Harper’s Weekly – November 7, 1874

Samuel Jones Tilden, 62, the Democratic candidate for President in 1876, was smart, knowledgeable about business, and a canny but devious politician. As perhaps the most eminent railroad lawyer in the country prior to the Civil War, he became wealthy and owned a comfortable home in New York City’s elegant Gramercy Park neighborhood. Personally, he was a cautious, introverted, dyspeptic, hypochondriac who remained a confirmed bachelor and had few close personal friends.

Tilden became chairman of the New York State Democratic Party in August 1866. While the Tweed Ring was consolidating its power at both local land state levels, Tilden kept quiet. During the 1868 campaign, when the Tweed ring used fraudulent voting to elect John Hoffman as governor, a letter went out under Tilden’s signature, to all county leaders asking for pre-election vote count estimates to be used in “adjusting” the returns. Mayor Oakey Hall may have forged the signature, but Tilden knew about it and did nothing to disclaim it at the time. After the first New York Times exposé of the Ring’s accounts in July 1871, it took Tilden two months to surface. After that, he played a meaningful role in replacing Comptroller Richard (Slippery Dick) Connolly, and bringing the Ring down.

However, Nast and Harper’s never forgave Tilden for being late to Tweed’s comeuppance. Just before Tilden’s 1874 election as governor, Nast pictured him as a Tammany Rat in a “historical” six-vignette cover cartoon. After “saving his reputation by the skin of his teeth” by walking away as Tammany crumbled (upper right), he presided as a hooded fox at a Reform meeting as “The shrewd lawyer and astute politician for the part he played in the campaign which overthrew Tammany.”