This cartoon reveals the political independence of Harper’s Weekly in the 1888 election, with its support of Democrat Grover Cleveland for president and Republican Warner Miller for governor of New York.
Since the middle of the Civil War, Harper’s Weekly had been reliably Republican under the editorship of George William Curtis, even during the 1872 campaign when other liberal Republicans bolted the party. In 1879, Curtis urged reform-minded Republicans to scratch the name of gubernatorial nominee, Alonzo Cornell, off the party ballot (voting ballots at the time were printed by political parties, not multi-party ballots printed by the government as today). The editor objected to Cornell’s opposition to civil service reform, but the Republican won the governorship because a divided Democratic Party nominated two candidates. Curtis’s position had not been supported by the newspaper’s management. However, in 1884 with the blessing of publisher J. Henry Harper, Curtis and cartoonist Thomas Nast relentlessly attacked the Republican presidential nominee, James Blaine, and backed his Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland. Their stance cost Harper’s Weekly readership, but for the rest of Curtis’s editorship (until his death in 1892) the journal was independent of party affiliation while supporting most mainstream liberal reforms of the day.
In 1888, Harper’s Weekly endorsed President Cleveland for reelection, but opposed the reelection of Democrat David B. Hill as governor of New York. Curtis and William Allen Rogers, the newspaper’s chief political cartoonist following the resignation of Thomas Nast in 1886, considered Hill to be a self-serving, corrupt, machine politician who stood in the way of reform and good government. Here, a figure representing the independent voter chops off the crooked wood of Governor Hill from the Democratic log. As Rogers caricatured the national Republican Party in numerous cartoons for allegedly supporting “free whiskey” in 1888, here he identifies Democrat Hill with being the head of the “Saloon Ticket.” In order to stem the flow of temperance voters from the Republican to the Prohibitionist Party, the New York State Republican Party proposed high license fees for alcohol distributors. Despite an energetic campaign by nominee Miller and fewer votes for the Prohibitionist ticket compared with the previous state election, Hill was returned to the governor’s mansion.