Tilden's Candidacy


 “Not a Bad Idea"
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   June 5, 1880, p. 361

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Senator David Davis of Illinois had been a key figure in national politics for twenty years. In 1860, he served as Abraham Lincoln's campaign manager, then was appointed by President Lincoln to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1862. His high court tenure is best remembered for his authorship of the majority opinion in Ex Parte Milligan (1866), which ruled that the military trial and conviction of a civilian outside of the theater of war, where the civil courts were functioning, violated the Constitution. Like his judicial colleague, Chief Justice Salmon Chase, Davis yearned to be president himself. In 1872, Davis was a leading contender for the nomination of the Liberal Republican party, but lost to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley.

In 1876, when disputed electoral college returns resulted in uncertainty as to which candidate, Democrat Samuel Tilden or Republican Rutherford Hayes, had won the presidential election, Davis became a major figure in the unfolding drama. Congressional Democrats agreed to establish a bipartisan electoral commission to resolve the dispute, and thus decide the election, because they assumed that Justice Davis would be the deciding vote. Democrats thought that Davis, an independent with Democratic leanings by that time, would be sympathetic to their case. Instead, Davis resigned from the Court and the commission after being elected to the Senate by a coalition of Democrats and Greenbackers in the Illinois legislature (until 1913 state legislatures elected U.S. senators).

Thomas Nast not only lampooned Samuel Tilden's age and infirmity by drawing him in numerous cartoons as an Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, but the artist sometimes pictured the Tilden mummy-casket as a burden on the back of another person (e.g., Louisville Courier-Journal editor Henry Watterson or 1880 Democratic presidential nominee Winfield Hancock), here, David Davis. Some political observers suggested a national ticket of Tilden and Davis could be a winning combination for Democrats in 1880. Nast, a Republican, seems to agree-"Not a Bad Idea"-but the proposal primarily allows him to ridicule both Tilden and Davis's girth.













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