Brand New Song, Same Old Tune

Political Cartoon 1840
Modern Medicine

TUNE— “Old Rosin the Bow

The story we’ll tell you’s surprisin,’
But then you will find it no joke;
The Locos who wish’d to take poison,
Have determined at last to take (poke) Polk,
Have determined, &c.

The most of them swallow’d Van Buren,
But found him too little to choke —
Large doses of Cass they did pour in.
But found it all ended in smoke.
But found, &c.

Some took a few bottles of Stewart,
Which made the majority croak:
They said that his friends should be skewer’d,
Or else — take a full dose of Polk,
Or else, &c.

A few wished to take “Indian physic,*’
And at old “Blue Dick” they did pull;
But most of them soon got the phthisic
In trying to swallow the wool.
In trying, &c.

For Buchanan they then made a Dodge,
And thought it was quite a bold stroke,
But the mass of them call’d it all fudge,
And said they’d be forced to take Polk,
And said, &c.

Then the South brought a box of Calhoun,
And thought that all charms they had broke;
But the West let them know pretty soon,
That they were all bound to take Polk.
That they, &c.

The lads from the Keystone were callous,
And proof against taking Polk tea;
And though it is sweeten’d with Dallas,
They still have a will to be free.
They still, &c.

Though Polk-tea some think is rank poison,
We’ll stop its effects in a day— –
Its antidote is Frelinghuysen,
When taken in doses with Clay,
When taken, &c.

But the Whigs know the season for greens,
For this year has passed quite away;
We’ll soon show the Locos we’ve means
To put their Polk under the Clay.


The “Locos” are the Locofocos, i.e. Democrats.  By “at last to take Polk” we’re meant to understand that Polk won on the 9th ballot at the Democratic convention.  (To make it clear that they’re punning on the (poisonous) polk-weed, we get (poke) in parenthesis.) Poke weed induces nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.  It can be fatal.

Martin Van Buren came to the convention with the most delegates.  He was too little … and also very short.

Cass is General Lewis Cass, another of the contenders at the convention (this entire song is about the candidates at the Democratic convention).  To “end in smoke” is a term from muzzle-loading firearms.  It’s a misfire, a flash-in-the-pan.  Figuratively it means that an enterprise came to nothing.

Commodore Charles Stewart was another Democratic candidate at the convention.  As captain of USS Constitution during the War of 1812, he captured HSM Cyane and HMS Levant simultaneously.   (At the conclusion of the battle, after both British ships had struck,  Stewart had the two British captains for supper in his cabin.  The two men fell to arguing over which of them was responsible for losing the battle.  After listening for a while, Steward said, “Gentlemen, if you wish, I can put you back on your ships and you may try again.”) Stewart got just a single vote on each of the first and second ballots before dropping out of the race.

“Indian physic” is a plant (Gillenia trifoliata) also known as “American ipecac.”  It is an emetic.

“Blue Dick” refers to Richard Johnson, another candidate.   “Phthisic” means of or  pertaining to a wasting disease, e.g. consumption.   Swallowing the wool (with it’s wink wink nudge nudge italics) doubtless is a racial slur against Johnson’s wife, who was African-American. (She’d died of cholera over ten years before, but hey, let’s not forget).

Jame Buchanan, another candidate (and future president in 1856), hung in through the seventh ballot. Dodge was Augustus Caesar Dodge, the representative from Iowa Territory, who favored a strong Western Oregon position.

Calhoun was John  C. Calhoun of South Carolina (frequently seen in political cartoons carrying the manacles of slavery).

The Keystone is the Keystone State, Pennsylvania.  Dallas was George Dallas, Polk’s running mate, a native of Pennsylvania.

Polk-tea actually is a poison, causing (among other things)  diarrhea.  But diarrhea can in fact be stopped by taking a slurry of fine clay (that’s one of the original active ingredients in Kaopectate).

Putting Polk under the Clay is burying him.

The Whigs weren’t the only ones singing:

The Little Western, Volume 3, Number 24,Noblesville, Hamilton County, 22 June 1844

POLK SONG — from the Hoosier.
Tune — ‘Old Dan Tucker.’

The whigs they say it’s all a joke,
To nominate that James K. Polk;
But Harry Clay and Frelinghuysen,
Will find that Polk to them is pisen:
So get out of de way, the people’s risen,
Down with Clay and Frelinghuysen.

The coons have got upon the course,
Their ‘western nag’–their great crack horse,
But just a sure as there’s day-light
We’ll Polk that horse clear out of sight.
So, get out de way, &c.

They swear that Clay shall not be beat
But in the ‘White house’ take his seat;
In ’44 when come the fight,
They’ll find that koon ‘kan’t kum it kwite,’
So, get out de way, &c.

We’ve dropt our Mat of Kinderhook,
And Polk we know just like a book,
So go it coons, then climb a tree,
And ‘clear the track for Tennessee.’
Get out de way, &c.

Now Democrats will very soon
Catch and skin that ‘same old coon,’
Althou’ to truth he’s grown quite callous
We’ll give him goss with Polk and Dallas;
So get out de way, the people’s risen,
Down with Clay and Frelinghuysen.


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