Matthew Darly satirizes the 1778 British peace commission to Congress

M[atthew] Darly, THE COMMSIONERS [sic] interview with CONGRESS. London: M. Darly, April 1, 1778.
Etching on laid paper, 8 7/16”h x 12 5/8”w at neat line plus title and margins, uncolored.

A scathing Matthew Darly satire of the peace commission sent by Great Britain in the Spring of 1778 to patch things up with the American Colonies.

Shocked by the loss of Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga in October 1777 and by the conclusion of a Franco-American alliance in February 1778, British Prime Minister Lord North sent a high-level commission headed by the Earl of Carlisle to make a final attempt at a peace agreement with its colonies. In support of the commission Parliament repealed all colonial laws passed since 1763 but opposed by the Colonies, and empowered the commissioners to offer home rule. If offered in 1775, these terms might well have precluded the rebellion, but, bolstered by military successes and news of the French treaty, Congress refused to accept anything short of full independence and essentially ignored the commission.

Offered here is the second of four satires on the episode published by London printsellers and caricaturists Mary and Matthew Darly (though for some reason all the sources credit Matthew for this print). The first, titled simply The Commissioners, depicts them as supplicants to America (in the guise of an Indian) and enumerates the colonists’ many grievances against the mother country. In error, it includes the brothers Howe, Admiral Richard and General William, who in fact refused to join the commission.

The second satire, offered here, bears the title The Commsioners [sic] interview with Congress but no other text and is a much more puzzling work. Fortunately it has been ably described by Dolmetsch:

“Perhaps to correct the mistake made in [The Commissioners] the Darly shop issued a second satire commenting on the three commissioners’ visit to the colonies. The English group—Lord Carlisle, Ede, and [former Florida] Governor Johnstone—are pictured in foppish garments, alluding to the general opinion that they were not capable of coping with such negotiations. They are accompanied by Lord Bute in his Scottish attire. Although he was out of the government and did not go to America, it was believed that he still controlled much of the policy of the leaders. The three American congressional members are portrayed as peasants with blunt features and dressed in odd fur-trimmed gowns and hats reminiscent of the liberty cap. They appear to be dictating the terms of the settlement.


“Darly’s inspiration for the design may have derived from a speech delivered by the duke of Richmond following reports that one member of the colonial congress had worn such a woollen cap during a council session. The duke decried the necessity that required British noblemen of European manner and polish to negotiate with such peasants.” (Dolmetsch, Rebellion and Reconciliation, p. 98)

In May 1778 the Darlys issued two other satires taking aim at the Commission, both being rebuses and titled [Britannia toe] Amer[eye]ca, and [America toe] her [Miss]taken [Moth]er.

This print is rare: COPAC gives no holdings; OCLC gives impressions only at the Clements, Getty, and Library of Congress; and I find other examples only at the American Philosophical Society, British Museum and New York Public Library. Rare Book Hub lists only two impressions as having appeared on the antiquarian market—or perhaps the same impression twice–offered by Maggs in the 1920s. Oddly, of all the references cited, only Dolmetsch catches the mis-spelling of “Commissioners” in the title.

British Museum, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, #5474. Cresswell, American Revolution in Drawings and Prints, #729 (not illustrated). Dolemetsch, Rebellion and Reconciliation, #43. OCLC #60852853 (3 institutional holdings as of February 2018).


About very good, with minor soiling and a bit of dog-earing to upper-left corner.