A parody of the often worthless fractional currencies or "shinplasters" issued by banks, businesses, and municipalities in lieu of coin. These fractional notes proliferated during the Panic of 1837 with the emergency suspension of specie (i.e., gold and silver) payments by New York banks on May 10, 1837. "Treasury Note" differs from two similar mock bank notes, "6 Cents. Humbug Glory Bank" and "Fifty Cents. Shin Plaster" (nos. 1837-10 and -11) in being payable "out of the joint funds of the United States Treasury." It may mimic the interim notes, first proposed by the administration in September 1837, to be issued by the federal government to relieve the shortage of gold and silver during the crisis.
The artist broadly attacks President Van Buren's pursuit of predecessor Andrew Jackson's hard-money policies as the source of the crisis. Witness the caricature at the right, of Jackson as an ass excreting coins or "Mint Drops," collected in a hat by a Van Buren monkey. Note also the presence of the former President at left, as an old woman clad in bunting, standing near a cracked globe (a punning allusion to the name of Francis Preston Blair's administration organ newspaper).
The print also caricatures Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, an ardent bullionist and supporter of Jackson's and Van Buren's fiscal programs. Benton is shown as a tumblebug pushing a large ball, a motif given fuller treatment in "N. Tom O' Logical Studies" (no. 1837-14).
In the main scene Van Buren appears as a winged monster on a wagon driven by Calhoun and drawn by a team of men in yokes through a narrow arch labeled "Wall Street" and "Safety Fund Banks." This may refer to the influence Van Buren exerted on New York banks through the Safety Fund system, whereby member banks observed a certain ratio of notes (paper money) to specie (coin) set by a state banking commission. The wagon crushes several men beneath its wheels. The Van Buren beast reclines on several weapons (symbolizing treachery) and sacks of treasury notes. In his tail he grasps a torch, having set off the destruction of a town which burns in the distance.
Nearby stand Andrew Jackson and another man, perhaps fiscal adviser Reuben Whitney or Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury. Jackson says, "I did not think John C. could crack such a good whip." The second man responds, "Oh! Matty has had him in training, the nullifying turncoat." This is a swipe at Whig senator John Calhoun's recent support for Democratic measures in Congress.