"Polk's Dream"

This cartoon by Edward Williams Clay is critical of President James Polk's public advocacy of the 54.40 parallel as the northern boundary of American territory in Oregon. Standing at the foot of Polk's bed in a cloud of smoke is a devil, who, concealing himself behind the mask and hat of Andrew Jackson, commands the sleeping Polk, "Child of my adoption, on whom my mantle hath fallen, swear never to take your toe off that line should you deluge your country with seas of blood, produce a servile insurrection and dislocate every joint of this happy and prosperous union!!!" Polk, slumbering in a large canopied bed, has one toe on the 54.40 line of a map of Oregon which lies on floor. Also next to his bed is a table with his readings: "Art of War, Calvin's Works, Practical Piety," and "Life of Napoleon." Polk answers the devil, "I do my venerated and lamented chieftain! I do, by the eternal!" (The vow "By the eternal" was a well-known Jacksonism.) At left, dressed in nightshirts, three cabinet members sneak into the room. They are (left to right) George Bancroft, James Buchanan, and Robert J. Walker. Treasury Secretary Walker carries a "Tariff" document and comments, "It seems to me there's the devil to pay with the president; yet behold his great toe, greater than any Pope's fixed firmly on the line 54.40. Patriotic even in dreams!" Behind Walker Secretary of State Buchanan, holding a candle and a portfolio marked "Pakenham Correspondence," says, "There's certainly a strong smell of brimstone in the room! Perhaps his excellency has been practicing pyrotechnics previous to commencing his campaign." The "Pakenham Correspondence" refers to Buchanan's July 1845 note to British ambassador Richard Pakenham, wherein the forty-ninth parallel was proposed as a compromise. Pakenham's response, a rejection, touched off Polk's pursuit (at least temporarily) of a more hard-line stance, claiming the 54.40 boundary. "I guess there's a screw loose here! I wonder what Polk's going to do!" states Navy Secretary Bancroft.

Date:
1846
Original Format:
Cartoon
Item#:
11.061
Height:
2233px
Width:
2878px
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