Friday, September 13, 2013

The Democratic [Party] Platform Illustrated, 1856

This image makes an attack on the Democratic Party for the election of 1856. The artist paints the political party as proslavery with the vivid storytelling imagery it incorporates.

The view is split in half by an a flag pole with Old Glory waving in the breeze above. Presidential candidate Pennsylvanian James Buchanan and vice presidential candidate Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge's names are emblazoned on the flag along with the phrase "Modern Democracy." The artist apparently shunned subtlety in favor of labeling to make his point clear.

On the left half of the image is a depiction of South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks beating Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a walking cane, which occurred on May 22, 1856, on the U.S. Senate floor. In that scene's background is the burning of free state stronghold Lawrence, Kansas, by proslavery Missourians, which happened the day before the Brooks/Sumner affair. Above the Lawrence action it says "Squatter Sovereignty Demonstrated," a slight at the political idea of popular sovereignty popularized by Democrats, first Lewis Cass of Michigan, then Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. Both of these instances were used by the opposing Republican Party to show how undemocratic the Democratic party truly was. Using force to curb free speech, as in the Sumner incident, and violence instead of votes to determine if Kansas would be a free state or slave state proved effective in switching many citizens party allegiance - at least in the North.

On the right half of the image a standing enslaved man and a kneeling slave woman petition as a whip-wielding master stands by. The woman beseeches, "Is this Democracy?" Again, with a play on the word democracy. Interestingly, both the enslaved man and woman are chained to the flagpole, suggesting clearly the United States compliance of the institution. The master, with raised arm and pointing finger declares, "We will subdue you," apparently speaking to the island above his hand and implying that filibuster expeditions (as illustrated by the war ship) to Gulf of Mexico nations would ultimately be successful in expanding slavery. If the imagery did not make the message obvious enough to the viewer, the words "A Due Regard for our Just Rights in the Gulf of Mexico," is included to help clarify.  

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

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