This cartoon represents consolidation of the shift in cartoonist W. A. Rogers’s attitude toward Republicans and the 1896 presidential contest. Before the Republican National Convention, he and Harper's Weekly editor Carl Schurz lampooned GOP candidates, especially frontrunner William McKinley, for waffling on the money question. The Republican Party’s emphatic endorsement of the gold standard at its national convention in June was met with hardy approval by the journal’s staff, a sentiment reflected afterward in Rogers’s cartoons.
“Farmer McKinley Takes Off His Coat” appeared one week after the newspaper reported the results of the Democratic National Convention, which rejected the gold standard, advocated free coinage of silver, and, in the opinion of Harper's Weekly and other opponents, stood for political radicalism. The cartoon is the first prominent positive appearance of McKinley in a Rogers cartoon (the nominee appears in the background of "The Rival Fourth-of-July Celebrations"). More importantly, it visually marked the first time since 1880 that Harper's Weekly backed a Republican nominee for president.
McKinley was known for his advocacy of protectionism, initially gaining national attention with congressional passage of the steep McKinley Tariff in 1890. Conversely, Harper's Weekly had remained steadfast over the years in favor of tariff reform. However, as this cartoon makes clear, the journal considered tariff policy in 1896 to be an unimportant side issue to uprooting the weeds of radicalism sown by the Democratic Party. The artist has symbolically removed McKinley’s Napoleonic high-tariff suit, which he wore in earlier cartoons, and placed it on the fence.
The image of McKinley as a farmer serves several purposes. It associates the Republican nominee with the traditional American ideal of the hardworking, honest farmer, who was considered the backbone of American society. Like "Typical Goldbugs," it conveys the message that the policies and nominee of the Republican Party represent the needs and values of average Americans. More specifically, it contradicts the presumption that populism in the guise of either the People’s Party or the Democratic Party was the true voice of economically suffering American farmers.
Farmer McKinley, with a “Financial*Honor*U.S.” sickle in hand, prepares to attack the Democratic Party’s monetary policy, which would produce “repudiation” and a “debased currency.” Significantly, those feared consequences are, by their nature, branches of the “anarchy” plant, which is the real root of the problem. In the same issue as this cartoon, two editorials on the Democratic National Convention are entitled “The Communistic Campaign” and “Democrats Owe No Duty to Communism.” Editor Carl Schurz argues in the former that the 1896 Democratic platform favors paternalism, class legislation, and socialism. In the latter, he applauds gold standard Democratic opposition to Bryan and the platform. In both editorials, Schurz identifies Governor John Peter Altgeld of Illinois, who objected to federal intervention in the Pullman strike, and Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, a leading populist voice in the Democratic Party, as the powers behind its presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan.