In this Harper’s Weekly cartoon, William Jennings Bryan appoints Louisville Courier-Journal editor Henry Watterson as his press agent. The Democratic nominee holds a parrot symbolizing his repetition of trite political phrases, and wears the wide collar of a Puritan and the stockings and shoes of a court fool. Bryan’s throne is in the style of an Asian potentate’s, and the image resembles a W. A. Rogers cartoon from 1900 depicting Tammany “Boss” Richard Croker as an emperor. “Marse Henry” was Watterson’s pen name, which was a colloquialism used by black slaves for the word “master.”
Over the years, Watterson had been a loyal Democrat, though often critical of his party. He began his journalistic career in the 1850s, and in 1868 started a 50-year tenure as editor of the Courier-Journal. He made the newspaper into a publication of national importance, and himself into a major force within the Democratic Party. During the Electoral College controversy of 1876-1877, he was an outspoken supporter of Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and critic of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, whose presidency he considered illegitimate. Watterson initially backed President Grover Cleveland, but eventually the two men stopped speaking to each other. The editor’s failure to support Bryan in 1896 because of the nominee’s stance in favor of free silver cost the Courier-Journal circulation, but Watterson reinvigorated the publication to become the South’s leading newspaper. He unenthusiastically endorsed Bryan in 1900.
Through his public commentaries in 1907, Watterson tried to convince Bryan not to run for president the next year. The editor argued that short of an economic depression the Great Commoner could not carry the swing states and win the general election. Instead, Watterson promoted Governor John A. Johnson of Minnesota for the nomination. Nevertheless, even before the Minnesota Democrat State Convention endorsed Johnson in March 1908, Watterson “threw up my hands in despair and accepted the inevitable.” The New York Times reported on January 18 that in response to the question of what Watterson thought about Bryan’s chances for the 1908 nomination, the Courier-Journal editor replied, “I don’t think anything about it. I do not look on the nomination of Bryan for the Presidency as a possibility or a probability. It is an accomplished fact.”
After the Democratic National Convention nominated Bryan in early July, he named Watterson to head his press bureau.