Greeley's Campaign Falters

 “The Key-Note of the Campaign”
  Source:  Harper’s Weekly
  Date:   September 28, 1872, pp. 752-753

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

Click to see the previous version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
September found the Greeley presidential campaign to be a deeply dispirited enterprise of weirdly dissimilar factions, the leaders of which were hoping against hope to bring down the incumbent Republican war-hero in the White House, U.S. Grant.  Nast’s “Key-Note of the Campaign” (dated September 28; published September 18) is a virtuoso display of portrait caricature amidst a carnival of depression, alarm, frustration, fury, nausea, and mortification.  A central point of the cartoon is that the plans of the Liberal Republican progenitor, Senator Carl Schurz (seated at the piano), have gone seriously awry.  Schurz had been exceedingly surprised and disheartened by Greeley’s nomination at the Cincinnati convention, but had stoically joined the campaign.

The idea for the cartoon had been suggested after the Liberal Republican Convention by the Cincinnati Evening Post (May 15).  The newspaper reported journalist Samuel Bowles’s account (originally published in the Springfield Republican) of a meeting of Liberals in a private home.  All were dejected after the Greeley win and Charles Francis Adams loss of the nomination.  “Mr. Schurz was unable to speak, but going to the piano, played with the skill of the accomplished amateur he is… There was not a dry eye … in the whole company…”  Nast willingly incorporated the idea into his cartoon, “Played Out!” (dated June 15, published June 5).  The scene was transferred from Cincinnati to Washington, D.C., and Schurz’s musical piece became an attack on Grant.

The cartoonist returned to the “Played Out” theme three months later with “Key-Note of the Campaign.”  The New York Times commented (September 19) that the latter cartoon “is perhaps superior in point of elaboration and careful grouping to anything which has yet been produced by the great American caricaturist.  A more perfect gallery of portraits could not be arranged… Face, expression, and pose are equally characteristic and unmistakable…”  Although Nast would not have been aware of it when completing the plate for “Key-Note” in early September, Greeley would be out of town on a campaign tour during most of the time the cartoon was in print.  Thus, the candidate’s absence gave additional punch to Nast’s study of dissension in the ranks of Greeley’s followers.



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