Saturday, January 16, 2021

Inauguration Day 1921

As we approach an Inauguration Day that will be at once subdued yet (ought to be) joyous, Simpleback Saturday marks the centennial of another such occasion, the inauguration of Warren Gamaliel Harding as President of the United States. Let's start off with some cartoons from his fellow Ohioans about Harding's inauguration.

"And It's Just as Binding" by Billy Ireland in Columbus Dispatch, Jan. 1921

It will have occurred to the observant readers that Inauguration Day 1920 was not 100 years ago this week, but on March 4, 1921 ― and we must here pause to give thanks for the FDR-era Republicans who pushed the Inauguration Day up to January 20.

"Pardon Me! But We're Sitting Out This Dance" by Harry Westerman in Ohio State Journal, Jan. 1921

The occasion for these January, 1921 editorial cartoons about Harding's inaugural was his January 10 telegram to Senator Philander C. Knox (R-PA) insisting that official ceremonies be scaled back drastically, and ancillary festivities be cancelled entirely.

"What's the Use" by William Donahey in Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jan. 1921

As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Harding's telegram read:
"I have been reluctant to intrude my views relating to inaugural plans, but I cannot longer remain silent without embarrassment and misunderstanding, which I had rather avoid. Please convey to your committee my sincere wish for the simplest inaugural program consistent with the actual requirements in taking the oath of office and the utterance of a befitting address. I respectfully request that congress [sic] will not appropriate and your committee will not expend any fund whatever. ... I have addressed a message of like import to the inaugural committee asking the abandonment of the parade and ball..."

"The Inauguration" by John McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, Jan. 12, 1921

Congress had appropriated $50,000 for Harding's inaugural, and the inaugural committee had raised a further $141,000; but Harding suggested that instead of erecting the customary platform at the Capitol and setting out seating for the guests, his inauguration ceremony be held on the east porch "in stately simplicity," or even indoors.

No caption, by Clifford Berryman in Washington Evening Star, Jan. 11, 1921
(The nonplussed gentleman in Clifford Berryman's cartoon is his personification of D.C., here having doffed his spectacles and without his usual tri-cornered hat. I have not been able to discover upon whom this character was modeled; and as far as I've been able to determine, the only name Berryman ever gave him was "D.C.")

"Having Undergone the Experience of Moving..." by Gaar Williams in Indianapolis News, Jan. 12, 1921

To the chair of the inaugural committee, E.B. McLean, Harding wrote:

"I beg respectfully to suggest to your committee the complete abandonment of all plans for an inaugural celebration. ... You were good enough to accept the chairmanship of the committee at my request, and you and your associates have my lasting gratitude for the time and labor you have given to preparation. However, if it is becoming to express my preference, I wish you and your committee to know that the expression of extravagant expenditure and excessive cost would make me a very unhappy participant."

"All Dressed Up and No Place to Go" by Leo Thiele in Sioux City Tribune, Jan. 1921

Clifford Berryman's Mr. D.C. would no doubt be extremely offended to see Leo Thiele's depiction of the Reception Committee — Washington hotel keepers, modistes and concessions holders  — as common footpads. Perhaps, however, his Mr. D.C. might have approved of Thiele's quintet's seizure of the opportunity to recoup the District's taxation without representation, often a topic of Berryman's Mr. D.C. cartoons.

"Now He'll Have to Think Up Something Else to Criticize" by Carey Orr in Chicago Tribune, Jan. 12, 1921

As reported by the New York Tribune, January 20, 2021, the announced plans for the inaugural were "More Simple Than That of Lincoln":

"A small stand will be erected on the first landing of the Capitol steps. It will be large enough for the President, the President-elect, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Inaugural Committee, and the other officials. The stand will be roofed and voice amplifiers installed.

"A space will be roped off on the Capitol steps for members of the House and Senate, members of the Supreme Court and the diplomatic corps. No seats will be provided for them. If stormy weather prevails, the ceremony will be in the Senate Chamber.

"The Committee estimated that the stand would cost $1,500. No provision was made for music or an escort for the President."

In case my attentions are focused elsewhere come February 27 and March 6, I'll skip ahead here to Clifford Berryman's Inauguration Day cartoon:

"You Are President by the Greatest Vote in History..." by Clifford Berryman in Washington Evening Star, March 4, 1921

There was a tradition in the 20th Century of editorial cartoonists welcoming incoming administrations, whether they aligned with the new president or not: Herblock's "Clean Shave" cartoon in 1969 is a paramount example. This Berryman cartoon, however, is the most obsequious example of the genre I have ever seen. "I am confident you will make good," says his Uncle Sam, "and I will support you heartily."

I do not need to name the editorial cartoonists who have spent the last four years unquestioningly adopting that as their motto toward the most corrupt president in U.S. history. Harding's administration was almost as corrupt as the current outgoing one; but since Berryman's approach to editorial cartooning tended to avoid personal or pointed attacks, and the extent of the corruption in Harding's administration didn't come to light until after his death, I don't expect to come across any indication that Berryman came to rue this particular welcoming cartoon.

P.S.: The 20th "Lame Duck" Amendment moving the presidential inauguration up from March 4 to January 20 also changed the beginning and end of congressional terms from March 4 to January 3. Next to Clifford Berryman's March 4 cartoon, the Washington Evening Star noted the departure of retiring members of the 66th Congress.

Heading the list was former Speaker of the House Champ Clark (D-PA), defeated in the Republican landslide of 1920, who died anyway on March 2. Another departing legislator who didn't make it to Harding's inauguration was Sen. Charles Henderson (D-NV). He was shot in his office on his last day there by a man who believed Henderson had wronged him in a land deal decades earlier; Sen. Henderson survived the attack, however, and there's a city in Nevada named after him.

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