Balladeer’s Blog takes another look at a political cartoon from Puck magazine (1871-1918), the famous humor magazine. For more Puck click HERE
This time around it’s the cover illustration from June 9th, 1897. The cartoon depicts a furious Father Knickerbocker breaking chains labeled “Raines Law” and “Hayseed Legislation” while the caption reads “Let Boss Platt beware: Father Knickerbocker is in training for this Sandow Act.”
Father Knickerbocker, then as now, was the symbol of New York. The figure was based on Washington Irving’s Diedrich Knickerbocker, the pseudonym under which he wrote his History of New York in 1809. That history was told from the alleged perspective of the old-line Dutch families who had settled New York before it was taken by the British.
There had actually been a Knickerbocker family in New York since the 1600s and the name appealed to Irving as being quintessentially Dutch-American.
Boss Platt was Thomas C Platt, successor to the corrupt Roscoe Conkling as the head of New York’s Republican Party Machine. (Tammany Hall, synonymous with political corruption, was still the name used for the state’s Democrat Party Machine)
Joseph Keppler at Puck magazine disdained Platt and the New York machine as much as he disdained Tammany Hall. The Raines Law chain being broken by Father Knickerbocker symbolized the Blue Law banning the sale of alcohol in New York on Sundays. Keppler held Boss Platt responsible for Raines Law and other parochial legislation known as Hayseed Legislation, the other chain being broken by Father Knickerbocker.
Platt, despite being a U.S. Senator, spent most of his time and political capital clandestinely running New York instead of attending to national affairs. This preoccupation was viewed by Keppler and others as petty provincialism, hence the term Hayseed Legislation.
This system of Boss Politics was also an aberration of the political process since the Party Machines were often at odds with the elected Governor of New York. Reform-minded Governor Theodore Roosevelt would clash with Boss Platt, who got Theodore out of his hair by “kicking him upstairs” through pushing him as William McKinley’s Vice Presidential running mate.
Obviously, McKinley’s later assassination led to Roosevelt rising to the Presidency in 1901.
Sandow Act referred to Eugen Sandow, premier muscleman from Germany and the father of modern bodybuilding. Sandow often broke chains as part of his act, which is why Keppler called Father Knickerbocker’s breaking of the chains of Boss Platt’s laws a “Sandow Act.” Think of Sandow as the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the 1800s, but nowhere near as brain-dead as Arnold.