Clasp Hands Across the Bloody Chasm

 “Old Honesty”
  Source:  Harper’s Weekly
  Date:   July 20, 1872, p. 573

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Throughout the 1872 campaign, Nast continually alluded to a key slogan in Greeley’s letter of May 20 accepting the Liberal Republican presidential nomination.  Underscoring the platform plank calling for amnesty of all former Confederates, Greeley concluded:

with the distinct understanding that, if elected, I shall be president not of a party, but of the whole people, I accept your nomination, in the confident trust that the masses of our countrymen, North and South, are eager to clasp hands across the bloody chasm which has too long divided them, forgetting that they have been enemies in the joyful consciousness that they are, and must henceforth remain, brethren.

This was hardly a new thought for the Tribune’s founder.  From the week of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, Greeley’s strongest message had been a plea for lasting peace.  In an editorial published on Friday morning April 14, 1865, he urged President Lincoln to administer a benign Reconstruction policy in the South.  In a line anticipating the core appeal of his challenge to Grant seven years later, the editor called on Lincoln to say, “Slavery having through Rebellion committed suicide, let the North and South united to bury its carcass, and then clasp hands across the grave.”  (The president was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth that evening.)

The first of the series of “clasping hands” caricatures by Nast appeared in the July 20, 1872 issue of Harper’s Weekly, available on newsstands July 10, the day Greeley and running mate Gratz Brown were nominated by the Democrats in Baltimore.  Taking its title from a Greeley nickname, “Old Honesty,” the cartoon makes no reference to a “bloody chasm,” but features clasping hands.  Greeley has turned away from Liberal Republicans Reuben Fenton and Carl Schurz (right background) to be introduced by Whitelaw Reid, his campaign manager, to a succession of urban ruffians with whom the candidate clasps hands.  The unsavory group is characterized in Nast’s caption by a hostile quote from the Democratic New York World of June 6:  “If he [Greeley] does still think that all the vilest classes (‘blacklegs, pugilists, keepers of dens, criminals, shoulder-hitters, rowdies, burglars,’ etc. etc.), all the scum of the community, are drawn to the Democratic party by ‘a sympathetic chord,’ he disgraces himself in asking for Democrats suffrages [i.e., votes].”  Signs on the back wall in the cartoon follow the precedent of Nast’s “Battle of Dorking” by referring to the candidate’s last name as “Greedey.”

On July 11, the day after “Old Honesty” was published, a remarkable, page-one illustration appeared in the Greeley’s New York Tribune over a headline reading “The Liberal Democracy” and a news report of the Democrats’ endorsement of the Liberal Republican ticket and platform.  The roughly drawn engraving shows a white hand and a black hand clasping, and was probably an irresistible signal to cartoonist Nast that he now might proceed to explore the graphic possibilities of “clasp hands across the bloody chasm.”



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