Henry Clay's November 1847 address to a public meeting in Lexington, Kentucky, condemning the Polk administration's prosecution of the Mexican War and opposing the pondered annexation of all of Mexican territory is the subject of the artist's attack. Clay's speech was widely published and was endorsed by influential New York editor Horace Greeley. Here the Whig statesman's pacifism is depicted as insincere and politically motivated, and Greeley is shown as unpatriotic.
A two-faced Clay hands a pair of pistols to his son Lt. Col. Henry Clay (in uniform, far left). The younger Clay was an officer in the Mexican War and was killed at Vera Cruz in February 1847. The elder Clay says, "Take these pistols, my son, & use them honorably. May they do good execution on the foes of your country."
On the other side he addresses Greeley and several others, vowing, "Down with this War-making Administration! Down with the Army who rob & kill our innocent friends the Mexicans!"
Greeley (center, in pale frock coat) holds a copy of his New York "Tribune," publishing Clay's speech. His reply is, "Hurra! Hurra! These are the good old days of the Hartford Convention! It warms the very bran bread in my stomach to hear thee! Glorious Harry of the West!" The Hartford Convention, held in 1815, was an early secessionist movement in the Northeast. "Bran bread" was a well-known dietary preference of Greeley's.
Behind Greeley is a cadaverous man (possibly William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the "Liberator&1), who says, "This is nuts for us. Another spoke in the non-resistance wheel!"
Beside him another unidentified man, wearing plaid trousers patched in several places, throws up his hands and exclaims, "Mercy on me! what shall I do? Here I have been waiting 20 years for an office under the Whigs, & old Harry has knocked us all into the shape of a three cocked Hat." On the right stands bewhiskered New York "Courier and Enquirer" editor James Watson Webb. Outraged, he raises his fist and shouts, "What the devil is this? What success can we expect when we go against the country, and trample on the ashes of our slain Heroes?" Webb, though a Whig, supported the Mexican War brought about by the Democratic Polk administration.
He is told by a smaller man, "Peace, Colonel! You'll spoil all. Don't you know it is necessary to decry the war in order to make out that Scott & Taylor are doing more harm than good, and thus keep them out of the Presidential chair, which must be filled by Harry of the West. You know our case is desperate, and so Harry must do something desperate for his own sake."
On the far right a carpenter holds up a wooden peg and announces, "Gentlemen, I've made a new Wooden leg for Santa Anna. You can appoint a Clay-Whig Committee to present it to him, with a suitable address." Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the commander of Mexican forces, had left his wooden leg behind in his retreat from the Battle of Cerro Gordo.