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Cartoonists in the nineteenth century pictured smoking as a symbol of bad behavior, such as political corruption and laziness.  A cartoon by Thomas Nast in the February 9, 1867 issue of Harper’s Weekly depicted a session of the New York City Board of Aldermen, whose members were presented as violent drunkards who smoked or (as in the lower right) chewed tobacco.  The scene represented the “smoke-filled room,” a metaphor (still used today) for behind-the-scenes political deal-making.  Notice the figure in the center-left aiming two guns at the speaker on the podium.  He symbolized the “shoulder-hitter,” a tough street-fighter (or professional boxer) who used violence and intimidation to enforce the will of a political boss.  The same figure appeared in Thomas Nast’s cartoon in the August 3, 1872 issue.  There, the shoulder-hitter suppressed the vote of black men (he stood atop the body of a black Union veteran), who overwhelmingly voted Republican at the time, in order to carry out the wishes of Horace Greeley (with whom he shook hands), the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

Since smoking tobacco was a leisure activity, it symbolized workers who were loafing on the job or men who refused to look for employment.  A cartoon from the December 3, 1870 issue compared the behavior of clerks in an office (where a “No Smoking” sign was prominently displayed) when their boss was in and out of the building.  They appeared to work hard when he was there, but took his absence as an opportunity to put their feet up and smoke.  The centerpiece of Thomas Nast’s cartoon, “Our Rising Generation,” in the October 14, 1871 issue, focused on two idle young men smoking on a street corner, while an older man worked diligently in the shop window beside them.

Harper's Weekly References
1)  February 9, 1867, p. 88
“The Government of the City of New York,” smoke-filled room

2)  August 3, 1872, p. 596
“Baltimore 1861-1872,” Greeley and shoulder-hitter

3)  December 3, 1870, p. 779, c. 3-4
compares workers with boss in and out of office

4)  October 14, 1871, p. S969
illustration of Nast’s “Our Rising Generation”

Sources Consulted
Harper's Weekly

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