Manifest Destiny


Digital image via Library of Congress.

Henry Bowen. Declaration of Independence. Boston, ca.1840s. Textiles Collection.

Henry Bowen printed this patriotic—and political—handkerchief on bleached cotton through his Boston-based firm, Henry Bowen Chemical Prints. It was likely printed sometime in the late-1840s for Fourth of July celebrations (likely in 1848 or 1849). There are various extant additions of handkerchief available. 

Bowen produced books, periodicals, broadsides, and ephemera at his firm. His textile prints include commemorative handkerchiefs for the opening of Bunker Hill monument and children’s textiles adorned with the Golden Rule, bible verses, and various moral lessons.

This handkerchief was later reprinted with state and territorial seals—as visible on this digital copy. Bowen arranged seals in geographical order from Maine down the east coast and west to Oregon territory. In so doing, he subtly reinforced the notion of westward expansion as American right. The edition on display also reprints a 1776 letter by John Adams, written a day after signing the Declaration of Independence, as well as paragraph remarking upon the coinciding deaths of Adams and Jefferson (July 4, 1826).

Digital image via Library of Congress.

Henry Robinson. The Secretary of War Presenting a Stand of Colours to the 1st Regiment of Republican BloodhoundsWashington, 1840. Political Cartoon Collection.

This lithograph assails the Van Buren administration’s use of bloodhounds to hunt fugitive Indians during Second Seminole War (1835-42) in Florida. Robinson condemns both the inhumanity of the practice and the apologists in the press.

Secretary Joel Poinsett holds a U.S. flag, adorned with an Indian’s head. Francis Preston Blair, editor of Washington Globe, kneels to address the bloodhounds with a map of Florida.

Blair: “I take pleasure in pointed out to you, my brethren-in-arms the seat of war, the honour of terminating which our master has put in the hands of our race. I have no doubt you will all prove like myself—good collarmen in the cause.”

Collar men references “collar presses,” newspapers friendly to Democratic administration.

Poinsett: “Fellow citizens & soldiers! In presenting this standard to the 1st Regiment of Bloodhounds, I congratulate you on your promotion, from the base & inglorious pursuit of animals, in an uncivilized region like Cuba, to the noble task of hunting men in our Christian country! our administration has been reproached for the expense of the Florida war, so we have determined now to prosecute it, in a way that’s dog cheap! Hence in your huge paws! we put the charge of bringing it to a close. Be fleet of foot and keen of nose, or the Indians will escape in spite of your teethDear Blair here, show you a map of Florida then theater of your future deeds. Look to him as the trumpeter of your fame, who will emblazon your acts, as far as the “Globe” extends, He feels great interest in all his Kith & Kin, and will therefore transmit your heroism, in doggerel verse to remotest posterity!”

The use of bloodhounds particularly enraged abolitionists, who associated the animals with hunting runaway slaves.

Digital image via Library Company of Philadelphia.

The Slavery Question: Great Prize-Fight of the American Eagle Against the Wolf and Alligator1844. Political Cartoon Collection.

This lithograph depicts the extension of slavery through the United States’ annexation of California and Texas.

At the center of the image, an American eagle protects her nest of hatchlings—“Texas” and “California”—from a wolf and an alligator. The wolf, dressed as a sheep, is restrained by John Bull, the personification of Great Britain, who remarks, “I bet Canada” (another proposed U.S. annexation). The alligator, restrained by Don Quixote, the personification of Spain, states, “I bet Cuba!” (yet another proposed U.S. annexation). 

In the foreground sits a slave, head in hands, with the unbroken pot of slavery on his left and the broken pot of liberty (under the foot of John Bull), to his right.  

Behind the background, a bowery B’hoy figure holds a banner inscribed, “The Union Forever” and a colonial figure resembling George Washington stating, “Go it, my boy you will beat them all.”

Digital image via Library of Congress.

Nathaniel Currier. A War President. New York, 1848. Political Cartoons Collection.

This lithograph caricatures the expansionist leanings of Democratic candidate Lewis Cass. A general in the War of 1812, Cass—dubbed “General Gas” by the unfriendly press—is rendered here as a literal war machine.

Cass sits on wheeled gun-carriage, his limbs and body parts reformulated as cannon shells and barrels shooting “gas” and shot. He waves a bloody saber labeled “Manifest Destiny” over his head as he recites potential territorial acquisitions: “New Mexico, California, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, MEXICO, Peru, Yucatan, Cuba.”

Digital image via Library of Congress.

Digital image via Library of Congress.

S. Lee Perkins. The Place We Hear About. New York, 1849. Political Cartoons Collection.

This lithograph offers a grim portrayal of goldfield life in newly-acquired California. Mayhem erupts as prospectors and thieves brawl over the gold extracted from the hills. 

In the center, a man discharges his pistol in the face of a miner carrying a large sack of gold. Behind them, men fight with knives and fists. One character demands “Bread! Bread! Damn you! Bread.” 

To the right, a buckskin-clad man is served by another man who exacts, “A pinch of Gold for a Drink.” To the left, another man kneels and vomits. Behind him prospectors excavate the mountain.

In the distance, Perkins depicts the Capitol and White House. On the “High Road to California,” former President Polk and his cabinet, armed with spades and pickaxes, rush toward the goldfields. Polk, in the lead, announces: “Off Boys to reap the reward of our four years labour.” (The California territory was acquired during his administration.) 

This cartoon bears comparison to Perkins’s Things as They Are.

Digital image via Library Company of Philadelphia.

Digital image via Library Company of Philadelphia.

John Magee. Liberty, The Fair Maid of Kansas—In the Hands of “Border Ruffians.Philadelphia, 1856. Political Cartoon Collection. 

This scathing lithograph portrays Democratic leaders as jovial and unscrupulous marauders.

The vices of robbery, murder, and abduction—common occurrences between free-soil and proslavery advocates in new state—are all associated with Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Lewis Cass, William Marcy, and Stephen Douglas. John Magee, the artist behind Southern Chivalry, recasts Democratic political leaders as actual outlaws in a bitter indictment of administration's acquiescence to violence in Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act

At the center of the scene, Democratic incumbent Franklin Pierce, dressed in the buckskins of a “border ruffian,” plants a foot on an American flag draped over Liberty, who pleads for her safety. Pierce is armed with a rifle with a tomahawk, dagger, pistol, and scalp on his belt. A similarly outfitted Lewis Cass licks his lips.

On the right, Democratic senator Stephen Douglas kneels over a slain farmer and raises the victim’s scalp. On the left, Democratic candidate James Buchanan and secretary of state William Marcy kneels over another victim and empties his pockets. 

In the background, Magee presents a host of harrowing incidents associated with Bleeding Kansas: an emigrant train is attacked, a defenseless man is clubbed and stabbed, a woman is shot dead, another goes mad with suffering.

Pierce: “You may bet your life on that, ole Puddinhead,” and says to Liberty, “Come Sis—sy, you go along wid me, I’le take Good care of you[sic] over the left.”

Liberty: “O spare me gentlemen, spare me!!”

Douglas: “Hurray for our side! Victory! Victory! We will subdue them yet.”

Cass: “Poor little Dear. We wouldn’t hurt her for the world, would we Frank? ha! ha! ha! …”

Buchanan: “T’was your’s once but its mine now, Might makes right, dont it.”

Widow: “Come husband let us got to heaven, where our poor Children are.”

Ruffian: “Ho! ho! She thinks I’m her husband, we Scalped the Cus and she like a D—m fool went Crazy on it, and now she wants me to go to heaven with her…”