Born in Scotland and trained in England, illustrator, engraver and publisher William Charles (1776-1820) began his career in Edinburgh and London before emigrating to the United States in or around 1806. Charles published adult fiction and children’s books, some including his own engravings, but he is best known for caricature work.  Among these, his best known are more than 15 separately-issued political cartoons satirising events of the War of 1812. Some of these, such as Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians and The Hartford Convention, skewer American military incompetence or sectional differences, but most tweak Great Britain for its various defeats at American hands.  See for example Bruin become Mediator or John Bull and the Baltimoreans. According to Murrell, these cartoons “arouse[d] more public interest than any produced in America before.” (American Graphic Humor, p. 79)

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War of 1812 political cartoon celebrating American victories on the Lakes

A terrific and rather rare political cartoon mocking the British for Perry’s famous victory on Lake Erie in September 1813 and Macdonough’s triumph in Plattsburg Bay on Lake Champlain the following year. In a region of few roads, these victories ensured American control of its northern frontiers at the end of the War of 1812. The image […]

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William Charles (artist and engraver) / [Samuel Kennedy (publisher)], The Hartford Convention or LEAP NO LEAP. [Philadelphia, Dec. 10, 1814.]

War of 1812 political cartoon skewering the Hartford Convention

A scarce and striking political cartoon satirizing the 1814 Hartford Convention, at which delegates from New England states contemplated secession from the Union. Background: The War of 1812 Following the ratification of the Constitution and against the hopes of the Founders, American politics rapidly organized into a two-party system that approximately mirrored sectional differences: Roughly […]

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William Charles (artist, engraver and publisher), JOHN BULL and the BALTIMOREANS. Philadelphia, [1814].

William Charles satire on the heroic defense of Baltimore in 1814

A scarce and visually striking political cartoon by William Charles satirizing the failed British attack on Baltimore in September 1814. Though the British had declared a blockade of the mid-Atlantic coast early in the War of 1812, most of the first two years’ fighting took place along the American-Canadian border. In mid-1814 however, the British […]

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Rare War of 1812 political cartoon

A scarce and striking political cartoon mocking the citizens of Alexandria, Virginia for their feeble defense during the British Chesapeake Bay campaign of August 1814. 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 […]

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William Charles Bruin become Mediator 1813

William Charles War of 1812 cartoon: Bruin become Mediator

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. […]

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William Charles Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians

Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians, by William Charles

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 […]

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