The Cartoonist and the Candidate: Thomas Nast, Horace Greeley, and the Election of 1872
Exhibition captions used as sources for 2/27/06 talk at Pace.
This is a funny story, and a very sad story – the confrontation between the country’s
leading journalist of his time, and its leading cartoonist. And I’m going to tell the story in
Thomas Nast was, and still is, the greatest American cartoon artist ever. And this is his most famous cartoon –one of the many he did for Harper’s Weekly.
November 11, 1871. The Tammany Tiger Loose! What Are You Going to Do about It?
This was the climax of a campaign to unseat the Tweed Ring in New York City. Nast invented the Tammany Tiger, as a symbol of rapaciousness and dishonesty. The image came from a painting of a tiger’s head, on the fire engine Americus, where Boss William Marcy Tweed had once served as a volunteer fireman.
Here the tiger is loose in the Roman arena. Having already slain commerce and justice, he crouches over the prostrate body of the republic. Emperor Tweed and his henchmen cheer the beast on. As Tweed once sneered, “I got the votes. What are you going to do about it?”
Well, the public, aroused by Nast’s cartoons, did something about it, and chained up
the tiger in the November elections. Tweed and his gang were subsequently sent to jail.
July 24, 1871. What I Know about Farming. H. G. Plowing toward the White House
Meanwhile, on the national scene, self-described “Liberal” Republicans in Congress were
becoming increasingly dismayed by evidence of corruption and incompetence in the Grant administration. They began to question whether Grant should be re-elected to a second term. Some newspapers, led by Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, shared their
misgivings. But journals loyal to Grant, such as Harper’s Weekly, were outraged. And
nobody was more outraged than Thomas Nast. Like many other Americans, he considered Grant a hero beyond reproach.
Here Nast implies that Greeley has designs on the White House himself, and that he is being egged on by Liberals like Senator Reuben Fenton of New York.
Nast had already created a standard caricature of Greeley: a portly older man with a round head, a short neck, and a fringe of whiskers below his chin. He wears a low-crowned white hat and rumpled white coat. Unevenly rolled trousers over heavy farmers’
boots further reflect his rural background and indifference to fashion.
But here Nast makes fun of that background. Greeley had just collected a series of his columns into a book called What I Know about Farming. Some of his ideas were
unorthodox, and his critics declared that the book should have been called What I Don’t
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Know about Farming. Nast insinuates that whatever political ambitions Greeley might have are equally ignorant and misguided.
January 20, 1872. What I Know about Horace Greeley
Back in 1867, Greeley had performed one of the most courageous and magnanimous acts in his career. He headed a committee of staunch Unionists that posted bail for Jefferson Davis, who had been held in a military prison without charges for two years. “Radical” Republicans, who wanted to punish former Confederates as severely as possible, never forgave Greeley for allowing Davis to go free.
Here Nast accuses Greeley of hypocrisy, contrasting his offer of bail to “the traitor” Davis with his mud-slinging attacks upon “the patriot” Grant. Nast implies, moreover, that the real source of the mud is the corrupt and discredited Democratic Tammany Hall.
Nast now begins to insert pamphlets into the pockets of Greeley’s long white coat, titled, “What I Know about…,” followed by terms such as “honesty,” “truth,” “loyalty”, and “the Presidency” – all subjects about which Greeley is implied to know little or nothing. Here the pamphlets are labeled “What I Know about Bailing Jeff Davis,” and
“What I Know about Grant.”
March 16. The “Liberal” Conspirators
Thomas Nast had very little formal education, but he was quite familiar with the plays of Shakespeare and often made use of them. Here he portrays the Liberal senators as the conspirators against Julius Caesar, discussing whether to invite Cicero (Greeley) to join them.
These caricatures will appear over and over in the coming months. From left to right:
Carl Schurz of Missouri, the Cassius of the group, with a lean and hungry look.
Reuben Fenton of New York, sly and saturnine, with an unruly, goatlike beard.
Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, his face furrowed with worry.
Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, solemn and a bit pompous.
Thomas Tipton of Nebraska, a ranting hothead, always portrayed with his mouth wide open and his hair on end.
