A large, elaborate allegory predicting the triumph of the Union over the dark forces of the Confederacy and "King Cotton." A published key accompanying the print describes the secession of the South in heavily moralistic terms, as the workings of an insidious "Hydra of human discord," spawner of treachery and rebellion.
The composition is divided into a lower and upper half. Below are the forces of darkness, ruled over by King Cotton, an alligator-headed monarch whose body is a sack of cotton. As the key describes, he "roars through the south the reeking monster--It reviles and tears asunder the bonds of a free and united humanity, and raises with the power of arms the banner of secession. The bowie-knife and dagger, the revolver, the lash and a bloodhound, are the titles to his rights to the golden crown and ermine, which a benighted people yet honours as a sacred symbol. Sighing under the feet of the tyrant the imploring looks of the slave turn heavenward." The monster sits on a throne, before a burning column with the words "Lecompton" (the controversial proslavery Kansas constitution passed in 1857), "Fugitive Slave [Law]," and "Missouri Compromise." He has pistols and daggers in his belt.
One of King Cotton's paws is placed on a manacled slave, who looks upward toward a "sublime apparition" which appears in an aureole of clouds. Here Freedom, wearing an Indian bonnet and holding a liberty cap, appears with a large American flag amid a crowd of deities and historical figures, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Freedom is attended by Christianity (left) and Justice (right). Immediately in front of her is "Humanitas," borne by an eagle and holding an infant and reaching down toward the supplicant slave below. The eagle fiercely clutches the hem of King Cotton's ermine cloak and wields several lightning bolts, which have ignited the terrified monarch's throne.
Equally terrorized by the vision are the hideous Hydra of Discord and her followers, who appear in the shadowy background below. The Hydra, accompanied by a hound "Fugitive Slave Law," crowds of overseers or planters, and a Spaniard, who drops a package marked "Cuba $50,000,000," are driven into the sea. Near the shore appears a dinghy holding several slaves. A moored ship is visible in the distance.
Entwined in the decorative lower border of the illustration is a dead rattlesnake. Below, in the margin, are eighteen lines of verse from Lord Byron's 1813 poem "The Giaour."