Here a scandal, there a scandal: More fodder for cartoonists

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The Irrepressible Showman. Barnum Wants to Buy the "Pacific Scandal"
John Wilson Bengough
1886, 19th century
Ink on newsprint - Photoengraving
31.5 x 25.3 cm
Gift of Dr. Raymond Boyer
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Cartoon (19139) , politics (general) (2228) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

The Pacific Scandal broke in April 1873 when it was revealed that Prime Minister John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) had accepted a large sum of money from Hugh Allan (1810-1882), president of the Canada Pacific Railway, to finance his 1872 election campaign. In July, Opposition MPs leaked telegrams and letters proving the allegations to the newspaper. They devoted a lot of ink to this scandal, turning it into a veritable "media circus."

That summer the famous circus founded by the American Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891), P.T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie and Circus, known as "the greatest show on earth," was touring in Canada.

This cartoon underlines the absurdity of the whole situation. The artist imagines that Barnum, who was also much in the news, was so inspired by the scandal playing out in the "arena" of Canadian politics that he wanted to buy the rights to it. The cartoonist also pokes fun at himself by depicting his own magazine, Grip, under Barnum's big top.

  • What

    Barnum is shown at the side of Miss Canada, a character often used by cartoonists to symbolize this young country. She is accompanied by a beaver, the emblem of Canada reminiscent of the fur trade.

  • Where

    The cartoon was published in Toronto, in Grip. In this satirical magazine, which he had founded, John Wilson Bengough (1851-1923) published cartoons mocking the Pacific Scandal.

  • When

    The cartoon was published on September 13, 1873, less than one month before John A. Macdonald's government resigned.

  • Who

    A group of politicians is seen in front of Barnum. They include John A. Macdonald (with crossed arms) and members of his government such as James Beaty (1798-1892), as well as Opposition MPs such as Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892), Edward Blake (1833-1912) and E. B. Wood (1820-1882).