Partisan Paintings: George Caleb Bingham and the Election of 1844
American expansionism was a central issue in the 1844 presidential election, the Democratic Party supporting the annexation of Texas and the Whigs adopting an anti-expansion platform. Surprisingly, dark-horse Democratic nominee James K. Polk defeated Whig frontrunner Henry Clay to become the 11th U.S. president.
Missouri artist and politician George Caleb Bingham, a Clay supporter, feared Polk’s expansionist ambitions and pro-war policies. Art historian Joan Stack explores how his two 1845 paintings, The Concealed Enemy and Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, may have reflected that anxiety as Polk was beginning his first year in office.
Stack has served as curator of art collections at the State Historical Society of Missouri since 2006, focusing her study on Bingham, Thomas Hart Benton, and art in the popular culture.