Tilden's Candidacy


 “It Is Whispered Again That Tilden Has Given In”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   May 15, 1880, p. 305

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Samuel Tilden, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1876, was again mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 1880. Partly because of health reasons, however, the elderly Tilden decided not to seek the nomination. In this cartoon, Thomas Nast emphasizes the former New York governor's age and infirmity by depicting him as an Egyptian "mummy" (actually, a sarcophagus housing a mummy).

Another motive for Tilden's declination was the thwarted attempt by his nephew, Colonel William T. Pelton, and other associates to bribe electors during the electoral college controversy of 1876-1877, a scheme exposed and investigated by Congress in 1878. No evidence implicated Tilden directly, but many held him morally responsible for the actions of his subordinates, and Republicans certainly would employ the issue were he nominated in 1880. The hieroglyphics on the mummy (sarcophagus) refer to the "cipher telegrams" (coded messages) that Pelton and his co-conspirators sent each other.

A final reason for staying out of the race was Tilden's fierce feud with John Kelly, the political boss of Tammany Hall, New York City's powerful Democratic machine. Kelly had reluctantly endorsed Tilden in 1876, but soon broke with him when they fought for control of Democratic politics in the city and state of New York. Here, Kelly, wearing the Tammany Tiger as a cloak, uses an ear-horn to make sure that he heard Tilden's withdrawal correctly.

Before entering electoral politics, Tilden had become one of the nation's most successful and wealthiest corporation lawyers, specializing in railroad law. Because he directed several mergers of railroad companies, critics called him a "train wrecker" and sang the campaign ditty, "Sly Sam, the Railroad Thief." Nast pegged Tilden with the legal term "usufruct" (i.e., using someone else's property) to remind voters of his background as a corporation lawyer of questionable character. The cartoonist also associated Tilden with a "barrel of money" and called his 1876 bid for the White House a "barrel campaign," implying that the Democratic nominee used his allegedly ill-gotten gain in an attempt to buy the election. In this cartoon, Nast places these symbols prominently in the background.













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