<Go back to the Topics Index results>

PROFESSOR WISE, Performing a Surgical Operation in CONGRESS HALL.
Complete Explanation:
Representative Henry A. Wise, vociferous opponent of the Van Buren administration, is portrayed as a surgeon, operating on Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury. The satire refers to the cross-examination of Woodbury in January 1839, during the congressional investigation of the Samuel Swartwout embezzlement. (See "Price Current" and "Sub Treasurers Meeting in England," nos. 1838-21 and -20.) Although no wrongdoing could be found of Woodbury, Swartwout's crime was perceived as an indictment of Van Buren's proposed independent treasury or "sub-treasury" system.

Wise (center) makes an incision in Woodbury, who is bound to a table. Under the table is a chest whose various compartments are labeled: "Sub-Treasury," "Letters to Receivers," "Defalcations from 1 to 1500," "Bond Accounts," and "Accounts of Swartwout." Six attending men (perhaps members of the investigating committee) react to the gore with horror and disgust.

Wise: "I think Gentlemen, you will now admit that it is time this was opened." Others say, "Who could have believed this? and he looked in such good health all the while" and "Can he survive this?"

The artist's signature (apart from the pseudonym "Artful Dodge") appears, almost obliterated, at the lower left. Several other satires on the Woodbury inquiry, "A Bull Chase, "Worse than a Spanish Inquisition,"" and "A Select Committee of Enquiry Hard at Work" (nos. 1839-6 through -8) also appear to be by the same artist.

Weitenkampf erroneously identifies the figure on the table as Van Buren.

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