"Ultimatum on the Oregon Question"

This cartoon by artist Edward Williams Clay addresses President James Polk's handling of the Oregon boundary dispute while satirizing the self-interested attitudes of Europe toward the dispute. The issue of whether to settle the northern boundary of American territory in Oregon at the 49th parallel or at the more expansive 54.40 parallel was in dispute even before Polk's election. Stung by British rejection of his administration's proposal of the 49th parallel, however, Polk publicly pursued the bolder claim in the early months of 1846. At the same time he considered providing Britain with tariff concessions, as an incentive to compromise. In Clay's cartoon Polk, urged on by the belligerent General Bunkum, faces English monarch Queen Victoria and Prince Albert across an ocean. In the distance, on "neutral Ground," Louis Philippe of France and Czar Nicholas I of Russia look on. Victoria on her throne states: "I've opened my Ports for the admission of your Corn, and I offer to settle the Oregon business by arbitration! What more can you expect? Beware how you rouse the British Lion!" Prince Albert, in a heavy German accent: "I dink so doo!" Nearby (far left) the Duke of Wellington struggles to rouse the British lion, who says, "Unloose my chains and fill my belly! Then I'll fight." Polk says to Victoria: "You opened your ports to keep you from starvation! I offered to settle the Oregon question at 49 and you refused--I won't arbitrate--I go the whole figure to 54 42. which, if you'll agree to, I am willing to negotiate!" General Bunkum, heavily armed and accompanied by a bald eagle says: "I'm for war and the whole of Oregon, California, Canada, and Cuba; here's a bird that will cut your British lion's liver out, and eat it cold without sugar, by thunder!!!" On an island near Britain, Irish Repeal Movement leader Daniel O'Connell waves a "Repeal" club, threatening, "Give us repale, or the divil an Irishman will you get to join your ranks!" O'Connell also holds a bag of "rent," the term for American funds contributed in support of his movement. Czar Nicholas says: "I shall have no objection to see John Bull get a good licking; It will help my Eastern views." Louis Philippe states: "I got my fingers burnt by meddling in the Texas business, so I shall not interfere in this; especially as a war will bring grist to my mill!"

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