Changing Horses

On one level this painting shows a stage stopping at a country village for a change of horses, but on another it alludes to the alterations in American society post-Civil War. In the center of the painting Edward Lamson Henry features an elegant Concord coach that has brought fashionable city folk to a rural town. In this way the scene demonstrates how the network of stage lines was causing urban lifestyles to impinge on old country ways.

Peripheral details in the work may refer to other kinds of changes in American life. The inclusion of blacks—a groom bringing fresh horses, a little girl shyly peeking out from behind a tree—is a reminder of their altered political position post-Civil War. The poster on the foreground tree reading “Grand Democratic Rally…Victory,” undoubtedly pertaining to the 1880 election, may be an indirect reference to the extension of the franchise to blacks resulting from the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870.

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