“Specie Claws,” New York: Printed & pub. by H. R. Robinson, 1838.
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A melodramatic portrayal of the plight of the tradesman during the Panic of 1837, whose financial distress the artist ascribes to Loco Foco politics and the effects of the Specie Circular, or "Specie Clause." Though a product of the Jackson administration, the measure was also associated with the monetary progam of Jackson successor and protege Martin Van Buren. Designed to curb inflationary speculation, the circular stipulated that only specie (i.e., gold or silver) be accepted as payment for federal lands. Radical Democrats, or "Loco Focos," of New York supported Van Buren's anti-Bank fiscal policies. The panic depressed the economy for several years, and caused widespread unemployment. A despondent tradesman, or mechanic, sits at a table in his humble dwelling, a copy of radical Democratic newspaper the "New Era" on his lap. On the wall behind him are prints of Jackson and Van Buren. Strewn at his feet are his tools, and his toolbox is empty but for "Loco Foco Pledges." He laments, "I have no money, and cannot get any work." Beside him are his wife and children. His wife, holding an infant, says, "My dear, cannot you contrive to get some food for the children? I don't care for myself." The children speak: "I'm so hungry," "I say Father, can't you get some "Specie Claws?" and "Father can't I have a piece of bread?" The landlord's agents appear at the door with a warrant of "Distraint for Rent." One says, "I say Sam, I wonder where we are to get our Costs." Weitenkampf tentatively dates the cartoon 1838.

Credit: Library of Congress

The Depression of 1837, like other economic downswings in the 1800s, had a devastating impact on many working class families. In this popular lithograph, the artist blames the plight of an out-of-work tradesman and his family on the financial policies of President Martin Van Buren.

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