Dark Humor Of Politics Essay

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The Dark Humor in Politics

Christine Houston
HIS 603 The Gilded Age and Progressive Era
February 13, 2015

Throughout history, the major players in the politics of a nation have determined the nation’s path, and for much of history, the common man was not allowed to express their opinion of the politics of their nation. However, from her beginnings, the United States followed a different tradition. Because the government of the U.S. was to be made “of the people, by the people and for the people,” the people themselves took great pleasure in expressing their views on politics, often and loudly.1 One way Americans seem to have taken particular pleasure in expressing their political views has been through political cartoons published in a variety of places. This practice has been part of American publications for centuries and is still in play today. One such example is a cartoon published in Puck on September 2, 1885. In this cartoon the Republican Party loss of the presidential campaign to the Democrats for the first time since the Civil War, and the unsuccessful use of the “bloody shirt” to garner Republican votes is mocked.2
In this cartoon, Joseph B. Foraker and John Sherman are seen attempting to get a hot air balloon made of shirt remnants and displaying the words “bloody shirt” and the initials J.G.B. off the ground. The shirt-balloon is attached to a pot with the words “sectional hatred” engraved on it, and John Sherman is using a bellows with the words “stump speeches” on it to try to get enough hot air into the shirt-balloon to lift it off the ground. In the background on a fence hangs a poster titled “John Sherman’s Mt. Gilead Speech” followed by a quote from that speech which reads, “The SOLID SOUTH, held together in political fellowship by crimes, violence and fraud.” Underneath the cartoon is the caption, “TOO FAR GONE, JOHN! – THAT BALLOON WILL NEVER RISE AGAIN.”3
In order to understand this cartoon, one must have an understanding of the presidential election of the previous year, 1884, in which the Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland defeated the Republican candidate James G. Blaine. This was a significant political occurrence because it was the first time since the Civil War that a Democratic president had been elected.4 The two men portrayed in this cartoon were Republican politicians who campaigned for James G. Blaine, and both were known for their use of “bloody shirt” tactics. The “bloody shirt” tactic was a reference to the use of the horrors of the Civil War and its memory, and “castigating the South for the Civil War,” in order to further the agenda of a politician or a political party.5 Joseph B. Foraker, who served as the governor of Ohio and a United States Senator, was known for his use of this tactic in his personal campaigns in Ohio.6 John Sherman, who served in several capacities during his political life including Congressman, Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State, made quite a splash in a speech he made in Mt. Gilead condemning the South and blaming it for the Civil War and its after-effects.7
Therefore, this cartoon is pointing out the futility of Sherman and Foraker’s attempt to get their “bloody shirt” balloon with the initials J.G.B. (James G. Blaine) on it off of the ground by using a bellows containing stump speeches and attached to a bucket of sectional hatred. The artist, Eugene Zimmerman, and by proxy the editor of Puck are pointing out that these tactics would no longer work. Sherman and Foraker’s attempts to garner votes for James G. Blaine by blaming the South, and thus the Democrats, for the trouble of the nation during and after the Civil War, and by fostering sectional hatred in their stump speeches, was unsuccessful. Thus the caption, “TOO FAR GONE, JOHN! – THAT BALLOON WILL NEVER RISE AGAIN.” Zimmerman was saying that these tactics would no longer work, and the date of this