This cartoon reflects Republican assumptions that the rapidly expanding industrial sector was the foundation of the modern U.S. economy and that the GOP policy of protective tariffs was the linchpin of prosperous American industry. Republicans argued that high tariffs kept wages high and domestic industry protected from the competition of foreign goods, particularly from Great Britain, the world’s economic superpower at the time. They labeled Democratic and Mugwump tariff reformers as “Free Traders” whose anti-protectionist policy would undermine the American economy.
Visible in the left background is the damaged fortress of the 1890 McKinley Tariff, which raised import duties to the highest overall rate in American peacetime history to that date. Although still in effect when this cartoon was published, the congressional elections of 1890 had resulted in many of the law’s supporters, including Congressman William McKinley, being voted out of office. For cartoonist Victor Gillam, the intervening two years must have brought voters to their senses because in this image they stand in unison as “The Last Breastwork” (i.e., defensive barrier) against an invasion of foreign products allegedly spearheaded by the tariff reformers. Amidst the row of personified occupational stereotypes is the U.S. flag on which appears the phrase, “America for Americans.” (The label “Weaver” refers to cloth-makers, not the 1892 Populist nominee, James Weaver.)
The cartoon’s caption is a quote by Henry George, a controversial economic reformer whose pet “single tax” theory called for replacing all taxes with one steep tax on large landowners. In 1888 and 1892, he was an outspoken advocate of tariff reform and of Cleveland’s election. In this illustration, George is leading the team of Cleveland tariff reformers (all of whom are child-sized) toward the impenetrable blockade of ordinary Americans. The candidate himself carries a British flag and weighs down the overburdened Democratic Donkey, which is being pushed strenuously from behind by Senator Roger Mills of Texas (sweating) and Harper’s Weekly editor George William Curtis (whose head is thrust backward). Bringing up the rear is Senator John Carlisle of Kentucky.
In the upper-left is a box detailing the daily wages for various workers at Andrew Carnegie’s steel mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania. When a new contract proposed reducing wages by up to 18% from the previous year, the union went on strike. Subsequent violence resulted in the deaths of three guards and seven workers, and the state’s National Guard intervened to restore order. On July 23, the same date as this postdated cartoon, plant manager Henry Clay Frick was shot by an anarchist, who was not associated with the strikers. Here, the statistics are presented as proof that high tariffs keep (daily) wages high, and as a reminder to the Homestead strikers how good they have it. The ratio of 1892 dollars to 2002 dollars is approximately: $2 = $39; $4 = $79; $6 = $118; and $8 = $157. (The strike ended after the election.)