In center, throned figure (Slavery) leaning against a table of four skulls supporting a closed Bible covered with a scroll titled, "Fugitive Slave Bill"; figure is wearing a crown of finger bones, holding whip up in air with right hand, left hand bent supporting head, two guns tucked into belt of robe. In front of central figure (allegorical wild beast) appears as an altar decorated with a cat's head, rosettes, urns, two crossed rifles, and flanked by knives with flames at top; labeled, "SACRED TO SLAVERY / LAW".Three crouching slaves and a man (Daniel Webster) standing on the right looking at viewer, holding a scroll of paper that reads: "I propose to support that / bill...to the fullest extent -to / the fullest extent." To the far right, profiled male figure (Liberty) with long hair and beard, hunched over, holding a crown in his right hand that reads "FREEDOM", and in his left a liberty pole and cap. Figure to left is robed figure (religious minister) arguing at central throned figure; left hand pointing toward flag; right hand pouring incense on the fire. Left middle ground, bare-chested (fugitive) slave fights pack of dogs spurred on by two horse and riders. In background, slave family flees into open arms of white family on left; on right toppling statue (Goddess of Liberty) on hill.
While Daniel Webster looks at the viewer with his declaration of support for the act, "Freedom" (looking kind of like an Orthodox priest?) is taking off his crown and his Liberty cap (a French Revolution reference) is hanging at the end of its pole (is it glued on?).
The representation of Slavery as a Zeus-like Olympian brings to mind the Zeus of Promethean reception, maybe here we see the influence of Goethe or Shelley or some other Romantic version inspired by [Aeschylus] where Zeus is tyrannical and the tone misotheistic?
There is a lot to say about such a positioning of Zeus and the Romantic idealisms that influenced and inspired ideas of Freedom (Liberty) and American Slavery--how does the Romantic impulse interact with the supposed Enlightenment ideals of the Constitution? Does the image seek to make clear that those supposedly natural rights and ideas that kept Black Americans enslaved and ineligible for Freedom were in fact fits of temper and tyranny? I keep coming back to Prof. Danielle Allen's "Our Declaration", in which she argues that the ideas of liberty and equality are not in opposition and that they were intended in the Declaration to be mutually supportive--there is no "Separate, but Equal," an argument made by Southern enslavers to prop up first, enslavement, and then Jim Crow. To quote from Steven B. Smith's 2014 NYTimes article on Allen's reading:
"Separate and equal implies mutual respect and reciprocity; separate but equal, hierarchy and domination. To paraphrase the great Dinah Washington, what a difference a word makes!"