Half-concealed behind them is their Democratic ally, Senator Frank Blair of Missouri. He had run unsuccessfully for Vice President in 1868.
In the pocket of Greeley’s very long white coat is a pamphlet titled “What I Know about Bolting” – that is, bolting from the regular Republican party.
In Shakespeare’s play, the conspirators eventually decide not to include Cicero. In 1872, Greeley not only joined the group, he became its leader.
March 30. United States Senate Theatre
Nast considered Carl Schurz the chief schemer against Grant. Here Schurz puts on the costume of Iago, master of false accusations in Shakespeare’s Othello. He is attended by
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Trumbull and Tipton, while Greeley and Fenton look on, and Sumner peeks at the audience through the curtain.
The pamphlet in Greeley’s pocket is titled, “What I Know about Carl Schurz.” After Othello, the next production will be Sheridan’s School for Scandal.
April 20. Will Robinson Crusoe (Sumner) Forsake His Man Friday?
By this time, the Liberal Republicans had broken with Grant, and had scheduled a convention in Cincinnati to select a candidate of their own. They sought support from other Republicans, and were beginning to make overtures to Democrats as well.
Senator Charles Sumner was a leader against slavery before the Civil War, and a champion of civil rights for freed slaves afterward. He was a somewhat lukewarm member of the Liberal group, and very dubious about any alliance with Democrats – the
party of the slave-owning South.
Here Nast makes Sumner a fur-clad Robinson Crusoe, reluctant to abandon his island and freedman Friday. Sly Carl Schurz and sweaty Thomas Tipton try to force him into the boat of the forthcoming Cincinnati Convention, crewed by Liberal Republicans and Democrats. Greeley cheers them on, a pamphlet titled “What I Know about Emigration” in his pocket.
In the distance is anchored the dark ship Democrat, with flags that reveal its true views about the civil rights of blacks. Atop the foremast is the flag labeled “Truce” – the
truce with the South that had been urged by Copperhead Democrats during the war. On the mainmast the flag is labeled “Tammany Ring,” blamed for abetting the Draft Riots of
1863, in which several blacks were lynched. The flag on the aftermast carries the initials KKK, for the infamous Ku Klux Klan. And at the stern, in place of the U.S. flag, is the Confederate Stars and Bars.
Terrified, Friday prays for deliverance from these would-be “rescuers.”
April 27. Not So Easily Played Upon
Nast again draws upon Shakespeare to highlight the duplicity of Grant’s critics. Tipton and Schurz become Rosencranz and Guildenstern, and Grant, as Hamlet, upbraids them for impugning his character and motives. Notice that Grant is not caricatured – Nast
makes him look younger, handsomer, and neater than he was.
At Grant’s feet lie the laurels of his military victories. His chair arms are vigilant American eagles, and behind him are the shield and bound rods that symbolize the republic. The implication is that Grant’s opponents are not only devious and unjust, but also unpatriotic.
In the background, Greeley, Trumbull, and Sumner read attacks on Grant in the Tribune. The pamphlet in Greeley’s pocket is titled “What I Know about Journalism.”
April 27. What H___ G___ Knows about Bailing
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As the Cincinnati convention drew closer, Nast denounced even more emphatically the folly of a possible alliance between Liberal Republicans and Democrats.
The Democratic ship is shown wrecked upon rocks labeled “Tammany Ring
Corruption,” “Slavery,” “War Issues,” and “KKK.” Carl Schurz clings to the bowsprit, vainly looking for rescue. Greeley tries to bail out the sinking hull with a small, ineffectual bucket marked “Cincinnati Convention.” From his pocket bulge pamphlets titled “What I Know about Navigation,” and “What I Know about Bailing Jeff Davis.”
Davis himself is entirely submerged except his bare feet, identified by the initials JD on one heel.
Thomas Tipton falls overboard, still bellowing. Reuben Fenton and Lyman Trumbull escape in a Liberal lifeboat, heading for the haven of Philadelphia, where the regular Republican convention will take place in a few weeks.
May 18. “Great Expectations.”
Here Nast borrows one of Aesop’s fables to lampoon the pretensions of the Liberals.
