Running for Office: Candidates, Campaigns, and Political Cartoons      

U.S. National Archives

Clifford K. Berryman (1869-1949) drew thousands of cartoons depicting American politics for the Washington Post and Washington Evening Star. Political cartoons are unlike any other form of political commentary. Visual in nature, cartoons show altered physical traits and highlight minute details to make a specific point. With simple pen strokes, they foreshadow the future, poke fun at the past, and imply hidden motives in ways that elude written or spoken reporting. The result of this creative license is a unique historical perspective—entertaining, clever, and insightful.
Political campaigns begin with a field of candidates who—after much deliberation—declare their interest in pursuing an elected office. In the two-party system, many candidates run to support their party’s platform. Some, however, choose to run because they are disappointed with their party’s positions and hope to pursue reforms internally. Third-party candidates often run for office to raise awareness about a particular issue or to provide voters more options than the two-party system offers. In these cartoons, Berryman captures potential candidates as they consider this decisive first step of the campaign process.

The Democratic race to challenge Republican President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 opened up when front-runner William McAdoo proved weaker than expected. This cartoon comments on the ever-growing field of potential candidates in the months leading up to the Democratic National Convention in New York City. Here Missouri Senator Jim Reed is the latest one to “throw his hat in the ring,” while the Democratic donkey worries about the crowded field. At the convention, former Ambassador John W. Davis received the nomination.

When former President Theodore Roosevelt—the clear favorite for the 1920 Republican Presidential nomination—died suddenly in January 1919, the race became wide open. With such a multitude of potential candidates having the proverbial “bee in their bonnets,” the G.O.P. Presidential bee could not keep up. The bee was a common character in Berryman’s cartoons representing political aspirations as the “buzz” in the potential candidate’s ear.

Secretary of War William Howard Taft told President Theodore Roosevelt that his highest ambition was to serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but Roosevelt hoped Taft would run in the 1908 election as his successor. With Roosevelt’s encouragement, Taft began to consider the option. In this cartoon Taft blocks the buzz of a potential Supreme Court nomination to better hear the enticing buzz of the Presidential bee. Berryman speculates that Taft may be succumbing to Roosevelt’s wishes and is “not afraid” of running for President.

Theodore Roosevelt became President in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley, just six months into their term. After winning the 1904 election, Roosevelt announced he would honor the two-term tradition by retiring in 1909. However, Roosevelt proved immensely popular and supporters urged him to run for an unprecedented third term. In this cartoon Roosevelt, dressed as Hamlet, stages an alternative rendition of the famous Shakespearian soliloquy. With the first- and second-term Presidential bees behind him, Roosevelt looks to the third-term bee and wonders, “Two bees or not two bees—that is the question!”

This cartoon plays off a line from a popular 1923 song, “Yes, We Have No Bananas!” to characterize car maker Henry Ford’s Presidential ambitions—or lack thereof. Ford blames his busy schedule for his hesitation to jump into the “Presidential contest pool,” while eager supporters encourage him to “come on in!” Berryman was correct in his prediction: Ford chose not to pursue the Presidency.

After potential candidates declare their interest in running for office, each political party determines who receives the party's nomination. In the early 20th century, political machines largely controlled the nomination process, but as progressive reformers lobbied for greater popular control of the selection process, states began to adopt systems of primary elections. The new primaries shifted the nominating power to the voters. However, the primaries often did not produce a clear winner, so the candidate was not selected until the party's nominating convention in the summer. Berryman captured many of these events as they unfolded for the first time, yet his insights are relevant to the nominating process today.

Primary elections begin with a large number of candidates, and as the primary season progresses, the field narrows until a single candidate remains. This cartoon, printed on the day of the critical 1948 Nebraska primary, shows the Republican Party elephant as a watchful mother chastising her “sons” for their bitter infighting. She knows a divisive primary may hurt the prospects of the party’s eventual nominee in the general election.

