PRESS GANG. The British government never devised an orderly procedure for impressment, or conscription, for naval service. Instead, captains of shorthanded men-of-war sent armed details to scour British waterfronts or to board merchantmen to exercise direct and immediate conscription. Lieutenants commanding these "press gangs" were ruthlessly undiscriminating. Their use in colonial ports was only a minor cause of the American Revolution. However, Great Britain stepped up impressment efforts in the early nineteenth century to create a navy sufficiently large to fight France in the Napoleonic Wars. When British impressment was applied to American merchantmen after independence, impressment became a major cause of the War of 1812.
Stagg, J. C. A. Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.
Jim DanHill/a. e.
press gang • n. hist. a body of men employed to enlist men forcibly into service in the army or navy. • v. [tr.] (press-gang) chiefly hist. forcibly enlist (someone) into service in the army or navy. ∎ (press-gang someone into) force someone to do something: we press-ganged Simon into playing.