[BUCHANAN, James]. Engraved cartoon by "Woolf," "Our National Bird as it appeared when handed to James Buchanan March 4, 1857; The Identical Bird as it Appeared A. D. 1861." Printed by Thomas W. Strong, 98 Nassau Street, New York, 1861. Oblong, 12 x 16 in., uniformly browned, slight chip along bottom edge, remnants of mounting on verso.
THE AMERICAN EAGLE BEFORE AND AFTER BUCHANAN. The "National Bird" is strong, bold and in full-throated cry in 1857, its wings extended as its talons firmly grip a lofty peak. But after four years of Buchanan's pusillanimous passivity in the face of the "Slave Power," the proud eagle has been withered to a pathetic state: its plumage eaten away, its talons cut off as one leg rests on a stump labeled "Secession" and the other lies in a boot marked "Anarchy." The eagle's head droops listlessly, as a chain dangles around its neck. "I was murdered in the capitol," is the sub-caption under the 1861 version of the bird. The line is from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act II, Scene II, where Polonius boasts of his youthful theatrics: "I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i'the capitol; Brutus killed me." As it happens, Buchanan's successor liked to quote the Bard, especially these eerily prescient lines from Macbeth: "Duncan is in his grave; After life's fitful fever he sleeps well; Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison, Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing Can touch him further."