After a divisive primary, a political party may be unable to unite voters behind the chosen candidate in the general election. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge, the incumbent President, breezed through the Republican primary unopposed. Berryman depicts the Republicans' unscathed advance to the “convention putting green” as the Democratic candidates waged a hostile primary battle “off the fairway” in this cartoon. Coolidge ultimately won the election.

In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt returned to challenge the unpopular incumbent President William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination. This cartoon illustrates the critical Ohio primary with Taft tugging on one arm of “mother” Ohio—his birth place and home of the most Presidents. Roosevelt is shown tugging on her other arm, hoping to steal her away. Roosevelt handily won the Ohio primary but ultimately lost the Republican Party nomination to Taft. Roosevelt went on to run in the general election as the nominee of the newly formed Bull Moose Party.

The Republicans’ clear choice for their Presidential nominee in 1904 was President Theodore Roosevelt, but there was no front-runner for the Vice Presidential spot. In this cartoon, Berryman ponders whether the Republicans will use a lottery system to choose the candidate. Here a blindfolded group of potential Republican Vice Presidential nominees are shown hoping to draw the single black bean—representing the Vice Presidency—from the bowl. In the end, Charles Fairbanks of Indiana, the tall candidate in the front row, won the nomination by vote at the convention and joined Roosevelt on the ticket.

Congressional elections differ from Presidential elections in many ways, both in terms of how campaigns are conducted and in the range of issues addressed. Members of Congress must carefully balance the desires of their local constituencies with representation at the national level. Because they are constantly campaigning, members of Congress have to balance time spent legislating in Washington with time spent interacting with their constituents in their home districts. Berryman captured this challenge in many cartoons by depicting members of Congress racing back home to explain their votes and campaign for the next election.

The ultimate prize of the congressional election is control over the two houses of Congress: the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. This cartoon shows Congress following the pivotal 1912 elections when the Democrats swept into power and captured majorities in both houses.

This cartoon highlights the never-ending dilemma faced by members of Congress—explaining votes on various issues to the diverse interests back home. A worried congressman hurries home with a satchel in his hand and an armload of papers. His papers provide information on “questions to be answered, explanations, main reasons why I did not vote, answers to why I voted for….”

Republican “Uncle Joe” Cannon represented Illinois for many years in the House of Representatives, serving as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and later Speaker of the House. He was ousted as Speaker in 1910 and lost his reelection bid in the Democratic sweep of Congress in 1912. This cartoon shows Cannon—with his ever-present cigar—running toward the “Congressional Special” attempting a “come back” for his House seat in 1914. Cannon won the election and served in the House until 1923.

The second session of the 62nd Congress began on December 4, 1911, and as the 1912 election neared, there was no end in sight. This cartoon has Uncle Sam dressed as a train conductor asking the House and Senate when they will adjourn so members could return home to campaign. Congress remained in session for another month after this cartoon was published.

This cartoon appeared on the last day of the lengthy second session of the 62nd Congress. Members of Congress were eager to return home to campaign for reelection and garner support for their party’s Presidential candidate. Two threats of filibuster held up Congress’s adjournment—a resolution on campaign finance and the House’s refusal to accept the Senate’s amendments to the general deficiency bill.

Although candidates, issues, and party priorities change, the basic campaign process remains largely the same from year to year. Campaign strategists begin planning for an election immediately after the previous election is over. The following cartoons depict various aspects of a campaign from planning to blunders to addressing the voters back home.

In this cartoon, William Jennings Bryan, William Randolph Hearst, and President Theodore Roosevelt closely examine the 1907 state and local election returns to try to predict the possible impact these returns may have on their own political futures. The books scattered around the floor suggest that forecasting the consequences that result from an election is as challenging as doing “infinitesimal calculus.”

