“An Independent Victory / ‘We Love Him Most for the Enemies That He Has Made’”

July 19, 1884

Thomas Nast

“An Independent Victory / ‘We Love Him Most for the Enemies That He Has Made’”

American Indians; Presidential Election 1884; Tammany Hall, John Kelly;

Cleveland, Grover;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

The Democratic Party was compelled to nominate a man with a clean record--one whose knees will not yield to Boss Kelly.

This cartoon celebrates the Democratic National Convention’s nomination of Governor Grover Cleveland of New York for president.  The cover of this issue of Harper’s Weekly is a full-page portrait of the nominee, and the second page carries an official endorsement in the lead editorial, written by George William Curtis.  Although other liberals had broken ranks with the Republican Party in 1872 to back maverick Horace Greeley, Curtis, cartoonist Thomas Nast, and Harper's Weekly had remained loyal.  The difference in 1884 came when the Republican National Convention, meeting on June 3-6 in Chicago, nominated James Blaine, former senator and secretary of state, for president.

In an editorial, Curtis summarized the three reasons why he and other reformers opposed Blaine so adamantly:  1) his involvement in various scandals; 2) his imperialist foreign policy; and 3) his record as a spoilsman who resisted civil service reform and reform in general.  Curtis and Nast were joined in the 1884 revolt by Nation editor Edwin L. Godkin, former senator and interior secretary Carl Schurz, and other prominent reform-minded liberal Republicans.  Those who bolted were nicknamed “Mugwumps,” purportedly an Algonquin name for chief, but derided by regular Republicans as meaning one who sits on a fence, with his “mug” on one side and his “wump” on the other.  

Curtis, Nast, and Harper’s Weekly were long-time enemies of Tammany Hall, the leading Democratic political machine in New York City.  Nast’s cartoons had been instrumental in arousing public opposition in the early 1870s to the corruption of Tammany Hall’s notorious Tweed Ring.  Nast similarly depicted John Kelly, William Tweed’s successor, as a venal spoilsman.  As governor of New York (1883-1885), Cleveland refused to allocate patronage to Tammany Hall, thus provoking their enmity.  However, the Democratic governor did support the Democratic machines in Brooklyn and New York County.  

Yet, to Nast and other reformers, Cleveland’s repudiation of Tammany Hall and his firm commitment to honest and efficient government were enough to generate their enthusiastic appreciation and support.  In seconding Cleveland’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July 1884 (shortly before this cartoon was published), General Edward Bragg of Wisconsin memorably remarked that Cleveland's supporters “love him most of all for the enemies he has made.”  Nast spreads the quote across the top of his cartoon to emphasize Cleveland's anti-Tammany credentials.

Standing tall and erect in the cartoon, Cleveland is portrayed as an honest and incorruptible (“clean”) politician, who has the backbone to prevail over disreputable machine politicians like Kelly.  Cleveland’s nomination, though, is not presented as a victory merely for the Democratic Party, but for independent voters of any partisan affiliation. Nast may also be giving credit (largely unwarranted) to Independent Republicans like himself for influencing the Democratic selection process.  “Boss” Kelly is pictured as a disgruntled Indian chief, considering whether to stab Cleveland in the back. A forlorn Benjamin Butler, who had himself desired the Democratic nomination, sits on the ground in the shadows between Cleveland and Kelly.   

During the 1884 presidential campaign, Nast drew the vast majority of the cartoons in Harper's Weekly, in which he concentrated his efforts on attacking Blaine and his supporters.  Only a few cartoons, such as this one, featured Cleveland or dealt directly with the Mugwump revolt. 

For more information on the election of 1884, see HarpWeek’s Presidential Elections Website.

Robert C. Kennedy

“An Independent Victory / ‘We Love Him Most for the Enemies That He Has Made’”
May 29, 2024

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