I think William W. Freehling exaggerates a bit for effect, but I really like his observation about John C. Calhoun:
About the illustration:
After the Civil War, careless commentators would claim that Calhoun's ghost led the South to war. Contemporaries knew better. Few claimed Calhoun's tradition during southern debates of the late 1850s. His last Senate speech and posthumously published masterpieces [his A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States and A Disquisition on Government] explain why. They reveal a man trapped in the 1830s.
About the illustration:
The artist employs Aesop's fable about the mountain which was said to be in labor, its dreadful groans attracting expectant crowds only to be disappointed when it issued forth a small mouse. Here the mountain is the "Volcano of Loco-Focoism" which spews "Repudiation" from its peak and sends out two mice, Martin Van Buren and John C. Calhoun, from its base. "Loco Foco," originally an appellation of a radical faction of New York Democrats, was by 1844 a pejorative label applied to the party in general. In "The Mountain in Labor" the artist seems to belittle Van Buren and Calhoun, the early front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination. Van Buren says, "Don't be afeard its only us!" and Calhoun expresses his anti-tariff stance with, "Free trade!" A crowd watches from the lower right, one of them declaring, "It's the old Kinderhook mouse and his nullifying crony!" Also witnessing the event is Henry Clay (left) who comments, "The mountains labor and bring forth ridiculous mice! Here's the trap that will catch them!" At his feet is a mouse trap "National Faith." In a nearby armchair sits President John Tyler, dressed in a uniform and holding a "Veto" sword. The uniform may be an allusion to his Jacksonian policies, or the mantle inherited from his popular predecessor, Gen. William Henry Harrison. Tyler, who acceded to the presidency on Harrison's death, earned his party's wrath by repeatedly vetoing Whig efforts to reestablish a national bank. Here he reflects his determination to retain the White House, saying, "Possession being nine points in the law I must head them [the mice] both off!" The cartoon was probably published in 1843 or early in 1844. It may have been issued around the time of the late-August 1843 New York City Democratic convention, at which both Van Buren and Calhoun showed considerable strength. It must in any event predate the May 1844 Democratic national convention. By that time the range of Democratic hopefuls had widened considerably and Calhoun, appointed Tyler's secretary of state in March, was no longer a likely nominee. Weitenkampf cites an impression of the print with an H. R. Robinson imprint.