Republican Presidential Candidates


 "The Die is Cast’—Caesar and Pompey in Ohio"
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   April 17, 1880, p. 252

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
In 1880, Treasury Secretary (and former senator) John Sherman of Ohio and Senator James Blaine of Maine were major contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. This cartoon reflects Sherman's anger at Blaine's successful attempt to gain backing within the Ohio delegation, at the expense of Sherman, the state's favorite-son candidate. Artist Thomas Nast's overall theme presents the men as "spoilsmen"-i.e., unprincipled politicians who use the patronage system ("the spoils of victory") to gain and keep power for their own sake, not for the good of the people. The cartoonist, an advocate of civil service reform (see "Civil Service Reform" in Issues), uses several symbols to communicate his message of ruthless power for personal gain.

In the center of the cartoon, Sherman (left) and Blaine (right) wear the garb of Roman senators Julius Caesar and Pompey. Along with Crassus, they ruled the Ancient Roman Empire as the First Triumvirate. Pompey (here, Blaine) turned against Caesar (here, Sherman) in the Roman Senate, having Caesar designated as an enemy of the state (here, Ohio). The phrase "the die is cast" means a step taken which cannot be reversed. It refers to Julius Caesar ordering his troops in Gaul to cross the Rubicon River into Italy, thus provoking a civil war. Caesar was the victor, while Pompey was assassinated by the Egyptians with whom he sought refuge. The Roman Senate soon made Julius Caesar dictator for life. In 1880, however, both Sherman and Blaine would lose the Republican nomination to Congressman James Garfield of Ohio.

The statute to the right of Blaine's sword depicts the orphaned twins Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome who, according to myth, suckled at the teats of a she-wolf; they are placed upon a pedestal reading "Spoils." The image reinforces the notion of Sherman and Blaine as twin spoilsmen, nourishing themselves on government largesse. To the left of Sherman's cloak is the tail-end of an equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson, who was regarded as establishing the modern patronage system. Nast frequently used the statue to indicate the "spoils" system. In the background, the chief architectural icons of American government, the Capitol Building (right) and the White House (center), are aligned in this setting with the imperial Roman Coliseum (left). The birds (vultures or buzzards) hovering overhead is a common signifier of doom or death.

(The "Resumption" and money emblem on Sherman's breastplate stands for his sponsorship, as senator and treasury secretary, of the Resumption Act, which returned the U.S. to the gold standard.)













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