This crowded, boisterous scene depicts delegates on the floor of the Democratic National Convention at Kansas City on July 4, 1900, as they prepare to nominate William Jennings Bryan for president (whose grimacing portrait hangs at center stage). The cartoon’s message is that the Democratic Party is led by dangerous radicals, crazy ideologues, and corrupt politicians.
The figures on the platform include Congressman William Sulzer of New York, waving a Tammany Hall Tiger flag, and Tammany Hall boss Richard Croker, wearing a tiger-striped suit and presiding over the convention. Behind them are Congressman Richard Franklin Pettigrew, a Silver Republican from South Dakota, and Congressman John Jacob Lentz of Ohio, with his arms crossed. Walking on the right of the stage, a timid Governor Lawrence Vest Stephens of Missouri holds onto the arm of Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party presidential candidate. The context for the image of the two men was a strike by streetcar workers in St. Louis during the summer of 1900. Here, the governor is criticized for not intervening to suppress the strike and is linked to American Railway Union president Debs, who cartoonist William Allen Rogers had first caricatured as “King Debs” during the Pullman Strike of 1894.
At the very end of the platform (right) are former senator Arthur Pue Gorman and former senator David B. Hill, pro-gold standard Democrats muzzled by the silverites. Their portrayal as captives refers to Croker’s maneuvering to ensure that the convention passed a free-silver plank in accordance with Bryan’s wishes. The Tammany boss removed pro-gold Hill from the Resolutions Committee and replaced him with Tammany’s Augustus Van Wyck, who backed the free-silver plank. The Resolutions Committee then approved the measure by one vote, reflecting how closely divided the party was on the issue. Hill announced that he would fight the free-silver plank on the convention floor, but backed down when Croker threatened that New York Democrats would shun him politically.
Delegates were also at odds over America’s role in the territories acquired in the wake of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The first third of the Democratic platform of 1900 was devoted to criticizing Republican imperialism, which was deemed “the paramount issue of the campaign.” Bryan would start his official campaign in August by emphasizing his opposition to American control of the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Yet, many Democrats in the West favored a continued U.S. presence there. The platform and candidate undercut the effectiveness of the anti-imperialist stance by calling for a stronger enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America and endorsing expansion into “desirable territory.”
Several of the figures atop the platform were associated with the question of territorial expansion, particularly the U.S. role in the Philippines. They are (left-right): Carl Schurz, a vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League and former senator (1869-1874) from Missouri and secretary of the interior (1877-1881); unknown; William Lloyd Garrison Jr., another vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League and son of the famous abolitionist; Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Filipino rebels; and Edward Atkinson, a prominent economist and a vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. The Boston-based anti-imperialists were called the Tooley Club after the story of three tailors on London’s Tooley Street whose redress of popular grievances to the House of Commons began, “We, the people of England.” Completing the group are John R. McLean, publisher of the Cincinnati Enquirer and the party “boss” of the Ohio Democratic machine, and Admiral George Dewey, who captured the Philippines for the U.S. during the Spanish-American War and was briefly a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination before withdrawing in May 1900.
Identifiable delegates on the convention floor include (counterclockwise from center): hands on the stage, glaring at Croker is Senator James K. Jones of Arkansas, chairman of the Democratic National Committee; atop the ostrich symbol of Populism is James Hogg, a former governor of Texas (1891-1895) who helped convince Tammany Hall to back Bryan in 1900 and was considered by Harper’s Weekly to be a potential vice presidential nominee; Mayor Carter Harrison II of Chicago (“Wide Open” refers to a lack of law and order that allows vice to prevail); in the block of ice (left-right) are members of the Tammany Ice Trust, Augustus Van Wyck, possibly John Carroll (Croker’s deputy), and New York Mayor Robert Van Wyck; standing with a pitchfork under the ice block is Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman of South Carolina; and in front of Tillman is Congressman James D. Richardson of Tennessee, compiler and editor of “Messages and Papers of the Presidents” (which he carries). As the permanent chairman of the 1900 Democratic National Convention, Richardson frowns at Croker for usurping his rightful place at the podium. Former congressman George Fred Williams of Massachusetts, a pro-gold standard Democrat, dodges the falling scarecrow “chairman.”
In the visitors’ gallery, the cartoonist mocks Bryan’s anti-imperialism, antitrust, and pro-free silver positions. A base drum is labeled “16 to 1” (the proposed silver to gold ratio for unlimited silver coinage). Banners praise the Chinese Boxers and Filipino rebel leader Aguinaldo and criticize the trusts, making a visible exception for Tammany’s Ice Trust. The long beards of the men on the front row of the gallery allude to William Peffer, the first Populist to serve in the U.S. Senate (1891-1897).
Harry Truman, the future president (1945-1953), was a sixteen-year-old page at this convention, although he is not pictured here.