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Literary Themes in the Campaign

Political cartoonists use characters and symbols they hope readers will instantly recognize; by that measure, the most familiar literary reference of 1896 was clearly the Bible, which figured in both pro-McKinley and pro-Bryan cartoons and rhetoric. Cartoonists also made use of other references. Some were classics, including Aesop's Fables; recorded by a Greek author in the sixth century B.C. and translated since into many languages; Robert Burns' poem "Tam O'Shanter," about an errant Scotsman pursued home by a horde of witches; and Shakespeare. Other references, particularly on the Democratic side, were to popular novels such as Trilby (1893), whose author, George DuMaurier, died during the campaign.

American literature was in flux in 1896, with realist authors such as Frank Norris and Bret Harte just coming into their own. Older traditions remained strong, including romantic popular fiction and reform novels. Interestingly, though Harriet Beecher Stowe died in 1896, cartoonists and politicians made few or no references to Uncle Tom's Cabin, one of the century's most influential books. This was in keeping with inattention to issues of racial justice in the midst of a campaign focused on other concerns.

Latter-day Literature: A Lamentation.

The giants of the pen are dead. The great books have all been written, and the world does not hold a great man who is really a great writer. Literature has falled upon evil times, and now is in the hands of manikins. . . . Where is the recent books that anyone can read over twice? Where is the living historian who can paint living pictures like Carlyle? Where is the novelist who can tell a story like Dumas or Scott?

. . . Literature is small because the men who produce it are not great, The stream is like its fountain. The authors of the really great books have been great men. They have lived in a full sense and have understood what life means. Literature nowadays shows a lack of convictions. It is a materialistic age; life has lost meaning for many persons, and without a great and inspiring view of life and the world, can great things be written. —The Critic, 2 October 1897


Salt Lake Theater.
Chas. S. Burton, Manager.
Curtain at 8:15 p.m. sharp.
One Night, Wednesday, October 21,
The play of the century, causing a thrill of sensational interest throughout the two hemispheres.
Dramatized by arrangements with Harper Bros. by Paul M. Potter, from the late George DuMaurier's celebrated novel, TRILBY.
Last opportunity to see this great play.
PRICES--$1.00, 75 cts., 50 cts., 25 cts.
Sale of seats begins Monday October 19th.
—Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah, 20 October 1896


(some published before that year)

  • Tom Grogan, by F. Hopkinson Smith
  • A Lady of Quality, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Seats of the Mighty, by Gilbert Parker
  • A Singular Life, by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward
  • The Damnation of Theron Ware, by Harold Frederic
  • A Houseboat on the Styx, by John Kendrick Bangs
  • Kate Carnegie, by Ian Maclaren
  • Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
  • Sentimental Tommy, by J. M. Barrie
  • Beside the Bonnie Briar Bush, by Ian Maclaren


  • Horatio Alger, Frank Hunter's Peril Stephen Crane, The Little Regiment and Other Stories of the American Civil War
  • Harold Frederic, The Damnation of Theron Ware
  • Joel Chandler Harris, Sister Jane: Her Friends and Acquaintances
  • Bret Hart, Cressy
  • Bret Hart, The Crusade of the Excelsior
  • Bret Hart, A First Family of Tasajara
  • Henry James, The Other House
  • Sarah Orne Jewett, Country of the Pointed Firs
  • Thomas Nelson Page, In Ole Virginia
  • Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
  • Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad
  • Constance Fennimore Woolson, Dorothy and Other Italian Stories


"Mark Twain in His Time" is an excellent website created by Stephen Railton and the UVA Electronic Text Center, with texts, reviews, and information on literary marketing strategies and audiences in the 1890s.


OUR LEADING POET-- Paul Laurence Dunbar. Cleveland Gazette (African-American), 26 September, 1896.

Dunbar was one of the most famous black writers of the late nineteenth-century. Lyrics of Lowly Life, a collection of his poems published in 1897, is available from the Humanities Text Initiative's collection of American Verse.

DuMaurier's Trilby

Et maintenant dors, ma migonne.
("And now sleep, my little one"--Svengali to Trilby) DuMaurier, Trilby.
New York: Harper Brothers, 1894.

Trilby featured the story of a young singer hypnotized and manipulated by her trainer, an older man named Svengali. The phrase "he was a Svengali to her Trilby" is still in occasional use today; audiences in 1896 would have recognized it much more easily. Like many bestsellers of the day, Trilby had become a play in the hands of enterprising producers, and thousands of Americans saw it on the stage.


