1813 political cartoon featuring the USS President

G[eorge] Cruikshank, PREPARING JOHN BULL for GENERAL CONGRESS. London: W.N. Jones, No. 5 Newgate St., August 1st 1813.
Etching printed in sepia ink on wove paper, 7 5/8”h x 19 ½”w at neatline plus title and margins, full period color. Scattered soiling and discoloration. Old vertical folds with additional creasing along center. Folds reinforced, likely with some closures to significant separations. Loss at left reinstated, with rather crude facsimile.

A fantastic political cartoon with strong War of 1812 content including the frigate USS President. The print mocks Britain’s many difficulties as it fought on many fronts against Napoleon and the United States, all the while hemorrhaging money in subsidies for its allies on the Continent.

The image depicts John Bull, his wig awry, backed against a tree and being hacked to pieces by a horde of malevolent pygmies representing Britain’s many pressing domestic and foreign problems. Of particular note is a fat tub of an American gunboat at left, manned by three disreputable-looking sailors and flying a tattered Stars and Stripes and the pennant of the frigate USS President. As an enraged muzzled bulldog (the Royal Navy) looks on, the American captain fires a swivel gun at John Bull’s right leg, representing the West Indies, as he shouts “Damn that Bull Dog. The Shannon he has gored the Chesapeake, if the English ministers will but keep him out of our way we’ll pepper the dog.”   At far left Napoleon sits in front of his tent, his right foot resting on a globe while he cheerfully exclaims “When you have finished your labors gentlemen bring him to me & I will prepare his epitaph.”

The title refers to the Congress of Prague (June 4-August 10, 1813), at which Metternich attempted in vain to negotiate a peace between Napoleon and the Allies.

The print was drawn by George Cruikshank for volume VI of The Scourge, a monthly satirical journal published in London. Cruikshank (1792-1878) was one of the greatest English caricaturists of his day, along with his contemporaries James Gillray (1756-1815) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). Cruikshank was perhaps the most commercially successful of the three, producing nearly 10,000 images over more than a half century. While he aimed his barbs at a wide range of targets, the royal family was a favourite, as also the ever-more outlandish fads and fashions of the English upper-classes.

Frederic George Stephens, Catalogue of prints and drawings in the British Museum. Division I, political and personal satires, Vol. IX, #12077.