Greeley's Campaign Falters


 “We Are On the Home Stretch!”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   November 2, 1872, p. 848

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
There 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.













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