The one unmistakable thing about "Trilby" . . . is that it declares beyond the possibility of doubt the distinction of the author's mind, the nobility of his inspiration, and his victorious originality in making that nobility clear to the imagination in a fresh, amusing way. To be amusing has not often been counted as a major gift, but it is such a gift in DuMaurier's case. He is amusing in that he is merry, bright, and sparkling as a running brook. . . . No novelist since Dickens has made so many friends, no novelist since Thackeray has held those friends through ties at once so human and so beautiful. He recalls both his famous predecessors, realls them at their best. It is with the Dickens of "The Tale of Two Cities," with the Thackeray of "Esmond," that he will stand. —New York Tribune. from Public Opinion, 15 October 1896

Whatever may be thought by some of "Trilby," the creation of the artist, DuMaurier, few who have read that pathetic story will fail to be grieved by the news this morning of the death of its author. If many have found much that was noxious in its suggestion, few have failed to gather at least one flower from those that were scattered so lavishly there with the studied negligence of the poet and the artist that are true. Poor Trilby and poor DuMaurier, both have gone strangely to the hearts of men, and it is to the credit of men and women that Trilby gets still from them a tear for every frown. —Raleigh News and Observer, 9 October 1896


Republican cartoonists made reference to the witches of Macbeth and to Jack Cade, a character from Henry VI who was something of a Robin Hood, but whom Shakespeare portrayed as a villianous bandit. Meanwhile, a pro-silver reference recreated a scene from Julius Caesar, and the socialist journal The Coming Nation made use of a quote from A Midsummer Night's Dream, spoken by the character Puck, which also appeared on the masthead of the Democratic journal Puck: 'what fools these mortals be!'

from William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Act IV, Scene I, lines 20-38

All: Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn; and, cauldron, bubble.
3 Witch: Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches' mummy; maw and gulf,
Of the ravin's salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock, digg'd I' th' dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and lips of yew,
Silver'd in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe,
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
And thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For th' ingredience of our cauldron.
All: Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn; and, cauldron, bubble.
2 Witch: Cool it with a baboon's blood:
Then the charm is firm and good.

From William Shakespeare. King Henry VI, Part II.

Act IV, Scene II, lines 49-70

Cade: Valiant I am.
Smith: [Aside] A' must needs; for beggary is valiant.
Cade: I am able to endure much.
Smith: [Aside] No question of that; for I have seen him whipped three market- days together.
Cade: I fear neither sword nor fire.
Smith: [Aside] He need not fear the sword; for his coat is of proof.
Dick: [Aside] But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burnt I' the hand for stealing sheep.
Cade: Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall habe ten hoops; and I will make it a felony to drink small beer. All the realm hall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfry go to grass; and when I am king, as king I will be,--
All: God save your majesty!
Cade: I thank you, good people;-- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.
Dick: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Cartoons with Literary References

  • 16 July, People’s Advocate
  • 16 August, L.A. Times
  • 14 September, L.A. Times
  • 10 October, The Coming Nation
  • 13 October, St. Louis Globe Democrat
  • 14 November, Judge

© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

click a pic to learn more

Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)