The mountain of the fable is reduced to a mound of mud in a pigsty. Out of a small hole labeled “Cincinnati Convention” creeps a mouse, its body inscribed “H.G.,” and its
tail “Gratz Brown.” The Liberal candidate for Vice President, Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown of Missouri, was almost entirely unknown outside his own state.
Looking on in disappointment are Fenton, Greeley, Trumbull, and Schurz. The title of the pamphlet in the pocket of Greeley’s white coat is “What I Know about Geology.” In Schurz’s hat is a document titled “Carl Schurz for Sec. of State,” suggesting the real motive for his support of Greeley. To their right is Tipton, shouting as usual, and carrying packets of speeches by “Tom,” “Dick,” and “Harry.”
Watching from behind the “Liberal mountain” are two Democrats. One is Senator Frank Blair of Missouri, who had run for Vice President in 1868. The other is August Belmont, a wealthy investment banker who was one of the chief financial supporters of the Democratic Party in New York. The split among the Republicans was good news for the Democrats, who hoped to gain from it.
May 18. Hurra for Horace Greedey for President.
The back page of Harper’s Weekly was mainly devoted to advertising, but it also carried a small cartoon. This is the third and last of Nast’s drawings for the issue.
Nast often rendered Greeley’s name as “Horace Greedey,” or even“Horrors Greedey.” Here Greeley is portrayed “busting his buttons” in a manic jig. Solicitations
for votes pour out of his white hat.
The caption contains a quotation from the Tribune during the Cincinnati convention.
It purports to be objective reporting, but it clearly favors Greeley over competing candidate Charles Francis Adams. In Greeley’s pocket is the inevitable pamphlet, titled “What I Know about Blowing My Own Trumpet.” In Nast’s view, the Tribune has
become simply a political “organ,” supporting Greeley’s ambitions.
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May 25. Adding Insult to Injury. Any thing to make our Republic look Ridiculous.
In the weeks following the Cincinnati Convention, Nast’s main response to Greeley’s candidacy was a steadfast refusal to take it seriously.
Columbia turns away in disgust as a snickering Carl Schurz offers her a jester’s rattle,
with a simpering mask of Greeley as the fool’s head. Hanging from it are two signs, “For Pres. of the U.S. H.G.” and “Presented to the American Nation by the Liberals.” The handle is labeled “The Butt of the Nation.” Behind Schurz rests his top hat, from which
extend papers labeled “oily speeches.” In the background, a crowd of Democrats rejoice, including August Belmont, Frank Blair, the Tweed ring, and Jefferson Davis, who carries a document titled “Bailed by H.G.”
Nast often represented the Union as a fenced park in Washington. Its posts are the bound bundles of sticks that symbolize the strength of the united citizens in the Republic.
June 1. The Modern Mazeppa – “What I Know about the Road from Cincinnati to --.”
In Byron’s poem Mazeppa, the hero is bound to the back of a wild horse in a perilous wilderness. Nast uses this as an allegory of the Liberals’ foolhardy repudiation of Grant.
Greeley is “the modern Mazeppa,” helplessly tied to the Liberal candidacy, on a steep and uncertain path to the distant White House. In the pocket of his white coat is a pamphlet titled “What I Know about Horsemanship.” From the tail of the horse hangs a card inscribed “Gratz Brown,” the name of the largely unknown Liberal candidate for Vice President.
From a nearby promontory, Fenton, Schurz, and Tipton observe Greeley’s erratic
course. Only the hotheaded Tipton seems enthusiastic about Greeley’s prospects.
June 8. The New Organ- (we beg the “Tribune’s” pardon) –Ization
on Its “New Departure.” Any Thing to Get Votes.
The Liberals were now openly soliciting votes from Democrats -- the same Democrats whom the Republicans had long accused of disloyalty and corruption. Under the title, an 1871 Greeley editorial calls the Democratic Party “rebel to the core.”
In the background is the notice, or “card,” that Greeley had run in the Tribune in
May, announcing his temporary resignation as editor, so the paper wouldn’t be
considered a political organ for his campaign. In front, interim editor Whitelaw Reid becomes an Italian organ grinder, playing the Confederate Bonny Blue Flag and Erin Go Brach (“Ireland Forever”) on the Tribune organ (despite the attached disclaimer). Greeley
is the monkey, shaking his tin cup for votes at “Democratic Head-Quarters.” The usual
sign for Gratz Brown dangles from his tail, and the pamphlet in his pocket is titled “What I Know about Getting Votes.”
