“On To Washington!”

June 17, 1871

Thomas Nast

“On To Washington!”

American Indians; Civil Service Reform/Patronage; Presidential Administration, Ulysses S. Grant; Presidential Election 1872; Tammany Hall, Tweed Ring;

Gould, Jay; Grant, Ulysses S.; Hoffman, John; Marble, Manton;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption

This cartoon appeared a month before The New York Times began a series of exposes on Tweed Ring corruption, which provoked cartoonist Thomas Nast's all-out assault on Tammany Hall in Harper's Weekly.  Here, Governor John Hoffman is a cigar-store Indian whose presidential candidacy is furtively pushed through the backwoods by William "Boss" Tweed and his henchmen.  On the White House portico, President Ulysses S. Grant sits placidly reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar, while a poster on the pillar promotes his reelection.  Looming in the background is the equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson, a frequent Nast symbol of the political spoils system.

Hoffman entered politics early in his life, and at the age of twenty became a member of the state central committee for the Democratic Party.  After being admitted to the state bar on his twenty-first birthday, he moved to New York City to establish the law firm of Woodruff, Leonard, and Hoffman.  In 1860, Hoffman was elected the youngest recorder (judge) in the city’s history and presided over the Draft Riot trials in 1863.  His reputation was so high that he was endorsed for reelection by the Republican party as well as both factions of the Democratic party (Tammany and Mozart), and received nearly 95 percent of the vote total.  

In 1865, Hoffman defeated three other candidates to become mayor of New York City.  In 1866, while still serving his first mayoral term, he ran unsuccessfully for governor as the Democratic challenger to Republican incumbent Reuben Fenton.  After being reelected mayor in 1867, he again ran for governor in 1868, this time defeating his Republican opponent, John Griswold, by a comfortable majority.  Hoffman was reelected governor in 1870, but thereafter his reputation became tainted by his association with the corrupt Tweed Ring.  At the end of his second term, Hoffman retired from active politics and returned to the practice of law.    

Besides warning that the Tweed Ring was angling for Hoffman to capture the presidency in 1872, this cartoon jibes Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who had recently been floating his own trial balloon for a presidential nomination.  The cartoon's title mimics the "On to Richmond!" headlines that the Tribune ran early in the Civil War in which Greeley urged the Union to focus on capturing the Confederate capital.  After the Union's major loss at the Battle of Bull Run in late July 1861, the slogan became a shorthand phrase for rash optimism.

In this cartoon, the financier Jim Fisk, armed with tomahawk and dagger, leads the Tammany war party.  His belt, perhaps filled with wampum, reminds viewers of his involvement in the Erie Railroad Ring. He is restrained by a perspiring Peter Sweeny, head of New York City's Department of Public Parks, who has grabbed Fisk’s foot after dropping the front handle of the mobile platform on which Hoffman holds a tomahawk and a totem (sacred symbol) of the Tammany Tiger.  Tweed, the real chief, struggles to push from behind, as Oakey Hall, mayor of New York City, is a court fool slithering on the ground, perhaps on the verge of kissing the Boss’s foot. 

Others in the main group include:  Manton Marble, editor of the New York World, crouching behind Sweeny; publisher Sinclair Tousey, leaning on the tree behind Tweed; John McCloskey, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, beside Hall; and, bringing up the rear (left to right) are lawyer Thomas G. Shearman, counsel to financier Jay Gould and co-founder of the prestigious law firm of Shearman & Sterling; Judge George Barnard; and Gould himself, armed with a rifle. Richard Connolly, New York City comptroller (treasurer), is conspicuously absent from the picture.

On the day following its publication (June 8), The New York Times called their readers attention to Nast’s recent cartoon:  "Harper's Weekly ought to be in everybody’s hands.  The current number contains one of Nast's best drawings—a drawing which would alone suffice to gain a large reputation for its designer."

Robert C. Kennedy

“On To Washington!”
July 14, 2024

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