The novel, Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888), serves as the theme for this cartoon, which compares Grover Cleveland’s shrinking stature with the voters of New York over time. The first image depicts a large Cleveland who in 1882 won a landslide victory for the New York governorship over his Republican opponent, Charles Folger, 59%-37%.
At the national level, New York in the late-nineteenth century was a swing state that was closely contested between the two major parties. As the state with the most electoral votes at the time, it was very important in the quadrennial presidential contests. The following table shows how New York casts its electoral votes over a 20-year period:
1868 Democrat (Horatio Seymour)
1872 Republican (Ulysses S. Grant)
1876 Democrat (Samuel J. Tilden)
1880 Republican (James Garfield)
1884 Democrat (Grover Cleveland)
1888 Republican (Benjamin Harrison)
The second figure in the cartoon reveals a much-shrunken and disgruntled Cleveland, who barely won the state and, therefore, the White House in 1884. The third Cleveland is even tinier and looks befuddled at having lost New York and the presidency in 1888. Posted on the wall in the background are quotes from Democrats concluding that the former president cannot regain the White House in 1892. In the foreground, the sign at the end of the line of Clevelands has a question mark after the year 1892; however, the cartoonist projected from the previous trend to draw a hole into which the nominee will fall and thus lose New York (and presumably the presidential contest) by an even deeper margin than before. In fact, the Cleveland went on to regain New York in 1892 by almost 45,500 votes and return to the White House.
Looking Backward, was written by Edward Bellamy, a lawyer turned journalist who advocated the nationalization of public services. The novel describes how the United States of 2000 had developed into a socialist utopia of brotherly harmony. The book sold over a million copies at a time when such ideas were new and seemed daring, but today the world it imagines comes across as sterile and controlled.