When this cartoon was published the 1920 Presidential election was nearly a year and a half away. There were no clear front-runners and both major parties were in need of a campaign platform that would lead their party to victory. The cartoon captures the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey seated on the same log fishing on different sides of the “campaign issues pool." Shortly after this cartoon was
published, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially ending
World War I, and the great political fight over the League of Nations

Summer is a critical time for candidates to campaign across the nation in preparation for the primaries the following spring. In this cartoon, Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft examines an electoral map of the United States planning his “summer schedule” with the hopes of becoming the next President. Taft ultimately lost the Republican nomination to New York Governor Thomas Dewey.

This cartoon, printed before the 1948 Presidential election, shows Progressive Party Presidential candidate Henry Wallace flip-flopping on defense policy. As Vice President during World War II, Wallace staunchly defended military preparedness as a deterrent to war. In 1948, Wallace changed his position and argued that military preparedness would not prevent confrontation.

Campaign contributions and expenditures have historically led to controversy. This cartoon references a speech given by William Borah, a maverick Republican Senator from Idaho, on the Senate’s investigations of corruption in the government and in campaign contributions in particular. Both the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey are perplexed by Borah’s statements; they ask each other “Do YOU get it?” suggesting that neither of them wants to give up their lucrative campaign fundraising efforts.

The accomplishments and disappointments that occur during a term of office have an impact on future elections. This cartoon shows Congress adjourning and members returning home to campaign for reelection. As they exit the Capitol, the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey have differing perspectives on the session. The elephant remembers Republican successes while the donkey remembers the Republican majority's failures.

Elections revolve around voters. Candidates woo them; campaign issues are tailored to them; parties mobilize them; and democratic governments serve them. In these cartoons, Berryman depicts the wide range of issues that candidates and parties used to entice voters, including lower taxes, improved government services, and the promise of voting rights. Berryman also captures campaigns that failed to engage voters.

Candidates and political parties tend to view the voting population in terms of interest groups. In this cartoon, politicians, including New York gubernatorial candidate Theodore Roosevelt, are shown cozying up to the “working man” as the 1898 congressional and state elections entered their final week. Berryman wryly points out the attention lavished on the labor vote, a potentially powerful voting bloc in the era of industrialization.

With the 1924 Presidential and congressional elections only two weeks away, politicians of all parties began to promise lower taxes to woo voters. In this cartoon, “Mr. Tax Payer” revels in all the attention as the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey, and the Progressive goat try to outdo each other.

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the most comprehensive congressional reform in history, modernized Congress and expanded its administrative capabilities. While the Democratic leadership in Congress, represented by Senate Majority Leader Alben W. Barkley and House Speaker Sam Rayburn, hoped that congressional reform would be politically popular, Berryman's depiction of John Q. Public suggested that many voters had a different opinion. In the November elections, the Democrats lost control of both the House and the Senate.

As World War I raged, Government officials had little time to think about local and state elections. In this cartoon, the god of war looks on while Uncle Sam peruses reports on the war. A small, almost overlooked figure, representing the voter, interrupts Uncle Sam with a reminder of the impending November elections.

Accusations and scandal characterized the 1908 congressional and Presidential campaigns. In this cartoon, the flying “Archbold” and “Foraker” bricks refer to an election scandal in which Senator Joseph B. Foraker was accused of taking bribes from Standard Oil Vice President John D. Archbold. Foraker subsequently lost his reelection bid. Uncle Sam ignores the bricks and focuses on a more positive subject: baseball. The Washington Nationals had just defeated the Cleveland Naps in two straight games.

In this cartoon Berryman presents the two big winners on Election Day 1917 in New York. Voters in New York adopted a woman suffrage amendment to the state constitution, a measure backed by Tammany Hall, New York City’s Democratic political machine. On the same day, Democrat John F. Hylan defeated both the Republican mayor of New York City John Purroy Mitchel, and Socialist candidate Morris Hillquit. The victory was a major triumph for Tammany Hall, here represented by the proud Tammany Tiger.

