A commentary on the workings of the January 1839 congressional probe of the Treasury Department in the wake of the Swartwout embezzlement. (See "Price Current" and "Sub Treasurers Meeting in England," nos. 1838-21 and -20.) Led by administration opponent Henry A. Wise and chaired by James Harlan, the committee scrutinized procedures and irregularities in the reporting and handling of federal funds by Treasury Department officials. Here the artist seems unusually sympathetic to Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury.
The secretary sits strapped into a "Scrutiny chair" with its seat of nails, probed and drilled by various committee members including Wise, who bores into his skull at upper right, and Harlan, who sniffs Woodbury's palm saying, "I must say there is no smell of gold on the palm. Tho' he did let others steal I don't think he shared in the booty!" The secretary's left foot is caught in an animal trap. His right leg is stretched to the left by a winch whose base is labeled "Power to employ a Clerk, . . . to employ a Printer, . . , to send for Persons & Papers."
William C. Dawson (seated listening through a horn to Woodbury's stomach) says, "Strange sounds in his lower regions. He seems Dispeptic. Possibly Wise's speech has disagreed with him . . ."
Standing committee member with forceps: "What a grip he has! but open you shall! Here are secrets worth knowing! He opens the other hand readily enough to Harlan! but this, he keeps as tight as a vice!"
Another, boring into Woodbury's right ear: "This must be his deaf ear. They say he kept one for complaints against his Officers . . ."
Another, focussing a magnifying glass on Woodbury's temple: "There is no more fire in his brain than in a heap of mouldy straw . . ."
Wise: "It seems to me, I shall never get thro' his skull. No hope of discoveries in that quarter! . . ."
Another committee member: "No wonder he could not smell out Swartwout's defalcation, the olfactory nerve is wholly wanting!"
Another committee member, drilling Woodbury's left side: "My augur is like to be buried! What a "deep" Financier!"
The names of the Swartwout investigation committee are listed on a paper at lower right. Weitenkampf mistakes the central figure for Van Buren.