“Only the Bait”

August 17, 1895

William A. Rogers

“Only the Bait”

Children, Symbolic; Presidential Election 1896;

Harrison, Benjamin; McKinley, William; Platt, Thomas C.; Reed, Thomas B.;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

T. C. P. "If this don't fetch trade, then I don't understand the hucksterin' business."

Cartoonist W. A. Rogers features presidential hopeful Thomas C. Platt, former and future senator from New York, as a huckster peddling "presidential water-melon" to his rivals for the Republican nomination of 1896.  Platt cleverly hopes to make the "boys" sick from eating too much of the sweet fruit, so that he can claim the crown himself.  Governor Levi P. Morton ("L.P.M") of New York, former vice president (1889-1893), in lace collar and boater, is already gorging himself; Congressman Thomas Reed of Maine (left), former and future speaker of the house, wearing a clownish polka-dot shirt, looks on curiously; and, Governor William McKinley of Ohio (center), who ordered the National Guard to put down labor unrest in his state, appears concerned, but has his toy sword in case of trouble.  In the background, Benjamin Harrison, former president of the United States (1889-1893), emerges from his "Ice Wagon" (a pun on his nickname, "the human iceberg," reflecting his cold personality).

With the country in an economic depression, and the Democratic Party deeply divided over monetary policy (stable gold versus inflationary silver), the positive prospects for a GOP victory in 1896 induced a number of Republican candidates to enter the field.  By the end of 1895, McKinley had become the leading contender, but serious favorite-son candidacies were advanced by Reed, Morton (who captured support of the New York delegation from Platt), Senator William Allison of Iowa, and Senator Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania.  Former president Harrison withdrew his name from consideration in early 1896.

Born in 1843, McKinley fought in the Civil War as a young man, and upon its conclusion, studied and practiced law in Canton, Ohio.  In 1876, he won election as a Republican to Congress, where he quickly became a spokesman for high protective tariffs.  In 1889, he became chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, using the position to ensure passage of the McKinley Tariff of 1890, which raised the average levy on imports to 48% (the highest rate in American history to that date).  Angry voters turned him and other protectionist Republicans out of office later that year.  McKinley, though, remained popular in his party and state, and was elected governor of Ohio in October 1891, and reelected two years later.  

Although he did not openly campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1892, McKinley received a respectable number of votes from delegates who wanted to dump President Harrison for a younger candidate.  After Harrison's nomination, the Ohio governor loyally supported the president's unsuccessful quest for a second term.  During the 1894 campaign season, McKinley collected a number of political chips by delivering stump speeches for Republican candidates across the country.  By the time of this cartoon in 1895, McKinley had several impressive factors in his favor:  executive experience in a key electoral state, nationwide support, identification with the national issue of tariff protection, a reputation for solid personal character, and skillful avoidance of the divisive money question.

To run his campaign, McKinley turned to Mark Hanna, a wealthy Ohio industrialist.  The candidate, however, rejected his manager's initial strategy of gaining the nomination by promising patronage to Platt, Quay, and other eastern Republicans, and ran on the slogan of "The People Against the Bosses."  Yet, many of his opponents considered the Ohio governor to be a puppet in the hands of a new type of political boss--Mark Hanna.  The industrialist turned president-maker applied his business skills to the political endeavor, organizing Republicans into effective bureaus, distributing millions of pamphlets, dispatching hundreds of speakers, and raising an enormous sum of money, all in the effort of "selling" his candidate.  

By the time the Republican National Convention opened on June 16, 1896, McKinley was a virtual certainty for the nomination.  McKinley overwhelmed his competition, winning a first-ballot victory with 661 1/2 votes to 84 1/2 for Reed, 61 1/2 for Quay, 58 for Morton, and 35 1/2 for Allison.  Garret Hobart, a businessman and state politician from New Jersey, was nominated for vice president, helping Republicans carry his state in November for the first time since 1872.  In November, McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan 292-155 in the Electoral College and 52-46% in the popular vote.

Reed again assumed the House speakership in December 1895; Platt was elected to the U.S. senate in 1896; Morton left politics after the end of his gubernatorial term in 1897; and Harrison remained in retirement.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Only the Bait”
July 14, 2024

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