Democratic Vistas

A Wasp taking a frolick or a sting for Johnny Bull. [Philadelphia]: Wm. Charles, [1813]  Acquired 2011 (Broadside 1813 .C55)

Around 1806 the Scottish artist William Charles emigrated to the United States, where he helped launch a rich American tradition of political cartooning. During the War of 1812 Charles vividly conveyed American public opinion in a series of satirical prints. In this etching, Charles refers to the heroic naval engagements of the U.S.S. Wasp and Hornet. The Hornet captured several British vessels during the war’s first months; the Wasp also “stung” John Bull in October 1812 by capturing two British warships (including H.M.S. Frolic) before a far larger British vessel compelled its surrender.

High places in government like steep rocks only accessible to eagles and reptiles. New York: H. R. Robinson, April 1836.  Acquired 1964 (A 1830 .R62)

During the 1830s the most active publisher of political cartoons was Henry R. Robinson. He strongly supported the Whig Party, hence Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and their fellow Democrats were the butt of many Robinson prints. This lithograph in support of Northern Whig candidate William Henry Harrison during the 1836 presidential contest depicts outgoing president Andrew Jackson as a snapping turtle descending from the presidential summit occupied by George Washington. Meanwhile a serpent—Jackson’s chosen successor Van Buren—slithers upward from a “Pool of Corruption.” However, Van Buren can’t outrace Harrison, the soaring American eagle.

Gen'l Houston, Santa Ana & Co. New York: H. R. Robinson, June 1836.  Acquired 1964 (A 1830 .R62)

On April 21, 1836, Texas forces under General Sam Houston soundly defeated the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto, winning independence for the Republic of Texas. Houston's victory is celebrated in this very rare lithograph, designed for Henry R. Robinson by artist Edward Williams Clay. Houston, in frontier garb, threatens vengeance for the earlier massacres of Texas forces at the Alamo and Goliad. Mexican Generals Santa Anna and Martín Cos plead for mercy: “Me no Alamo!!” [I didn’t fight at the Alamo]. This cut-down (possibly a proof) copy is one of three known states of Robinson’s print.

N. Tom o’ logical studies. The great tumble bug of Missouri, Bent-on rolling his ball. New York: H. R. Robinson, [1837]  Acquired 1964 (A 1830 .R62)

This brilliantly punning hand-colored lithograph skewers Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton and his successful 1837 campaign to reverse the Senate’s censure of President Andrew Jackson for having removed federal deposits from the Bank of the United States. Having vowed in 1834 to “put this Ball in motion,” Benton is caricatured as a “tumble bug,” or dung beetle, rolling his massive dung ball uphill towards the unfinished U. S. Capitol. The 24 senators who supported Benton’s resolution comprise the “List of Black Knights.” 

Marriage of the Free Soil and Liberty Parties. New York: Peter Smith [i.e. Nathaniel Currier], 1848.  Acquired 1964 (Broadside 1801 .P65)

Although offensive to modern eyes, this print deftly exposes the hypocrisy of many antislavery whites, presenting them less favorably than it does African Americans. During the 1848 presidential contest, the abolitionist Liberty Party joined forces with antislavery Democrats to form the Free Soil Party. Its platform called for an end to slavery’s expansion, but not its abolition or equal rights for African Americans. Free Soil candidate Martin Van Buren, despite encouragement from his son and Horace Greeley, is presented as reluctant to consummate a political union with the Liberty Party, whose members are depicted as poor, but free, African Americans.

Gulltown in an uproar! Philadelphia: J. L. Magee, 1865. Acquired 1964  (Broadside 1801 .P65)

The discovery of oil at Titusville in 1859 prompted thousands to descend on northwest Pennsylvania, in a scene reminiscent of the California Gold Rush a decade earlier. Rising prices and more discoveries in 1864 sparked an even greater speculative frenzy, as unscrupulous promoters raised tens of millions of dollars selling shares in hundreds of newly incorporated oil companies. This print, issued shortly before the oil bubble burst in 1865, satirizes the greed and naiveté of credulous oil speculators, who could be gulled into believing anything claimed by latter-day Munchausens.