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Reconstruction: Congress v. Johnson // District of Columbia and the Federal Territories: Passage // Congressional Reconstruction // Elections, 1867 and 1868

The enactment of Congressional Reconstruction resulted in approximately 735,000 black men being registered to vote in the former Confederate states.  The historic process was featured in the September 28, 1867 issue of Harper’s Weekly.  The article reported that the new black voters constituted a majority in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.  Black voters eagerly went to the polls that fall in large numbers, from 70% in Georgia to almost 90% in Virginia.  The cover of the November 16, 1867 issue of Harper’s Weekly was an illustration of Southern black men—a workman, businessman, and soldier—voting for the first time.  The accompanying text on the following page praised “the good sense and discretion, and above all modesty, which the freedmen have displayed in the exercise” of their franchise. 

In the April 27, 1867 issue of Harper’s Weekly, editor George William Curtis defended the Republican Party against charges that it only advocated black suffrage in the South to punish former Confederates, while ignoring black disfranchisement in the North.  He contended, however, that it was time to enshrine equal suffrage in the U.S. Constitution.  “It is … much too essential a right to be left to the whim of a State.”  However, referenda in Ohio, Kansas, Minnesota, and Michigan  in late 1867 and early 1868 revealed that the majority of white voters in the North were still unwilling to grant voting rights to black men. 

In the same period, new state governments were established in the South under the Congressional Reconstruction Acts.  Seven biracial, Republican-dominated legislatures—Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia—ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, which became part of the U.S. Constitution on July 28, 1868, and had their federal representatives and senators reseated in Congress.  (Tennessee had been readmitted after ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment in July 1867; Georgia’s congressmen were readmitted in July 1868, expelled in March 1869, and reseated in February 1871). 

In early 1868, Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presided at the Senate trial of the impeached President Andrew Johnson.  Chase also decided to seek the Democratic presidential nomination even though he was a Republican.  The main obstacle to his success was his insistence on suffrage and other civil rights for black Americans to which most Democrats strenuously objected.  A Thomas Nast cartoon on the cover of the June 27, 1868 issue of Harper’s Weekly (published June 17) illustrated the oddity of the Chase candidacy and the political desperation of the Democratic Party.  In it, Chase offers to save the personification of the Democratic Party, who is being swept over Niagara Falls, by extending his walking stick, which is topped by the likeness of a black man’s head.  In the background flies the American flag on which appear the names of the Republican national ticket:  presidential nominee Ulysses S. Grant and vice-presidential nominee Schuyler Colfax.   

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Nast parodied the Chase candidacy in other cartoons.  In the July 4 issue (published June 24), Chase’s attempt to convince Democrats to endorse suffrage for black men is characterized as “Wild Goose Chase.” The image is based on the folklore that a bird—here, the Democratic goose—can be caught by placing salt on its tail.  The blackbird sitting in the tree symbolizes (suffrage for) black men.  Two Nast cartoons appear in the July 11 issue.  The first depicts Chase as a stern doctor administering the tonic of black manhood suffrage to the reluctant “Sickly Democrat.”  In the second, Nast cleverly turned the table on Democratic spokesmen who often warned that Republican support of civil rights for black Americans would lead inevitably to interracial marriage (miscegenation).  Nast used the racist question that Democrats asked to frighten their constituencies—“Would You Marry Your Daughter to a Nigger?”—as an analogy of the Chase candidacy.  In the center of the cartoon, the chief justice is the minister at the wedding of a black man and an Irish-American woman who represents Democratic Party supporters. 

Besides Salmon Chase, the other figures in the cartoon are leading Democratic politicians.  On the left side (left-right):  John Hoffman, New York gubernatorial candidate; John Morrissey, Tammany Hall associate and former prize-fighter; Congressman Fernando Wood (background), a former New York City mayor; Manton Marble, New York World editor; Senator Thomas Hendricks of Indiana, a presidential candidate; and James Gordon Bennett Sr., former New York Herald editor.

On the right side (left to right):  Horatio Seymour, former New York governor and eventual Democratic presidential nominee in 1868; Congressman James Brooks of New York; Senator James Doolittle of Wisconsin (background), a presidential candidate; Raphael Semmes (background), famed Confederate commander of the Alabama; and Nathan Bedford Forrest, former Confederate general of Fort Pillow infamy.

