Now Available: The Dollar or the Man?

Introduction to the Annotated Edition

The Dollar or the Man? The Issue of To-Day, Homer Davenport’s second published cartoon collection after Cartoons by Davenport in 1897, we see a physically smaller book, with less cartoons; fifty-four compared to the eighty-four of the previous collection, which was released as a large “coffee-table” sized bound portfolio measuring 11 by 17 inches. It is also unique in that it was a collaboration with Horace L. Traubel, who curated the selection of images used, as well as providing a 3000 word introduction. Traubel’s legacy includes being the biographer of American poet Walt Whitman, and one who supported a host of what we would today term “left-wing” causes and people.

Unlike the previous collection, the curated cartoons Traubel chose were focused on the monopolistic corporate trusts, and the increasing disparity between the few rich and the multitudes of the poor. They all date from 1898 through 1900, ending after the Presidential election in November. Republican President William McKinley is featured heavily, as is his “henchman” Senator Marcus Alonzo “Dollar Mark” Hanna.

And a new character was introduced by Davenport: The “Trust Brute,” being a personification of the corporate trusts that took root during the Gilded Age. Portrayed as a bearded, hulking muscular brute, with a primitive grass kilt, and often touting either a whip or club. Davenport freely cloned the Brute to represent different trusts: Oil, Sugar, Steel, etc. The sequential order of the cartoons is the same as Traubel’s original curation, with one exception: I placed the introductory cartoon of the Trust Brute as the first cartoon.

The oligarchs of the day, are easily recognized and of course the familiar bulbous form of “Dollar Mark Hanna” returns, pictured as the controlling entity of the McKinley administration. Davenport’s various victims are easily recognized, which frankly assisted in the research of these images: They looked like their photographs available online via a number of digital archives.

Davenport’s “common folk” are pictured as hard-working, yet incredibly emaciated. Children appear as skinny, pathetic waifs with parents to match. Their clothes are torn and tattered, often pictured begging the Trust Brute and Dollar-Mark Hanna for some simple relief.

The obvious purpose of this publication was political. Specifically with a Democratic bias, engineered to support William Jennings Bryan’s second run for President against the re-election of McKinley. What is almost missing, was Davenport’s Democratic foil from the previous collection, Tammany Hall and its political boss Richard Croker. The “Tammany Tiger” does appear in one of the cartoons, but in a “positive” role. During this campaign, both Hearst and Croker supported the democratic ticket of Bryan and his running mate Adlai Stevenson, so somewhat of a truce appears to have occurred, at least in regards to the cartoons in this collection.

The issues of the campaign included the bimetallism vs. gold standard of 1896, but also the growth of international imperialism, corporate monopolies, and increased societal inequalities. Between both of Davenport’s cartoon collections, was the Spanish American War, which resulted in the defeat of Spain, and the acquisition by the United States of many of its former colonies. A war that initially had the support of both the Republicans and Democrats to bring freedom to those places, switched when the Administration decided that a policy of “benevolent assimilation” was more profitable. Filipino “Freedom Fighters” were re-branded “Insurgents” as the occupying forces took control. Puerto Rico likewise was “kept” as part of the spoils of war. Cuba eventually was returned to the locals, with U.S. interests baked into their country, in ways that persist to this day.

Owing to the fact that this book was released several months before the assassination of President McKinley by an anarchist, physical copies are extremely rare. Since McKinley and his administration were the main targets of the work, his death and public sentiment no doubt cut into book sales. Nevertheless, McKinley’s death, and the rise of President Theodore Roosevelt signaled a shift from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era, where many of the issues presented in this publication were somewhat addressed.

Ironically, Davenport left Hearst’s employ in 1904, in support of the progressive Republicans, led by President Roosevelt. Indeed, after a rocky start, Homer and the Colonel became fast friends, sharing a common interest in Arabian horses.

While the original version of this volume is available digitally, I was able to obtain several hard copy originals that I used to digitize the images, and prepare them for republication. The horizontal format of the original has been retained, with the cartoons on the right, and a relevant annotation on the left under the original captions.

For this annotated collection, I have attempted to use as many period sources as possible. Of particular usefulness was The Tammany Times, from GoogleBooks. This was an effervescent weekly newspaper published by the Tammany Hall democratic machine in New York City.

Other sources included both Republican and other Democratic—usually very biased—periodicals and newspaper accounts with similar chronological ties to the images. And as is the case of these sorts of projects, I learned quite a bit myself. Mainly that today’s hyper partisan media environment is by no means new. The election antics of 1900 proved that this is a long American tradition. Indeed, the “Dollar or the Man?” could well be the issue for our times!

Gus Frederick – Silverton, Oregon

The Annotated Dollar or the Man is available from Liberal University Press (see link on the upper-right side bar), or in Silverton from the Silverton Country Historical Society. Additional venues will be added as they become available.


Comments are closed.