Early National Politics


Digital image via Library of Congress.

Congressional Pugilists. Philadelphia, 1798. Political Cartoons Collection.

The Library Company holds three editions of the second state. The first state (Cudgeling as by Late Act in Congress) is only available electronically via Evans.

Depicts a floor fight between Rep. Roger Griswold (Connecticut) and Rep. Matthew Lyon (Vermont). Lyon spat in the face of Griswold after the latter shared a rumor that he had been sentenced to wear a wooden sword as punishment for cowardice in battle. Several days later, Griswold attacked Lyon with a stick, who defended himself with fireplace tongs.

Shows interior of Congress Hall with Speaker Jonathan Dayton and Clerk Jonathan Condy (seated), Chaplain Ashbel Green (in profile on left) and others watching.


He in a trice struck Lyon thrice

Upon his head, enrag’d sir,

Who seiz’d the tongs to ease his wrongs,

And Griswold thus engag’d, sir.

Digital image via Library Company of Philadelphia.

William Birch, Preparation for War to Defend Commerce. Philadelphia, 1800. Birch’s Views.

First edition of plate 29. Appeared in 1800 following a series of 28 views of Philadelphia engraved between 1798-1800. Birch offers the first systematic views of the nation’s capital, aspiring to show it “raised, as it were, by magic power, to the eminence of an opulent city.”

Shows Federal Street near the Delaware River. Several laborers construct the U.S. Navy warship, Philadelphia, a frigate built to defend the nation’s merchant fleet from foreign enemies. Construction occurred at Wharton-Humphreys shipyard from 1798 to 1799, under naval builder Joshua Humphreys. Laborers saw, ax, and carry wood up a long plank to the top of the hull of the unfinished ship. A man, possibly Humphreys or the ship designer, Josiah Fox, and a woman, watch the construction from the side. Several buildings stand in the background, including the city’s oldest church, Gloria Dei (Old Swedes) Church, built in 1700.

Digital image via Library of Congress.

The Providential Detection. Philadelphia, 1800. Political Cartoons Collection.

Against the backdrop of the French Revolution and war between Britain and France, bitter party feelings emerge in the United States. French partisans assail George Washington’s policy of neutrality and Jay’s Treaty with Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, seen as friendlier with France, finds himself associated with some of the most damning features of the French Revolution. Northern commercial groups, favorable to Jay’s Treaty, attacked Jefferson as advocate of social disorder.

Shows Jefferson kneeling before the altar of Gallic despotism. God and an American eagle attempt to prevent him from destroying the United States Constitution (“Constitution & Independence U.S.A.”) which he prepares to fling into a fire fed by the flames of radical writings. Jefferson’s alleged attack on George Washington and John Adams in the form of a letter to his Italian friend Philip Mazzei falls from Jefferson’s pocket. Jefferson is supported by Satan, the writings of Thomas Paine, and the French philosophers.

Digital image via Library Company of Philadelphia.

William Charles, The Cat Let Out of the Bag. New York, 1808. Political Cartoons Collection.

A pro-Jefferson cartoon in support of the U.S. Embargo Act of 1807. Passed in retaliation to British and French neutral trade restrictions, the Embargo Act forbade all international trade to and from American ports, severely compromising the American shipping industry.

Depicts a confrontation between a ragged anti-Embargo Federalist editor, who emerges from his “Tory Cave,” and three carousing sailors, who hold the Embargo Act and a British Order in Council. The editor, carrying a ledger labeled “British Gazette Account with Great Britain,” accompanied by apes hawking Federalist newspapers, beseeches the “poor sailors” to avoid war with Britain and ignore the Embargo or suffer destitution. The patriotic sailors cheer Yankee Doodle, and respond that they would suffer prison rather than “mutiny ‘gainst a commander and desert ship ‘cause a hard gale.”

Editor: “Oh! poor sailors! poor blue Jackets! don’t go to war with the mother country. don’t go to war with good old England! You will get hard knocks on the pate [head]! you will spend your war in English prisons and prison ships! don’t submit to the war. you will beg in the streets and rot in the alms [poor] house! ah! poor sailors! Oh! poor blue jackets.”

First man: “Here’s a flock of mother Cary’s chickens. What think you my hearties to all this, Scud?”

Second man: Why tis all in my eye Jack. Shiver my limbs, but this fellow is an English dishcloth-so let’s have no more of your blarney. An American tar knows his duty—and if he gets into prison d’ye see he’ll get out ag’n: and as for a hard knock, let them try and they will see whose head’s hardest.”

Third man: “That’s right my honest soul! We’ll ship to our quarters, boys, like true hearted sailors and may the lubber be slash’d home to the gizzard, and scrap’d with a sharks tooth, who would mutiny ‘gainst commander and desert ship, ‘cause a hard gale and tough passage brings him to short allowance. So three cheers boys—Huzza!!! for Yankee doodle.”