A Comic History of the United States

by Livingston Hopkins

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We have always from childhood’s hour instinctively recoiled from politics, and have thus far managed to keep out of Congress. If with equal success we can manage to keep out of jail for the rest of our natural existence we shall feel that life has not altogether been a failure. (This is what is called genuine broad American humor. If the reader can find nothing in it to excite his risibilities after a reasonable trial his money will be refunded.)

When it first reached the ears of the present Administration through the Librarian of Congress, to whom we applied for a copyright, that we were about to publish a history of our native land, we received per return mail a letter signed by the Administration, asking us if we would accept the appointment of U. S. Minister to the South Sea Islands. This office had just been made vacant by the circumstance of the last incumbent having participated in a public banquet given in honor of his arrival at his consulate, and being himself the principal ingredient of a certain savory ragout, his presence there, it would seem, proved fatal, and it was his place which we were invited to supply.

We returned a somewhat evasive answer.

We never voted but once in our life, and that was at a presidential election soon after reaching our majority. We voted for ——, but no matter. To offend party prejudice at this time might be fatal to our hopes. The day after the election we received a bill of two dollars for “poll-tax,” which the collector said we owed and we had better pay or have our body lodged in the county jail until we should call for it, and settle up what was due on it to the State. The unprincipled man had obtained our address from the registry books, and this our first ebullition of patriotism cost us two dollars.

However much inclined we may be by nature and experience to avoid the subject of politics as a rule, it now becomes our duty to make mention of certain exponents of American politics, but whether to their advantage 149or disadvantage will depend entirely upon the record they have left behind them.

We take it for granted, (you may have noticed that a great deal is taken for granted in this book,) that the reader is already acquainted with the duties of the President of the United States. If not, let him lose no time in reading up on the subject, for we are all liable at any moment to be nominated to the office, and it would be dreadfully mortifying not to know how to go to work.

We have seen in the preceding chapters how liberty was planted on American soil, but the crop must be watched and taken care of, and for this duty the office of President was created. Eighteen different persons have successively undertaken the 150contract of guarding the crop sown by our forefathers, and in one or two incidents, we regret to say, these have turned out to be mere scarecrows, and sorry ones at that.

This scathing remark is not intended to apply to

George Washington,

who, as we have already shown, was the first President of the United States, and who did as well as could be expected for a first attempt. In fact, George did well whatever he undertook to do, and we have no complaint to make in these pages against him.

On page 151 will be found some illustrated particulars concerning this great man’s life, which our readers, young and old, will do well to imitate. The series of silhouettes at the top of the page treat of the Story of the Little Hatchet.

No. 1. Here we see the Grandfather of his Country climbing a cherry tree after cherries.

No. 2. His little son (afterwards Father of his Country) is here seen chopping at said tree with his little hatchet.

No. 3. How should he know that the old man was up said tree, and if so, what business had he up there anyhow?

No. 4. “I’ll let you know,” is what the old gentleman remarked. “I did it with my little hatchet,” roared George as well as he could from his embarrassing position, “but I’ll never do so no more!”

Advice gratis. When you chop down cherry trees wait until the old man goes out of town.

No. 5. Gives us a fine view of the site of 153Washington’s birthplace, and shows what an enterprising man Dr. Binks is.

No. 6. The crop of persons who have missed and otherwise remember Washington is pretty good this year.

No. 7. Here we have a party who does not remember Washington to any great extent. Thinks he has heard the name somewhere.

“O piteous spectacle!”

Washington’s immediate successor was

John Adams,

A Comic History of the United States, John Adams

who was inaugurated March 4, 1797. He displayed superior capacity for the position by removing the national capital from Philadelphia to Washington, where it has remained ever since. It was a good riddance for Philadelphia, but rather severe on Washington.

Mr. Adams only served one term. He was naturally a little piqued at not being nominated the second time, and retiring to Quincy, Mass., he started an opposition post office, where he passed his declining years.

A Comic History of the United States, Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

was the third President of the United States. He was a gentleman of fine literary attainments, his most popular works being the Declaration of Independence and a humorous poem called “Beautiful Snow.” He wrote the latter during the winter of 1798, (which was the most severe of any within the memory of the oldest inhabitant,) working on it of nights. He served two terms, and in the Spring of 1809 went to work on a farm, where he spent the sunset of his days cultivating potatoes. He said it was easier than being President, and a great deal more respectable.

