Greeley's Campaign Falters


 “Key-Note of the Campaign”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   September 28, 1872, pp. 752-753

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
September found the Greeley presidential campaign to be a deeply dispirited enterprise of weirdly dissimilar factions, the leaders of which were hoping against hope to bring down the incumbent Republican war-hero in the White House, U.S. Grant. Nast's "Key-Note of the Campaign" is a virtuoso display of portrait caricature amidst a carnival of depression, alarm, frustration, anger, nausea, and mortification. A central point in the cartoon is that the plans of the Liberal-Republican progenitor, Senator Carl Schurz (seated at the piano), have gone seriously awry. Schurz had been exceedingly surprised and disheartened by Greeley's nomination, but had stoically joined the campaign.

The idea for the cartoon had been suggested after the Cincinnati convention by the Cincinnati Evening Post (May 15). The newspaper reported journalist Samuel Bowles account (originally printed in the Springfield Republican) of a meeting of Liberal Republicans in a private home. All were dejected after the Greeley win and Adams loss of the nomination. "Mr. Schurz was unable to speak, but going to the piano, played with the skill of the accomplished amateur he is … There was not a dry eye .. in the whole company …" Nast willingly took the hint with the cartoon "Played Out!" (June 15). The scene was transferred from Cincinnati to Washington, D.C., and Schurz's theme became an attack on Grant.

Here, the cartoonist returns to the motif three months later. The New York Times commented (September 19) that "'Key-Note of the Campaign' is perhaps superior in point of elaboration and careful grouping to anything which has yet been produced by the great American caricaturist. A more perfect gallery of portraits could not be arranged … Face, expression and pose are equally characteristic and unmistakable …" Although Nast would not have been aware of it when completing the plate for "Key-Note" in early September, Greeley would be out of town on a campaign tour during most of the time this plate was in print. Thus his absence would give this study of dissension in the ranks of his followers additional force and relevance.













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