Here Clay is critical of James K. Polk's public advocacy of the 54.40 parallel as the northern boundary of American territory in Oregon. The cartoon also alludes to widespread uncertainty as to the course the secretive Polk would actually pursue on the issue. The artist invokes the specter of an earlier Democratic president, Andrew Jackson, as the inspiration for what he considers Polk's rash and autocratic handling of the dispute.
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 bed is a potted "Poke" weed (a pun on his name) and 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 steal into the room. They are (left to right) George Bancroft, James Buchanan, and Robert J. Walker. Treasury Secretary Walker carries a "Tariff" document, no doubt the controversial and recently introduced tariff bill of which he was generally considered the architect, 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 "Packenham Correspondence," says, "There's certainly a strong smell of brimstone in the room! Perhaps his excellency has been practising pyrotechnics previous to commencing his campaign." The "Packenham 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!" muses Navy Secretary Bancroft.