On the steps are respectable Democrats –August Belmont, corporate lawyer
Augustus Schell, and Senator Frank Blair. On the porch, however, sits Tammany Boss Tweed, surrounded by his hangers-on. At the upstairs windows are the editors of
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Democratic organs, plus Andrew Johnson, Jefferson Davis, Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, and a masked “KKK.”
Behind Reid, Fenton and Schurz unhappily watch this shameless display of pandering.
June 8. “Drop ’Em.”
It was customary for railroad sleeping-car passengers to leave their shoes overnight in the corridor, to be shined by the porter. Greeley, creeping furtively on hands and knees, attempts to steal the Presidential shoes, but Grant catches him in the act and orders him off. The pamphlet in the pocket of the white coat reads, What I Know about Those Shoes.
The bearded man whose partial profile appears in the doorway may be one of the rare portraits Nast made of Benjamin Gratz Brown.
June 29. The Sage of Chappaqua.
Greeley’s fondness for chopping wood on his Chappaqua farm was well known. Here he works up a sweat, splitting the fallen and rotten trunk of the Democratic Party, inscribed with “K.K.K.,” “Lost Cause,” “Rebellion,” “Slavery,” “Tammany,” and “Corruption.” A sign on the stump proclaims that the Democratic tree had been “Blown Over, Nov. 7, 1871, by a Severe Storm” – the New York election that drove Tammany out of power.
Nearby is the “stunted” and “split” sapling of the Liberal Republicans. In the background stands the stout Republican oak, inscribed with the names of Lincoln and Grant and the high principles of the regular Republicans. At its base, Uncle Sam and the hero of Uncle Tom’s Cabin observe “Horrors Greedey’s” efforts with amusement.
Nast believed that Greeley’s white coat and hat were simply an affectation. They become a scarecrow labeled, “Notice to Caricaturists. Hands Off. These Are Sacred.” The pamphlet in the pocket reads “What I Know about Splitting.”
June 6. “Shylock, We Would Have Moneys and Votes.”
This drawing appeared before the Democratic convention at Baltimore. Greeley and Fenton play the roles of Bassanio and Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, seeking a loan
from the Jewish moneylender, Shylock.
Fenton wears Elizabethan pantaloons and tights, but Greeley is dressed in the familiar white coat and hat and farmer’s boots. The axe handle protruding from his pocket alludes to his fondness for chopping wood. The usual Gratz Brown card dangles from his coattail.
Shylock is August Belmont. Unlike most wealthy New Yorkers, he was a Democrat, and the most important financial backer of the party. He had a reputation for honesty and integrity, and was not connected with the Tammany ring. He was also Jewish, and subject to the anti-Semitic bias endemic in Christian society.
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The caption quotes Shylock’s sarcastic response to Antonio’s request. He recalls
Antonio’s previous insults, yet finally agrees to make the loan. Although the cartoon does
make reference to the widespread anti-Semitism of the time, its main target is the hypocrisy of Greeley and the Liberal Republicans, who for years had been attacking Democrats as disloyal and corrupt.
July 13. What H.G. Knows about Thraeshing.
For decades, Greeley had associated Democrats with lawlessness. Soon he would be their candidate for President. Nast shows a Democrat in prison stripes, already branded with epithets such as “Liar,” “Criminal,” and “Thief,” and further scourged by Greeley,
swinging the cat-o’-nine-tails of the Tribune. “Thraeshing” has a double meaning:
threshing (grain) and thrashing (Democrats).
July 13. “Red Hot!”
In this succinct end-page cartoon, Greeley, perspiring and miserable, spoons up hot stew from a bowl inscribed “My Own Words and Deeds.” The inevitable pamphlet is titled “What I Know about Eating My Own Words, by H. Greedey.”
July 20. “Old Honesty.”
