As a congressman, Howell Cobb (1815 - 1865) had supported the Presidential campaign of James Buchanan, and the victorious Buchanan appointed him Secretary of the Treasury in 1857. Like his predecessor Secretary James Guthrie, Cobb felt that the accumulating surplus in the Treasury vaults was causing stringency in the money market. To relieve this, he introduced surplus funds into circulation by buying back government bonds from commercial banks, which had purchased them as investments.
Sec. Howell Cobb
Harry Franklin Waltman
Oil on canvas
66 1/4 x 56 1/2 x 3 1/2"
When a panic hit in 1857, the Treasury was in the embarrassing situation of having empty coffers, and it had to rely for the first time on commercial banks to buy federal bonds and relieve the crisis. The crisis had passed by 1858, but recovery had not yet set in when the threat of secession of the Southern states caused another business disturbance. Customs receipts began falling off as the Southern states refused to cooperate in the collection of duties, and the deficit grew. Cobb recommended higher tariffs in order to raise much needed revenue but Congress ignored his suggestions. It was not until 1860, Cobb's last year in office, that Congress passed a bill to raise revenue through higher tariffs. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Cobb, a Southerner, believing that this justified secession, resigned from the Cabinet urging his native state of Georgia to leave the Union.
About the Artist
Born in rural Ohio in 1871, Harry Franklin Waltman (1871 - 1951) made his way to Washington, D.C to study at the Corcoran School of Art and later to Paris where he painted at the Academie Julian under Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurens. He worked as a portrait painter in England and the United States and his sitters included John Philip Sousa and Senator Joseph Cannon. Waltman won several prestigious awards, among them the Isido Prize, and was elected a member of the National Academy of Design, the Allied Artists Association and the National Arts Club. In his later years, Waltman joined the artistic community at Dover Plains, New York where he became interested in landscape painting His portrait of Howell Cobb was painted from a pre-Civil War Matthew Brady photograph.