The Power Behind the Scarecrow, September 23, 1903. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.
"The Power Behind the Scarecrow” reflects the results of the 1900 Presidential Election when William Jennings Bryan divided the Democratic Party by running on the Populist ticket. As an essential part of his platform, Bryan demanded “Free Silver” to put money back into the general population. This was especially important to farmers who faced rising debts since the economic challenges of the 1880s.
Where farmers and the agriculture industry stand in 1903, on the brink of the 1904 Presidential Election, is clearly represented in the cartoon. Bryan is depicted as the crow which must be kept out of the corn. In 1900, the same year as Bryan’s failed election, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. After the election, Republicans called Bryan a coward and accused him of having a strong roar, but little political influence. He lacked power behind him. The Cowardly Lion is generally accepted to be inspired by Bryan. In the cartoon, Bryan faces down a scarecrow labeled with several states. The states are not easily classified by region or industry. They represent a cross-section of the country that has repudiated or rejected Bryan’s ideals. The nomination field keeps him out. In case the scarecrow isn’t enough, the farmer with a hat labeled “Democracy” and a rifle labeled “Nat’l. Convention” guarantees that the job will be done. The farmers might have wished for the success of Bryan’s campaign, but in 1903 the Gilded Age still needed to fully collapse.
Theodore Roosevelt would go onto win the 1904 election, elected to a full term in office after serving out the rest of William McKinley’s term after his assassination. Roosevelt carried on many of Bryan's Populist ideals.
“Money and Politics in the Land of Oz.” by Quentin P. Taylor. http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=504
“The Populist Party.” http://projects.vassar.edu/1896/populists.html