ew York Tribune editor Horace Greeley had
supported Ulysses S. Grant's successful presidential candidacy in 1868 and
initially his administration as well. Yet over time Greeley's doubts about the
quality of President Grant's leadership multiplied, and the editor found it hard
to dismiss the possibility that he might enter the political arena. In early May
1871 Greeley declared in an editorial that he had reservations about Grant and
the propriety of a second consecutive term. Immediately thereafter Greeley
departed on a three-week journey to the South, ostensibly to deliver an address,
entitled "Suggestions to Farmers," at the Texas State Fair in Houston.
At other occasions on the trip, he touched repeatedly on current politics and
sectional problems. His remarks attracted wide attention in the press, and
speculation that he might be considering a run for national office.
After touring the South, Horace Greeley was formally welcomed home to New York
on June 12, 1871, with a serenade and greetings at the Lincoln Club Rooms in
Union Square and by an audience of thousands outside in the street. Speaking on
a platform erected in front of the Club Rooms, Greeley declared, "I desire
no office, and though I never shall decline any nomination that has not been
given to me-[laughter] I shall certainly seek no office whatever
[applause]." His ambiguous phrasing was open to variant interpretation.
Greeley went on to speak of his experiences in the South, the evils of
"thieving" carpetbag rule, and urban corruption in the North. For the
editor, it was time the nation left behind the politics arising from the Civil
War. Plainly, Horace Greeley had declared himself for something, without saying
precisely what it might be. To many, that something appeared to be a fishing
expedition for somebody who could defeat Grant.
Nast’s initial reaction to Greeley’s hedging entry into presidential politics came in the form of two small satires in the Harper’s Weekly issue of June 24, 1871. (The paper was in circulation by June 14, so the cartoons were probably completed well before the Union Square reception of June 12.) “Diogenes Finds An Honest Man At Last” has the editor, with raised lantern, apparently shopping for mirrors (“looking glasses”) and discovering his own benign likeness staring back at him. Diogenes of Sinope (4th century BCE) was a Cynic philosopher who renounced ambition and luxuries, and reportedly lived in a tub. Legend has it that he walked around Athens with a lantern looking for an honest man, but finding none. In this cartoon, Greeley as Diogenes finds that honest man: himself.
In “What I Know About Farming,” Greeley is “Plowing Toward the White House” along a rocky path through field and woods behind a pair of yoked oxen. Greeley lived on a farm, about 35 miles outside New York City, where he applied experimental scientific methods to agriculture. (The nearby village of Chappaqua is today home to Hillary Clinton.) In early 1871, he published his findings in a book called What I Know About Farming. Cartoonist Thomas Nast plays on the title, using “What I Know About …” in a series of cartoons to mock Greeley’s pretensions to expertise in various subjects. The eccentric Greeley is a caricaturist’s dream, with his work boots, hat, white coat, spectacles, and chin whiskers. Here, in a foreshadowing of the impending bolt of the Liberal Republicans, the draft animals are guided by the whip of Senator Reuben Fenton of New York, a Liberal Republican who shared Greeley’s aversion to Grant.