“State of Affairs at Washington”

January 12, 1861

John McLenan

“State of Affairs at Washington”

Civil War, Secession; Presidential Administration, James Buchanan; Wars, American Civil War (1861-1865);

Buchanan, James; Jackson, Andrew;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

Member after Member of the Cabinet resigns, or is allowed to withdraw; the Public Chest is empty, and the President does nothing but wring his hands and bemoan himself. - Washington Letter.

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon by John McLenan addresses the Cabinet crisis of President James Buchanan (1857-1861), which occurred as Southern states seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War.

After Republican Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in November 1860 and before his inauguration in March 1861, seven slave states in the South seceded from the Union (four more would join them once the Civil War began). During that lame-duck interval, the White House was occupied by Democrat James Buchanan, who argued that while secession was unconstitutional, the federal government did not have the authority to prevent it. As the nation unraveled while Buchanan dithered, several members of his cabinet resigned.

Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb resigned shortly after Lincoln’s election to return to his home state of Georgia and urge its secession. Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson resigned when his home state of Mississippi seceded. Secretary of State Lewis Cass resigned when Buchanan failed to reinforce Fort Moultrie in South Carolina. Secretary of War John Floyd of Virginia, already under suspicion for financial improprieties, resigned when the president refused to remove Major Robert Anderson as commander of Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

In this cartoon, the four resigning cabinet members are (left to right): Cass, Floyd, Cobb, and Thompson. Note that all the men but Cass, who breaks his sword in disgust, abscond with funds from the empty public treasury, particularly Thompson, who carries at least two bags of money. The bachelor president is caricatured as widow (as he often was) wringing her hands over the matter, while the public, as a cat, arches its back in anger. On the wall is a bust of a scowling General Andrew Jackson, the former Democratic president who forced South Carolina to back down on its threat to secede from the Union in 1833.

Robert C. Kennedy

“State of Affairs at Washington”
March 22, 2023

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