Democratic National Convention


 “William Tell”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   May 25, 1872, p. 408

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Most of Thomas Nast's 1872 campaign cartoons were attacks on Horace Greeley and the Liberal-Republicans and Democrats, rather than positive portrayals of President Grant and the regular Republicans; but there are some examples of the latter. This cartoon is one of the more fanciful celebrations of hero worship, in which Ulysses Grant is depicted as the legendary Swiss archer and patriot William Tell. Behind him (on the right) are symbols of the authority of the national government: the Capitol building flanked by American flags and fasces (see "Adding Insult to Injury") on the fence enclosing the grounds.

For years, Nast had been fascinated by the Tell fable with its tangled mix of fact, romance, nationalism, and stark contrast between good and evil. In December 1860, as an impressionable youth of 20, the artist spent three days in the Lucerne area, visiting as much of the "original site" as possible. At Lucerne, he attended a performance of the Rossini opera based on the story. According to tradition, William Tell is confronted by a cap erected on a pole in the marketplace and ordered to bow to it as a sign of obedience to the Austrian tyrant Gessler. Infuriated, Tell refuses. As a test of skill, he is obliged to shoot the celebrated apple off the head of his son with a crossbow, and in due course he slays the hated Gessler.

In this 1872 version, Nast substitutes Greeley's well-worn, trademark hat and coat for Gessler's cap. After the Cincinnati convention, white hats became popular as Greeley campaign favors. Leslie's Illustrated compared the Tribune editor's coat and hat with the log cabin and hard cider of William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign. The symbolism was made to order. Nast saw no reason to abandon the battered old hat which he had been cultivating as a reminder of the editor's eccentricity and seniority. Here for the first time Greeley's coat trails the "Gratz Brown" tag-a symbol of the vice-presidential candidate's insignificance-with which the cartoonist would relentlessly plague the Greeley-Brown ticket until after the election.

The flags on the Tribune building are (l-r): an American Flag flown upside-down (a nautical symbol of distress), with words reminding viewers of Greeley's original acquiescence in secession and his push for negotiated settlement of the Civil War; the British Union-Jack flag (below) incongruously positioned with an Irish-Catholic flag (top), which combines the white of the Vatican flag with an Irish harp; the Confederate stars-and-bars flag, with words reminding readers that Greeley bailed Confederate president Jefferson Davis out of jail; and (partly obscured by Greeley's coat) a white flag for Mayor Abraham Oakey Hall of New York City.

Senator Reuben Fenton and Greeley himself are just to the rear of Grant's raised elbow. The group bowing to the pole erected in front of the Tribune building includes Nast's usual mixed cast of Greeley supporters. The first circle (l-r) consists of John Morrissey of Tammany Hall, former Confederate president Jefferson Davis, 1868 vice presidential nominee Frank Blair, and Henry "Hank" Smith, a Republican city supervisor who cooperated with the Tweed Ring. Behind them (l-r) are John Kelly of Tammany Hall, public speaker Anna Dickinson, "Boss" Tweed of Tammany Hall, Mayor A. Oakey Hall of New York City, and journalist Theodore Tilton. In the far background stand Senators Carl Schurz and Thomas Tipton.













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