The curiously pastoral scene actually carries a strongly anti-Copperhead message. The artist contrasts the blessings of Northern free labor with the inhumanity of the Southern plantation system. Anti-Republican or "Copperhead" northerners, who advocated a negotiated reconciliation with the South, are implicitly condemned here as compliant with the slaveholders' interests.
In the center a bearded farmer, possibly intended to represent Lincoln, mows grass with a large scythe. He wears a narrow-brimmed hat and carries a large knife in his trouser pocket. As he mows, his scythe blade catches the snakes in the grass.
Behind him are two scenes. On the left, where the sun shines, several farmers, apparently free blacks, are also mowing. A large house stands in the distance. In contrast on the right dark clouds hover over a plantation scene where slaves harvest and carry cotton under the eye of an overseer armed with a whip. A young male slave kneels before the overseer, who stands leaning against a palmetto tree. Rude dwellings appear in the background, and a fugitive slave runs toward the left pursued by bloodhounds.
In the margin below are the verses:
We have battles to fight, we have foes to subdue
Time waits not for us, and we wait not for you!
The mower mows on, though the adder may writhe
And the copperhead coil round the blade of his scythe.