Chicago has long had a reputation for creative voting procedures with rumored links back to early 20th-century organized crime. In honor of the current election season, and the bombardment of negative campaign advertisements, here is a brief and incomplete look at some of the ways political wars were waged on paper from the sixteenth-century onward.
Negative ad attacks on undesirable opponents have been common from the onset of print. The first flowering of images of “the wolf in sheep’s clothing” type occurred in Germany and the Netherlands during the Protestant Reformation. While the iconography is now difficult to puzzle out, an anonymous engraving dated 1580 from the Netherlands casts the dastardly Spanish invader, the Duke of Alva and his forces as foxes in clerical garb, and the courageous Dutch nobles as geese. These humorously be-spectacled fowl routed the Spaniards back out to sea from the recently-captured town of Brielle. This surprise counter-attack occurred on April Fool’s Day, 1572. The town’s name literally translates as “spectacles,” so afterwards it was often said that the Duke had ‘lost his glasses’ on April 1!
The renowned 18th-century English satirist William Hogarth offered a fraught and protracted view of the election for members of the House of Commons, issued in four separate engraved plates teeming with unseemly activity. The first one, seen here, shows two candidates buttering up undecided voters at a feast, but the drunken mayhem that ensues looks more likely to provide hangovers than votes. Hogarth dedicated this plate to Henry Fox, who became Leader of the House of Commons in 1755, though his fortunes fell shortly thereafter due to his speculation with public funds.
Finally, the 19th-century Honoré Daumier finds the humor in glib campaign promises that go amusingly awry in an attempt to connect with the common man, (or perhaps, the 47%). The caption added to later states of the lithograph reads: “The Election Hoax. My dear friend... do not think that I have come to ask you for your vote. I respect the independence of opinion too much for that. It is the Baroness who said to me: "Go see that poor Galouzet, tell his little wife that she is neglecting me and that I am angry with her for that. Ask about their lovely children, and say that I absolutely insist on having them over for dinner.” The more things change . . .
Image Credits: Netherlandish, Allegory on the Defeat of the Duke of Alva at Brielle, 1580. William McCallin McKee Fund. William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment, plate one from Four Prints of an Election, designed c. 1755. Gift of Horace Oakley. Honoré Victorin Daumier, The Election Hoax, plate 1 from Les Carottes, 1844. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William O. Hunt.