The Colonies Reduced, a Ben Franklin cartoon satirizing The Stamp Act

[Benjamin Franklin], The Colonies Reduced / Its Companion. London: Designed & Engraved for The Political Register, [December 1768].
Engraving on laid paper, 6 3/8”h x 3 7/8”w at neat line, uncolored. Light soiling and staining, trimmed inside plate mark, annotations in ink under lower neat line. Laid down on a slightly-larger sheet of wove paper.

An early re-issue of The Colonies Reduced, a clever political cartoon by Ben Franklin attacking the Stamp Act.

The cartoon consists of two panels. According to Dolmetsch the upper panel is based on a cartoon originally designed by Benjamin Franklin while acting as Pennsylvania’s colonial agent in London. Upon the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, Franklin is said to have had the cartoon printed on cards and distributed to members of Parliament. Offered here is a reissue of the image from the December 1768 number of The Political Register. Dolmetsch points out that “Although the Stamp Act had been repealed by the 1768 date of this work, England’s foreign troubles were growing and a satire such as this from Franklin remained timely and well worth the effort needed to reproduce it, particularly for publication in a magazine so dedicated to opposing government policies.”

The upper panel is entitled “The Colonies Reduced” and depicts Great Britain in the guise of the Roman General Belisarius, dismembered and contemplating her lost limbs designated Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and New England. Nearby her shield and spear are grounded, and her naval vessels are laid up without spars or rigging. A banner draped across her figure reads “Date Obolum Bellisario” (“Give a penny for Bellisarius”) a reference to the General’s impoverishment at the end of his illustrious career.

The lower panel, titled “Its Companion,” shows Dutch, French and Spanish figures assaulting Brittania while Lord Bute (recognizable by his Scottish bonnet) holds up her skirt. The Frenchman at left helps America (in the guise of an Indian) flee, while exulting “Non me vill be de grande Monarque indeed! me vill be King of de whole World begar.” It is not clear why Bute bears the blame here, as the Stamp Act was passed under the ministry of his successor George Grenville. At any rate the message of the two panels is clear: the Government’s short-sighted policies ran the risk of alienating the American Colonies and bringing ruin upon the Empire.

British Museum, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, #1993.56. Creswell, American Revolution, #632. Dolmetsch, Rebellion and Reconciliation, #15. JCB Political Cartoons, accession #31433.