ost of Nast’s election-year cartoons were attacks on Greeley and the Liberal
Republicans and Democrats, rather than positive portrayals of Grant and the
regular Republicans, but there are some examples of the latter. One of the more
fanciful celebrations of hero worship is “William Tell Will Not Surrender or Bow
to the Old Hat” (May 25, 1872), which depicts President Ulysses S. Grant as the
legendary Swiss archer and patriot, William Tell.
For years, Nast had been fascinated by the Tell fable with its tangled mix of
fact, romance, nationalism, and stark contrast between good and evil. In
December 1860, as an impressionable youth of 20, the artist spent three days in
the Lucerne area, visiting as much of the “original site” as possible. At
Lucerne, he attended a performance of the Rossini opera based on the story.
According to tradition, Tell was confronted by a cap erected on a pole in the
marketplace and ordered to bow to it as a sign of obedience to Austrian tyrant,
Gessler. Infuriated, Tell refused. As a test of skill, he was obliged to shoot
an apple off the head of his son with a crossbow, and in due course he killed
the hated Gessler.
In this 1872 version, Nast substitutes Greeley’s well-worn, trademark hat and
coat for Gessler’s cap. After the Cincinnati convention, white hats became
popular as Greeley campaign favors. Leslie’s Illustrated compared the
Tribune editor’s coat and hat with the log cabin and hard cider of William
Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential campaign. The symbolism was made to order.
Nast saw no reason to abandon the battered old hat that he had been cultivating
as a reminder of the editor’s eccentricity and seniority. Here for the first
time Greeley’s coat trails the “Gratz Brown” tag—a symbol of the
vice-presidential candidate’s insignificance—with which the remorseless
cartoonist would pursue the Greeley-Brown ticket until after the election.
The flags on the Tribune building are (left-right): an American flag flown
upside-down (a nautical symbol of distress), with words reminding viewers of
Greeley’s original acquiescence in secession and his push for negotiated
settlement of the Civil War; the British Union-Jack flag (below) incongruously
positioned with an Irish-Catholic flag (top), which combines the white of the
Vatican flag with an Irish harp; the Confederate flag, with words reminding
readers that Greeley bailed ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis out of
jail; and (partly obscured by Greeley’s coat) a white flag for Mayor Oakey Hall
of New York City.
Senator Reuben Fenton and Greeley himself are just to the rear of Grant’s
raised elbow. The group bowing to the pole erected in front of the Tribune
building includes Nast’s usual mixed cast of Greeley supporters. The first
circle (left-right) consists of John Morrissey of Tammany Hall, Jefferson Davis,
Senator Frank Blair, and Henry “Hank” Smith, a Republican who had cooperated
with the Tweed Ring. Behind them (left-right) are John Kelly of Tammany Hall,
public speaker Anna Dickinson, “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall, Mayor Oakey Hall of
New York City, and journalist Theodore Tilton. In the far background stand
Senators Carl Schurz and Thomas Tipton.