Smoking Him Out

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Smoking Him Out

Editorial cartoon

By: Nathaniel Currier

Date: 1848

Source: Nathaniel Currier. "Smoking Him Out." 1848. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

About the Photographer: Nathaniel Currier was one of the earliest early lithographers trained in the United States. He began his career by producing lithographic plates and prints for books and journals and rapidly expanded to the production of a variety of items, ranging from sheet music to architectural prints. He discovered that public interest was piqued when he began to create prints of news events, as newspapers of that era (1830s) did not publish photographs or illustrations. He created progressively more original art lithographs, based on current events, public interest, and his own creativity. He developed a business partnership with James Merritt Ives, which led to a large scale lithographic art printing business, which employed an early variant of the production assembly line, in order to mass produce colored prints. During the course of their career, Currier and Ives produced more than one million prints.


The primary subjects in the featured editorial cartoon are Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) along with his son John, and Lewis Cass. At the time that this piece was created, Van Buren and Cass were political opponents, both attempting to run for the American Presidency. Van Buren, the former president from 1837–1841, was active in both the Barnburner segment of the Democratic political party, and the Free Soil movement. Cass was a member of the traditional Democratic party and was their candidate for President of the United States in 1848.

The term barnburner was a reference to the farmer notion that the only way to get rid of a rodent (in this case, rat) infestation in a barn would be by burning the structure to the ground. In the case of the political party, the barnburners assumed that the way to eliminate corruption was to get rid of the institutions fostering it. The Barnburners considered big businesses and corporate structures as inherently corrupt, and that the best way to eradicate the corruption would be by doing away with the entire corporate structure. The central tenets of the Barnburner faction of the Democratic party were the abolition of slavery, the limitation of the system of public debt by preventing the expansion of the banking system across America, and the elimination of the corporate structure in the country.

The Barnburners collaborated with another political and philosophical splinter group called the Free Soil party, the primary goal of which was the abolition of slavery and the prevention of the practice of slavery from expansion into newly acquired territories of the country. The Free Soil Party was active for less than twenty years. One of its organizing principles concerned a document called the Wilmot Proviso, sponsored by David (Davy) Wilmot, which stipulated that none of the territory acquired as a result of the Mexican War could employ the use of slavery. The Proviso was extremely controversial and ultimately unsuccessful. Its abolitionist tone served to further polarize a country that was already deeply divided and philosophically unsettled over the issue of slavery in America. The new territories, which later became New Mexico and Utah, invoked the concept of popular sovereignty, which allowed them to make independent choices about whether they would join the Union as free or slave states.



See primary source image.


The business of American politics was at the fore-front of society much of the time during the nineteenth century. The country was attempting to establish itself as an independent political entity, truly created 'by the people and for the people,' with the voice of the average voting citizen genuinely heard. During this period, the population of eligible voters was sufficiently small so as to have a small block of ballots potentially make the difference between victory and loss for a candidate.

At the start of the nineteenth century, the country was still early in the development of its current two-(major) Party system, with the main blocks being Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Federalists were those who generally agreed with a sort of corporate political structure: centralization of government, development of big banking systems, and the growth of corporations. Democratic-Republicans held essentially opposite views. By the middle of the century, the Federalist Party had more or less vanished, and the Whig Party had come to the fore. In essence, the largest philosophical difference between the Whigs and the Democratic-Republicans lay in their beliefs about the appropriate location for the seat of political power in the country. The Democrats favored placing the power in the executive (Presidential) branch of the government, while the Whigs felt that the voice of the people was best reflected by the (relative) diversity of Congress. The Whigs based their party politics on the English Whig Party, which believed that political power should be removed from Royalty (monarchy) and returned to the people. The Whigs were relatively short lived, and their party was inactive within three decades. Many of the Whigs joined with members of the dissolving Free Soil Party members and a group of abolitionist Democrats and formed the Republican Party, during the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Another major issue during what was called the era of Jacksonian politics had to do with political patronage. Patronage was a common practice during that time (in many places, similar activities still occur), in which supporters of a political candidate were openly rewarded with government jobs and other benefits if their candidate was elected. Many members of the nas-cent Republican Party opposed this and felt that the vast majority of official positions should result from elections by the citizen voters.

Rapidly evolving party political systems, as well as the growing unrest between those who favored slavery and the abolitionists, helped to pave the way for growing discord among the states of the American Union, ultimately aiding to set the stage for the Civil War (1861–1865). The country was rapidly expanding to the west, with large new territories being opened up to settlers. There was much division over the question of slavery in the new areas, with the Whigs/Republicans believing that slavery should be abolished, and the Democrats espousing a belief in the concept of popular sovereignty, in which the pioneers moving into the territories would be free to make their own decisions on slavery, as they created newly settled areas and joined the Union (this was especially significant in the Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico territories).

The discord between the barnburner and free soil Democrats, represented by Martin Van Buren, and the regular Democrats, represented by Lewis Cass, is exemplified by the political editorial cartoon above. Ultimately, such in-fighting by candidates aligned with factions of the same party led to dilution of political power. Neither candidate won the election of 1848. The party was divided, with insufficient votes going to either candidate—resulting in a rare win for the Whigs, who successfully elected Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) to the Presidency.



Dippie, Brian W. Catlin and His Contemporaries: The Politics of Patronage. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Holt, Michael F. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Klunder, Carl. Lewis Cass and the Politics of Moderation. Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1996.

Leonard, Gerald. The Invention of Party Politics: Federalism, Popular Sovereignty, and Constitutional Development in Jacksonian Illinois. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.


Altschuler, Glenn C., and Stuart M. Blumin. "Limits of Political Engagement in Antebellum America: A New Look at the Golden Age of Participatory Democracy." Journal of American History. 84 (December 1997): 878–879.

Web sites

The American Civil War Homepage. "General resources." May 05, 2006. < html#general> (accessed May 10, 2006).