Harper’s Weekly – June 5, 1880

During his nominating speech for James Blaine at the 1876 Convention, renowned Illinois orator Robert Ingersoll likened him to “an armed warrior, a plumed knight, marching down the halls of Congress and throwing his shining lance . . . against the brazen forehead of every traitor to his country and every maligner of his reputation.” Blaine was worried that the phrase might be misapplied to suggest a white feather, but his principal artistic “maligner” went much further than that during the next two presidential elections when he targeted the Plumed Knight 62 times.

Nast’s post-dated cover featured “The Plumed Knight” wearing his bloody shirt, and about to don his hat. Appearing more like leeches than feathers, Blaine’s plumes included the Republican nomination, Communists and the “machine of bluster and brag.” Hedging his bet, Nast’s vignette (on the left) showed Blaine’s “boom balloon” exploding while “Defeat Sure” was on the shadowed apparition below.

“Communist” referred to Denis Kearney, the Irish-born California labor agitator and anarchist, who led the Chinese exclusionary movement which Blaine supported. Wearing or waving the “Bloody Shirt” was another Nast symbol, referring to anyone who kept bringing up the Civil War and its ex-Confederate supporters as political targets.