George Caleb Bingham’s 1849 genre painting Country Politician depicts four people, in a house or perhaps a shop where three men are having a conversation. The man on the right-hand side of the frame is a campaigning politician. The man in the middle appears to be a businessman or other higher member of society and the man sitting down on the left is the prospective voter the pollination is appealing to.
Country Politician takes place in the US Territories, in Missouri. The US Territories have not yet joined the Union, only 75 years have passed since the Revolutionary War was won and a decade earlier the US won the Mexican American War. A key political topic from this period was the Wilmot Proviso which was a proposal to prohibit slavery in any new territory acquired by the United States – in this specific case the new Mexican states – parts or all of what is now Texas, California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming.
The subject’s painter George Caleb Bingham was a politician himself. He was the Missouri state representative for the Whig Party, an American political party that was strongly against territorial expansion. Bingham painted a number of genre paintings about politics during his lifetime.
The only man standing in this picture, not paying much attention to the conversation occurring next to him, stares at a poster for an upcoming circus – a clear deliberate analogy for the political circus taking place before him.
George Caleb Bingham’s Country Politician can be found in the de Young Museum in San Francisco, United States.