Portrayed as a circus, Congress has just adjourned in Edward W. Kembles cartoon, which appeared in Harpers Weekly on August 14, 1909. President William Howard Taft, mopping his brow, has grabbed his golf clubs on the way out. Symbols of the two political parties appear bruised and tired after the fierce debates. The two dominant figures emerging are the strongman, House Speaker Joe Cannon, Republican of Illinois, and the ringmaster, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Nelson W. Aldrich, Republican of Rhode Island.
Although President Taft had promised reformers that he would seek tariff reductions, Cannon and Aldrich engineered passage of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909, which raised tariff rates to record high levels. Three days after this cartoon appeared, Taft declared Payne-Aldrich "the best bill that the Republican party ever passed. "1 He thereby alienated Republican reformers and set the stage for a split in the party that would cause his defeat in the next election.
1. U.S. Senate, Tariff Speech: Address of President Taft at Winona, Minnesota, September 17, 1909, 61st Cong., 2d sess., 1909. S. Doc. 164, 11.