An indignant James K. Polk takes issue with Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster's public attacks on his Texas policy. In 1844 Webster had been opposed to the annexation of Texas and in 1846 he criticized attacked the war with Mexico over Texas as highly unjustifiable. Webster's first public speech on the war was made in late June, and the print probably did not appear before that.
In the center, Polk (left) confronts Webster, warning, "If you say the Mexican War is a War of my own makeing you tell a falshood!" Raising his fists, Webster retorts, "I did say it & say it again!"
To the left of Polk stand Thomas Ritchie and James Watson Webb, newspaper editors supporting the administration. Webb holds a bottle of "Tom and Jerry" and a sponge, commenting, "Principles, not men!" The Whig editor had opposed the annexation of Texas, but once hostilities commenced he urged military action to bring about a speedy termination. Webb's insistence on "principles" reflects his uneasiness in an alliance with a Democratic administration which stood to gain politically from the conflict.
Ritchie reassures Polk, "In Union [a double entendre referring to his newspaper the "Washington Union&1] there is strength, Nous Verrons!"
To the right of Webster stand an unidentified man (probably another journalist) and Horace Greeley, editor of the New York "Tribune. "Greeley, who was severely critical of Polk's policies, holds a bottle of "Lemon Soda" and (like Webb) a sponge, and remarks, "I wish Dan had eaten more Graham bread he's too fat for Polk!" (Graham bread was a well-known Greeley dietary preference.) The unidentified man remarks, "A Daniel come to blows, if not Judgment."
The sponges and bottles are apparently intended for the relief of the fighters, much as the port and the "Old Monongohala Whiskey" figured in Anthony Imbert's "Set to between Old Hickory and Bully Nick"(no. 1834-4), on which "The Issue Joined"seems to be based. The precise significance of the "Tom & Jerry" and "Lemon Soda" is unclear.
"The Issue Joined"is executed in a style similar to that of Edward Williams Clay. The faces of the characters may in fact be attributable to Clay, but the drawing of the figures and costumes are not up to that artist's standard.