Stephen Douglas and the Democrats


 "Aminadab Sleek at Jones' Wood"
  Cartoonist:  Henry Louis Stephens
  Source:  Vanity Fair
  Date:   September 22, 1860, p. 153

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Caption: "My friends, there is no patriotic duty on earth more gratifying to my feelings than to make a speech over Mr. Lincoln's political grave. [Loud cheers]. I do not make this remark out of any unkindness to Mr. Lincoln, but I believe that the good of his own country requires it." - Douglas's speech, Wednesday, September 12th, 1860

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
While mass democracy for white men had taken hold in America during the 1820s and 1830s, a political tradition remaining from earlier, more elite times was a tacit prohibition on candidates campaigning openly for the presidency. That office was considered too dignified for such behavior, so the candidatesí supporters gave speeches, engaged in debates, published editorials, and rallied voters on behalf of the nominees. In 1860, however, Stephen Douglas broke tradition by going on a speaking tour through the Northeast and the South, areas where he was most vulnerable.

This Vanity Fair cartoon is based on a Douglas campaign stop in New York City. The artist depicts the nominee of the Northern Democrats as the Reverend Aminadab Sleek, a character in a farce called "The Serious Family." Adapted by Morris Barnett from a French work, the play ran in Britain and the United States during the 1850s. The name of Aminadab Sleek came to symbolize pious hypocrisy. The cartoon caption quotes Douglasís speech in which he predicts the end of Lincolnís political career, while claiming it would be for the public good, not (it is implied) for Douglasís own political gain. To the artist, that statement is an example of pious hypocrisy worthy of Aminadab Sleek. The image is completed by the placement of sleeping men in the pictureís background, as if they had been listening to a soporific sermon.

The paper in the cartoonís foreground reveals that the event where Douglas spoke was a barbecue at Jonesí Wood before an estimated crowd of 40,000. Electioneering in the 19th century was as much a social time as it was a political event. At campaign rallies candidates provided food and drink to attract attendance, with barbecues being a common format. People visiting the rally could mill about, talk with friends, partake of refreshments, watch children playing games, and, perhaps sporadically, listen to political speeches which often lasted for hours. Such combined political and social gatherings were especially welcomed in the countryside as a break from the isolation of farm life.

The particular venue of Douglasís speech is Jonesí Wood in New York City. It was the former family estate of the John Jones family, and originally consisted of 160 acres of sparsely populated wooded land in Manhattan bounded by the bank of the East River and 3rd Avenue, and stretching between 66th Street and 75th Street. Jonesí Wood became a popular area for recreation and leisure activities, particularly among the cityís German-American community. The grounds featured establishments such as beer gardens, dance floors, bowling alleys, shooting galleries, a hotel, and (as of 1874) a 1400-seat coliseum. Jonesí Wood was the site of picnics, festivals, sporting events, political rallies, and similar events hosted by religious, benevolent, political, fraternal, labor, or other private associations. Urban development and a 1894 fire brought about the end of Jonesí Wood by the close of the century.

Sources consulted: Appletonís Dictionary of New York and Its Vicinity (1893); Harperís Weekly via HarpWeek; Encyclopediaof the City of New York; Laura Wood Roper, FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted.













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