here is often a problem in dealing with Nast's
cartoons in isolation from one another. Frequently they develop as
interdependent entities, one building upon or growing out of another. One of the
rewards of close study is being able to watch the cartoonist's mind at work. The
day after Whitelaw Reid's New York Tribune editorial prompted Nast to add
"We Are On the Home Stretch!" to "Tidal Wave," a letter appeared in the New York Times (October 10) which provided Nast with the
germ of another cartoon: "The New-York Tribune of this morning says: 'We
are on the home stretch, and confident of success.' True! H.G. is going home to
Chappaqua [his rural estate], and has every prospect of reaching there."
The notion developed into perhaps the most controversial image of the 1872
election, "We Are On the Home Stretch." When published (October 23;
dated November 2) two weeks to the day before the landslide results of the
presidential election were reported, it must have seemed like a cleverly
forthright act of political prophecy. Morbid images of political defeat had been
drawn before and would be in the future. Building on Reid's brazen editorial in
the face of dismal prospects for the Greeley campaign, "The Home
Stretch" would have seemed like an appropriate response.
Nast could hardly have foreseen that Greeley's wife would die of consumption on
October 30, a week after the cartoon hit the newsstands and six days before the
election; nor that the losing candidate himself would expire less than a month
after the election, on November 29. Earlier in October, upon hearing of Mary
Greeley's illness, Nast withheld a cartoon showing the candidate by the open
grave of Democracy. The artist reasoned "that its idea and purpose were
likely to be misconstrued." On the day of the woman's death, the New York
Daily Herald, obviously unaware of her demise, offered its enthusiastic
endorsement of the picture: "Nast's 'Home Stretch' cartoon
is one of
the best hits of the campaign.
Go and get the paper, if you haven't seen it,
and laugh your fill for once."
Candidate Greeley is shown arriving at his Chappaqua residence, 35 miles north
of New York City, carried on a stretcher by Senator Reuben Fenton of New York,
an early supporter, and by his Tribune editorial successor, the stiff and
stately Whitelaw Reid. In a particularly cruel touch, a boy at the left is
trying to return the Gratz Brown tag which has fallen off Greeley's coat. Beyond
the front gate, the mourning party includes the Reverend Theodore Tilton,
weeping, and Senator Carl Schurz, who tips his hat in respect. To the
center-rear, the U.S. flag atop "The Greeley Ho[use]" (or "Ho[tel]")
flies upside down, signifying distress. Overall, the design purports to
represent the Tribune front page on the day after the election, including a
burlesque of the newspaper's masthead.