This cartoon uses the fable of William Tell, the legendary Swiss archer and patriot, to lampoon the national Democratic campaign of 1900. According to tradition, William Tell was confronted by a cap erected on a pole in the marketplace. All men had been ordered to bow to it as a sign of obedience to the Austrian tyrant, Hermann Gessler, who ruled the Swiss canton of Uri. Infuriated by the decree, Tell refused. As a test of skill, he was obliged to shoot an apple off the head of his son with a crossbow, which he did. Later, Tell killed the hated Gessler, which initiated a successful rebellion against Austrian control of Switzerland.
Here, Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan appears as William Tell, while the role of the tyrant Gessler is filled by Uncle Sam, whose hat adorns the top of the pole. The implication is that Democratic criticism of Republican foreign policy is actually a condemnation of the United States. On the left, Tell’s son is Tammany boss Richard Croker, who stands tiptoe on an “Ice Trust” block of ice with an “Imperialism” pumpkin on his head. On the right, various supporters of Bryan eagerly gather to overthrow the tyrannical rule of Uncle Sam.
The cartoon underscores the argument made in Harper’s Weekly that imperialism was a staged production (i.e., phony issue), obscuring the real menace of Bryan’s goal of repealing the Gold Standard Act and passing legislation for the inflationary free coinage of silver. The pumpkin (rather than an apple) suggests a scarecrow or bugaboo to frighten voters away from seeing the truth. Bryan’s real aim is revealed by his “free silver” arrows and “16-to-1 bunco” silver-dollar belt.
In the first row on the right, his fellow rebels are (left-right): Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman of South Carolina; vice-presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson (again, as a patronage “axman”); and, Socialist Party presidential nominee Eugene Debs. In the second row behind them are (left-right): William Lloyd Garrison, Jr., a vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League, holding an “Ode to Aguinaldo” (the Filipino rebel leader); former senator Carl Schurz, a vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League; former congressman William Bourke Cockran of New York; and Senator James K. Jones of Arkansas, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Schurz and Cockran are leaping into the Democratic fold here because in 1896 they opposed Bryan due to his free-silver stance.
Behind Bryan’s head, John Peter Altgeld helps former secretary of state (1895-1897) Richard Olney up the hillside. Altgeld was a controversial governor of Illinois who had objected to federal intervention in the Pullman Strike of 1894 as unconstitutional. Two years later, he played a major role in Bryan’s first (unsuccessful) campaign for the presidency. Olney, as U.S. attorney general (1893-1895), had secured an injunction against the striking Pullman workers and encouraged President Grover Cleveland to send in federal troops. Olney was also a pro-gold standard Democrat who supported National (“Gold”) Democrat John Palmer for president in 1896, instead of Bryan, and only belatedly endorsed Bryan in 1900.
Walking carefully down the top ridge is Congressman James D. Richardson of Tennessee, chairman at the Democratic National Convention in early July 1900 and compiler-editor of “Messages and Papers of the Presidents,” which is carried here by the Democratic Donkey. Isolated on the cliff (left) behind Croker is David B. Hill, the former senator and governor of New York, who was silenced at the convention by the Tammany boss because of his adamant opposition to the free-silver plank. Afterward, Hill endorsed Bryan for president, although he opposed the party platform. The feather in his cap reflects his previous statement of partisan loyalty, “I am a Democrat,” which cartoonist Rogers in an earlier cartoon changed to read, “I am a Demagogue.”
An earlier use of the William Tell legend appeared in an 1872 cartoon by Thomas Nast.