The 1884 presidential campaign was one of the nastiest in American history, with accusations and insinuations of political and moral misconduct characterizing the race between Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican James Blaine. The sniping was particularly bitter between regular Republicans backing Blaine and a group of independent Republicans (derisively called “Mugwumps”) who bolted the party to support Cleveland. The latter included Harper's Weekly editor George William Curtis and cartoonist Thomas Nast.
In this W. A. Rogers cartoon, published six weeks before the 1888 Republican National Convention, Uncle Sam warns the GOP, personified as a Roman charioteer, that the race should not be ornery. He also advises the young man to get rid of his old team from the 1884 contest. On the right, the key Republican issue of protective tariffs is mocked as an awkward and out of place giraffe whose name, “War Tariff,” identifies it as an outdated remnant of the Civil War financial system. The blinded mount, “Party Despotism,” is a reproach to enforcing party unity against independence and placing partisanship above (reform) principles. Trying to control the neighing steed of the free-spending Republicans, “Extravagance,” is Murat Halstead, editor of the pro-Republican Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette (note the newspaper’s abbreviated name on his lash). Halstead was a strident critic of President Cleveland and the Mugwumps.
The common Republican tactic of arousing the party faithful by associating the Democratic Party with the Confederacy (called “waving the bloody shirt”) is here dismissed as an injured, ailing nag, “Old War Feeling.” Pumping air into her nostril from the New York Tribune bellows is the newspaper’s editor, Whitelaw Reid, one of Blaine’s closest friends and his 1884 campaign manager. Leaning toward the horse is John J. Ingalls of Kansas, president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, known for his tirades against the independent Republicans supporting President Cleveland. Bandaging the foreleg of “Old War Feeling” is Senator William Chandler of New Hampshire, a close ally of Blaine’s who was appointed secretary of the navy (1882-1885) at the Republican leader’s urging.
The allusion made by “Ginger” on the partially buried championship cup is uncertain, but the spice was incorporated into several cure-alls of the day, including Parker’s Ginger Tonic, which was advertised in Harper’s Weekly for “the aged and feeble.” The hourglass indicates that the old team’s time is up. Fit and ready to take over is the team of Progress (center background): “Fraternity” (sectional reconciliation); “Principles” (instead of self-serving partisanship); and, “Revenue Reform” (lower tariffs). The winged wheel is a symbol of progress and is often associated with the transportation corps of armies.