<Go back to the Topics Index results>

Complete Explanation:
A caricature of President Martin Van Buren issued during the Panic of 1837, strongly critical of his continuation of predecessor Andrew Jackson's hard-money policies. Particular reference is made to the Specie Circular, a highly unpopular order issued by the Jackson administration in December 1836, directing collectors of public revenues to accept only gold or silver (i.e., "specie") in payment for public lands. Designed to curb speculation, the measure was blamed by administration critics for draining the economy of hard money and precipitating the 1837 crisis.

Hearkening back to the anti-Jackson "King Andrew the First" (no. 1833-4), the artist portrays Van Buren as a monarch in a princely cloak, treading on the Constitution. He is crowned "in the name of Belzebub . . . Ragamuffin king" by a demon. Van Buren's cloak is trimmed with "shinplasters," the colloquial term for the often worthless small-denomination bank notes which proliferated during the panic.

Van Buren says, "I like this cloak amazingly, for now I shall be able to put into execution my Designs without being observed by every quizing, prying Whig. I'm obliged to keep close since my Safety Fund is blown . . ." Under the Safety Fund law, passed during Van Buren's term as governor of New York, banks were required to contribute to a fund used to liquidate the obligations of banks that failed. The fund was quickly exhausted during the panic.

On the walls are pictures of "Bequests of the Late Incumbent" (Andrew Jackson), including "The Hickory Stick," worshipped by the masses like the brazen serpent in the Old Testament, Jackson's spectacles and clay pipe, his hat, the Safety Fund balloon in flames, and "the Last Gold Coin," minted in 1829 (the year Jackson first took office). On the wall at right is a headless statue of Jackson holding a "veto" in his right hand (an allusion to Jackson's 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States). Visible through a window is a street scene where a crowd mobs a theater exhibiting "a Real Gold Coin."

Beneath Van Buren's feet are several documents, including the Specie Circular and "petitions," the missives from New York bankers and merchants which deluged the White House calling for repeal of the Circular. A document labeled "Indian claims" refers to another unpopular Jackson legacy: the numerous grievances by tribes like the Cherokees and Seminoles regarding unfair and inhumane government treaties by which they were being displaced and deprived of their lands.

The Library's impression of the print was deposited for copyright on August 29, 1837, and published at the same address as Anthony Fleetwood's "6 Cents. Humbug Glory Bank" (no. 1837-10).

Website design © 2010 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2010 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to webmaster@harpweek.com