This cartoon uses a traditional motif by depicting the 1892 presidential election as a boxing match between the two parties’ nominees, Republican Benjamin Harrison (left) and Democrat Grover Cleveland (right). However, the title’s reference to “Ex-Champion” and “Second Round” indicate what was unique about the campaign: it was the only election in American history to pit two men who had already been president against each other. As the incumbent, Harrison had served since March 1889, while Cleveland’s first term had extended from March 1885 to the beginning of his Republican rival’s inauguration. Other former presidents in American history ran for a non-sequential term—Martin Van Buren in 1848, Millard Fillmore in 1856, and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912—but they were nominated by third parties and their opponents had never held the presidential office.
Here, Cleveland is still on the floor with a swollen eye from their original match in 1888, when he lost the presidency to Harrison. Democratic leaders try various methods to revive their candidate, but are not having success. The crew encircling Cleveland consists of (left-right): campaign manager William Whitney holding a “Boodle” sponge (indicating graft money) and a “Flattery” fan; publisher Joseph Pulitzer with his “N. Y. World Corruption Fund” tonic; New York Sun editor Charles Dana administering electric shocks about the Republican Force Bill; and, Senator David B. Hill who is assisting Dana. Standing indifferently behind them is Henry Watterson, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, who was no longer on speaking terms with Cleveland.
The English Bulldog head on Watterson’s cane and the Union Jack “Free Trade” banner emphasize the Democratic call for tariff reform, which Republicans contended would allow British goods to flood American markets. In contrast, a fit and muscular Harrison wears “Protection” gloves on his clenched fists, while a “Protection” banner modeled on the American flag and topped by the American Eagle stands on the Republican side. The judge (left) is the mascot of the comic weekly, Judge, in which this cartoon was published. Uncle Sam is the match referee, who calls “Time,” as he looks at a watch showing 11 o’clock—a symbol that time is running, or has run, out.
In the right foreground, the “School Boy Letter-Writer” book and the correspondence from Cleveland to a little girl seem to be making fun of Cleveland’s lack of effective communication skills, as well as the Mugwump issue of civil service reform and other good-government policies (“purity and reform”).