A scarce, striking and trenchant War of 1812 political cartoon by William Charles mocking the citizens of Alexandria for their feeble defense against “Johnny Bull” during the 1814 Chesapeake campaign.
Charles depicts Great Britain as a bipedal bull in sailor’s garb, wielding a saber in one “hand” and “Terms of Capitulation” in the other. To the left two Alexandrians kneel in terror, hair standing on end, while one exclaims “Pray Mr Bull don’t be too hard with us__You know we were always friendly, even in the time of our Embargo!” Unmoved, John Bull declares “I must have all your Flour__All your Tobacco__All your Provisions, All your Ships__All your Merchandize__every thing except your Porter and Perry__keep them out of my sight, I’ve had enough of them already.” At far right a British sailor and soldier carry off the spoils of war, one exclaiming “Push on Jack, the yankeys are not all so Cowardly as these fellows here_let’s make the best of our time.”
This “not all so Cowardly” comment is a reference to the aforementioned Commodores David Porter and Oliver Hazard Perry, both of whom had recently achieved celebrated American victories at sea. It also foreshadows the far more stout defense put up by the citizens of Baltimore, celebrated by Charles’ companion print John Bull and the Baltimoreans. Both were submitted for copyright on October 21, 1814.
William Charles (1776-1820)
William 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, trained in England, and active early in his career in both Edinburgh and London, he probably arrived in New York in or after 1806. Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians 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 Murell, 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. For all that, Murell asserts that Charles’ political cartoons “arouse[d] more public interest than any produced in America before.”
American Antiquarian Society, American Engravings, #2518. Murrell, American Graphic Humor, p. 88 pl. 81. Stauffer, American Engravers, #316. Weitenkampf, American Graphic Art, pp. 125, 250. OCLC gives impressions only at the American Antiquarian Society, Clements Library and Library of Congress (July 2018).
Small spot by Johnny Bull’s right foot, three spots of discoloration at lower left largely confined to margin, 2” printer’s crease at upper left corner, and four tiny punctures in lower margin. Very good.