Frontrunner McKinley: A Defeated Napoleon


 "A Giant Straddle"
  Cartoonist:  William Allen Rogers
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   March 28, 1896, p. 312

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Governor William McKinley of Ohio, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is depicted as Napoleon awkwardly straddling the money question. Like most Republicans, McKinley backed the gold standard, but the tariff was his main issue. He skillfully avoided discussing currency topics, referring reporters to his congressional record. However, the candidate blurred his stance somewhat by stating that he would support bimetallism (silver and gold coinage) if an international agreement could be reached. Political observers realized that Britain’s opposition to bimetallism made such a scenario virtually impossible, but Harper's Weekly cartoonist William Allen Rogers and editor Carl Schurz still worried that Republicans would abandon their gold standard position.

The comparison of McKinley with Napoleon is traceable to an 1890 cartoon by Joseph Keppler of Puck magazine. In the congressional elections of that year, Republicans lost control of the U.S. House, largely in reaction to passage of the McKinley Tariff, which set the highest peacetime rates in American history to that date. Keppler portrayed McKinley as Napoleon leading Republicans in retreat, an image based on a well-known 1864 painting by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier of a glum-looking Napoleon and his troops returning from defeat in Russia in 1812. In similar negative fashion, Rogers of Harper's Weekly caricatured McKinley as Napoleon four times before the 1896 Republican National Convention. After McKinley’s nomination and the platform’s endorsement of the gold standard (although including the international conference hedge), Rogers and Harper's Weekly supported the Ohio governor against the Democrats’ free-silver nominee, William Jennings Bryan.













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