"No higher law" (New York, ca. 1850): cartoon, ca. 1850.

This stunning political cartoon, inspired by the debate over the Fugitive Slave bill in early 1850, satirizes Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, who in a famous speech vowed "to support that bill . . . to the fullest extent."

The cartoon depicts Webster holding his speech and appealing to the "Moloch of slavery." Moloch was the Canaanite idol to whom children were sacrificed as burnt offerings. He is perched on a throne supported by skulls, and wears a crown made from the fingers of slaves sacrificed as burnt offerings. At his feet are more slaves waiting to be sacrificed.

For antislavery Bostonians, the children of Israel in America had vowed to fulfill "the laws of nature and of nature's God." But Webster's speech repudiates this appeal to "higher law." The result is national declension. Behind Webster stands America's dethroned "God of Liberty," holding the crown of freedom in one hand, and a lowered liberty pole in the other. In the background, the goddess of liberty is falling.

bMS Am 1953 (1613) – Gift of Crawford Blagden, 1978.