Harper’s Weekly – February 16, 1878

After President Rutherford Hayes took office, his principal monetary opponent — and Nast’s primary target — was Stanley Matthews, Ohio’s junior Senator and fellow Republican. After Hayes appointed Senator John Sherman, another Ohio friend, as Treasury Secretary, the Ohio legislature — with the President’s blessing — chose Matthews as his replacement to serve out the last two years of Sherman’s term. Hayes and Matthews had attended Kenyon College and served in the Civil War together and were also brothers-in-law.

However, Matthews now turned on his close friend and political ally, as well as on his predecessor Sherman, by leading the charge in the Senate for “free” unlimited silver currency and more inflation. Shortly after Congress convened in December 1877, Matthews introduced a resolution that all U.S. bonds could be legally redeemed in 92 cent (412.5 grains) silver dollars.

Nast focused on Matthews’s full mustache that came down on his round beard. That feature evolved into a jagged animal trap which the artist personalized as Matthews led the legislative battle for free silver. After Congress passed the Matthews Resolution, Uncle Sam’s foot was stuck in it — initially as The First Step Toward National Bankruptcy.

The Matthews Resolution, which Nast printed in full, also contained a tricky but successful political trap. Because it was “concurrent” rather than “joint,” it did not require the President’s signature and could not be vetoed. Nast and all the politicians understood its author’s craftiness in setting his trap. To focus blame as he saw it, the cover cartoon listed the Senatorial yeas and nays.