This cartoon considers the Democratic national ticket of 1892 to be a farcical combination of opposites. It craftily presents different personas to different audiences on the issue of civil service reform (jobs in the government bureaucracy based on merit rather than political allegiance).
Presidential nominee Grover Cleveland appears as a saintly good-government reformer who addresses a gathering of prim Mugwumps, who praise his holiness. As governor of New York (1883-1885), Cleveland had signed the nation’s first state civil service reform bill into law and advocated its extension at the federal level during his successful presidential campaign in 1884. Meanwhile, the other side of the 1892 ticket is Adlai Stevenson, who is depicted as a sinful spoilsman ready to distribute political patronage to an enthusiastic cadre of uncouth political bosses and their rowdy henchmen. His guise as a masked royal executioner refers to his former position as President Cleveland’s controversial assistant postmaster general. In that office, Stevenson replaced 40,000 Republican officeholders with Democrats and became known as the administration’s official “axman” or “headsman.”
Victor Gillam’s caricature of Cleveland recalls an April 1884 cartoon from Puck, in which the artist’s older brother, Bernhard Gillam, drew the then bachelor-governor of New York as “Cleveland the Celibate,” withstanding the temptations of young women to work late on state papers. Ironically, a few months later, a public scandal developed when it was revealed that Cleveland, newly nominated for president, had previously fathered a child out of wedlock. In this 1892 image, the symbol of a fake brass halo (instead of a golden one earned by genuine saintly behavior) indicates that the Cleveland’s reputation for political integrity is only a public posture to win votes.
“The great Face-both-ways ticket” caption refers to a character in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Mr. Face-Both-Ways. It was a literary motif previously used in Harper’s Weekly against the 1876 Democratic presidential nominee, Samuel J. Tilden.