“The Ignorant Vote—Honors Are Easy,” Harper’s Weekly, December 9, 1876, cover. Wood engraving.
By 1876 Reconstruction-era Republican idealism was largely exhausted. Republican state governments in the South, supported primarily by African American votes, were charged with massive corruption, similar to that charged against the Irish Catholic-backed Tammany Hall machine. The charges were exaggerated, but Republican reformers, among them Harper’s Weekly, blasted traditional Republican leaders for sustaining corrupt governments and engaging in dishonest practices themselves. To offset waning support for Reconstruction, Republicans resorted to anti-Catholic, anti-Irish posturing, prejudices that were widely shared at the time. This cartoon was published in the wake of the disputed election of 1876, in which both sides charged fraud. Nast compares the African American Republican vote of the South to the Irish Catholic Democratic vote of the North. Under such circumstances, winning elections is hardly an honor, and neither Democrat nor Republican should claim special virtue. Nast’s changing attitude toward former slaves paralleled that of many Republicans as they shifted from the idealistic politics of the Reconstruction era to the cynical politics of the Gilded Age.
Source: Ohio State University - Thomas Nast Portfolio http://cartoons.osu.edu/nast/ignorant_vote.htm