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Political Cartoons of Thomas Nast

Notice.—No Cartoon This Week.

With a barbed wit and regular appearances in Harper's Weekly newspaper, Thomas Nast fathered the modern political cartoon. Earlier cartoons had relied on conversation or dialogue to make their point, but Nast emphasized the picture itself, using caricature and symbolism to convey his message.

Conkling and Platt

Following Republican James A. Garfield's victory in the presidential election of 1880, a long-simmering quarrel between the moderate and conservative wings of the Republican party erupted. Conservative "stalwarts" expected appointments to high offices as thanks for their support in Garfield's Campaign. Instead, the president rewarded his moderate supporters and shut the stalwarts out of the "spoils."

In March of 1881, New York Senator Roscoe Conkling (who called himself a "stalwart of the stalwarts") launched an intra-party war with the president over who should dispense government jobs in the senator's home state. As a power broker, Conkling had been able to secure the vice presidency for one of his lieutenants, Chester Alan Arthur. Conkling now challenged Garfield's appointments and tried to make the president back down. When Garfield refused, the senator attempted to demonstrate his clout by resigning from the Senate with his fellow New York Senator Thomas Platt. The two confidently expected to be reinstated by the New York State legislature (senators were not elected directly until 1914). Such a move would censure Garfield and confirm Conkling’s leadership. However, the assembly proved to be more independent than Conkling anticipated, and the men were not returned to the Senate. When Arthur succeeded to the presidency upon the assassination of Garfield, he quickly threw off partisan constraints and shepherded the nation’s first civil service bill through Congress.

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