“He Will Be Gulliver …?”

September 18, 1880

Thomas Nast

“He Will Be Gulliver …?”

Analogies, Literature; Presidential Election 1880;

Hancock, Winfield S.; Toombs, Robert;

American South;

Brobdingnag Toombs. "You may depend upon it, sir, that 'Yank' or no 'Yank,' we will 'yank' you!"

The overall message conveyed by Thomas Nast and other Harper's Weekly cartoonists during the presidential campaign of 1880 was that Democratic presidential nominee General Winfield Hancock, while a man of great character and military accomplishment, was under the sway of the disreputable and dangerous forces of the Democratic Party.  

Here, Nast adapts an adventure from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) to fit the 1880 presidential race.  Hancock is Gulliver in the hands (literally) of the giant race of humans known as Brobdingnagians.  Robert Toombs, the former Confederate secretary of state, clutches Hancock in his massive fist.  The image, caption, and posted remarks and slogans make it clear that Toombs expects Hancock, as president, to satisfy the South through relief of debt incurred by the Confederacy, repeal of Reconstruction legislation, removal of all federal troops, and patronage.  The presidential administration of the Democratic “Yank” general will be “yanked” (i.e., manipulated and controlled) by Southerners.

Robert Toombs was born into a wealthy family of Georgia planters in 1810.  He attended Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) in Atlanta (1824-1828), but was expelled for various offenses before graduation.  He transferred to Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he completed his degree in the summer of 1828.  After a year at the University of Virginia Law School (where he ranked last in his class), Toombs began practicing law in Georgia.  He joined the state militia as a lieutenant in 1831, and saw action in the Creek War of 1836.  He served in the Georgia House of Representatives (1837-1839, 1841-1843) before being elected to Congress in 1844 as a Whig.

In the U.S. House (1845-1853), Toombs opposed the policies of Democratic president James K. Polk (1845-1849), espoused the Whig doctrines of protective tariffs and a national bank, and supported the Compromise of 1850.  During the 1850s, Toombs and his allies, Alexander Stephens and Howell Cobb, dominated Georgia politics.  In 1851, the three founded the short-lived Constitutional Union Party, which won control of the state legislature and elected Toombs to the U.S. Senate.  In the Senate, Toombs continued to affiliate with the Whigs until the party collapsed in the mid-1850s.  He supported Stephen Douglas and his Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and endorsed the Democratic slate in the Georgia elections the next year.

As sectional tensions increased in the late 1850s, Toombs became increasingly radical.  He condemned the anti-slavery legislature in the Kansas Territory, defended Congressman Preston Brooks's caning of Senator Charles Sumner, and argued that the election of Republican presidential nominee John C. Frémont in 1856 would justify Southern secession.  Toombs angrily resigned from the Senate in January 1861 before Republican Abraham Lincoln took office as president, and returned to Georgia as a delegate to the state convention that voted to secede from the Union.  He represented Georgia at the provisional congress of the Confederate government in Montgomery, Alabama, but his bouts of drunkenness ended his chances of being elected president.  He was appointed the first Confederate secretary of state, but was unable to secure official recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France.

The temperamental Toombs soon resigned as Confederate secretary of state on July 24, 1861, and joined the Confederate army as a brigadier general. Although popular with his men, Toombs proved to be a poor military commander, and was arrested twice for insulting a superior officer.  Although he did perform well at Antietam (September 17, 1862), he resigned on March 4, 1863, after being passed over for promotion.  For the rest of the war, he criticized the military draft, suspension of habeas corpus, and other policies of the Confederate government.  He escaped capture at the end of the war by fleeing to Europe.  

In 1867, Toombs returned to Georgia and resumed his law practice.  He refused to ask for a pardon, so remained disfranchised during Reconstruction, and denounced the "New Departure" Democrats who wanted to put the issues of the Civil War behind them.  His unwavering commitment to the Confederate “Lost Cause” is reflected in the cartoon’s posters and caption.  In 1883, his wife, who had gone insane, died, and he retired, spending his final years blind and alcoholic.  Toombs died in Washington, Georgia in 1885.

Robert C. Kennedy

“He Will Be Gulliver …?”
December 9, 2022

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