Thomas C. Platt, a former U.S. senator, was leader of New York State Republicans in the 1890s. Unlike many political bosses, he did not manipulate his power to gain personal wealth, nor rule with a heavy hand; in fact, his soft touch earned him the nickname “the Easy Boss.” Nevertheless, Harper's Weekly was fiercely opposed to his authority and influence. This cartoon expresses concern that Platt will use devious means to manipulate the Republican nomination in 1896, either by selecting a subservient candidate or eliminating the competition for his own nomination.
Platt is presented as a huckster peddling “presidential water-melon” to Republican candidates for the nomination. The triangles cut on the fruit indicate that he has “plugged” them with alcohol. Ostensibly, he is offering the support of his powerful political machine to all the candidates, but overindulgence by the “boys” on the sweet, spiked watermelon will leave only the political boss standing. In the center, Governor Levi P. Morton (“L.P.M”) of New York, former vice president (1889-1893), in lace collar and boater, is already gorging himself. Platt’s knife is aimed ominously at the governor’s back. In early 1896, Harper's Weekly editor Carl Schurz remarked that Platt’s support of Morton’s candidacy was merely an effort by the boss to win respectability.
In the cartoon’s background, Congressman Thomas Reed of Maine (left), former House speaker (1889-1890), wears a clownish polka-dot shirt and looks on curiously. Governor William McKinley of Ohio (right), who ordered the National Guard to put down labor unrest in his state, appears perplexed, but has his toy sword in case of trouble. Behind them, Benjamin Harrison, former president of the United States (1889-1893), emerges from his “Ice Wagon”—a pun on his nickname, “the Human Iceberg,” reflecting his allegedly cold personality.
Nearly a year after the publication of this cartoon, McKinley easily won the Republican nomination, with Reed a distant second. The Maine congressman, however, was reelected that fall to Congress, where he again served as House speaker (as of December 1895). In early 1897, Platt returned to the U.S. senate and Morton ended his gubernatorial term. Harrison remained in retirement.