The Liberal Republican Movement

 “Great Expectations”
  Source:  Harper’s Weekly
  Date:   May 18, 1872, p. 392

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

Click to see the previous version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
“Great Expectations,” published May 8 (in the issue dated May 18), was Nast’s first cartoon since the Liberal Republican National Convention concluded on May 2.  He had assumed that diplomat Charles Francis Adams would be nominated for president, and had nearly completed this drawing when he learned of the surprise selection of Horace Greeley.  Nast altered the picture, probably on the woodblock after it had been engraved, by changing the tiny head on the mouse from Adams’s face to Greeley’s and by inscribing vice-presidential nominee Gratz Brown’s name on the mouse’s tail. (This is why Greeley appears twice, watching his own figure as a mouse). 

The joke in this cartoon relies upon the contrast between the “Great Expectations” of Liberal Republicans and the pathetically small outcome of their national convention.  The “Liberal Mountain” is a visual metaphor for the “mud” that has piled up from constant charges of corruption the Liberal Republicans made against the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant.  The cartoonist may also have been attracted to the image by recent news reports of the explosion of Vesuvius, the Italian volcano, on April 12, 1872.  Here, out of the man-made structure emerges the mousy Liberal Republican ticket of Greeley and Brown.  The cartoon title is taken from Charles Dickens’s novel, and the caption about a mouse issuing forth from a mountain mimics the story of two Aesop’s fables (later consolidated by Phaedrus).  Dickens and Aesop were regular sources of inspiration for Nast. 

The top presidential contenders at the Liberal Republican Convention had been Adams, Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, and Supreme Court Justice David Davis.  Greeley initially had some support for president but was considered more likely as a vice-presidential nominee.  The platform compromise on the tariff issue, though, boosted the chances for the Tribune editor, a trade protectionist in need of votes from tariff reformers.  Governor Gratz Brown was Missouri’s favorite-son candidate, but he lacked broad appeal.  On the first ballot, Adams made a strong showing with 205 votes, but Greeley placed a surprisingly competitive second with 147 votes.  At that point, Governor Brown promptly withdrew and endorsed Greeley, in part to block Adams, the candidate of Brown’s political rival in Missouri, Senator Carl Schurz.  That gave momentum to Greeley, who won the nomination on the sixth ballot, after which his campaign managers urged the convention to select Brown for the second spot on the ticket.

In “Great Expectations,” the Liberal Republicans staring at the emergent mouse are (left to right):  Senator Reuben Fenton of New York; Greeley; Trumbull; Schurz, in whose hat a paper indicates his desire to be secretary of state; and a blathering Senator Thomas Tipton of Nebraska, holding his speeches about Tom, Dick, and Harry.  The two prominent Democrats looking on in the right background are (left-right):  Senator Frank Blair of Missouri, another political rival of Schurz, and August Belmont, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  The Democrat Party, lacking viable candidates of its own, endorsed the Liberal Republican ticket a few weeks later.

Beginning with this cartoon, Nast ridiculed Gratz Brown throughout the campaign as an appendage on Greeley (here, a tail, but usually a tag on Greeley’s coat) in order to emphasize the vice-presidential nominee’s political insignificance.  Although Greeley proved to be a vulnerable candidate, his running mate made matters worse.  Known to have a drinking problem, Brown reportedly delivered a speech at Yale while drunk, fainted before a gathering in New York City, and often uttered misstatements. 



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