However, by the time the Democratic National Convention convened on July 4, 1868, Chase’s star had faded.  The presidential nomination went to Horatio Seymour, a former New York governor, on the 22nd ballot.  The Democratic National Platform called for the immediate restoration of all the former Confederate states in the Union; the pardoning of former Confederates; and the abolition of “all political instrumentalities,” such as the Freedmen’s Bureau, which delegates believed were used “to secure Negro supremacy.”  The document criticized the Republican (“Radical”) Party for exposing the “ten subjected States” of the South “to military despotism and Negro supremacy.”  The platform defined suffrage as an exclusive right of each state, and condemned federal involvement in state voting qualifications as an unconstitutional and “flagrant usurpation of power.”

The Republican National Platform, adopted in May 1868, hedged on the question of universal manhood suffrage.  The congressional requirement that Southern state constitutions enfranchise black men (“all loyal men”) was defended as a policy “demanded by every consideration of public safety, of gratitude, and of justice.”  Yet, on the issue of expanding voting rights to black men in the North, the document took the states’ rights position without a word of encouragement to reformers:  “the question of suffrage in all the loyal States properly belongs to the people of those States.” 

During the 1868 campaign, Harper’s Weekly favorably highlighted black men running for office in the South, while Thomas Nast assailed the Democratic Party’s anti-black stance in his cartoons.  For the August 8 issue, he transformed a callous quote from the Richmond Whig into a searing visual indictment of violence against black voters in the South perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan.  For the September 5 issue, Nast distilled the Democratic platform’s opposition to the Reconstruction Acts to the racist claim, “This is a White Man’s Government.”  The image depicts an ape-like Irish-American, ex-Confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest, and financier August Belmont standing triumphantly on the back of a black Union veteran, preventing him from reaching the ballot box. 

This cartoon conveys one of Thomas Nast’s recurrent messages:  that the Democratic Party suppresses the rights and threatens the safety of black Americans. The caption lets the viewer know that the artist is specifically criticizing the Democratic Party’s opposition to Reconstruction legislation. The three standing figures represent what Nast considers to be the three wings of the Democratic Party.  The figure on the left is a Catholic Irish-American man.  He wears working-class clothing, has an alcohol bottle in his hip pocket, a pipe and a cross in his hat, and holds a club in striking position.  The name on his hatband—“5 Points”—refers to a neighborhood in New York City populated at the time by poor Irish immigrants.  The man’s features are ape-like, a common way the Irish were portrayed in nineteenth-century illustrations.

The middle figure is Nathan Bedford Forrest, who represents the influence of former Confederates in the postwar Democratic Party. He wears his Confederate uniform, with a lash symbolizing slavery in his back pocket, and stands ready to plunge a knife signifying the Confederate war effort—“The Lost Cause”—into his black victim. On Forrest’s coat is a medal honoring his command at Fort Pillow, the epitome of Confederate atrocities against black soldiers.  After the war, he was one of the organizers of the Ku Klux Klan. The figure on the right is August Belmont, a financier who was the national chairman of the Democratic Party. His apparel is upper class, and the “5th Avenue” medallion on his coat refers to the wealthiest neighborhood in New York City where he lived (a numerical and cultural counterweight to “5 Points”).  Republicans often charged Democrats with various types of vote fraud, so Nast draws Belmont holding aloft a packet of money designated for buying votes.

Underneath the three Democratic characters is a black Union veteran, holding an American flag and reaching for a ballot box. Nast felt obliged to emphasize the fact that black men had earned the right to vote through their participation in the Union war effort. In having the Democrats trample the American flag, as well as the black man, the artist implies that they are attacking basic American principles and the entire nation, not merely one minority.  In the background, Nast pictorially balanced arson against the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City during the Civil War (left) with the burning of a freedmen’s school during Reconstruction (right). 

For the October 3, 1868 issue of Harper’s Weekly, Nast updated a familiar biblical story into “The Modern Sampson” by drawing the Democratic Party as Delilah shearing hair—labeled “suffrage”—from the head of a black Sampson, while presidential nominee Horatio Seymour and other Democrats cheer in the background. 

