A Folk Song? No, A Polk Song!

Political cartoon, 1848
Three Card Brag: The Knave Hand


Tune— “Old Dan Tucker

Ah, Matty Van’s a used up man,
And Lewis Cass he cannot pass,
And as for our old friend Tecumseh,
He’s lost amidst the “Rumsey Dumsey.”
Hurrah, hurrah, the Nation’s risin’
For Harry Clay and Frelinghuysen.

There’s Stewart he can’t run at all,
And Buck’ kept quiet in his stall,
The Loco’s are uncertain folk,
They’ve knock’d all down, and set up Polk.
Hurrah, hurrah, &c.

You’d better keep your Polk away,
Or we will cover him o’er with Clay,
The coons will never stop or baulk,
But eat up berries, Polk and stalk.
Hurrah, hurrah, &c.

And Wright was right at any rate.
To spurn a hook with such a bait.
For Vice with such a man as Polk,
E’en Silas thought too great a joke.

Hurrah, hurrah, &c.

The deed is done — did you not hear,
The discord ringing in your ear,
They could not give you men more callous,
Than James K. Polk, and George M. Dallas.
Hurrah, Hurrah, &c.


Matty Van, (Martin Van Buren) was a “used up man” in one of the more stirring election songs from 1840 (Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, to the tune of The Little Pig’s Tail): “Van, Van, Van is a used up man.”

General Lewis Cass had most recently been the US minister to France.  He had run for the Democratic nomination in 1844, but lost to Polk.

“Tecumseh” would have been Colonel Richard M. Johnson, who killed the Shawnee chief Tecumseh during the War of 1812.

Richard Emmons, MD, is little remembered now; specialists in early American literature may recall that Edgar Poe made a disparaging reference to him in “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.” as did Melville in “Hawthorne and His Mosses.”  Although Emmons’ works, including The Battle of Bunker Hill, Or, the Temple of Liberty: An Historic Poem in Four Cantoscan be found in full text online, as can  The Fredoniad : or, Independence preserved. An epick poem on the late War of 1812 (and  The National Jubilee, and Other Miscellaneous Poems,)  or his equally epic play, Tecumseh, or, The battle of the Thames: a national drama, in five acts, the poem for which Emmons should have become famous, containing the only line of his that anyone these days can quote from memory, is not apparently available on the Google-indexed web (though copies do occasionally come up for auction, generally being knocked down for about $75).  Yes, Emmons wrote the biography in verse of Richard M. Johnson that contained the classic lines, “Rumsey, dumsey, rumsey, dumsey, / Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.”

Henry Clay and Theodore Frelinghuysen were the Whig candidates in 1844.

Commodore Stewart, a hero of the War of 1812 (although his most famous victory of USS Constitution over HMS Cyane and HMS Levant, like General Jackson’s victory at New Orleans, took place after the peace treaty was signed), got one vote on each of the first and second ballots at the Democratic convention, and thereafter went back to the Navy.

Buck’ is James Buchanan; “Buck” was a popular name for a horse.

In Presidential Campaigns : From George Washington to George W. Bush by Paul F. Boller Jr. Professor of History Texas Christian University (Emeritus) we learn that the Locofocos opposed banks, paper currency, and monopolies, and supported equal rights.  We also learn that not only were they called “locofocos” (a disparaging term; they called themselves the Equal Rights Party), they were also called,  “Disorganizers, Intruders, Revolters, Rowdies, Odds and Ends, Sweepings and Remnants, Renegades, Pests, Noisy Brawlers, Political Nuisances, Carbonari, Infidels, Pledge Spouters, Resolution Mongers, Small Fry, Small Lights, Fireflies, Unclean Birds, Jack-o-Lanterns, Scum, Knaves, Cheats, Swindlers, and the Guy Fawkes of politics.”

The coons were the Whigs.  The coon was their symbolic animal.

Another disparaging comparison between Polk and the poisonous weed Poke Berries.

Silas Wright was the first person offered the vice-presidential slot on the Democratic ticket in 1844.  He turned it down in order to run for governor of New York.  George M. Dallas was the second choice.

Tomorrow:  HOW MANY CLAY MEN ARE THERE?  (To the tune, unsurprisingly, of Old Rosin the Bow.)

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