Liberty Triumphant is a rare and vivid print, remarkable for its graphic complexity and use of cartographic elements, and as one of very few large-format political cartoons to appear in the Colonies before the Revolution.
This cartoon lampoons the Tea Act, enacted by Lord North’s ministry in Spring of 1773. The Act retained an existing tax of three pence per pound on tea imported into America and permitted the East India Company for the first time to sell tea directly to merchants in the colonies. Though it had the net effect of reducing the price of tea, the Sons of Liberty rejected it out of hand with the familiar protest against “taxation without representation.”
The Ministry persisted, and in the Fall of 1773 ships carrying East India Company tea set out for Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston. Mass protests in those port cities ensured that the cargoes were never delivered, most famously in Boston, where on December 16 the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Indians, boarded the ships and dumped the tea in the Harbor. The Ministry retaliated with the so-called “Intolerable Acts” which closed the Port of Boston, all but ended local self-government in Massachusetts, and imposed other penalties. However the Acts only encouraged solidarity among the colonies, catalyzed the First Continental Congress, and accelerated the descent into revolution.
The print is undated but was probably engraved in early 1774, soon after the Boston Tea Party but before news of the Intolerable Acts arrived in the Colonies. Dolmetsch provides a helpful description:
“The action takes place on a map, with the coast of North America to the right, and England to the left. In the upper left a crestfallen Britannia tells the genius of Britain, a winged figure with a spear, that she is distressed by the conduct of her degenerate sons, the colonies. Just below her are two groups, the one to the right representing the chained ministers led by the all-powerful Lord North, dominated by the Devil. To the left are East India Company merchants who complain that the American treatment of their goods, particularly the destruction of the tea at Boston and the general refusal of their goods by other colonies, is ruinous to them.
“On the other shore Indian Princess America, armed with bow and arrow and supported by her braves, protects the country. Below her a group of Tories lament the loss of their income and political influence as a result of the boycott of English goods. Top right the Goddess of Liberty, holding her pole and liberty cap, and the winged figure of Fame discuss the ardor of Liberty’s brave sons, the colonies.” (Dolmetsch)
One amusing feature of the map is the treatment of the English coast, where the Thames River empties into the Atlantic rather than the English Channel. More significantly, Dolmetsch neglects the single most dramatic element of the print: the group of six figures at center right, dressed as Indians and led by a figure exhorting his comrades to “Aid me my Sons, and prevent my being Fetter’d.” In a clear reference to the Boston Tea Party, the legend explains that these represent “the Sons of Liberty represented by the Natives of America, in their savage garb.”
The American Antiquarian Society catalogs this print as the work of Henry Dawkins (fl. 1754-late 1770s?), a Colonial era engraver who worked in both New York and Philadelphia. The rather crude execution, the complex composition featuring multiple large groups of figures, and the treatment of speech “bubbles” are all consistent with his other large-format political cartoons, though those date to the mid-1760s.
Dolmetsch, Rebellion and Reconciliation, 31 (illus.) Not in British Museum, Satires; Creswell, American Revolution in Drawings and Prints; Murrell, American Graphic Humor; or the list of Dawkins’ works in Stauffer, American Engravers. As of March 2016 OCLC 191119980, 51114352 and 875000379 give examples at the American Antiquarian Society, Brown, Clements Library, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts Historical Society.
Restoration to small losses along old folds and in blank margins. Trimmed to or just inside plate mark all around.