The Van Buren administration's record, particularly with regard to the handling of public finances, is condemned as corrupt and a perpetuation of unpopular Jacksonian policies. The artist echoes perennial Whig charges of the Democrats' disregard for the Constitution and their autocratic style of governing.
The nursery rhyme theme of "The House that Jack built" employed here was also used in several earlier cartoons. (See nos. 1820-1 and 1833-6.) Murrell also reproduces an earlier and somewhat similar E. W. Clay version of the "House that Jack built," probably dating from the bank wars of around 1834.
Here, the "House" is Jackson's subtreasury system, represented above by a banking house interior whose floor rests on "Constitutional Currency," and whose cellar stocked with empty boxes. The scene appears in a cloud of smoke, which comes from the pipes of Andrew Jackson (on the left) and advisor and publicist Amos Kendall (on the right). Kendall's pipe also blows bubbles, symbolizing vanity or idle schemes.
Nine verses from the nursery rhyme and corresponding satirical scenes appear below.
1."This is the Malt that laid in the House that Jack built." The scene shows crates labeled "Post Office Revenue," "Public Land Sales," "Custom House," "Bonds," and "Pension Fund," suggestive of administration graft and intrigues in a cellar.
2."This is the Rat that eat the Malt . . ." shows Van Buren's Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury as a rat.
3."This is the Cat that caught the Rat . . ." shows Daniel Webster as a cat toying with Woodbury.
4."This is the Dog That worried the Cat, . . ." has Thomas Hart Benton as a dog threatening the cat Webster, who is now standing on a book "Constitution" atop a chair.
5."This is the Cow, Whit the crumpled Horn, That tossed the Dog . . ." shows Henry Clay as a cow tossing Benton aloft.
6."This is the Maiden all forlorn, That milked the Cow, . . ." John C. Calhoun as a milkmaid laments over a spilled bucket "Nullification" as the cow runs away with a sheet marked "Tariff." The reference is to Calhoun's role in the nullification crisis of 1832-33, and Clay's compromise tariff which temporarily resolved the conflict.
7."This is the Man, all tattered and torn, That kissed the Maiden . . ." has Martin Van Buren in old Dutch clothing, wheeling a barrow of cabbages, saying "Here's your fine Kinderhook Early York Kabbitches." (Van Buren's home was in Kinderhook, New York.)
8."This is the Priest all shaven and shorn, That married the Man . . ." Washington "Globe" editor Francis Preston Blair in liturgical vestment presides over the wedding of Calhoun and Van Buren, ridiculing the unlikely political alliance forged in 1840.
9."This is the Cock of the walk, that crowed in the morn, That waked the Priest all shaven and shorn, . . ." A rooster with the head of William Henry Harrison stands on a globe "Ohio" as the sun rises behind it.