Gone fishing…

Well, I haven’t actually gone fishing, but I am taking another short break, and I thought I’d illustrate this with a historic drawing or lithograph of some Clark-era folks fishing. A little play on words. Just for fun and all.

The best I could do today—alas—was this 1848 political cartoon:

N. Currier. The Presidential fishing party of. United States, 1848. [New York: Pub. by Peter Smith i.e., Nathaniel Currier, 2 Spruce St., N.Y]. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window; this is the only way to view the text clearly, by the way.

Like all political cartoons of the era it is heavy-handed, visually busy, and full of long-winded text, explaining some now-obscure but highly-contentious issue of the day in the most tedious manner possible. (This is why I usually avoid using 19th-century political cartoons to enliven the discussion here at Clark House Historian.)

What’s it all about?

Anyway, 1848 was an important year for the nation, and for our Mequon settlers. The war with Mexico ended, Wisconsin attained statehood and—closer to home—the Jonathan M. Clark house was built. This cartoon, verbose as it may be, actually covers some key issues of the 1848 U.S. presidential race. Here’s a helpful explanation from the staff at the Library of Congress (I’ve added a few paragraph breaks for easier reading):

The cartoonist takes a dim view of all but Zachary Taylor’s chances for the presidency in his commentary on the election campaign of 1848.

The candidates fish from opposing banks of a river filled with fish bearing the names of the states. On the right bank, on a firm rock marked “Constitution,” stands Taylor. The fish swarm about his line, most of them hooked on its multiple leaders, “Ohio” being prominent in the center. He announces, “I know of no better Rock than this to stand upon, for I have always noticed, that though the fish may wander off now and then, they are sure to come back to this spot, knowing that here they will find the most wholesome food.” The sun shines on the right half of the picture, where Taylor and another man (further upstream) fish.

In contrast it rains on the left bank, where the other candidates stand. Directly across from Taylor is Free Soil candidate Martin Van Buren, standing on “Free Soil” and fishing with a pole whose line has broken. His hat has fallen into the water where Van Buren’s only fish, “New York,” swims with his broken tackle toward Taylor’s line. Behind Van Buren is a cabbage patch, recalling the Kinderhook cabbages of earlier campaign lore. He complains, “They [the fish] are not quite so fond of this side of the stream as I expected, and my hook and line has been used so often it has grown too old and rusty to hold anything.”

Further upstream stand Democrat Lewis Cass and Liberty party candidate John Hale, who commiserate on their poor catch. Cass says, “I don’t get a bite. This confounded river is so filled with weeds, that my line gets caught every time I throw in. I wish that I had advocated the power of Congress to make improvements in Rivers and Harbors.” Hale adds, “I may as well pull up and go home, Matty’s got my bait, I stand no chance.”

Library of Congress


Astute readers may have noted the place name Kinderhook, above. President Martin Van Buren was nicknamed “Old Kinderhook,” in reference to his Columbia County, New York, hometown. Van Buren was born in Kinderhook on December 5, 1782.

Fun fact: Jonathan M. Clark’s father-in-law, Peter Turck, was born in Kinderhook about 16 years later, on March 11, 1798.

As to Van Buren’s “Kinderhook Cabbages”… well, I have no idea. And I’m “going fishing”…

See you next week.