“Who Ought to Have the Cardinal’s Hat …?”

August 22, 1874

Thomas Nast

“Who Ought to Have the Cardinal’s Hat …?”

Journalists/Journalism; Religion, Roman Catholic Church;

Bennett, James Gordon, Jr.;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption

This cartoon lampoons James Gordon Bennett Jr., owner and editor of the New York Herald, for his newspaper's campaign urging Pope Pius IX to appoint the first Roman Catholic cardinal in America.  Recognizing the expansion and maturation of the Catholic Church in the United States, the Vatican did so in 1875 by naming Archbishop John McCloskey of New York to the position.  Here, Bennett places the ecclesiastical hat on his own head since cartoonist Nast and an accompanying Harper's Weekly article argue tongue-in-cheek that the publisher really desires the appointment himself.

The artist derides Bennett's vanity and arrogance by placing the dapper publisher in front of a full-length mirror and by asserting in a wall poster (upper-left) that he considers himself to be pope in America.  The latter image reflects Bennett's public offer of sanctuary to Pope Pius in case the anti-clerical Italian government forced the pontiff to leave Rome.  The editorial slant of Harper's Weekly was strongly anti-Catholic, and the article's author sarcastically expressed awe at Bennett's revelation that America needed a cardinal:  "The finding of Dr. Livingstone shrinks into insignificance in comparison with this remarkable discovery."  That analogy refers to Bennett's financing of reporter Henry Morton Stanley's expedition (1869-1871) to find Dr. David Livingstone, the medical missionary and explorer missing in central Africa.

The poster of President Ulysses S. Grant as Caesar (center-left) refers to a newspaper campaign led by Bennett's Herald to stop Grant's bid for a third term.  The anti-Grant journalists charged that the political quest resembled the life-long tenure of Rome's emperors.  The "Horse Marines" hat (right) may symbolize Bennett's organization of a large hunting excursion to the American West (1871), which was protected from Indian attacks by 300 U.S. Cavalry troops.

Born in 1841, James Gordon Bennett Jr. was raised mainly in Paris, where he developed a taste for the life of a playboy and sportsman.  In 1866, at the age of 25, Bennett took over as managing editor of the New York Herald upon the retirement of his father, James Gordon Bennett Sr., the newspaper's founder.  Bennett the Younger instructed his staff, "I want you fellows to remember that I am the only one to be pleased.  If I want the Herald to be turned upside down, it must be turned upside down."  Bennett started publishing an afternoon edition, the Evening Telegram, which focused on crime and other sensational stories that had first characterized the Herald, but had diminished in recent years as his aging father had sought respectability.  In 1868, Bennett Jr. assumed full ownership of the two newspapers.

An avid sportsman, Bennett introduced polo to the United States, participated in the first transatlantic yacht race (1866) and many other yachting events (fellow members of the New York Yacht Club called him the "mad commodore"), encouraged ballooning and (later) automobile racing, and organized numerous sporting events for which he provided prize money and trophies.  He brought his love of sports to the newspaper by ensuring that it covered athletic competitions, although most metropolitan dailies did not follow his lead until decades later.  The cartoonist incorporates images alluding to Bennett's sports interests, particularly long-distance walking (note the "7 mile shoes" and the lower-right poster) and yachting (the center-right poster).

Stanley's travel accounts boosted the Herald's sales, as Bennett anticipated, but the publisher grew jealous of the fame his reporter had acquired, and finally sent a terse telegram reading:  "STOP TALKING."  Bennett, however, financed other explorations over the years, including sending a ship, Pandora, in 1875 to find the Northwest Passage, and explorer George Washington De Long to reach the North Pole (which ended in the deaths of De Long and his crew in 1881).  Bennett's desire for the latter feat is parodied in the cartoon by the poster (under his arm) showing a figure shimmying up "The North Pole."

While personally profligate, Bennett was also generous with his money.  During the financial panic of 1873, he opened a soup kitchen in New York City, which dispensed soup and sandwiches from the exclusive Delmonico's restaurant to the needy.  In 1879-1880, the New York Herald raised $200,000 and coordinated the American relief effort for an Irish famine.  He also started the newspaper's free ice fund, which gave away ice--a much needed, but expensive, item--to residents in New York's poor tenements.

In late 1874, the Herald reported on its front page that wild animals had escaped from the Central Park Zoo and were loose in the city, mauling and killing people.  The article carried a disclaimer at the end that it was not true, but the story sent many New Yorkers into a panic.  (The rationale offered for running it was to underline the need for taking better precautions at the zoo.)  Thomas Nast caricatured Bennett and the "wild animal hoax" in several cartoons.

The Herald's circulation averaged 100,000 in the mid-1870s, occasionally reaching as high as 150,000, and surpassed the New York Sun in 1876.  In 1877, Bennett moved to Paris, where he primarily lived for the rest of his life.  Yet he remained in firm control of the Herald, cabling instructions daily, making final decisions concerning hiring and firing, and sometimes summonsing editors to Paris.  In 1883, Bennett and John Mackay established the Commercial Cable Company, which allowed the Herald to attain preeminence in foreign news coverage.  In 1885, the New York Herald achieved its highest circulation of 190,500, but was soon eclipsed by Joseph Pulitzer's New York World.  In 1887, he began publication of the Paris Herald, which later became a valued source of information for American servicemen during World Wars I and II (until German occupiers shut it down in the latter).  

Bennett died in France in 1919, and his newspaper was sold to Frank Munsey.  In 1924, it was absorbed into the New York Herald-Tribune.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Who Ought to Have the Cardinal’s Hat …?”
June 17, 2024

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