The Labor and Black Votes


 “A Hard Proposition”
  Cartoonist:  William Allen Rogers
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   May 2, 1908, p. 3

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Six weeks before the Republican National Convention, this Harper’s Weekly cartoon attests that the party’s eventual nominee, William Howard Taft, will have difficulty capturing the black and labor vote. Here, Taft (right) and President Theodore Roosevelt (left) sit atop their steeds, looking worriedly at the angry bull with its “Negro Vote” and “Labor Vote” longhorns. Since first gaining voting rights during Reconstruction, most black men voted Republican, but were often keep from the polls throughout the South by intimidation, violence, and legal restrictions. While many workingmen traditionally voted Democratic, the Republican Party had gained an increasing share of the labor vote since the economic depression of the mid-1890s.

The blot on President Roosevelt’s relatively good record toward black Americans was the Brownsville incident of 1906. He dishonorably discharged 167 black soldiers for insubordination when none admitted guilt or knowledge about a shooting spree in Texas, which resulted in the death of one townsman. Black newspapers and organizations vigorously protested the president’s action. The issue became a political problem when Taft ran for president because it was under his authority as secretary of war that the discharges were carried out. In order to deflect the hostility of black voters, Roosevelt publicly took all the blame himself and exonerated Taft.

At Taft’s insistence, the 1908 Republican National Platform dropped its threat from four years before of reducing congressional representation for states violating voting rights. However, the 1908 platform’s support of black civil rights was longer and more detailed than the previous one, endorsing “without reservation” enforcement of the “letter and spirit” of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and condemning disfranchisement based on race.

In 1908, Taft faced several obstacles in his effort to attract the support of labor. He had unfairly gained the reputation of being an anti-labor federal judge even though he had sided with workers in a number of cases. During the presidential campaign, he reiterated his belief that labor should be able to organize and even strike if the employer’s property were not harmed. Samuel Gompers, president of the nation’s largest union, the American Federation of Labor, was mishandled by the managers of the Republican National Convention, who denied him access to the full platform committee. He was told by one to “Go to Denver!” (site of the Democratic National Convention), which he did. After the AFL president took to the campaign trail for Democrat William Jennings Bryan, a frustrated Taft declared, “I have done more for union labor than Mr. Gompers.”













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