Politics as Usual

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Echoes of Elections Past in'Candidates, Campaigns, and Cartoons'

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And the stuff found in the Washington home of political cartoonist Clifford Berryman turned out to be priceless.

Garbage bags in the basement of the Berryman home contained thousands of original pen-and-ink cartoons—works that were last seen on the front pages of the Washington Post and Washington Evening Star from 1898 through 1948. At the time the drawings were found, an auction house was detailing the estate of Berryman’s daughter, Florence, his sole heir who lived there until her death in 1992.

The discovery—numbering 2,400 drawings and representing the most extensive collection of Berryman’s cartoons—was soon bought by the Charles Engelhard Foundation and donated to the U.S. Senate. The rest is history.

Today, the exhibit “Running for Office: Candidates, Campaigns, and the Cartoons of Clifford Berryman” is on display at the National Archives Building and features 44 original drawings.

“He drew on national and international subjects still relevant today,” said exhibit co-curator Martha Grove of the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives. “Many of his cartoons accurately portray the same issues we’re still struggling with today. Some of the issues may have changed, but the political process is still the same.”

Throughout his more than 50-year career, Berryman drew every presidential administration from Grover Cleveland to Harry S. Truman. Berryman is also credited with introducing the teddy bear into the American vernacular, drawing the cuddly creature in a cartoon after President Theodore Roosevelt famously refused to shoot an old, haggard bear during a hunting trip. Berryman changed the old bear into a “teddy bear,” and it became a common image in his cartoons.

The timing of the exhibit was deliberate, coinciding with the U.S. presidential primaries and the 2008 election campaign. Many of Berryman’s cartoons illustrate past presidential campaigns from the early 20th century, echoing themes that resonate just as strongly today—such as too many candidates entering the race, the perennial election promise to lower taxes, the unpredictability of polling predictions, slim victories and losses, lame duck politicians and Berryman’s aptly titled cartoon, “They Won’t Agree on Anything,” referring of course to Republicans and Democrats.

These drawings poke a great deal of fun at the entire election process and the candidates themselves, but Berryman was never mean-spirited in his work, which keeps the exhibit light-hearted and entertaining. Instead, his drawings astutely chronicle the different stages of the campaign process, including “Throwing Your Hat in the Ring,” “Narrowing the Field,” “Running for Congress,” “The Campaign,” “The Voter,” “The Homestretch,” and “The Results Are In!”

One drawing that dates to June 7, 1919, titled “The Fishin’ Season,” satirizes the 1920 presidential campaign. At the time, there were no clear frontrunners and both parties were desperate for a successful campaign platform (sound familiar?). Hence, “Fishin’ Season” shows the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey sitting on the same log over a small body of water—“fishing on different sides of the campaign issues pool.”

An earlier drawing, dating to Nov. 7, 1912, called “Miss Democracy,” depicts the outcome of the 1912 elections that resulted in a victory for the Democrats. During that election, the Republican vote was split between President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt. That division allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to capture the presidency and gave the Democrats a substantial majority in both houses of Congress. In the cartoon, a surprised Miss Democracy ponders what changes lie ahead as she walks with a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate in each hand, and the White House tucked underneath her arm.

Growing up in Kentucky, Berryman loved to draw, and he regularly sketched friends, animals and local politicians. His work caught the eye of Kentucky Sen. Joseph C.S. Blackburn, who saw one of Berryman’s sketches displayed in a local office building. Recognizing Berryman’s talent, the senator helped Berryman secure a position as a draftsman with the U.S. Patent Office. Berryman subsequently moved from Kentucky to Washington, D.C., in 1886, and at the age of 17, he used his self-taught talent to draw patent illustrations.

A few years later, he landed at the Washington Post to become a cartoonist’s understudy. Within five years, Berryman became the newspaper’s chief cartoonist. By 1907, he was the front-page cartoonist at the Washington Evening Star, the most widely read D.C. newspaper of the time. Berryman drew cartoons for the Star until his death in 1949. He was 80.

Berryman was also famous for giving away his famous cartoons. Some estimates number his drawings at more than 15,000 cartoons. His work was formally recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1944.

Running for Office: Candidates, Campaigns, and the Cartoons of Clifford Berryman through Aug. 17 National Archives located on Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, NW For more information, please call (866) 272-6272 or visit www.archives.gov.

About the Author

Christine Cub

Last Edited on November 29, 1999