The Gold Democrats and Bryan’s Nomination


 “The Political Sapho”
  Cartoonist:  Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman
  Source:  Judge
  Date:  March 31, 1900

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
This cartoon is a spoof of the police raid on the controversial play, “Sapho.” The image shows the anticipated reaction of voters to the expected second presidential nomination of Democrat William Jennings Bryan. They flee in horrified shock as the candidate, in the title role of Fanny Legrand, sings unashamedly of Democratic ballot fraud and intimidation of black voters. In the play, letters reveal that Fanny had a child by a previous lover. Here, the silver baby (also seen in Eugene Zimmerman’s earlier cartoon, “That Troublesome Kid”) lies abandoned at Bryan/Legrand’s feet. In the box seats are (left-right): former senator David B. Hill of New York, former governor James Hogg of Texas, and Senator John T. Morgan of Alabama. The orchestra members include (left-right): Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman of South Carolina playing the timpani; Congressman Joseph Bailey of Texas, the House minority leader, on clarinet; Senator James K. Jones of Arkansas, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, playing the violin; and, on bass is Senator Henry Teller of Colorado, a Silver Republican who supported Bryan in 1896 and 1900 before being reelected to the Senate in 1901 as a Democrat.

The conductor is one of the two oldest Belmont brothers of New York. Like Zimmerman’s earlier cartoon, “That Troublesome Kid,” the figure’s hair favors Perry and the eyes resemble those of August Jr. Both were Gold Democrats who had not supported Bryan in 1896, when the Money Question was a central concern, but backed the populist Nebraskan in 1900, when the issue was less important. The second son, August Jr., had assumed control of the family business upon the death of their father, August Sr., in 1890. August Belmont Jr. was a major financial contributor to the Democratic Party and would be a key player in the 1904 campaign of presidential nominee Alton B. Parker. A later Zimmerman cartoon in the April 21, 1900 issue of Judge associates the same Belmont caricature as here with financial support of the Bryan campaign, so both images are probably intended to be August Jr.

The oldest Belmont brother, Perry, had been a congressman (1881-1888) and U.S. minister to Spain (1888-1889). He vocally opposed the “imperialist” foreign policy of President William McKinley following the Spanish-American War of 1898. Perry Belmont was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1892, 1896, 1900, 1904, and 1912. The youngest son, Oliver Hazard Perry, became estranged from most members of his family when he married the divorced wife of financier William Vanderbilt in 1896. Oliver Belmont served one term in Congress (1901-1903) as a Democrat and edited the short-lived weekly, The Verdict (December 19, 1899-November 12, 1900), which denounced business trusts and monopolies.

Published in 1884, Sapho was a novel by the French writer, Alphonse Daudet, about an artist’s model, Fanny Legrand, who was nicknamed “Sapho” (after the ancient Greek poet). Clyde Fitch, a popular Broadway writer and director, adapted the book to the stage for actress-producer Olga Nethersole, who starred in the title role. The play opened at Wallack’s Theatre on Broadway and 30th Street on February 5, 1900. It was an immediate success, filling the theater with patrons. However, the play provoked objections that its portrayal of a woman with a sexually promiscuous past was immoral. Particularly controversial was a scene in which a male lover to whom she was not married carried the eager Fanny upstairs. The production was condemned by The Society for the Suppression of Vice and crusading minister Dr. Newell Dwight Hillis. An article in the March 24, 1900 issue of Harper’s Weekly, “The Unseemly Drama,” by A. C. Wheeler included a reference to “Sapho” as an example of the type of play that allowed “flagrant actresses to make the punishment of vice an excuse for the exhibition of voluptuousness….”

After viewing the play six times, an inspector for the New York Police Department decided that it was immoral, so the department closed the production on March 5 and arrested its producer and star, Olga Nethersole. The case made headlines for several weeks before the trial began on April 3, 1900. After only 15 minutes of deliberation, the jury acquitted her of the charge of “violating public decency,” and “Sapho” reopened on April 7 for 55 more performances. In the April 14 issue of Harper’s Weekly, columnist E. S. Martin reported that the Boston Police had banned the Daudet novel on which the play was based and that a bill had been introduced into Congress to prohibit it from the mails. He lamented, “It is the weak point of the censor that he is apt to overdo his job…” Martin argued, “Sapho in the proper hands is a useful moral treatise,” but admitted that the cheap English translation was “probably not helpful to public morals.” A different perspective was taken by humorist Peter Finley Dunne’s characters, Mr. Hennessy and Mr. Dooley, in the September 29, 1900 issue of Harper’s Weekly.

Hennessy: “I see be th’ pa-aper th’ stage is goin’ to th’ dogs, what with its Saphho’s [sic] an’ th’ like iv that.”

Dooley: “Well, it isn’t what it used to be in th’ days whin ‘twas th’ purpose iv th’ hero to save th’ honest girl fr’m th’ clutches iv th’ villain… In th’ plays nowadays th’ hero is more iv a villain thin th’ villain himself.”













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