Greeley's Campaign Falters


 “That Tidal Wave: We Are On the Home Stretch”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   October 26, 1872, pp. 832-833

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
This cartoon, the first major epitaph on the Greeley candidacy, was in the hands of readers eight days after Republican victories in the pivotal state and Congressional elections in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana on October 8. It depicts a portent of impending popular will as a raw force of nature that dooms the campaign flotilla of Horace Greeley and company. On October 9 the New York Times, a strong backer of Grant, declared that the 1872 presidential race was over, using an exuberant election analysis introduced by a towering stack of 17 headlines beginning with "EXIT GREELEY." Much of the mainstream press agreed with this verdict.

Naturally Greeley's New York Tribune emphatically disagreed (October 9). In an astounding triumph of high hope over cold reality, acting editor Whitelaw Reid presented a state by state assessment that awarded 173 electoral votes to Greeley, 120 to Grant, with the remaining 63 "seriously contested." He concluded: "Friends! In spite of fraud, we are on the home stretch, with every prospect of success." Thomas Nast had all the ammunition for which he could have possibly prayed. He preserved a clipping from the October 10 Times that expressed the hope: "As for that 'homestretch,' we wish Mr. Nast would draw a picture of it." It appears likely that the imagery of the "Tidal Wave" was well under way before the twin titles came into view upon reading Reid's editorial on the morning of October 9. By that moment the finished drawing could even have been in the hands of the engravers.

The pictorial inspiration for Nast's "Tidal Wave" probably had a couple of sources. For months Nast had been fighting a pictorial dual with cartoonist Matt Morgan of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, so he was a careful reviewer of his rival's newspaper and work. He would have noticed a Morgan biblical extravaganza (August 24) in which Senator Charles Sumner is cast as Moses, commanding the parted Red Sea to close over "Pharaoh" Grant and his pursuing legions. Prominent among the latter, Morgan seems to include a tiny figure of Nast about to be swamped. An editorial in the September 7 issue of Leslie's characterizes Grant as a drowning man grasping for straws, while an image used by Morgan in an October 19 cartoon of Grant facing inundation by a huge wave. (As stated above, the final drawing of Nast's "Tidal Wave" was probably completed by October 9.)

The principal inspiration, though, for the catastrophic mishap of "Tidal Wave" was the collision of the steamer Metis and the schooner Nettie Cushing in turbulent seas off Rhode Island around 4 a.m. on August 30. The Metis sank almost immediately, with heavy loss of life, and the incident grabbed headlines across the country. Here, the ill-fated ships become the Liberal and the Democrat. Although the skyline of Washington D.C. appears in the background of "Tidal Wave," the rocky coastline approximates that of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, where bodies from the Metis collision washed ashore. Also in the picture's background, the victorious clipper U.S. Grant is passing the stump of the unfinished Washington Monument and proceeding in calm waters towards the Capitol, silhouetted against the sunrise.













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