Perspectives on Press Gangs

face of a prisoner

Press gangs, which regularly forced men into naval service, offered none of the rights of the accused central to English common law. Press gangs generated political strife: the American Colonies’ Declaration of Independence explicitly mentioned impressment. Impressment was also a major cause of the British-American War of 1812. Nonetheless, a London newspaper in 1790 declared, “press gangs are better magistrates than the Middlesex justices.”^ Press gangs were better than magistrates only in the sense that they more usefully disposed of men.

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