John Bull and the American Revolution: The Transatlantic Afterlives of Arbuthnot's Character

Orr, Leah
January 2017
Journal of British Studies;Jan2017, Vol. 56 Issue 1, p51
Academic Journal
How did the character John Bull come to be so widely recognized as a stand-in for the British government or people? John Arbuthnot created the character in 1712 in a series of five pamphlets criticizing the British role in the War of the Spanish Succession, and for fifty years the character was mentioned only in references to Arbuthnot. In the late eighteenth century, John Bull began to appear in newspaper articles relating to other political contexts, eventually appearing in satires on all manner of British policies and characteristics, from taxes and the economy to xenophobia and imperialism. This essay argues that the American colonists adapted the character to their own purposes. This analysis contributes to the understanding of the content, political engagement, and spread of the press in eighteenth-century Britain and America. It also reveals one way that writers about British national identity and its symbolism accounted for an increasingly diverse global empire that could not be represented adequately by a single figurehead.


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