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Justice by David Gilmour Blythe

David Gilmour Blythe - Justice

Justice by David Gilmour Blythe

Justice by David Gilmour Blythe depicts a policeman, who can be identified by the star badge and baton, leading a group of suspects into a courtroom. The suspects are carrying their tools of trade, symbolizing recently arrived immigrants. The suspects are directed to join a musician with a banjo who is already seated on a bench. The presiding judge is symbolized by the man sitting on the high bench. He is below the scales of justice, which are held by an American eagle.

The poster with the heading “Blood Tubs” attached to the judge’s bench refers to members of a street gang and political party that kidnapped and dunked political opponents in slaughterhouse barrels of blood. The members of the Blood Tubs supported the American Party, which promoted anti-foreign and anti-Catholic prejudice and sought to restrict immigration to the United States. The poster also has the visible initials “SAM,” and the word “ITALY” on it. “SAM” is an abbreviation for “Uncle Sam,” which was a nickname for the party, popularly called the “Know-Nothing Party.”

Blythe was a sympathizer with the American Party, and his caricatures of the working poor may reflect the party’s anti-immigration views. Blythe was inspired by the gritty subjects of 17th-century Dutch genre painting and used a similar style to lampoon the political and social corruption that characterized American urban life.

The American Party – “Know-Nothing” Movement

The American Party in 1855 was commonly known as the “Know-Nothing” movement. It was an American political party that operated nationally in the mid-1850s. It was primarily anti-Catholic, xenophobic, and hostile to immigration, starting initially as a secret society. Members of the movement were to reply, “I know nothing” when asked about its specifics by outsiders, thus providing the group with its common name.

The “Know-Nothings” believed a conspiracy was afoot to subvert civil and religious liberty in the United States and sought to politically organize native-born Protestants in what they described as a defense of their traditional religious and political values. It is remembered for this theme because of fears by Protestants that Catholic priests and bishops would control a large block of voters.

David Gilmour Blythe

David Gilmour Blythe (1815 – 1865) was a self-taught American artist best known for paintings that satirically portrayed political and social situations. Many of Blythe’s most paintings are a satirical commentary on the American judicial system, politics, the pretensions of the American middle class, and the daily activities of street urchins he encountered in Pittsburgh.


  • Title:            Justice
  • Artist:          Thomas Hovenden
  • Created:      1860
  • Medium:      Height: 511.30 mm (20.12 ″); Width: 612.90 mm (24.12 ″)
  • Museum:      de Young Museum

David Gilmour Blythe

  • Artist:         David Gilmour Blythe
  • Born:          1815, East Liverpool, Ohio
  • Died:          1865, Pittsburgh
  • Nationality: American
  • Notable work:

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“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum
to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind,
to whatever nation they might belong.”
– George Washington


Photo Credit 1) David Gilmour Blythe [Public domain]

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