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1884 Politics in Frank Leslie’s Weekly

Frank Leslie’s Weekly inserted politics and the good and bad of political campaigning into American life. One area of particular interest were the various presidential campaigns. Frank Leslie’s provided illustrations of candidates, the antics of political followers, and political conventions and other gatherings. News articles, commentary, illustrations, and later photographs capture the enthusiasm of the various political campaigns and documented the issues, arguments, and opposing viewpoints of the political parties.

The article here relates to the “filth” of the Presidential Campaign of 1884. The campaign was marred by exceptional political acrimony and personal invective by both major parties and their followers. 1884 saw the first viable woman presidential candidate, Belva Lockwood, and a variety of Prohibition party candidates.  

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

Dance card (illustrated cover side) depicting Democratic and Republican candidates (Grover Cleveland, James G. Blaine, etc.) in the United States presidential election, 1884.

Dance card (illustrated cover side) depicting Democratic and Republican candidates (Grover Cleveland, James G. Blaine, etc.) in the United States presidential election, 1884.

NEARING THE END

FOR only a few more days need we hold our noses. The filth of the Presidential sewer is about exhausted; the daylight and clear air of November 5th are just ahead; let us be thankful the relief is no further off! As the little boy who had his tooth drawn remarked: “Just before I died it came out.”

This has certainly been one of the most choleric campaigns that this republic ever saw—a campaign based on defamation of character and on the circulation of scandals which, in ordinary times, would never be mentioned.

From first to last principles have been lost sight of. The canvass has been phenomenal for the persistency with which lies have been stuck to and reiterated after they have been exposed over and over again; for the insensibility which newspapers have shown to the usual respect due to truth; and also for the complete inversion of personal relations. If a partisan press is to be believed, the ticket on each side is made up of men who have nothing in common and who have been yoked together in spite of the hatred and distrust they have always entertained and expressed for each other. It is also notorious that many of the prominent papers of both parties are now supporting through thick and thin, by every device they can think of, men whom they have repeatedly denounced as corruptionists or condemned as unsafe to be trusted with any office whatever.

New Jersey.—The Humors Of The Political Campaign—Parade Of The Belva Lockwood Club Of The City Of Rahway. From A Sketch By A Staff Artist. Frank Leslie’s Weekly, November 1, 1884

New Jersey.—The Humors Of The Political Campaign—Parade Of The Belva Lockwood Club Of The City Of Rahway. From A Sketch By A Staff Artist. Frank Leslie’s Weekly, November 1, 1884

It is a sad state of things. It is shameful that any political canvass should ever be fought out on so low a plane as this has been. This reflection, however, is somewhat mitigated by the fact that so much vehement passion is a sign that Americans retain a lively interest in their political institutions. Only an earnest desire to have a certain policy triumph could have evoked so much calumny and so many shocking lies.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, September 13, 1884

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, September 13, 1884

There are no falsehoods circulated against a Presidential candidate in Mexico. Nobody dares to hawk a falsehood about him, or even to tell the truth. And nobody feels sufficient interest in the question to wish to say anything for or against him, or even to vote when election day comes. Perhaps our way is preferable to that. Perhaps liberty is better than lethargy, even with the quadrennial chance of suffocation thrown in.

The republic cannot perish until indifference seizes the mass of voters. A campaign of slander, is unseemly and disagreeable; but the fate of Greece and Rome cannot be ours as long as the people retain an active interest in the morality of candidates, and uniform and drill and march through the streets in tens of thousands, shouting and calling attention to the only path where safety lies.

However, welcome election day with the relief which its decision will bring! And welcome the sweet succeeding weeks when the nation’s febrile condition shall become allayed—

“And silence, like a poultice, comes
To heal the blows of sound.

Source: Frank Leslie’s Weekly, November 1, 1884

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