The Constitution and Guerrier
This image depicts a naval battle between two ships. Each ship flies its colors in three flags prominently displayed, although one of the American flags appears to have only stripes. Cannon smoke obscures the back of the British ship and billows towards the American ship, where it curls and disperses among the sails. The back mast of the British ship—significantly topped by one of the British flags—is collapsing in a wreck of loose ropes and tattered sails.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
The American Naval and Patriotic Songster (Baltimore, 1831)
PS595 H5 A4
Height (in centimeters):
Width (in centimeters):
Marks DescriptionIn the bottom right corner: "Horner"
Printing ContextThis image was an illustration for The American Naval and Patriotic Songster (1831).
Associated EventsA battle between a British ship, the Guerrier, and an American ship, the Constitution, during the War of 1812.
Associated PlacesThe introduction to The American Naval and Patriotic Songster (1831) was written by "Jolly Tom" in Marine Hospital, a hospital for disabled seamen near Norfolk, VA.
Other illustrations in the Songster:
Battle of Lake Erie, The Constitution and Guerriere, Bombardment of Fort M’Henry, Baltimore, United States’ Ship Delaware
The “Constitution” and the “Guerrier” by Thomas Chambers (1845):
This oil painting represents the same scene as Horton’s The Constitution and Guerrier. Chambers’s work clearly displays the American flag, emphasizing the national pride associated with naval victories like this one and the marine images depicting them (Stein 31, 34).
Accompanying text, entitled “The ‘Sovereignty of the Ocean”:
By the Pride of Neptune, brave HULL cried, let’s steer,
It points out the track of the bullying Guerrier;
Should we meet her, brave boys, seamen’s rights be the cry,
We fight to defend them, to live free or die.
The famed Constitution thro’ the billows now flew,
While the spray of the tars was refreshing as dew,
To quicken their sense of the insult they felt,
In the boast of the Guerrier not being the Belt.
Each patriot bosom now throb’d with delight,
When joyful the cry was—a sail is in sight!
Three cheers, cried the captain, my lads, ‘tis the foe,
British pride shall be this day by Yankees laid low.
Behold now the Guerrier, of Britain the boast,
Her topsails aback—and each tar to his post,
While Darces a flag did display from each mast,
To show that as Britons they’d fight to the last.
The American stars now aloft were unfurl’d,
With her strips at the mizzen-peak as proof to the world
That howe’er British pride might bluster or fret,
The sun of her glory should that day be set.
Now prim’d with ambition her guns loaded full,
The Guerrier’s broadsides roar’d tremendous Hull,
not only the hero, ship and crew to annoy,
but the Hull of freedom, our rights to destroy.
As the brave Constitution her foemen drew nigh,
Each heart beat with valor, joy glisten’d each eye,
While Hull, whose brave bosom, with glory did swell,
Cried, ‘free trade, seaman’s rights, now let every shot tell.’
Quick as lightning, and fatal its dreaded power,
Destruction and death on the Guerrier did shower
While the groans of the dying were heard in the blast,
The word was, ‘Take aim, boys, away with her mast.”
The genius of Britain will long rue the day,
The Guerrier’s a wreck ‘in the trough of the sea,’
Her laurels are wither’d—her boasting is done.
Submissive, to leeward, she fires her last gun.
Now brilliant the stars of America shine,
Fame, honour and glory, brave Hull, they are thine,
You have Neptune amaz’d, caus’d Britain to weep,
While Yankees triumphantly sail o’er the deep.
The sea, like the air, by great nature’s decree,
Was given in common and shall ever be free,
But if Ocean’s a turnpike where Britain keeps toll,
Hull, Jones and Decatur will pay for the whole.
SubjectThis image depicts the battle, an American victory, between the American Constitution and the British Guerrier during the War of 1812. The prominence of the British and American flags emphasizes not only the nationality of the victor, but also of the defeated.
SignificanceLight and shadow play an enormous role in this image. The light rests significantly on the American sails and flags, and bursts forth in the American artillery fire; the shadows on the British flags make them less defined and less spectacular. The smoke emitted by the American ship is lighter than that obscuring the British ship, drawing the eye to the front of the American ship. The sails of the American ship are also brighter than those of the British; one light-drenched sail serves as the background for one of the American flags, emphasizing the nationality of the victor. Finally, the smoke from the cannons billows to the left of the image, moving from the British ship to form a dark background behind the American ship; the bright illumination of the latter vessel is further enhanced by the resulting contrast. This marked use of light and darkness produces a symbolic rendering of the battle: the light illuminating the Constitution arguably appeals to a claim of ideological purity that transcends the sordid and material motives of ordinary battle, and also corresponds to the allusion of the ship's name to liberty. Such an allusion also contributes to the theme of freedom and sailors’ rights proclaimed throughout the accompanying poem.
BibliographyBy courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison:
Stein, Roger B. Seascape and the American Imagination. New York: Potter, 1975. Print.
The American Naval and Patriotic Songster. Baltimore, 1831. Print.
Long TitleWithout music; a few tunes indicated by title.
Includes a listing of 76 toasts. (p. -249)
Alphabetical Contents by first line: p. -256.
Spine title: American Naval Songster.
The preface gives the compiler's name as “Jolly Tom,” an old sailor in Marine Hospital, Norfolk, VA.