The David and Goliath saga of the U.S.S. Constitution's bold attack and victory over the British frigate Guérriere was a topic of enthusiastic and active discussion during the first year of the War of 1812. Outnumbered 600 to 12 by the British Royal Navy, President James Madison was nonetheless reluctantly convinced by his naval captains to put the miniscule United States Navy into action. Five ships under Captain John Rodgers distracted segments of the British Navy for several months; under helm of other captains the frigate U.S.S. United States captured the HMS Macedonian; the U.S.S. Wasp took the HMS Frolic; the U.S.S Hornet defeated the HMS Peacock; and, against the greatest odds, the U.S.S. Constitution destroyed both the HMS Java and Guérriere. Such a decisive defeat suffered by the British Royal Navy had not occurred in years, and this series of American victories even further bolstered patriotism and support for the war on the invaded homefront.
Several printed versions of the battle between the U.S.S. Constitution and HMS Guérriere exist. In Abel Bowen's The Naval Monument Containing Official and Other Accounts of all the Battles Fought between the Navies of the United States and Great Britain during the late war... (Boston, 1816; Courtesy Winterthur Museum and Library: Rare Book and Periodical Collection), Bowen not only verbally but visually depicted the sequence of events in a series of popular prints including, "The Constitution's Escape from a British Squadron" (p.1), "The Constitution Bearing Down for the Guérriere (p.8), and "The Constitution in Close Action with the Guérriere (p.10). Likewise, a variety of other print sources demonstrate the popularity of the story of the Constitution and Guérriere. A muti-scened broadside by William Strickland of Philadelphia called "Sprigs of Laurel" showed all the U.S. naval victories of the War of 1812 including "Perry's Victory; Constitution & Guérriere ; Wasp and Hornet; United States and Macedonian; Constitution and Java; Hornet Blockading Bonne Citoyenne; Sinking of the Peacock; Enterprise and Boxer; Peacock & L'Epervier", and would have been considered a more economical means of acquiring these patriotic images (see E. McSherry Fowble, Two Centuries of Prints in America (Charlottesville, 1987), fig. 311). On the more luxurious end, two other single prints in the collection of the Winterthur Museum show two points of the Constitution and Guérriere's battle. Where "Brilliant Naval Victory" published by Pierie and Kearney of Philadelphia (Fowble, fig. 310) dramatized the charred remains of the Guérriere for a willing American audience, "ENGAGEMENT... Between the U.S. FRIGATE CONSTITUTION... and the BRITISH FRIGATE GUÉRRIERE..." showed the heat of the battle and probably served as the print source for the decorated eglomisé panel of the banjo clock illustrated here. A close examination of the two images demonstrates that, with the exception of the floating object at the lower right corner of the print, the two images are almost identical, though reversed.