The Democratic figures in the left-background are (left-right): former Confederate General Wade Hampton of South Carolina holding a torch aloft; former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, wearing a Fort Pillow medallion; a squatting former Confederate General Robert E. Lee; presidential nominee Horatio Seymour, with demonically horned hair, wearing a Ku Klux Klan breastplate, and carrying a flag that commemorates slavery, the Confederacy (“lost cause”), the Ku Klux Klan, the Civil War draft riots in New York City, and the Reconstruction race riots in Memphis and New Orleans; vice presidential nominee Frank Blair, also wearing a Ku Klux Klan breastplate; former Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes; John Hoffman, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in New York; and a stereotypical Irish-American Catholic in the shadow under Hoffman’s arm.

In front of the Democratic politicians, a fire destroys symbols of religion (the Bible) and knowledge (books, a scroll, and a globe). The writing on the center wall announcing “The Democratic Barbecue” refers to a typical nineteenth-century political event by which candidates tried to rally public support (here, hypocritically of black men); it also echoes the catchphrase “the great barbecue,” which signified political corruption. To the right, is a statue of Andrew Johnson as the “Moses” of black Americans, referring to a promise made early in his presidency.  Fittingly, he holds a tablet marked “veto” instead of the Ten Commandments.  In the lower-right corner, a satanic copperhead snake (with horns like Seymour) laughs at Samson and his shorn hair.

In “Patience on a Monument” in October 10, 1868 issue, the cartoonist dramatized the continuity between anti-black violence undertaken by segments of the Democratic Party who burned the Colored Orphan Asylum (left) during the Civil War and a freedman’s school (right) during Reconstruction; a lynched black man hangs on both sides.  The centerpiece of the cartoon is a monument inscribed with atrocities endured by blacks from slavery to the present time of the 1868 election.  Seated atop the monument as patience personified is a black Union veteran whose family lies murdered at its base.

Republican Ulysses S. Grant won the presidential election on November 3, 1868, with an Electoral College majority of 214 to Democrat Horatio Seymour’s 80.  Grant’s victory in the popular vote was 53% to Seymour’s 47%, a margin of about 300,000 out of 5,700,000.  For the first time in American history over a half-million black men cast ballots, forming an important voting bloc in the Republican Party.  In the South, Seymour won only the states of Georgia and Louisiana, but Grant’s margin in four Southern states—North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Arkansas—was small.  Republicans retained control of Congress and gained two Senate seats, but Democrats picked up 11 seats in the House. 

Harper's Weekly References

1)  September 28, 1867, p. 621
illustrated article, “Registration Scenes”

2)  November 16, 1867, pp. 721-722
illustrated article, “The First Vote,” Alfred Waud

3)  April 27, 1867, p. 258, c. 2-3
editorial, “Equal Suffrage”

4)  October 26, 1867, p. 675, c. 4
“Domestic Intelligence” column

5)  November 30, 1867, p. 755, c. 4
“Domestic Intelligence” column

6)  June 20, 1868, p. 387, c. 4
“Domestic Intelligence” column

7)  June 27, 1868, p. 403, c. 4
“Domestic Intelligence” column

8)  June 27, 1868, p. 401
cartoon, “The Political Niagara,” Thomas Nast

9)  July 4, 1868, p. 432, c. 1-2
cartoon, “A Wild Goose Chase,” Thomas Nast

10)  July 11, 1868, p. 439, c. 3-4
cartoon, “Sickly Democrat,” Thomas Nast

11)  July 11, 1868, p. 444
cartoon, “Would You Marry Your Daughter to a Nigger?” Thomas Nast

12)  July 25, 1868, pp. 467-468
illustrated article, “Electioneering in the
South,” William Ludlow Sheppard,

13)  August 8, 1868, p. 512
cartoon, “One Less Vote,” Thomas Nast

14)  September 5, 1868, p. 568
cartoon, “This is a White Man’s Government,” Thomas Nast

15)  October 3, 1868, p. 632
cartoon, “The Modern Sampson,” Thomas Nast

16)  October 10, 1868, p. 648
cartoon, “Patience on a Monument,” Thomas Nast

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Reconstruction: Congress v. Johnson // District of Columbia and the Federal Territories: Passage // Congressional Reconstruction // Elections, 1867 and 1868





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