In 1938, seventy-three New Mexico members of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) were indicted on charges of graft and corruption. In the following investigation, law enforcement alleged that New Mexico Senator Dennis Chavez operated a system of patronization and nepotism through abuse of his senatorial powers, including the questionably legitimate employment of seventeen of Chavez’s relatives in his division of the WPA (Chavez, Dennis). Such an abuse of power motivated Chavez’s fellow New Mexico senator Carl Hatch to draft a 1939 reform bill addressing the involvement of government employees in partisan politics known as the Hatch Act.
In “How the Workers Will Enjoy It!”, Dallas Morning News political cartoonist John Knott illustrates his belief that the Hatch Act carried positive effects for the lives of government employees in the late 1930s despite initial opposition from the political establishment.
The Hatch Act limited the possible participation of government employees in local and national elections by blocking their financial contributions to political campaigns (Porter). Along with inhibiting their direct involvement, the Hatch Act also prohibited solicitors from approaching workers for campaign funds as well as making it illegal to fire said workers for their political allegiances and voting preferences.
Knott’s cartoon depicts the intended effect of the Hatch Act via the literal representation of the newly legislated barrier between government employees – characterized by the extremely content man in the foreground completing his work unbothered by the canvassing suffered previously – and the campaign side of government – personified by the cigar puffing gentlemen standing in the background reading articles titled “Subscription to Campaign Fund” and “Instructions – How to Vote.” The politicians wear boater hats and striped bordeaux blazers, traditional bourgeoisie garb, while the worker dresses much more relatably in a plain button-down shirt and an accounting visor. Additionally, the men in the back appear overweight and smoke cigars (two more tokens of the upper class) while the employee sits rail thin and sucks on a pipe. These both bolster the portrayal of the campaign financiers as wealth-obsessed and cause the audience to identify more with the worker, a tactic which illustrates the wide-reaching nature of the Hatch Act as well as unconsciously attracting the public’s sympathy toward the workers and supporting Knott’s positive view of the bill.
The cartoon’s accompanying editorial, “Political Reform Bill,” elaborates on the reluctance of the political establishment to endorse the Hatch Act. At the time, the end of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term crept on the horizon as the president geared up for a third campaign. Although unable to publicly condemn the bill due to its popularity and agreement with his own reform-based platform, Roosevelt’s administration tried multiple times to cripple it by attaching various esoteric conditions and riders in an attempt to stop the law from hindering the president’s reelection. Although the general election stayed mostly unaffected, the Hatch Act had potentially revolutionary effects on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions by “[preventing] any administration in power from writing a platform and picking a candidate by packing the nominating convention with postmasters, district attorneys, collectors of internal revenue, and other federal office holders” (“Political Reform Bill”). Despite the opposition, Roosevelt signed the bill into law on August 2, 1939 (Porter).
The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality on two separate occasions in 1947 and 1973 and the law protected the employment of government employees during the McCarthy era (Paradise). The Hatch Act remained unamended until 1993 when Bill Clinton signed the Hatch Act Reform Amendments of 1993, allowing federal employees to manage political campaigns (Porter). Due to its foundation in constitutional principles and sound logical structure, the Hatch Act proved one of the most effective political reform laws of the 20th century.
History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “Chavez, Dennis,” http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/10875. November 16, 2017.
Knott, John. “How the Workers Will Enjoy It!.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News, 31 July 1939: 2. Web.
Paradise, Lee Ann. “Hatch Act.” St. James Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide, edited by Neil Schlager, vol. 1, St. James Press, 2004, pp. 415-418. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3408900127&it=r&asid=7ea3901b2178576ac1db44f99cc92cdb. Accessed 7 Oct. 2017.
“Political Reform Bill.” Dallas Morning News, 31 July 1939, p. 2.
Porter, David L. “Hatch Act.” Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 4, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003, pp. 103-104. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3401801858&it=r&asid=5a20cf84bb2588b9b2fbb925367456f7. Accessed 7 Oct. 2017.
Sharp, J. Michael. “Hatch, Carl Atwood (D).” Directory of Congressional Voting Scores and Interest Group Ratings, 4th ed., vol. 1, CQ Press, 2006, p. 685. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX2142801118&it=r&asid=677216840af4ea453ae3aace3936cf1e. Accessed 8 Oct. 2017.