Paper Money

Website highlights satirical note linking to Panic of 1837

Satirical note issued during the presidency of Andrew Jackson lambastes the president for his role in creating the Panic of 1837, a major recession.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Atlas Obscura is a website based in Brooklyn, New York, that reports on the unusual wherever it finds it, including paper money. A story recently reposted from it refers to a satirical note from the Panic of 1837, a seven-year-long recession, as the “best political cartoon in history.”

The story dates to 2016 when the redesign of the $20 Federal Reserve note and the replacement of Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman was being discussed. Many have blamed Jackson for the panic because of his refusal to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, his belief in gold and silver as opposed to paper money, and the subsequent loss in value of the privately issued paper money that had been a mainstay of much of the U.S. economy.

The so-called note is a commentary on those whom opponents blamed for the crisis, mainly hard-money Democrats. It was drawn by New York lithographer Napoleon Sarony and printed by Henry R. Robinson, a Whig Party supporter who is considered the most prolific publisher of lithographed political cartoons of the day.

Andrew Jackson, in drag, is at the left, dressed as Lady Liberty, and holding a knife that says “veto,” a reference to his veto of renewing the bank’s charter. The cracked globe next to him represents The Globe, the most prominent Democratic Party newspaper of the times.

Jackson is also on the right side in the guise of an incontinent donkey. Jessica Lepler, associate professor of history at the University of New Hampshire explained, “He’s pooping out gold currency because that’s supposedly what he wants to happen to the money supply.” Vice President Martin Van Buren, who would succeed Jackson, is shown as a trained monkey, collecting in a top hat that which the Jacksonian donkey is dropping. Van Buren, Lepler explained, was a vice president well-known for being a sycophant to his boss.

Van Buren is also the head of the dragon on the top of the note, with bags of money in a wagon labeled “Treasury Department.” The wagon is being pulled by Loco Focos, a party faction most identified with wanting the complete separation of the government from banking. They are being whipped by Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, the states’ rights and pro-slavery advocate who supported Jackson on economic issues. The group is portrayed stampeding working class people in the street below them.

The dung beetle at the bottom has the face of Missouri Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, another hard currency advocate. He is pushing a big pile of dung denominated as a 75-cent Treasury note. Its obligation reads a promise “to pay out of the United States Treasury, seven years after it is convenient, the amount of seventy-five cents.”

The subject note is from the archives of the Library of Congress. A similar 12½-cent note in Good to Very Good condition was sold by Heritage Auctions in 2018 for $1,050.

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