February 10, 1872

Thomas Nast


Agriculture; Journalists/Journalism; Presidential Election 1872;

Fenton, Reuben; Greeley, Horace; Schurz, Carl;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

H. G. the Farmer Receiving the Nomination from H. G. the Editor.

This Harper's Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast satirizes the presidential ambitions of Horace Greeley, the maverick editor of the New York Tribune.

In the early 1870s, a faction of liberal Republicans became increasingly dissatisfied with the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. The liberals opposed a continued military presence in the South to enforce Reconstruction and objected to what they considered to be Grant's expansionist foreign policy and insufficient commitment to civil service reform.  On January 24, 1872, Senator Carl Schurz of Missouri issued a call for a national convention of liberals to nominate a candidate for president.  The two leading possibilities were former diplomat Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts and Supreme Court Justice David Davis of Illinois.

When this cartoon appeared, Greeley was thought to be a possible vice-presidential candidate, but not considered seriously as a presidential contender.  His depiction (on the left) as a farmer alludes to his residence on a farm near Chappaqua, New York, where he applied experimental scientific methods to agriculture.  In early 1871, he published his findings in a book called What I Know About Farming. Cartoonist Thomas Nast plays on the title, using "What I Know About …" in a series of cartoons to mock Greeley’s pretensions to expertise in various subjects. Here, "What I Know About The Presidency" sticks out of the pocket of Greeley-the-editor (right).  

The cartoon's title--"Cincinnatus"--refers to the ancient Roman general who selflessly left his farm to serve his country, and is a play on the chosen site of the Liberal Republican convention, Cincinnati, Ohio.  On the right of Greeley-the-editor stand (left to right):  Schurz, Senator Reuben Fenton of New York, and Sinclair Tousey, owner of the American News Company.  The latter two were supporters of Greeley, but Schurz backed Adams.

At the Liberal Republican convention on May 3, 1872, Greeley's managers secured the presidential nomination for their candidate, to the shock of many in the press and public.  For one thing, the largely free-trade Liberal Republicans had chosen a fierce trade protectionist as their standard-bearer. Moreover, the Tribune editor had virtually no experience in government, was known for his support of a wide variety of (at the time) fringe ideas, from vegetarianism to spiritualism, and had left a massive paper trail of controversial and sometimes contradictory public statements for the press and his political enemies to pick over.  

On July 10, a weakened Democratic party, with no other viable candidate, also nominated Greeley for president.  It was a dual-nomination for the editor-farmer, just as Nast's cartoon predicts.  The regular Republicans nominated Grant for a second term.

The presidential campaign of 1872 degenerated into a mudslinging melee, epitomized in the anti-Greeley cartoons of Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly and the anti-Grant cartoons of Matt Morgan in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Greeley partisans called Grant a dictator and a drunk, while the president’s forces portrayed the editor as a flake and a traitor (for calling for a truce during the Civil War and bailing Jefferson Davis out of prison after the war). At the end of the campaign, Greeley complained, "I have been assailed so bitterly that I hardly knew whether I was running for the presidency or the penitentiary." Grant could have said much the same.  A few weeks after the losing the election, an exhausted and disheartened Greeley, whose wife had died during the campaign in October, died at his Chappaqua home.

Robert C. Kennedy

April 19, 2024

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