Republican Nomination


 “The Sacred Elephant”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   March 8, 1884, p. 149

Click to return to previous version of this cartoon...

Click to return to previous version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
In this Harper's Weekly cover illustration, political cartoonist Thomas Nast (lower-right) presents to the nation the grand, gigantic Republican Elephant (a partisan symbol the artist popularized). Published months before the Republican nominating convention, the cartoon warns delegates not to choose a corrupt standard-bearer, i.e., James Blaine of Maine. The belt around the elephant reads "Civil Service Reform," and the words in the caption, "pure" and "clean," were often used to describe government operating under the merit system of civil service reform, as opposed to the corruption allegedly encouraged by the patronage (or "spoils") system of government service.

In 1883, Congress enacted the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, but it covered only a limited number of federal employees. Since the scope of the law could be expanded by executive order, it was crucial that the next president be committed to the reform. As a former congressman and senator, Blaine was on record opposing civil service reform, he was known as a "spoilsman," and he had been implicated in scandals in which he used his political influence to profit financially. Thus, to civil service reformers like Nast and Harper's Weekly editor George William Curtis, Blaine was the epitome of what was wrong with the political system: he was a corrupt, self-serving politician who manipulated public office to secure wealth and power for himself at the expense of the common good.













Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to