Greeley was nicknamed “Old Honesty,” for his forthrightness in speaking his mind. The
caption contains a quotation from the Democratic New York World, questioning whether
such an outspoken critic could serve as the party’s candidate. Here Whitelaw Reid
presents the candidate to the kinds of Democrats he has long excoriated: a pair of unsteady drunks, a hard-bitten “den keeper,” a corrupt politician, a convict, and “Pat,” an apelike caricature of the Irish immigrant. Fenton and Schurz watch uneasily from the Liberal room next door.
July 27. The Death-Bed Marriage.
After the Civil War, the national Democratic Party was severely weakened by its association with the former rebels. This weakness was the main motivation for the expedient alliance with Greeley and the Liberal Republicans. Nast elaborately satirizes the alliance as a marriage between a moribund Democratic bride and Greeley the fortune-hunting groom. The pamphlet in his coattail pocket is titled, “What I Know about
Stooping to Conquer.”
The ineffective cordial by the bride’s bedside is labeled, “Cincinnati Platform” – the
platform adopted by the Liberal Republicans. Her dowry is made up of vote frauds and the ill-got gains of corruption.
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The ceremony is conducted by a Catholic priest, On one side gather mournful Democrats such as August Belmont, a masked Ku Klux Klan ruffian, and the Tweed Ring. On the other are Liberal Republicans such as Tipton, Schurz, Fenton, and Trumbull.
Behind Greeley stands Whitelaw Reid, stiff-necked with self-righteousness, and holding the familiar white coat and hat. From the pocket protrudes Greeley’s
autobiography, its title changed from Recollections of a Busy Life to Recollections of a
At the far right is the long-haired journalist Theodore Tilton. The volume in his pocket, titled Life of Mrs. Woodhull, refers to a personal history that is too complex to tell here. Two years later, though, it would erupt into a spectacular public scandal.
August 3. Diogenes Has Found the Honest Man. – (Which is Diogenes, and Which Is the
In 1871, the Tweed Ring had been driven out of power in New York City, in part through Nast’s cartoons. By 1872, William Marcy Tweed was a fugitive from justice, and Tammany Hall claimed to have reformed itself. Tweed nonetheless remained a symbol of corruption, and many doubted the sincerity of Tammany reform.
By accepting the Democratic nomination, Greeley has become Tammany’s ally, and he is shown shaking hands with the beady-eyed Tweed. In both of their coat pockets are pamphlets titled “What I Know about Honesty.”
Above Tammany Hall fly flags bearing the slogans “Tammany Ring Bailed by
H.G.,” “We Are the Real Reformers,” and “It Has Blown Over.” That refers to Tweed’s
boast, before his defeat, that the scandals of his administration would all “blow over.”
Under the caption, and continuing on the next page, are extensive quotations from Greeley’s attacks on the Democrats in general and the Tweed Ring in particular, going back to the 1860s.
August 3. They Are Swallowing Each Other.
Nast’s full-page cartoons for Harper’s are typically crammed with topical references and
symbolic imagery. His small end-page drawings are often simpler and more powerful. Here, Greeley and the unsavory elements of the Democratic Party are forced to swallow each other.
August 10. Any Thing to Get In. You Can’t Play the Old Trojan Horse Game on Uncle
Spoils politics were well entrenched in both parties, but that didn’t hinder Nast from portraying Greeley’s candidacy as a Trojan horse, designed to give Liberal Republicans and Democrats access to Federal patronage jobs.
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August 10. The Cat’s-Paw. – Any Thing to Get Chestnuts.
In this fanciful metamorphosis, Boss Tweed becomes a sly monkey, manipulating the paw of an agonized Greeley cat over the top of a hot stove, in order to pull out the roasted chestnuts of patronage offices.
In the background, Miss Columbia scowls in disapproval. On the wall is the Tribune’s dubious announcement of Tammany’s reform.
August 17. Romish Politics – Any Thing to Beat Grant.
One of the most shameful episodes of American history was the wave of intolerance that swept over the country, starting in the 1840s, when great numbers of Irish immigrants arrived. The Irish were stereotyped as drunken, violent, backward savages, and their Catholic faith a subversive plot to place America under the rule of the Pope.
No one was guiltier of this malignant prejudice than Thomas Nast, and here he expresses it with unrestrained venom.
