John Bull as the British Atlas (1816)

[Created May 27, 2011]
[Updated June 12, 2011]


"The British Atlas, or John Bull supporting the Peace Establishment" (1816)
[James Gillray or C. Williams]

Observations: The historical context of this caricature is that after nearly 20 years of war against the republic created during the French Revolution and then Napoleon's Empire the British people were impatient to see the full demobilization of British troops and to have the prosperity of peace return to Europe. Trade between Britain and the Continent had been disrupted by the war itself and also by the deliberate policy of Napoleon to prevent English manufacured goods from being traded in Europe (the "Continental Blockade").The British government had imposed numerous onerous taxes on the British people (such as the Window Tax) which they were slow to lift, and a large public debt was incurred through a new system of a national bank devoted to this as well as the suspspension of specie payments (gold). As so often seems to be the case Robert Higgs' "ratchet effect" meant that the size and scope of government after the war did not return to the level it had before the war broke out, thus forever "ratcheting up" in size and cost. The image of "Atlas" had been a popular one before and during the Revolution as a way of depicting the oppression of the ordinary people (the "Third Estate") by the Church and the Aristocracy as these images will indicate, so it is interesting to see this image being used in Britain just after the fall of Napoleon.

Description: John Bull is standing on a green island surrounded by water in which can be seen some naval vessels and a figure standing on another island off in the distance. His blue jacket is torn and ripped and his yellow trousers have been patched on the knees.

On his back is a three-tiered "castle" atop which sits the King and 2 layers of armed soldiers which are labelled "Standing Army of 150,000 Men, a numerous extravagant Military Staff". The King's throne sit on top of a pedestal which says "The Cause of the Bourbons" referring to Britain's role in restoring the French Bourbon monarchy to power after the defeat of Napoleon

Out of JB's pockets and on the ground at his feet are "Unpaid Bills" and in the water behind him is a torn piece of paper on which is written "Property Tax". His right foot is placed on a document entitled the "Irish Economy" and which reads "reducing the number of Clerks and Commissioners in the public departments to a peace Establishment by turning adrift all the wretched and necessitous Drudges of 50L a year and at the same time augmenting the already enormous salaries of those who remain, thereby rendering the different Government offices more burthensome and expensive than they were in time of War." JB's right heel is on top of a document entitled "Civil List" (members of royalty and other elites who were paid out of the public purse). The document between his feet states "A Fact. The enormous sum of 10,000 pounds a year charged to the Nation for Dining (?) half a dozen Officers belonging to the Guard at St. James's for performing the important service of Watching the Crows in the Park." To the right of this is a document which says "Expence of keeping Bonaparte in St. Helena 300,000 pounds. Military Guard …" To the far right is a book ("Just Published!") entitled "The Age of Wonders! or the Blessings of Peace, more destructive to the English than the horrors of War."