Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Watkinson has a great variety of historical books, records, photos, prints and more. While working in the Watkinson, I have been introduced to the many ways history is recorded. Most recently I organized a collection of British caricatures. The collection contains around 190 prints with ranging topics, but a majority are political and social satire. The popularity of these prints and the impact they had on British society made me want to research more about the evolution of printmaking and why these prints were so important.

The reign of King George III from 1760 to 1820 marked a time of ideological revolution and the rise in satirical prints. The mass production of prints allowed for information to be accessed by the ordinary person, who was most likely illiterate. British satirical caricatures were used to criticize certain political decisions or platforms of political parties in particular the Whig and Tory parties. Prints created in the 18th century use the technique of physiognomy, which is the judging of a person’s character from the depiction of their physical features. These prints have grotesque and distorted images of various politicians, but mainly Charles James Fox (Whig Party), William Pitt the Younger (Tory Party), King George III and Napoleon.


A famous printmaker, Isaac Cruikshank, depicts Charles James Fox as a French Revolution sympathizer in his print “A Right Honorable Alias Sans Culotte” which is one of the prints in the collection at the Watkinson. This print contains Fox split into two different outfits. As the spectator of the print, on the right side, Fox is dressed neatly in English clothing singing “God Save Great George our king.” On the left side, Fox is dressed as a French revolutionary in ragged, torn clothes with a bludgeon singing, “Ca ira, ca ira, ca ira,” an emblematic song of the French Revolution. Images such as these were used to ridicule politicians. Some victims of the political satires, like Fox, would buy entire editions or even bribe publishers to stop printing these satirical images in order to maintain a positive public image.

As printing and satire evolved, there was a shift in technique. Around 1820 the grotesque satirical style was phased out and a newer more genteel trend became popular. John Doyle, a famous printmaker who published his work under the initials HB, was known for his mild satire with more naturalistic depictions of political figures. The collection in the Watkinson contains thirty of John Doyle’s prints. Grotesque satirical prints were replaced with comic prints that were made more for family consumption. With the popularization of newspapers and magazines the number of singly published sheets rapidly declined.

In the Watkinson, the prints are mostly from the 1800s. Some of the early prints show the characteristic grotesque form of satire, but most of the prints are more realistic in their depiction of politicians. While processing these prints, I learned a lot about the political scene in Britain at the time. As time passed the literacy rates in Britain rose, which is evident from the later prints in the collection at the Watkinson. Earlier prints do not have much text other than the titles, but speech bubbles and small captions can be seen in the later prints. This shows just how influential the mass production of prints was and how the prints reflect British society in the time period during which they were published.

Just like the Currier and Ives prints that I worked on in January, these prints are both historical in content and historical in creation. Prints are a great way of interpreting history since there is much more behind them than what is seen on the page. The British print collection at the Watkinson is definitely a reason to stop by!

Posted by Student Assistant Meg Huston (2020)


Bury, Stephen J., and Andrew W. Mellon. “British Visual Satire, 18th–20th Centuries.” Oxford Art Online, Accessed 25 Apr. 2018.

Donald, Diana. The Age of Caricature: Satirical Prints in the Reign of George III. Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, 1996.

George, Mary Dorothy. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires. The Trustees of the British Museum, 1978.


The Election of 1800

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Len Banco for AMST 838: America Collects Itself: From Colony to Empire]

The election of 1800 was pivotal in American history, ultimately resulting in the first democratic peaceful transfer of power between two opposing political groups – the Federalists of John Adams who was the sitting President, and the Republicans of Thomas Jefferson, who was the sitting Vice President.  What I searched for and found at the Watkinson were two issues of a 4-page Connecticut newspaper, the Norwich Packet, published on February 24 and March 3, 1801.  My purpose in finding those newspapers was to understand what an ordinary American citizen of the time would be reading about the election and its immediate aftermath.  We began our search the old-fashioned way, using a card catalog, and after a bit of hunting, found a cache of original newspapers unbound as readers over 200 years ago would have read them.  I wondered if anyone back then could have possibly anticipated that a newspaper they used one day and threw out the next would survive for so long.

In a section headed simply, “Election of a President” the results of the election of 1800 (as reprinted from the Philadelphia Gazette of February 14) were officially recounted thus – “According to the rules of the proceeding established by the House, they proceeded to the Senate chamber where….the votes were counted and the result declared by the Vice President [Thomas Jefferson] as follows:  Thomas Jefferson 73, Aaron Burr 73, John Adams 65, C.C. Pinckney 64, John Jay 1”.  The tie vote between Jefferson and Burr required the House of Representatives to determine the winner through a process prescribed by the constitution, with each state having one vote and it being necessary to have a simple majority of the states to win.

In that same issue, the repeated indecisive votes in the House of Representatives were relayed – “Eight states for Jefferson, Six for Burr, 2 divided” along with a description of the actual method of balloting.  One of the representatives from Maryland was so ill he was unable to go to the House chamber, “and had a bed prepared for him in one of the committee rooms to which the ballot box was carried to him by one of the tellers appointed on the part of the state”.  The deadlock continued for days.

In the issue of March 3 it was related that on the 35th ballot taken on Tuesday, February 17, the deadlock was finally broken, resulting in the election of Thomas Jefferson as president with 10 states for him, only 4 New England States for Aaron Burr, and two states with blank ballots.

In a small “Public Notice” on the third page of the paper there appeared a notice that “A Day of Thanksgiving is to be kept in Wallingford on the 11th day of March next”…and “at 6 in the evening on the same day an oration will be delivered by Abraham Bishop esq, of New Haven” . “All real friends to our happy constitution and to our illustrious Thomas Jefferson, President-elect, and to Aaron Burr, our patriotic and worthy Vice-President, elect, are invited to attend”.  Interestingly, the transcript of Mr. Bishop’s remarks was subsequently published in New Haven that same year, an original copy of which also resides at the Watkinson Library.

This is what a citizen of Norwich, Connecticut would have read in 1801, two weeks after the actual event.  They would not have known yet how or why the change in vote occurred that ultimately resulted in Jefferson’s election.  The political intrigue and bargaining that resulted in the final outcome has taken over 200 to understand and ponder and the debate continues to this day.