Thomas Cole's the Course of Empire Series represents the newly developed country of America's idea of being a "New Rome" as the Federalists called it. Cole wanted to depict the stages of which an idealized society is formed, from its natural beginnings, to the introduction of man and finally the destruction and turmoil that man causes. The main focus of the collection artworks is the landscape. In each piece the landscape remains the same, enduring the advances as well as the damages inflicted upon it by man. .
In the painting The Savage State, the first in the series, depicts nature at its best, inhabited by only a few natives, living from the earth, not building upon it. The second painting The Arcadian or Pastoral State, indicates a change in the society itself. The first painting depicts a native hunting and gathering, not necessarily a "Native American", Cole did not want to center his painting on the idea that this scenario could only happen in America. The second painting however, depicts the raising of cattle and crop, indicating a more permanent way of life, hence a more permanent settlement. Another factor leading us to believe that is a permanent settlement is the amount of building and architecture upon the land, as well as the technology, found in the building of a long boat on the shores of this colony, and the incorporation of the arts in the form of flute playing and dancing. Cole believes this to be the idyllic state, when all human activity is in tune with nature. However, this state of harmony and intertwining with the earth cannot last. In the third painting, Consumption, Cole's landscape is burdened with luxurious architecture and glorified people, no longer the agrarian society as seen in the last two paintings. The painting itself has also changed, Cole's use of earthy, down played tones of the Arcadian State have now become more luminous, almost gilded tones in Consumption, but "All that's gilded is not gold", Mark Twain.