At this time, there was sharp controversy over the role of religion in public education, with Catholics complaining about the wide use of the Protestant Bible in the supposedly nonsectarian public schools. The Protestant majority viewed such complaints as an attack against public education itself.
Here, Greeley the naïve peacemaker and vote-seeker extends his hand to Pat the Irish hooligan. Pat wears old-fashioned, old-country clothes, clenches a shillelagh in his fist, tucks two pistols under his belt and a liquor bottle in his back pocket. On his lapel is the nationalist badge “Erin Go Bragh” (“Ireland Forever”). At his feet is the bundle of a
vagabond. Lurking in the doorway behind him is a sinister Catholic priest. Worst of all is Pat’s flushed, enraged face – snub-nosed, heavy-jawed, and apelike. What a contrast with the clean-cut, Anglo-Saxon features of the schoolboy behind Greeley, prepared to defend American traditions against the foreign bully.
August 17. “Satan, Don’t Get Thee Behind Me!” – Any Thing to Get Possession.
This is the first double-page cartoon of the campaign. Greeley begs Satan for the Democratic nomination, the pamphlet in his pocket titled “What I Know about Resisting Temptation.” Satan points out that to accept the support of the Democrats, Greeley must renounce all the insults he has hurled at them over the years. In the background is Washington, with government departments full of patronage jobs.
August 17. Barnum’s New “What Is It.”
One of Horace Greeley’s close friends and admirers was the showman P.T. Barnum. At his Museum and in his traveling shows, Barnum exhibited curiosities such as the stuffed Woolly Horse. It was in fact a horse’s skeleton, covered with sheep’s fleece.
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Barnum introduces Greeley as his latest curiosity. Greeley’s contradictory statements
and the contradictory positions of his Republican and Democratic supporters are written all over the back of his white coat. Republicans, for example, passed a law to suppress the Ku Klux Klan. Democrats, especially from the South, tried to soften it. Republicans (including Greeley) tended to support temperance, while Democrats tended toward greater tolerance toward alcohol. Democrats generally backed free trade, while Republicans (again including Greeley) generally favored protective tariffs.
The crown of Greeley’s white hat is inscribed “This Is a Black Hat.” The pamphlet in the coat pocket is titled “What I Know about Myself.” In the background is a stuffed sheep, from which hangs the sign “This Is Not the Wooly Horse.”
August 24. It Is Only a Truce to Regain Power (“Playing Possum”).
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was a steadfast opponent of slavery and supporter of civil rights for blacks. Like Greeley, he also favored reconciliation with former rebels.
Greeley and Grant try unsuccessfully to persuade an angry and resistant black man to shake the bloody hand of a Ku-Klux-Klansman over the bodies of his murdered wife and baby and the prostrate form of his grieving son. Next to the Klansman is a smug Irish tough with a Tammany label in his hatband. Both have Greeley-Brown campaign fliers tucked into their clothes.
In the background, toward the left, the body of a black man hangs from a lamppost next to a burning “Colored Orphan Asylum.” These are references to the New York City Draft Riots of 1863, when mobs lynched several blacks and burned an orphanage for black children. To the right another black man hangs from a tree next to a ruined “School House.” These images refer to riots, lynchings, and the destruction of freedmen’s schools in the South.
The pamphlet in Greeley’s pocket is titled “What I Know about Being Liberal.” Sumner has one of his own: “I Am against the Policy of Hate except to Beat Grant.” And protruding from the pocket of the black man is the sign “Emancipated by A. Lincoln, Protected by U.S. Grant.”
August 31. “What Are You Going to Do About It,” If “Old Honesty” Lets Him Loose
The Liberal Republicans justified their alliance with the Tammany Democrats by claiming that Tammany was now reformed. “Tammany is for Greeley,” thundered Whitelaw Reid in the Tribune, “the reform Tammany in a reform canvass.” Nast and the
Grant Republicans were not convinced.
Greeley, wielding a brush labeled “N.Y. Tribune” and “Whitewash Reid,” slaps a heavy coat of “Reform White Wash” on the chained tiger to cover up its stripes: “Corruption,” “Illegal Voting,” and “Wholesale Robbery.” In Greeley’s pocket is the usual pamphlet, titled “What I Know about Reform.” It is only a matter of time, implies