Cartoon: The Grannies, by Mark Wahlgren Summers


[This article is crossposted from]

We present the latest in a series of political cartoons from historian and illustrator Mark Wahlgren Summers, author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction.

On Thursdays, we feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context.  

In today’s cartoon: the controversy over the spoils system during the Reconstruction period. (Click image for full size.)

1980 MWS, The Grannies

“The Grannies.” By the 1870s, the spoils system had become a national scandal. Among those crying out the loudest were the so-called Liberals, most of them Republicans with growing doubts about Reconstruction and a hardening certainty that a government of greed and grab was not only inefficient and immoral, but a threat to the Republic. Horace White of the Chicago Tribune, Edwin Godkin of the Nation, George William Curtis of Harper’s Weekly and Missouri senator Carl Schurz were among the leading critics of politics as usual, personified by such figures as Senators John “Black Jack” Logan of Illinois and Roscoe Conkling of New York, as well as Congressman Benjamin F. “Spoons” Butler of Massachusetts. That all of them were hearty supporters of Reconstruction only made them more offensive to Liberals. If civil service reformers saw them as the epitome of self-interest in government, the bosses saw their antagonists as dilletantes, the “unco’ guid,” as Conkling would sneer, and, in their daintiness about political methods, un-American and unmanly. “When Doctor Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel,” Conkling snarled, “he was unconscious of the then undeveloped capabilities and uses of the word ‘Reform.’…They forget, that parties are not built up by deportment or by ladies’ magazines or gush!”

Mark Wahlgren Summers is professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction, A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction, and many other books.