Republicans and the Tariff Question


 "Double Unfortunate"
  Cartoonist:  William Allen Rogers
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   August 25, 1888, p. 640

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

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
This cartoon caricatures Republican tariff policy as contradictory. Republican representatives in the House had decided not to challenge the Democratic tariff reform legislation, the Mills bill. They hoped to gain political capital on the issue by charging Democrats with being free traders. “America for Americans: No Free Trade” was a popular Republican campaign slogan. The 1888 Republican National Platform emphatically supported the existing system of protective tariffs, calling for reducing the federal surplus by eliminating internal taxes. The Senate Republicans, however, offered a substitute tariff reform bill, a tactic at odds with the House Republicans and seemingly with the platform. The Senate alternative proposed to lower tariff revenues even more than the Democratic Mills bill; however, neither became law.

This cartoon combines two New Testament parables—a house built on sand and a house divided against itself, neither of which will stand the test of time—to indicate the weak and conflicting nature of Republican tariff policy. The artist has transformed an earlier version of the Republican symbol as a royal Indian elephant into a house-like object cracking in two upon the sandy shore. In the August 11, 1888 issue of Harper’s Weekly, editor George William Curtis argued that the Senate Republicans’ tariff bill was an admission that the GOP tariff plank was “a great blunder.” He charged Republican leaders with fearing to campaign on the platform because they recognized “that the country does not demand free whiskey, nor enormous expenditures, nor the taxations of necessities and raw materials, but does demand tariff reform.” On the contrary, though, Republicans made tariff protection the cornerstone of their national campaign.













Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to