James Madison

next took charge of the helm of State, and very unsettled weather he found it for a new beginner.

During his Administration the country became involved in another war with Great Britain, growing out of certain liberties taken by the latter with American vessels upon the high seas.

Whenever an English man-of-war ran short of hands its commander simply helped himself from the crew of any American merchantman he happened to encounter. James Madison stood it as long as he could, and then declared war. This was called 158the “War of Twelve,” (afterwards increased to several thousand,) and lasted two years.

Commodore Perry met the enemy on the Erie canal on the 10th of September, 1814, and after a spirited naval battle they were his property.

James Monroe woke up one fine morning in 1817 and found himself President of the United States. He set his wits to work and invented the “Monroe Doctrine,” a neat and ingenious contrivance for preventing any foreign Power from starting branch houses in America. He got it patented.

A Comic History of the United States, Erie Canal, Monroe

A Comic History of the United States, The Monroe Doctrine

The monroe doctrine

Mr. Monroe declined a third term on account of the cry of “Cæsarism” having been raised by a rural journal. On retiring 161from public life Mr. Monroe entered upon literary pursuits, and wrote some very able dime novels. His master-piece, called “The Poisoned Peanut, or the Ghostly Goblin of the Gory Glen,” has been translated into every language.

John Quincy Adams,

of Massachusetts, next tried on the presidential shoes (1825). Business being dull, Mr. Adams whitewashed the Presidential Mansion, (a barrel of lime having been appropriated by Congress,) since which time it has been known as the White House.

Mr. Adams conducted himself in a gentlemanly manner, kept good hours, and paid his board regularly.

A Comic History of the United States, John Adams

Andrew Jackson

was next called to the chair. Mr. Jackson lived chiefly upon hickory nuts, and it was in recognition of this well-known fact that he was affectionately nicknamed “Old Hickory” by his admirers.

He sometimes made use of very forcible language, and on more than one occasion was distinctly heard to swear, “by the eternal Jingo, the Constitution must and shall be preserved!”

Mr. Jackson had been elected on the Democratic ticket.

In our illustration Mr. Jackson is seen climbing a shell-bark hickory tree in quest of his favorite luxury. The portrait is striking. The shirt collar especially will be recognized by all who held office under this remarkable man.

Martin Van Buren

was inaugurated March 4, 1837. A financial crash, called the panic of ’37, immediately followed, so it is to be feared that Martin was a bad financier. If we had been elected in his stead we would have adopted an entirely different financial policy.

The disastrous results of Van Buren’s Administration are painfully apparent in the illustration on page 166.


William Henry Harrison moved into the White House March 4, 1841. He died just one month after, and Vice-President John Tyler stepped into his shoes. He put his foot in it, however, and astonished the party who had elected him (the Whigs) by his vetoing talents. He rather overdid it in the case of a bill passed by Congress 166to establish United States banks, and every member of his Cabinet resigned excepting Dan. Webster, who was then too busily engaged on his dictionary to think of making out a resignation.

President Tyler was a handsome man but a bad manager.

James K. Polk

was elected on the Democratic ticket, by a large majority, in 1844, and managed to get into a row with Mexico by admitting Texas into the Union soon after his accession to the chair. Mexico set up a frivolous claim to the territory, which, owing to the prompt measures adopted by Mr. Polk, she was unable to establish.



The war which followed between the United States and Mexico was short but 169sanguinary, as the reader will admit on reference to our illustration, which, aside from its historical value, gives those of us who have never served our country an excellent opportunity of seeing how a battle is conducted without incurring any unnecessary risk. Whoever can look upon this fearful scene of carnage without having the cold chills run down his back must be stony hearted indeed. We would not like to board in the same block with such a person. Even as we write we fancy we can smell the sulphuric vapors of burning powder, but that after all may be only the German restaurant below getting dinner ready.

With the exception of certain little eccentricities of character, (hardly worth mentioning,) Mr. Polk proved a very 170desirable tenant of the White House, and on retiring left it in good repair.


Zachary Taylor took the White House off Mr. Polk’s hands, but only survived six months.

