The Nature of Politics: From Slanderer and Liar to Ally

Apr 26, 2016

A well-known cartoon by Homer Davenport depicts a reverent Uncle Sam clasping TR on the back. The cartoon is captioned, “He’s good enough for me.” Perhaps the cartoon contributed to TR securing his 1904 presidential win. TR writes to Davenport afterward, thanking him for the cartoon “with all my heart.” Mutual sentiment and respect it seems. Or was it?

Davenport was known for his biting commentaries on politicians and current events through his political cartoons. His caricatures of Mark Hanna, a wealthy industrialist who served as McKinley’s political manager, depicted Hanna as having animal--like physical qualities and wearing a suit covered in dollar signs.

Davenport didn’t limit his invective to Hanna. He also had some harsh criticisms of Theodore Roosevelt.

TR spearheaded a much needed renovation of the White House, but not everyone approved. Davenport, in a 1903 article titled, “How the White House Has Been Changed,” included a drawing of the state dining room lined with stuffed animal heads. Davenport wrote, “The walls are adorned with the heads of the innocent beasts which he [TR] so delights in slaughtering.” The cartoonist also included a drawing of national relics being stored in the basement and commented on TR being “the rarest example of egotism ever inflicted upon a suffering people.”

This critique did not sit well with the president. TR wrote a scathing, no-holds-barred letter to Senator Carter, “If you will turn to the issue of the San Francisco Examiner of May 31st you will find an article by him [Davenport] which shows him to be a slanderer and a liar, with whom it would be out of the question for me to have any dealings of any kind.” Harsh words indeed.

Yet a little over a year later, Davenport is courted by the Republican Party to support TR’s presidential run.

In a letter to Roosevelt’s personal secretary, James Sullivan Clarkson discusses the “…desirability of securing the services of Davenport, the cartoonist, for the Republican side in the pending campaign,” Clarkson reports that others have “endorsed the president’s idea that “Davenport’s services are eminently desirable.” Plans for “engaging” Davenport before others could contact him were set in motion, with an offer being made of $1,500 a month. Soon after, the famous Uncle Sam cartoon appears, and it becomes part of the campaign which ends in a presidential win for TR.

So in politics, much can happen in the span of a year...and with a generous stipend.

Click here for image details.

TR and Uncle Sam

He's good enough for Davenport. 1904. Prints and Photographs division. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

Posted by Pamla Kukla on Apr 26, 2016 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)  |  Share this post

Allan Clayton said,

I am always inspired by Teddy, reading Jon Knoke's book Theodore Roosevelt the Making of American Leadership. These politics today make me long for a leader like Teddy, we could sure use his leadership these days for sure!

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