Could Be Worse; Could Be a Jay-Bird


Fight between the Kentucky coon & the Tennessee alligator


Written for the National Clay Minstrel.

Tune, — “Dandy Jim of Caroline.

A race, a race! And who will win?
Who will be out? who will be in?
Trot out your nags! we’ll see who’ll take
From all, the Presidential stake.
The people say, they’ll go for Clay,
The true heart’s hope, the country’s stay;
So raise the shout, and clear the way,
For work and worth and Harry Clay!

First Tyler comes the boon to crave;
A laugh and hiss meet the traitor knave.
He lowers his nose and sneaks away;
For he dares not face old Harry Clay,
For the people say, &c.

Next sneaking in, Grimalkin Van,
Purrs low, and thinks “I will if I can,”
But we whipp’d him once — Lord, how he ran!
Hang up your fiddle — you’re not the man.
For the people say, &c.

Then comes Calhoun, now right, now wrong;
Though six feet two, he’s “nothing long.”
But short or tall he’ll be no higher.
We’ll nullify, the nullifier!
For the people &c.

There’s Old Tecumseh: he won’t do.
While he loves black, he will get blue;
And taking a wife, so weak his sight,
Poor man! he didn’t know black from white.
So the people say, &c.

Buchanan comes. A shilling a day!
Work Locos! How d’ye like your pay?
Old Conestoga’s stall’d, they say,
He’s sticking in Kentucky Clay.
For the people say, &c.

Now hobbles in old Madam Cass;
She’s not what she was, alas! alas!
She might be a pet of the frog-eater’s king,
Where the people rule she’s not the thing.
For the people, &c.

Then Clay, with a lion port strides by.
And shouts of thunder cleave the sky;
The pure, the bright, the tried and true,
The laurel wreath belongs to you.
For the people say, &c.


Henry Clay was the Whig candidate in 1844.

Possible Democratic candidates are named.  The first, though, Tyler, wasn’t a Democrat at all.  He was a Whig, and president (after the death of Old Tippecanoe).   “Lowers his nose” — John Tyler had a large nose.  The Whigs supposed Tyler would run as a Democrat after he was thrown out of the Whig party … but he didn’t.

“Grimalkin Van” is Martin Van Buren, here described as a cat rather than the more common fox. Van Buren had been president in 1836-1840. Van Buren ran again in 1840, and was beaten by Harrison.

John C. Calhoun, Senator from South Carolina, was a central figure in the Nullification Crisis.  (That was, the belief that the states could “nullify” Federal laws inside their own borders.)  President Jackson had been on the point of ordering Federal troops to South Carolina, and hanging Calhoun for treason, before Clay came up with one of his astounding compromises (which served to kick the Civil War can down the road for another thirty years).  “Nothing long” is part of the expression, “everything by turns and nothing long,” describing someone who never masters an art before moving on.  In modern terms, a flip-flopper.

“Old Tecumseh” is Richard M. Johnson, whose claim to fame was shooting Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812.  The things about “loves black” and “didn’t know black from white” refer to his black wife.  (At least he referred to her as his wife, and treated her as a wife; he couldn’t legally marry her since she was black.  Also, his property.  Literally.)

Buchanan, AKA “Ten Cent Jimmy” had unfortunately once said that ten cents a day was a reasonable wage for a working man, and the Whigs never let him forget it.  The “Locos” are the radical Democrats.  The Conestoga Pike was a road in Pennsylvania; Buchanan was a Pennsylvanian. The Conestoga wagon, a heavy cargo-hauler, named for the area in Pennsylvania where it had been developed, had been around for over a hundred years by the time of this song.

“Old Madam Cass” was Lewis Cass, age 62.   He had served in a variety of government posts, both civilian and military, over his long career.  The “pet of the frog-eater’s king” refers to his role in the early 1840s as US Ambassador to France.

This song is in praise of Henry Clay, of Kentucky, the Whig candidate.

Tomorrow: Gallant Young Whigs

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