Vice-President Millard Fillmore succeeded him, and having by accident discovered that there was a good deal of gold secreted about California, recognized the importance of admitting her into the Union lest some foreign Power should take it into its head to carry off the rich territory some dark night. There was special danger to be apprehended from China, which had already begun to make excavations from below. President Fillmore lost no time in taking California in, and many ambitious young gentlemen of culture went there and grew 172up with the country. In the work of art on page 172, we behold one of the latter journeying toward the setting sun, accompanied by as many of the luxuries of civilization as his limited means of transportation will admit of.

There seem to be one or two incongruities in this otherwise master-piece which we are at a loss how to reconcile with known laws of science. We allude more particularly to the phenomenon of the sun and moon shining simultaneously. But for the artist’s usual respectful way of treating serious subjects we should be inclined to suspect that he was trifling with our feelings. The worst of it is, the paradox escaped our notice until after the plates had been cast. We hope our artist will be able to explain it away on his return from Rome.

James Buchanan

next undertook to fill the vacancy. Nature abhors a vacuum, and generally fills it with wind if it can do no better. Republics sometimes imitate her example, and the election of Mr. Buchanan was a case in point. He was chronically afflicted with “squatter sovereignty,” and spent most of his time in trying to comprehend American politics.

During Buchanan’s Administration John Brown and Sons undertook the contract of exterminating slavery, and as an initial step seized and burned the United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. But the firm failed before the job was half completed.

Mr. Brown’s body now lies mouldering in the grave, but it is due to him to state that his soul goes marching on.

On a previous page will be found John Brown’s soul in the act of marching. Our artist was unable to obtain a very exact sketch as it was getting quite dark.


Abraham Lincoln was next voted into the chair, which reminds us of a little anecdote.

Some years ago an Erie canal boat was weighing anchor in the harbor of New York preparatory to setting sail for Buffalo, when the Captain was hailed by a weary wayfarer, who said he wanted to go to Buffalo, and having no money was willing to work his passage. The heart of the old salt was touched; a tear stole down his weather-beaten cheek, and he allowed the poor man to lead one of the mules on the tow-path all the way to Buffalo.


Abraham Lincoln was willing to work his passage. He earned every cent of his salary, and rendered services to humanity which humanity will not soon forget. Soon after his inauguration, in 1861, the Southern rebellion broke out, which was eventually put down by the “hundred days’ men.” On page 179 will be found some cheerful particulars of the war between the North and South, the more somber details of which we leave to other and abler pens and pencils.

A Comic History of the United States, Bull Run




Capture of Jeff Davis.

180Vice-President Andrew Johnson succeeded Mr. Lincoln, with somewhat doubtful success. As Mr. Johnson was a tailor by education he seemed to be the man of all others cut out for the place; but his subsequent conduct gave rise to conflicting opinions on this subject. He became the unfortunate proprietor of a “policy”[4] which gave Congress a good deal of trouble. Near the expiration of his official career he got a leave of absence, and “swung around the circle,” (as he himself expressed it,) making speeches in which he compared himself to Andrew Jackson and seriously compromised himself by shamelessly admitting that he had held every office in the gift of the people, from Alderman of his native village to President of the United States.

4. Note.—We have tried in vain to procure a ground plan of this “policy,” hence we are unable to furnish any illustration to this branch of our subject.

During Mr. Johnson’s Administration he had more woes on account of Congress

“Than wars or women have.”

Mr. Johnson would gladly have dispensed 181with Congress. Indeed, on one occasion he made an attempt to impeach that body, but failed by one vote.

Andy was very glad indeed at the expiration of his term to get back to his goose. As far as Congress was concerned the pleasure was mutual.

Ulysses S. Grant

was put under bonds to keep the peace March 4, 1869, and has been that way ever since. It is but justice to Mr. Grant to state that we have had good crops during his Administration, which is now drawing to a close. The New York Herald has offered him a third term, but we have information derived from private sources that he intends fulfilling a life-long project of taking a partnership on the Sun, which Mr. Dana has kept open for him.

At the present writing it has not been decided who will succeed Grant in the Executive chair. We cannot permit our name to be used in connection with the approaching canvass for reasons already explicitly stated; besides this is the Centennial year, and we expect to have our hands full.

We have now placed the reader in possession of all the facts worth knowing in connection with the history of America from its very earliest discovery up to ten o’clock last night; but before finally releasing his button-hole we beg to “show him round” a little among our peculiar institutions, and call his attention to a few evidences of national greatness which may never have struck him before.

Let us, then, turn over a new leaf and open a new chapter.


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