Greeley's Campaign Falters

 “We Are On the Home Stretch”
  Source:  Harper’s Weekly
  Date:   November 2, 1872, p. 848

Click to see the previous version of this cartoon...

Click to see the previous version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
The day after Whitelaw Reid’s Tribune editorial prompted Nast to add “We Are on the Home Stretch!” to his “Tidal Wave” cartoon title, a letter appeared in The New York Times (October 10), which provided Nast with the germ of another cartoon:  “The New-York Tribune of this morning says, ‘We are on the home stretch, and confident of success.’  True!  H. G. is going home to Chappaqua [New York], and has every prospect of reaching there.”

The notion developed into perhaps the most controversial image of the 1872 election, “We Are on the Home Stretch.”  When published (October 23, dated November 2) two weeks before the landslide results of the presidential election were reported, it must have seemed like a deliciously forthright act of political prophecy.  Morbid images of political defeat had been drawn before and would be in the future.  Building on Reid’s brazen editorial in the face of dismal portents for the Greeley campaign, “The Home Stretch” would have seemed like an appropriate response.

Nast could not have foreseen that Greeley’s wife would die of consumption on October 30, a week after the cartoon hit the newsstands, or that the losing candidate himself would die on November 29, less than a month after the election.  Earlier in October, upon hearing of Mary Greeley’s illness, Nast withheld a cartoon showing her candidate-husband by the open grave of Democracy.  The artist reasoned “that its idea and purpose were likely to be misconstrued.”  On the day of the woman’s death, the New York Daily Herald, obviously unaware of her demise offered its enthusiastic endorsement of Nast’s “Home Stretch” cartoon, calling it “one of the best hits of the campaign… Go and get the paper, if you haven’t seen it, and laugh your fill for once.”

In it, candidate Greeley is depicted arriving at his Chappaqua residence, carried on a stretcher by stiff and stately Whitelaw Reid (front), managing editor of the New York Tribune, and Senator Reuben Fenton of New York (back), an early supporter of Greeley.  A boy on the left is trying to return the Gratz Brown tag, which has fallen off Greeley’s coat.  Beyond the front gate, the mourning party includes the Reverend Theodore Tilton, weeping, and Senator Carl Schurz, who tips his hat in respect.  To the center-rear, the U.S. flag atop “The Greeley Ho[use]” (or “Ho[tel]”) flies upside down to signal distress.  The overall design purports to represent the Tribune front page on the day after the election, including a burlesque of the newspaper’s masthead.



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