New York "Tribune" editor Horace Greeley is ridiculed for vacillating between support of candidates Martin Van Buren and Zachary Taylor in the presidential election of 1848. Greeley balances precariously on a tightrope labeled "Mason & Dickson's Line," which is stretched across Salt River. He holds a balancing pole with a bust of Van Buren on one end and Zachary Taylor on the other. His foot rests upon a stool which in turn rests upon a loaf of "Bran Bread" (a well-known Greeley preference) poised on edge on the wire. He comments, "O crackee! it is as hard work for me to define my position as it was for Taylor to define his," referring to Taylor's stubborn refusal to take a public stand on major issues.
Below, immersed in the proverbial river of political disaster, is Henry Clay, defeated candidate for the Whig presidential nomination. Clay complains, "Alas! my Whig brethren! to this complexion must we all come at last!" To the right, on shore, a bespectacled man (possibly an abolitionist) reads aloud from a book:
"On slipp'ry heights, I see them stand
While briny billows roll below."
Further upstream a man dressed in tattered clothes rides a donkey which trails a placard advertising, "Ground & lofty tumbling Mr. Greely's first appearance in that Character."
Greeley wears his characteristic pale frock coat and carries a copy of the "Tribune" in his pocket.