J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

British Political Cartoons of Boston Under Attack

Above is a political cartoon from the Boston Public Library’s online collection.

It’s titled “Virtual Representation,” and I haven’t seen it reproduced like other Revolutionary political art. One factor is that it’s been colored, making it harder for printers to copy. The British Museum has an uncolored print that might be easier to read.

In her 1935 Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum, M. Dorothy George wrote:
This contrast is an attack on the Quebec Act and on the punitive measures taken against Massachusetts for the Boston tea-party. The attack on the Quebec Act as the establishment of Roman Catholicism in Canada is further stressed by the figures of the monk and of France

The words of Bute and the action of the Speaker indicate that America was being taxed for the benefit of England, while the title derides the theory that the colonists, like Englishmen without the franchise, were “virtually represented” in the House of Commons.
George guessed that the same artist produced the cartoon called “The Scotch Butchery.” I think that artwork shows more professional training in the posing of the human figures, the rendering of the sky, and the like.

Nevertheless, the two cartoons share a number of features. The principal villain of both is the Earl of Bute, prime minister in the early 1760s and tutor of the future King George III before that. Bute had been out of power and retired from politics for over a decade when these cartoons were published. Nonetheless, he was still a convenient villain for British Whigs because he was a Scotsman, easily depicted in a tartan and kilt.

Another common element is the destruction of Boston. In “Virtual Representation” the town is in flames while Catholic Québec enjoys royal protection. In “The Scotch Butchery,” Bute and others preside as “The English Fleet with Scotch Commanders” bombards the town.

“Virtual Representation” was published in early April 1775, before the war began and well before anyone in London heard about the fighting. The exact date of “The Scotch Butchery” is less clear, but neither cartoon appears to have been inspired by specific actual events. Instead, these incendiary images were created to rile up America’s supporters in Britain, showing the worst that could happen as if it already had.

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