convention endorsed a peace plank in their platform, calling for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement to end the Civil War.  For president, the Democrats nominated, George B. McClellan, the popular though controversial Union general, who was a War Democrat.  He repudiated the peace plank, vowing, instead, to administer the Union war effort more effectively than his Republican rival, President Abraham Lincoln.  To balance McClellan, the Democrats nominated Congressman George Pendleton, a Peace Democrat ("Copperhead"), for vice president.

Thus, the Democratic Party in 1864 presented a divided image to the Union electorate of a pro-war presidential candidate supported by an anti-war party and running mate.  It became a common motif for Republican cartoonists, like Frank Bellew, to picture McClellan straddling two horses (or in this case, a horse and the Democratic Donkey), one labeled “War” and one labeled “Peace.”  (The straddling-two-horses analogy had been used previously against Republican John C. Frémont in 1856.)  Republicans continued the equestrian theme in their own campaign literature, warning the voters not to exchange Lincoln's leadership for that of McClellan:  “Don’t swap horses in the middle of the stream.” 

In this cartoon, McClellan (right), the "Young Napoleon,"  rides his charging steed, War, with his sword thrust forward.  That martial image is undermined by picturing the presidential nominee wearing a woman's bonnet and clinching an oversized peace pipe in his mouth.  Behind him, Pendleton (left) balances precariously on the Democratic Peace Donkey (with its devilishly pointed tail) and holds a caged dove of peace.  The arena and cheering crowd indicate that the cartoon is a parody of an acrobatic circus act.  The caption's reference to John Bull is a criticism of the British government allowing its shipbuilders to refit Confederate warships, which evolved into the Alabama claims controversy in the post-war period.

George Pendleton was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1825.  After attending Cincinnati College, he left in 1841 to continue his studies on a Grand Tour of Europe and the Middle East, matriculating for a while at the University of Heidelberg.  When he returned to America in 1846 he married Alice Key, the daughter of Francis Scott Key (author of “The Star-Spangled Banner”) and niece of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.  Admitted to the Ohio bar the next year, Pendleton practiced law until 1853 when he won a commanding victory to the state senate as a Democrat.  Impressing colleagues with his legislative skill, he was nominated for Congress in 1854.  Although unsuccessful, he was subsequently elected in 1856 and served until 1865.  During the crisis over the issue of slavery in Kansas in the late 1850s, Pendleton opposed the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, allying himself with Senator Stephen Douglas against President James Buchanan. 

In 1860, Pendleton endorsed Douglas for president, and then favored the Crittendon Compromise during the secession winter of 1860-1861.  During the Civil War, Pendleton was a principled critic of Lincoln administration policies and a leader of the peace wing of the Democratic Party.  He particularly opposed the suppression of civil liberties, such as the suspension of habeas corpus and the replacement of civilian with military authority, and considered the Legal Tender Act (making paper currency legal) to be unconstitutional.  He served on the House Judiciary Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and as one the House managers of the impeachment of Judge West Humphreys.  Despite policy differences, Pendleton’s skill and diplomacy won respect on both sides of the political aisle.  His dignified manner was reflected in the nickname “Gentleman George.”  

After the McClellan-Pendleton ticket lost in the November 1864 election, Pendleton returned to Congress, but was defeated for reelection in 1866.  In the post-war era Pendleton became a Greenbacker, which was an abrupt change in his monetary view, having formerly opposed paper money as unconstitutional.  Thereafter he supported the “Ohio Idea” of paying government bonds in paper currency (“greenbacks”), rather than in gold coins (“hard money”).  His new “soft money” position lost him support among Democrats from the Northeast and kept him from winning the party’s presidential nomination in 1868.  Ohio Democrats chose him as their gubernatorial candidate the next year, but he lost to Rutherford B. Hayes.  Pendleton then became president of the Kentucky Central Railroad. 

In 1878, the Ohio state legislature elected Pendleton to the United States Senate, where he championed civil service reform.  As chair of the Senate committee on civil service, he steered through Congress legislation for appointments and advancement in the federal bureaucracy based on merit, not partisan patronage; the law became known as the Pendleton Act of 1883.  His stance on the issue angered Democratic supporters of the old patronage system, who denied him renomination to the Senate in 1884.  The next year, President Grover Cleveland named him minister to Germany, where he served until his death in Brussels, Belgium, in 1889.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Marvelous Equestrian Performance of Two Animals”
April 19, 2024

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