Democratic Futility


  Cartoonist:  Grant Hamilton
  Source:  Judge
  Date:   October 1, 1892, p. 228

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
At outbreak of cholera brought by ships entering New York City in the late summer of 1892 provided the background for this cartoon. President Benjamin Harrison had issued an executive order that vessels arriving at any American port from infested countries were to be kept in quarantine for 20 days.

Here, assisted by the Judge mascot, Uncle Sam is the health officer who forbids the ship, Democracy, from bringing the British import of “the free-trade plague” to American shores. Instead, the vessel must turn around and head for the island of “Political Quarantine” (left background). The four prominent Democratic sailors on the bow of the boat are (left-right): Senator John Carlisle of Kentucky, vice-presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, campaign manager William Whitney, and presidential nominee Grover Cleveland.

Cholera was one of the most feared diseases in the nineteenth century, with epidemics that killed thousands striking New York City in 1832, 1849, 1854, and 1866. Although respiratory diseases, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, were the major cause of death in the city from 1860-1900, it was the dramatic potential of cholera epidemics that made headlines and prompted reforms in public health that benefited the sufferers of the more common disorders as well. For example, concern over an approaching cholera plague in 1866 led to creation of the Metropolitan Board of Health. The state’s Quarantine Office became the main agency charged with the responsibility of containing contagious diseases.

In 1887, separate investigations by state and professional medical boards criticized the deteriorated facilities and equipment at the Quarantine Station. The New York press publicized the findings and urged swift action before a cholera epidemic in Europe arrived in the United States. In 1888, the state legislature passed a law reforming the Quarantine Board and allocating funds for upkeep of the Quarantine Station. Cholera did not spread in New York that year, but hit again in 1892. By that time, however, a better understanding of the disease and the dedicated efforts of Dr. Hermann Biggs, the city’s pathologist, kept the death toll to 120. It was the last outbreak of cholera in New York City.













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