These cartoons, printed during the final days, weeks, and months of various campaigns, capture the frantic candidates as Election Day fast approaches. With little time left, candidates face the anxieties that come with victory or defeat. But no matter how daunting the challenges may be, candidates must put on a brave face for the public. Berryman captures the underlying angst candidates feel as the campaign draws to a close.

In late summer 1920 the Presidential contest between Democratic nominee James M. Cox and Republican nominee Warren G. Harding was beginning to intensify. However, the dominant news story was not the campaign—it was baseball sensation Babe Ruth’s unstoppable first season with the New York Yankees. In this cartoon both Presidential candidates are shown pondering Ruth’s secret of success with the White House being their “real home plate.”

After winning the 1904 election, President Theodore Roosevelt announced that he would honor the two-term tradition by not running for reelection in 1908. The pledge haunted Roosevelt, especially when he decided to seek the Presidency again in 1912. This cartoon, published one month before the election, shows the ghost of George Washington reminding Roosevelt of his past promise. Roosevelt lost the election to Woodrow Wilson.

President Harry S. Truman, the Democratic Presidential nominee in the election of 1948, was widely forecast to lose by a large margin to Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey. This cartoon shows the prevailing public opinion of the time, just days before the election took place. Despite several polls predicting a landslide victory for Dewey, Truman won the election in one of the biggest political upsets in U.S. history.

This cartoon shows the three Presidential candidates on the eve of the contentious 1912 election: former President Theodore Roosevelt for the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party, Woodrow Wilson for the Democratic Party, and incumbent President William Howard Taft for the Republican Party. The cartoon reveals the anxiety underneath the confident public persona each candidate projects. Wilson won the election when Roosevelt and Taft split the Republican vote.

The results of an election can alter the political landscape of the nation. Who the voters elect to office affects candidates, political parties, policies, the government’s balance of power and the American people. A congressional election that yields a new majority in Congress can alter the influence of both major parties, reorganize the institutional leadership, and change the legislative agenda. A change in the Presidency can cause a major reorganization of the executive branch and a drastic shift in both foreign and domestic policy. In the following cartoons Clifford Berryman captures the impact of election results on both the winners and the losers.

When Democrat Judge Alton B. Parker lost the 1904 Presidential election to the incumbent Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, fellow Democrat William Jennings Bryan should have felt disappointed. But in this cartoon, printed two days after the election, Bryan is shown gloating as Parker and the Democratic Party collapse in shambles. Bryan lost the Democratic nomination to Parker, and his pleasure comes from seeing the defeat of his former competitor.

The Republican Party desperately fought to retain control of Congress in the 1922 midterm elections. Although prepared to lose some of their seats, they lost many more than expected and emerged from the election with only a very slim majority in both houses. As the beaten and battered elephant in the cartoon suggests, another attempt to maintain the Republican majority through such a brutal election cycle would likely end in defeat.

The 1912 elections resulted in a huge victory for the Democratic Party. The Republican vote was split between President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt, which allowed the Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the Presidency and the Democrats a substantial majority in this cartoon in both houses of Congress. A surprised Miss Democracy is shown two days after the election carrying the House and Senate with the White House tucked under her arm; she is wondering what the change in leadership will bring.

In the 1930 congressional elections, Republicans retained a slim majority in both houses of Congress. When the new Congress convened in December 1931, however, a number of deaths and departures left vacancies in seats held by Republicans. Results from special elections held to fill these seats shifted control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats. In this cartoon, Berryman's Democratic donkey, cheered by his party’s new power, consoles the defeated Republican elephant as the old year sets over the horizon.

This cartoon highlights the biennial departure of “lame duck” members of Congress—those who are departing Capitol Hill after losing their bid for reelection. The lame ducks in this cartoon are defeated Democrats heading to the White House hoping to secure political appointments from President Woodrow Wilson.

Credits: Story

This online exhibit is drawn from the exhibit "Running for Office: Candidates, Campaigns, and the Cartoons of Clifford K. Berryman," which was on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC in 2008.

The cartoons in this online exhibit are part of the U.S. Senate Collection at the Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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