Greeley's Early Candidacy


 “What I Know About Horace Greeley”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   January 20, 1872, p. 52

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
This cartoon may have been Thomas Nast’s response to a Matt Morgan- cartoon which criticized President Grant’s tepid support of civil service reform. In “What I Know About Horace Greeley,” Greeley “The Traitor” (left panel) bows humbly to Jefferson Davis, presenting bail in a Richmond courtroom. The image forcibly reminds readers of Greeley’s controversial action in May 1867 to secure a bond for the release from federal custody of the former Confederate president. Meanwhile, Greeley “The Patriot” (right panel) prepares to sling “Tammany Mud” at President Grant who sits on the White House porch, imperturbably puffing his cigar and following the progress of “Civil Service Reform.”

In this and other cartoons, Nast taints Greeley with the corruption of Tammany Hall, the major Democratic machine in New York City. In 1871 and 1872, Tammany’s “Boss,” William Tweed, and his cohorts underwent investigation and trial for stealing $6 million from the public treasury. The relentless, mesmerizing cartoons of Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly were instrumental in generating public contempt for the “Tweed Ring,” provoking Tweed to rant against “those damn pictures!” When the New York Times broke the story of the Tweed Ring malfeasance in July 1871, Greeley responded in his Tribune editorial for Mayor Oakey Hall and Comptroller Richard Connolly to prove their innocence by suing the Times for libel. Nast and Harper’s Weekly editor George William Curtis believed that Greeley and the Tribune were too soft on the Republican faction cooperating with the Tweed Ring.

Here, Nast presents Grant as concerned for the success of civil service reform. The president had recently appointed Curtis to head the nation’s first Civil Service Commission. Nast probably assumed he was following the example of his editor in defending Grant, but Curtis complained to Nast about the personal attack on Greeley. While Nast and Curtis supported most of the liberal agenda, they were suspicious of claims that the South was truly reconstructed, and therefore remained loyal to the Republican party in 1872 and supported Grant’s reelection. Curtis, however, was a friend of many of the leaders of the Liberal Republican bolt, so he privately (and unsuccessfully) tried to dissuade Nast from ridiculing those the editor considered to be thoughtful men of good will. On practical grounds, Curtis realized that, whatever the results of the presidential election, he would need to work with the Liberal Republicans in the future to secure mutual policy goals.













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