his cartoon reveals how Republicans perceived the dominant forces within the
Democratic party. Parading to the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis,
this motley crew of representative Democrats is arrayed in stereotypical
The "shoulder-hitter" (far left) is a physically powerful man (perhaps
a former prize-fighter) of shady character, who enforces the will of an urban
political "boss" by threats or acts of violence. His cigar-chomping,
grimacing countenance, along with his "Reform Brute" belt, leaves no
doubt that he means business. His attire combines the stripes and chains of a
jailbird with the garish garb of the 19th-century "sporting man"-hat
tipped at a rakish angle, polka-dot cravat, French cuffs, and jeweled studs.
The shoulder-hitter lugs the wailing "Reform Rag Baby" by the hand.
The Rag Baby was a common symbol of inflation or soft-money (see Monetary Policy in Issues). Debt-ridden Americans, many of whom were
farmers, demanded that the federal government follow a soft-money policy of
expanding the money supply, which they hoped would generate inflation and thus
ease the burden of debtors. The Democratic party was divided over the issue,
with hard-money (gold standard) supporters (primarily in the Northeast) and
soft-money or inflationist advocates (from the West and South).
The "Reform" label on all the characters refers sarcastically to the
expected Democratic nominee, Samuel Tilden, who was known as a reform governor
of New York and chose reform as his campaign theme. Tilden was a hard-money
partisan, which accounts for the tearful condition of the Rag Baby. Tilden would
be nominated along with Thomas Hendricks, whose contrary inflationist views
would be grist for the Republican cartoon mill.
Behind the shoulder-hitter is the head of a Ku-Klux-Klan member. His mask and
pointed hat mimic those of the Italian banditti, a symbol of lawless brutality.
On his hat is the skull-and-crossbones emblem of death, commonly associated with
the Ku-Klux-Klan and connoting their violent resistance to Reconstruction and
black civil rights.
In the center is a Roman Catholic priest who carries a portfolio inscribed
"Death to Public Schools." Catholic immigrants, many of whom were
Irish or German, constituted an important voting bloc within the Democratic
party. There was a great deal of anti-Catholic prejudice in 19th-century
America. Protestants often accused Catholics of being loyal first to the Vatican
("Pope" and the Vatican symbol appear on the portfolio), rather than
to the United States.
Public schools in the 19th century, although supposedly non-sectarian, were
essentially Protestant. Historically, state funds had been allocated to a
variety of schools, including religious ones, so Catholics simply sought their
share of the largesse. Public-school backers, however, were erroneously
convinced that the Catholic Church was trying to destroy the emerging public
In the rear is a Tammany sachem (chief) in the guise of a cigar-store Indian on
a dolly. Tammany Hall was the leading faction of the Democratic party in New
York City, whose influence resonated to the state and national levels. During
the late 1860s and early 1870s the Tammany Hall "machine" was led by
the notoriously corrupt William "Boss" Tweed. The Tweed Ring finally
fell in 1871-1872 and was replaced by the leadership of "Honest" John
Kelly (pictured here). He is posed with his hatchet, ready to strike, in one
hand and an alcohol bottle in the other. In reality, Kelly was bitterly opposed
to Tilden's nomination and only reluctantly acquiesced. Kelly is being pushed by
another escaped convict whose face is obscured (perhaps his rival, John
Morrissey, a strong Tilden supporter).