In this cartoon, Senator David B. Hill’s 1894 campaign to become governor of New York is viewed as a foolish and dangerous ploy to use the governorship as a stepping-stone to the presidency two years later. To achieve his ultimate goal, the senator wears a flimsy flying contraption, the wings of which attest to his public support of President Grover Cleveland and opposition to the new federal income tax. Hill, however, appears more likely to plummet into the abyss of his “Odious Record,” which is polluted with rapacious vultures, demons, the Tammany Tiger, as well as scandals concerning the Croton Aqueduct and Judge Isaac Maynard (see below).
In 1885, Hill rose from lieutenant governor to governor of New York when Grover Cleveland assumed the presidency. Hill won election as governor that November and was reelected three years later. His gubernatorial administration opposed Republican efforts to enact civil service reform and liquor taxes, but supported tenement house regulation and labor reforms, such as maximum work hours, abolishing prison labor contracts, and creating an arbitration board for labor disputes. Through efficiency and attention to detail, Hill constructed a political machine that allowed him to dominate Democratic state politics into the early 1900s.
In January 1891, Hill maneuvered to have the state legislature elect him to the U.S. Senate for a term commencing that March. However, he did not take the seat until his gubernatorial term ended in January 1892, provoking critics to label him the “governor-senator.” When New York Republicans appeared to have won a majority in the state senate in November 1891, Hill orchestrated the invalidation of three Republican victories through Judge Maynard in order to retain Democratic control. The judge is depicted in the cartoon’s cesspool of corruption wearing a royal robe and emptying a ballot box.
After years of battling Cleveland for leadership of the New York Democrats, Hill unsuccessfully challenged the former president for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1892. Hill’s political machinations were too audacious for most Democrats in the rest of the country. In the Senate, though, Hill usually defended the policies of the second Cleveland administration (1893-1897), as depicted on his wing in this cartoon.
While Hill certainly wanted to be president, he did not actively seek the gubernatorial nomination in 1894 (as the cartoon wrongly suggests), although he did reluctantly accept it. It was a year in which Democrats faired poorly, as the public reacted against an economic depression, and Hill lost badly that November, 41% to 53% for Republican Levi P. Morton, the former U.S. vice president (1889-1893). Hill never ran for office again, although he served out his term as U.S. senator (to 1897) and continued to exert influence, though waning, over the New York Democratic Party.