This Map Shows How the Presidential Election is 1888 Repeating Itself - Atlas Obscura
Free iron-on Atlas Obscura badge when you preorder our new kids’ book. Shop now.

This Map Shows How the Presidential Election is 1888 Repeating Itself

The election was fought over trade.

The Whole World In A Nutshell

The Whole Story In A Nutshell, from the PJ Mode Collection at Cornell’s Digital Library. (Photo: CC BY: SA 3.0)

Political commentators and voters alike are quick to declare the 2016 Presidential election unique, unprecedented and unfathomable. This has been painfully true at times. But before rushing to conclusions about the Trump-Clinton bout, check out this map from the race to be U.S. president in 1888.

This map, titled The Whole Story In A Nutshell, lays out the platforms of the two competing candidates during the 1888 campaign. The map is anonymous and has no imprint, which was not legally required at the time. But it seems biased against Democrats, and is likely the handiwork of the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison. Long before the rise of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), this map shows a presidential campaign split over trade.

Harrison was campaigning against sitting Democratic president Grover Cleveland on policies of “Protection to American Labor”, “Protection to American Beef” and “No Coolie Nor Contract Labor.” Harrison stood for a protectionist, high-tariff trade agenda that prioritized American jobs, products, and ended the threat posed by low-paid immigrant workers from India and China, known derogatorily as “coolies.” (He also felt strongly about “Death to Polygamy”).

Now think about some of the policies put forward by Donald Trump and to some extent, Bernie Sanders. Sound familiar? With his promises to destroy NAFTA, protect American manufacturing, and get rid of low-paid immigrant workers, Donald Trump seems to be taking the GOP’s trade policy back to 1888. 

Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison. (Photo: Pach Photography and Adam Cuerden / Public Domain)

Grover Cleveland was the Democratic Party candidate. His visage in the map’s illustration is downright gloomy compared to Harrison’s, who is shown as almost smiling. The Democratic candidate will cause “destruction to wool growers”, tobacco producers will be “crippled”, and British ships and laborers will dredge the New York Harbor. 

Cleveland wanted to reduce trade tariffs to ease the burden of higher costs for consumers. He was a proponent of free trade and therefore, according to the Republican Party, posed a threat to American workers. Cleveland is quoted on the map as saying “I believe in Free Trade as I believe in the Protestant religion.”

In 1888, the British were very much in favor of free trade, which became another point of attack for Harrison’s cartographers. Stamped on the bottom lefthand corner is the logo of the Cobden Club, a British pro-free trade organization. Several members of Cleveland’s Cabinet were members of the elite Cobden Club. The warning in the map is clear: Cleveland will allow the British Empire’s free trade ideology to overrun the United States’ economy.

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland. (Photo: Public Domain)

The map was published in New York and cost 10 cents per copy, $6 for 100, and $20 for 1,000. Supporters were asked to display it in their homes, offices, stores, clubrooms and factories.

Harrison actually lost the popular vote to sitting president Cleveland. He still ended up victorious however, and won the Electoral College vote to become the 23rd President of the United States. Cleveland regained the presidency in the next election, perhaps because the American people decided they liked his ideas about free “hoop iron cotton ties.”

Maps like this one, part of PJ Mode’s collection of Persuasive Maps at Cornell’s Digital Library, were a popular form of campaign literature in the era before TV and radio.

Map Monday highlights interesting and unusual cartographic pursuits from around the world and through time. Read more Map Monday posts.