The Liberty of the Subject [the Press Gang]
At the time this print was made 'liberty' was most generally understood as the concept of 'British liberty' as a whole, in opposition to foreign and especially Catholic 'tyranny'. The title is therefore more satirical than it probably seems today, vaunting the supposed 'liberty' of the common Englishman in a scene of a poor tailor being seized by a Naval press-gang in the City of London: the dome behind is that of St Paul's Cathedral. The resistance of the crowd is also notable: the press-gang was never popular and the print was made in 1779, just after France and Spain entered the War of American Independence on the side of the American rebels, for whom there was considerable radical sympathy in Britain. This turned it into a world wide war, and one requiring more men to man the fleet against those of these two powerful European enemies. However, the image deliberately misrepresents how the press operated, since it it was looking for seamen, not untrained and unfit landsmen, and those sometimes swept up were usually released on further enquiry.
Original size: 259 mm x 367 mm
- Image reference: PX8527
- National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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