  • Feb 27: People’s Advocate: Reading Tillman's Speech
  • Mar 19: People’s Advocate: Pitchfork
  • Apr 4: The Ram’s Horn: Rescued
  • Apr 15: Sound Money: History Repeats Itself
  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • May 28: Prohibitionist’s convention, Pittsburgh, PA
  • June 16: Republican convention, St. Louis, MO
  • June 21: Denver New Road: Cleveland's Romance
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • July 4: Socialist convention, New York, NY
  • July 11: Democratic convention, Chicago, Illinois
  • July 9: Rocky Mountain News: A Soliloquy
  • July 11: Harper’s Weekly: Gold Bugs
  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • July 16: People’s Advocate: McKinley's Evil Sprit
  • July 18: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Bryan
  • July 22: Silver convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 25: People’s Party convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 22: Rocky Mountain News: Wall Street's Private Studio
  • July 25: Harper’s Weekly: Farmer McKinley
  • July 25: Judge: The Silver Candle
  • July 27: Chicago Record: Bryan's Tightrope
  • Aug 5: Rocky Mountain News: The Plain English of It
  • Aug 6: Sound Money: Spain and Rothschilds
  • Aug 8: McKinley accepts Republican nomination
  • Aug 9: Denver New Road: Bryan's Romance
  • Aug 12: Bryan accepts Democratic nomination
  • Aug 13: American Non-Conformist: Farmer Hanna
  • Aug 15: Rocky Mountain News: Bryan the Lion
  • Aug 16: L.A. Times: Aesop's Fox
  • Aug 18: Rocky Mountain News: Hanna the Wizard
  • Aug 20: Sound Money: The Cross of Gold
  • Aug 20: L.A. Times: Popocratic Witches
  • Aug 22: The Ram’s Horn: A Double Burden
  • Aug 29: Harper’s Weekly: McKinley the Veteran
  • Aug 29: Labor Advocate: Look at This
  • Aug 30: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Dime Museum
  • Sept 2: National (Gold) Democratic convention, Indianapolis, IN
  • Sept to Nov 1: McKinley front-porch campaign, Canton, OH
  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang
  • Sept 5: Harper’s Weekly: The Crown of Thorns
  • Sept 5: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Just the Bare Facts
  • Sept 6: L.A. Times: Comrades in Arms
  • Sept 6: St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Bryan Dollar
  • Sept 8: Early election day in Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 9: Rocky Mountain News: John Bull
  • Sept 10: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 11 to Nov 1: Bryan travels 13,000 miles by train, stump-speaking around the nation.
  • Sept 11: St. Paul Pioneer Press: The Divorcee
  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 12: Labor Advocate: Their Argument Misses Fire
  • Sept 12: The Ram’s Horn: Building Up His Business
  • Sept 12: Harper’s Weekly: Populist Supreme Court
  • Sept 12: New York Journal: Hanna's Funds
  • Sept 13: Boston Globe: The Silver Dog
  • Sept 13: L.A. Times: Uncle Sam's Circus
  • Sept 14: L.A. Times: Populist Pandora
  • Sept 14: Rocky Mountain News: Playing Upon a Single String
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Sept 18: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Against Turkey
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 19: Judge: Bryan's Cross
  • Sept 19: Labor Advocate: How They Love The Farmers
  • Sept 19: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Election-Year Friend
  • Sept 20: Boston Globe: Writ of Replevin'
  • Sept 20: L.A. Times: Populist Delilah
  • Sept 20: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: The Sultan Laughs
  • Sept 20: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: John Bull's Theft
  • Sept 21: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Robber And His Victim
  • Sept 24: L.A. Times: Resurrecting Secession
  • Sept 24: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Treachery
  • Sept 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Democratic Jonah
  • Sept 26: Harper’s Weekly: Silver Bullfight
  • Sept 26: L.A. Times: For Sale
  • Sept 26: National Reflector: Rings On The Hog
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 1: Pioneer Press: Silver Trust Hog
  • Oct 3: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Workingman's Friend
  • Oct 4: Raleigh New and Observer: Hanna and Dixon
  • Oct 6: Election Day in the state of Florida (not all states voted on the first Tuesday in Nov).
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 6: Pioneer Press: Silver Conversation
  • Oct 6: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Florida's Lifeline
  • Oct 8: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Democratic Florida
  • Oct 8: New York Journal: Confident Hanna
  • Oct 10: Harper’s Weekly: Three Witches
  • Oct 10: The Coming Nation: The Worker's Treadmill
  • Oct 11: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Resurrection
  • Oct 13: New York Journal: Hanna and Workers
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Bryan as Jack Cade
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Gold Balloon
  • Oct 15: Coxey's Sound Money: Uncle Sam Enslaved
  • Oct 15: Rocky Mountain News: Elected McKinley
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman
  • Oct 17: Coming Nation: Labor Exploitation
  • Oct 20: L.A. Times: Burning Cross of Gold
  • Oct 21: The Coming Nation: Socialism
  • Oct 22: Sound Money: The Old Party Scale
  • Oct 22: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna's Crown of Thorns
  • Oct 24: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Guiteau
  • Oct 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Bryan's Balloon
  • Oct 25: Omaha World Herald: Getting Women to Register
  • Oct 27: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna, Trusts, and Morgan
  • Oct 28: Puck: A New Civil War
  • Oct 30: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna in Lehigh Valley
  • Oct 31: Republicans announce “Flag Day,” then argue with Democrats and Populists over meaning of the flag
  • Oct 31: Harper’s Weekly: Democratic Wind-Up Toys
  • Oct 31: New York Journal: Buncombe Brigade
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud
  • Nov 2: McKinley wins presidential election
  • Nov 2: L.A. Times: Clown Bryan
  • Nov 4: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: Knock-Out Punch
  • Nov 4: St. Paul Pioneer Press: Elephant on the Silver Pillow
  • Nov 5: Sound Money: Prediction for 1900
  • Nov 14: Judge: Republican Tam O'Shanter
  • Nov 14: Coming Nation: Our Farmers Situation
  • Dec: Overland Monthly: Uncle Sam Looks Abroad
New Spirits
New Spirits
Perceptions and Realities: The Victorian Age Inventions of the era Tramps and Millionaires Yellowstone Park Journals of the era White City/1893 Worlds Fair The Civil War President McKinley