Political cartoon from 1844
Balloon ascension to the presidential chair


Tune— “Old Dan Tucker

Calhoun, Buchanan, Johnson, Cass,
The Locos say, may go to grass;
And so they give us Polk and Dallas,
A ticket which cannot appall us.

Hurrah! for Clay and Frelinghuysen,
Hurrah! for Clay and Frelinghuysen,
Hurrah! for Clay and Frelinghuysen,
The day’s our own, past all surmisin’.

Their own true friends they would dishearten.
And clipt the wings of poor old Martin;
To calls of “justice” they prove callous,
And victimized poor Polk and Dallas,

Hurrah! for Clay and Frelinghuysen &c.

The People say ’tis not surprisin’
We go for Clay and Frelinghuysen:
The Ship of State needs no such ballast
As James K. Polk and George M. Dallas.

Hurrah! for Clay and Frelinghuysen &c.

The Locos swore they’d have no Mats,
And fought like the Kilkenny Cats;
Two tails were left! whose were they? tell us.
Why James K. Polk, and George M. Dallas!

Hurrah! for Clay and Frelinghuysen &c.

“Calhoun, Buchanan, Johnson, Cass” were John C. Calhoun, James Buchanan, Richard M. Johnson, and Lewis Cass, four of the candidates standing for nomination at the Democratic convention in Baltimore in 1844.    To “go to grass” was to be put out to pasture; the retirement for horses that could no longer serve.  (At least they weren’t sent to the glue works….)   By the eighth ballot the field had been narrowed, and “dark horse” candidate James K. Polk emerged; on the ninth ballot Polk defeated Cass (the only other candidate still in contention).

The “Locos” are the locofocos, a derisive name given to a splinter group of radical Democrats, that the Whigs used to describe the entire Democratic party.  More formally the locofocos were the Equal Rights Party, and had been resorbed back into the mainstream Democratic party.

Martin, whose wings were clipt, was Martin Van Buren, former president of the US, who had come to the convention with more delegates than anyone.  Pre-convention, the  opinion of the day was that the Democrats would nominate either Van Buren or Calhoun.  Alas, under the two-thirds rule, where a candidate had to get the votes of two-thirds of the delegates in order to be nominated, neither of those gentlemen could prevail, and both saw their support ebbing.

Van Buren had been one of the architects of the two party system.

George M. Dallas, of Philadelphia, was selected as Polk’s running mate, an anti-slavery northerner to balance the slave-holding southerner Polk.  (Dallas wasn’t the first to be offered the honor; Silas Wright was selected first, but declined the nomination in order to run for Governor of New York.)

“Mat” is Martin Van Buren (the fox in the cartoon above).

The Kilkenny Cats are from this folk-rhyme:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny,
Each thought there was one cat too many,
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats, there weren’t any.

The reference was to the contentious Democratic convention, which left Polk as candidate for president and Dallas (after Wright had refused the honor) as his vice-president.  Polk and Dallas are the remaining scraps.

Tomorrow:  The Blue Hen’s Chickens (to the tune of, once again, Old Dan Tucker).

2 thoughts on “KILKENNY CATS.

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