Beginning publication in 1876, Puck was a humor magazine presenting the perspective of the sound-money, anti-trade-protection wing of the Democratic Party. However, it opposed Democrat William Jennings Bryan in his three campaigns for the presidency in 1896, 1900, and 1908 (though less emphatically in the last). Puck’s publishers and cartoonists considered Bryan’s advocacy of free silver and other populist policies to be too radical, economically unsound, and socially dangerous. The magazine supported the presidential candidacies of Democrats Alton B. Parker in 1904 and Woodrow Wilson in 1912.
On this cover of the April 25, 1900 issue of Puck, cartoonist Udo J. Keppler (son of the magazine’s late founder and cartoonist, Joseph Keppler) endorses Richard Olney for the Democratic presidential nomination. Olney had been U.S. attorney general (1893-1895) and secretary of state (1895-1897) during President Grover Cleveland’s second term. Here, the Puck symbol points to the portrait he has painted of the former cabinet officer. In the caption, Olney is praised for his ability and adherence to “rational [territorial] expansion” and “sound-money” (i.e., the gold standard), and is implicitly contrasted with Bryan, “a discredited mountebank.” The adjective “Straight” in the term “Straight Democracy” is similar to what today would be called “mainstream” and at the time connoted “law and order” and “honest money” (i.e., gold).
Richard Olney was born on September 15, 1835, in Oxford, Massachusetts, to Eliza Butler Olney and Wilson Olney, a bank clerk. He graduated from Brown University in 1856 and Harvard Law School in 1858. Admitted to the Massachusetts bar the next year, he began a successful career as a lawyer. In 1861, he married Agnes Thomas; the couple later had two children. In the 1870s and 1880s, Olney established himself as a leading railroad attorney and served on the board of directors of several railroad companies. In 1874, he served a one-year term in the Massachusetts legislature, and two years later was defeated in a bid to become the state’s attorney general. In 1893, Grover Cleveland appointed him to the cabinet post of U.S. attorney general, and he soon became a valued advisor to the Democratic president.
Olney not only counseled rejecting the annexation of Hawaii in 1893, but also argued that American troops should restore the deposed Queen Liliuokalani to power. Cleveland complied with the former but not the latter advice. After businessman Jacob Coxey marched 500 unemployed workers to Washington, D. C., for a May Day demonstration in 1894, Olney obtained a federal court injunction against them. When the Pullman Strike of 1894 halted railroad traffic nationally, he ordered U.S. marshals and federal attorneys to ensure safe rail operation. Olney authorized a local Chicago lawyer hired by the Justice Department to seek a blanket injunction against the strikers, and the attorney general convinced President Cleveland to send federal troops to enforce the injunction. Olney’s actions won considerable praise in the press, but were criticized by Governor John Peter Altgeld of Illinois and labor leaders, such as American Railway Union president Eugene Debs (who was jailed for violating the injunction).
After Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham died in 1895, President Cleveland named Olney to the position. The former attorney general tended to issue ultimatums to other nations, treating them as if they were courtroom opponents. That was the case when the Cleveland administration intervened in a longstanding dispute between Britain and Venezuela over the border of British Guiana. Fearing British expansion in South America, Olney issued a diplomatic note in late July 1895 claiming that the United States was “practically sovereign on this continent,” and therefore Britain was violating the Monroe Doctrine. When Britain delayed in complying with the new secretary of state’s insistence on arbitration, Olney and Cleveland sought congressional approval for the administration to decide the border question itself. After a subsequent war scare subsided, Britain entered into negotiations with Venezuela in 1896. (Three years later the border was settled, largely in Britain’s favor.)
Conservative Democrats urged Olney to seek the party’s presidential nomination in 1896, 1900, and 1904, but he was uninterested. In 1896, he supported the breakaway National (“Gold”) Democratic candidate John Palmer, but endorsed Bryan in 1900 when the Money Question was less important. After the Cleveland administration had ended in March 1897, Olney resumed his law practice until retiring in 1908. In 1913, he declined offers from President Woodrow Wilson to serve as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and on the Federal Reserve Board. Richard Olney died in Boston on April 8, 1917.