William Charles War of 1812 cartoon: Bruin become Mediator

W[illia]m Charles del et Sculp, Bruin become MEDIATOR or Negociation for PEACE. [Philadelphia: William Charles], undated [but ca. 1813.]
Etching on wove paper, 9 ½”h x 13 ½”w at outer neat line plus good margins, uncolored. Very gently toned, bit of mat burn, short upper edge tear confined to margin, hinge and mount residue on verso. Withal, very good.

A rare political cartoon by William Charles, Bruin become Mediator satirizes a Russian attempt to mediate between Britain and the United States during the War of 1812.

In early 1813 Tsar Alexander I of Russia offered to mediate between Britain and the United States, in hopes of resolving the issues that had precipitated war between those countries. The United States went so far as to send a first-rate peace delegation consisting of Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, Senator James Bayard and ambassador to Russia John Quincy Adams. Britain rejected the mediation offer, preferring instead direct negotiations.

This highly-misleading cartoon suggests instead that Britain, “stung” by defeats at the hands of the American Navy, instigated the Russian mediation effort. The image features a triptych of a bear, representing Russia, flanked at left by John Bull and at right by the figure of Columbia holding poles surmounted by an American flag and a liberty cap. The Russian bear says “Let me unite your hands Madam—Johnny and I have been very friendly since I sent him my Fleet to take care of—”, a reference to a recent treaty in which Russia had placed its fleet at Britain’s disposal. John Bull wears a set of horns labeled “Orders in Council,” the 1807 decrees by the Privy Council that authorized the seizure of neutral shipping, one of the major causes of tension leading to the American declaration of war in 1812. He implores Russia “Pray Mr. Bruin try if you can make up this little Difference between us__The [American frigates] Wasps and Hornets have Stung me so hard I wish I had never disturbed their nests.” For her part Columbia spurns Russia’s advance, saying “I thank you Mr Bruin but I cannot trust the Bull. Tho he has promised to draw in his HORNS he must be safe bound to the Stake before I treat with him.”

The title, triptych format, and treatment of Britain and Russia are adapted from an 1803 cartoon drawn by Isaac Cruikshank and published in London by T. Williamson. That earlier print satirized Tsar Alexander I’s attempts to mediate between France and Great Britain, and rather than Columbia featured Napoleon in the guise of a monkey.

The print is rare: we have been able to locate but seven institutional holdings and record of only two other impressions having appeared on the market (Swann Galleries, 2006 and Anderson Galleries, 1912).

William Charles (1776-1820)
Charles was an illustrator, engraver and publisher active in New York and Philadelphia in the first two decades of the 19th century. Born in Scotland and trained in England, early in his career he worked in both Edinburgh and London, before emigrating to the United States in or around 1806. Bruin become Mediator features the boldly-etched lines and strongly-modeled figures characteristic of his work.

Charles published adult fiction and children’s books, some including his own engravings, but he is best known for caricatures, many lampooning events of the War of 1812. Stauffer lists over 15 such images, a few such as Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians and The Hartford Convention lampooning American military incompetence or sectional differences, but most tweaking Great Britain for its various defeats at American hands. According to Murrell, Charles and a business partner at one time planned to issue these monthly in sets of four, but abandoned the project due to lack of subscribers. (American Graphic Humor, p. 84) For all that, Murrell asserts that Charles’ political cartoons “arouse[d] more public interest than any produced in America before.” (p. 79)

American Antiquarian Society, American Engravings, #2436. Stauffer, American Engravers, #327. As of August 2018 OCLC locates impressions only at the American Antiquarian Society, Clements Library and University of Virginia, though a web search locates others at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Lilly Library, Winterthur and Yale. For a substantial and useful discussion of Charles’ career, see William Murrell, American Graphic Humor, pp. 79-89, though Murrell does not mention Bruin become Mediator.

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