In this Harper’s Weekly cartoon, American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers begs William Randolph Hearst’s Independence League to move off the campaign trail so that Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan may pass. The goat symbolizes Hearst’s stubbornness and is a pun on his name (William becomes a billy goat), while the boater hat and high collar reflect his image as a stylish dresser. The parrot on Bryan’s shoulder represents his talkative tendency to repeat hackneyed political phrases. He rides the emblem of the national party, the Democratic Donkey.
Hearst was publisher of the New York Journal and San Francisco Examiner, and was actively involved in the Democratic Party. He was on the left wing of American politics during the 1890s and early-twentieth century, supporting labor unions and attacking large business corporations (“trusts”). He founded the Los Angeles Examiner in 1903 to present news from a union perspective. He endorsed municipal government ownership of utilities and a progressive tax system that imposed higher percentage levies on larger incomes. In 1902, Hearst won election to the first of two consecutive terms in Congress as a Democrat representing Manhattan’s 11th District. Although he introduced progressive-reform bills, Hearst was not interested in the daily routine of lawmaking and set a record for absenteeism, missing 168 of 170 roll calls during his first term. Besides his controversial positions, Hearst was hamstrung by his simultaneous pursuit of both party regularity—working with Tammany Hall and leading the National Association of Democratic Clubs—and political independence.
In 1904, at the age of 41, Hearst finished a distant second to Judge Alton B. Parker in a race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Although the publisher had supported Bryan for president in 1896 and 1900, the Great Commoner had not returned the favor in 1904. The next year, endorsed by the Municipal Ownership League, Hearst ran for the New York mayoralty, losing to incumbent George B. McClellan Jr., a Tammany Democrat. In 1906, Hearst officially began his campaign for the New York governorship on Labor Day (which he urged be designated a national holiday). On September 11, the Independence League (the new name of the Municipal Ownership League) nominated him for governor on a platform of public ownership of utilities, railroad rate regulation, direct election of U.S. senators, and similar reforms. Worried that an independent Hearst candidacy would spell defeat for the Democratic Party, Tammany Hall worked successfully to have the state party nominate him at its September 25 convention. On November 6, he became the only Democrat on the state ticket to lose when Republican Charles Evans Hughes defeated him, 52%-48%. That effectively ended Hearst’s chances of gaining the Democratic presidential nomination in 1908.
In 1908, Gompers urged Hearst to support Bryan, but the publisher refused to endorse a “chameleon candidate” and “a discredited and decadent old party.” Instead, Hearst tried to transform the Independence League into a viable political party. While chairing its national convention in July 1908, the publisher labeled Bryan “a trickster, a trimmer, and a traitor” because the Democrat had backed away from his earlier endorsement of government ownership. The Independence League nominated Thomas L. Hisgen of Massachusetts for president and John Temple Graves of Georgia for vice president. The party platform called for government ownership of utilities and railroads, direct election of U.S. senators and federal judges, an eight-hour workday, the abolition of child labor, a federal department of labor and public health, a graduated income tax, a central banking system, tariff reform, the exclusion of Asian immigrants, and a strong navy.
In September, Hearst concentrated the Independence League’s resources on New York in an effort to hurt Bryan and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lewis Chanler. Although League presidential nominee Hisgen only polled 2.2% of the state total in November, Hearst’s constant criticisms of Bryan, including the charge that the Democrat had made secret promises to Gompers in return for delivering the labor vote, may have helped Republican William Howard Taft’s standing in New York. In 1909, Hearst again ran for mayor of New York City, finishing last in a three-man race, and the next year lost an independent bid for lieutenant governor. He never ran for office again, but continued to speak out on public issues as he moved to the political right over the years.