“The Great Democratic Moral Show”

September 25, 1880

Thomas Worth

“The Great Democratic Moral Show”

Arts and Entertainment; Presidential Election 1880;

Randall, Samuel J.;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption

In this cartoon, Congressman Samuel J. Randall of Pennsylvania, the Democratic speaker of the house, introduces the “The Great Democratic Moral Show” to the voting audience.  Revealed behind curtains made of American flags is a longhaired, former-Confederate soldier (representing Southern Democrats) sitting by a (glass) ballot box.  Armed with two pistols, he is ready to use threats or acts of violence to ensure that voters cast only Democratic ballots.  Southern vote fraud through the intimidation of black and white Republican voters is encouraged in the letter to the editor posted on the wall (upper-left; click to enlarge).  

The placard in the upper-center incorporates a pun on the nickname of the Democratic presidential nominee, Winfield Hancock, as it announces that he will make a “Most ‘SUPERB’ Figure-Head” as president.  Thus, artist Worth continues a theme of his fellow Harper's Weekly cartoonists, A. B. Frost and Thomas Nast, which warns that Hancock, whom they personally admire, will be a puppet in the hands of deviously dangerous Democrats.  Just to the right of Randall’s leg is a small poster, falling off of the wall, which pokes fun at the refusal of William English, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, to donate any of his great riches (“barrel of money”) to the campaign.

Samuel J. Randall was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1828.  After graduating from the University Academy in Philadelphia at 17 years of age, he took a job as a clerk for a silk merchant.  He soon joined a coal business as a partner, and by the age of 21 had established a business in off-lot iron.  Randall was elected as an American (i.e., nativist) Whig to the Philadelphia Common Council (1852-1856), and then switched to the Democratic Party when the Whig Party collapsed in the mid-1850s.  As a Democrat, he served one term (1858-1860) in the Pennsylvania Senate, where he ensured the passage of legislation chartering street railways in Philadelphia, and chastised banks for their high rates of interests. 

During the Civil War, Randall served briefly in the Union army as a 90-day volunteer in 1861, plus a short stint in the Gettysburg campaign (1863), but he saw no action.  In 1862, he won a seat in Congress, the first of 14 consecutive terms (1863-1890).  Randall considered the Civil War to be a fight to preserve the Union and the Constitution, as they existed prior to secession; therefore, in February 1864, along with 22 other Democratic Party leaders, he backed efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Confederacy to restore the pre-war Union, with slavery intact.  Like many Northern Democrats, he opposed the Lincoln administration’s policies of emancipation, a military draft, and the admittance of black men into the Union armed forces. 

During and after the war, Randall was a formidable opponent of Republican-backed Reconstruction measures that granted basic civil rights and liberties to black Americans.  His skillful tactics of delaying and blocking legislation, including a 72-hour filibuster, were nicknamed “Samrandallism.”  He also earned the ire of Republicans by pushing amnesty bills for former Confederates, opposing subsidies and land grants to businesses (particularly railroad companies), attempting to reduce federal spending (note the poster under his hat), and calling for congressional investigations of scandals in the Republican administration of President Ulysses S. Grant.  Reflecting his Philadelphia constituency, Randall was also a committed advocate of high tariffs.

When the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the 1874 elections (for the first time since before the Civil War), Randall maneuvered to become speaker.  Although a supporter of hard money, he hedged his bets by campaigning for soft-money candidates and opposing the resumption act of 1875 (which essentially returned the U.S. to the gold standard in 1879).  In December 1875, he lost the speakership race to a hard-money man, Michael Kerr of Indiana.  Kerr, however, died in August 1876, and Randall, who regained the confidence of the hard-money faction of the Democratic Party, won election as speaker in December 1876. 

As speaker, Randall supported the Electoral Commission Act, which established a legal process for resolving the disputed 1876 presidential election, and refused to allow filibusters to delay the inauguration of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Randall drastically consolidated the House rules, and augmented the power of the speaker by transforming the Rules Committee into a standing committee chaired by the speaker.  He backed the congressional investigation of Republican vote fraud in the 1876 election, but the committee’s findings primarily revealed that the nephew of Democratic nominee Samuel Tilden had offered bribes in an attempt to purchase the disputed election for his uncle.

Randall was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1880 and 1884.  He was hurt by his firm stance in favor of trade protectionism, which was increasingly out of line with the majority of his party.  In 1880, his refusal to seek Tilden's endorsement was another factor that prevented his candidacy from gaining strength, and he finished a distant second to Hancock.  In 1884, after finishing fourth on the first ballot, he withdrew and threw his support to the eventual nominee, Grover Cleveland.  

In 1881, Randall lost the speakership when Republicans took control of the House.  When Democrats regained the House majority in 1883, they chose Congressman John Carlisle of Kentucky, an advocate of low tariffs, as speaker over Randall.  After Randall orchestrated the defeat of Democratic-sponsored tariff reform in 1887-1888, President Grover Cleveland withheld federal patronage from the Pennsylvania congressman.  Randall died in Washington, D. C., in 1890.

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Great Democratic Moral Show”
June 17, 2024

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