George Cruikshank's satirical drawing 'Liberty suspended!'

Description

Concerned by growing public discontent during the economic crisis that followed the Napoleonic Wars, the British government suspended habeas corpus in 1817. Habeas corpus — a writ used to challenge the lawfulness of detaining a prisoner — was popularly believed (albeit erroneously) to have originated in Magna Carta. By suspending habeas corpus, Parliament effectively allowed detention without trial, and this was represented repeatedly in the radical press as a serious infringement of ancient liberties. Like many cartoons from this period, Liberty Suspended by George Cruikshank (1792-1878) deploys Magna Carta to condemn this legislation. A printing press serves as a scaffold, from which Liberty hangs, gagged, bound and holding a scroll inscribed with the watchwords of British constitutionalism, ‘Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, Habeas Corpus’. From the platform Lord Castlereagh (1769-1822), Leader of the House of Commons, defends the suspension of habeas corpus, victoriously holding aloft Liberty’s broken staff.

Full title:
George Cruikshank's 'Liberty suspended! With the bulwark of the constitution!'
Published:
London
Created:
1817
Format:
Print / Illustration
Creator:
George Cruikshank
Copyright:
© Trustees of the British Museum, British Museum Standard Terms of Use
Held by
The British Museum
Shelfmark:
1868,0808.8364

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Radicalism and suffrage

Article by:
Alex Lock
Theme:
Legacy

Dr Alexander Lock discusses Magna Carta’s relationship to parliamentary reform and to radicals fighting oppressive government. Find out how this medieval peace settlement was reinvented as a potent symbol of liberty and justice.

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