The cartoon reflects the considerable bitterness among New York Republicans at the party's surprising failure to nominate New York senator William H. Seward for president at its May 1860 national convention. The print was probably issued soon after the convention's nomination of Abraham Lincoln.
The "Republican Barge" tosses on a stormy sea, precariously close to a rocky shore, with Lincoln (far left) at the rudder. "I'll take the helm. I've steered a "flat" boat before," says Lincoln. Also in the barge are (left to right) "Tribune" editor and powerful Lincoln supporter Horace Greeley, Missourian Edward Bates, an unidentified man, and former Washington "Globe" editor and influential Jacksonian Democrat Francis Preston Blair. The three men together heave Seward overboard.
Greeley says, "Over you go Billy! Between you and I there is an "Irrepressible Conflict." Bates encourages him, "Over with him Horace never mind his kicking!" while Blair says, "He can't withstand my muscle for I once moved the Globe." The idea of an "irrepressible conflict" between slaveholding and free interests in the Union was taken from Seward's famous 1858 Rochester speech against slavery. The term became a catchphrase for radical antislavery factions in the North.
Seward protests, "Dont throw "me" overboard, I built this boat, and I alone can save it."
Further right are three unidentified men, two of whom are speaking. One cries, "I'm afraid this boat will sink." The other remarks, "If it had only been built in two sections instead of one we might be saved." A black wearing "Discord's Patent Life Preserver" notes, "If de boat and all hands sink, dis Nigger sure to swim, Yah! Yah!" In the bow sits New York "Courier" editor James Watson Webb, who warns, "Breakers ahead!!"
Watching anxiously from the shore is Brother Jonathan, clad in striped trousers, coat with tails, and a tall hat. He admonishes the boat's crew, "You wont save your crazy old craft by throwing your pilot overboard; better heave that tarnal Nigger out."