King Cotton’s Remonstrance.
Negro Melody – “Poor Old Ned.”
Title:King Cotton's Remonstrance (from Punch)
Date:Nov 2nd 1861
This poem composed in alternating lines of trochaic heptameters and pentameters with an extra syllable uses the term ‘burden’ (from the French ‘bourden’) to indicate the chorus or refrain. It is set to the tune of what it terms a ‘negro melody’ called ‘Poor Old Ned’, which may be the same as ‘Old Uncle Ned’ which dates back to at least 1848.
Given that this poem is calling for an end to the American Civil War with no hint of the abolition of slavery the use of an African-American melody is especially inappropriate. The term ‘King Cotton’ is a synecdoche for the whole cotton industry and the writer of this piece cynically conflates the voice of the product with the voices of the slaves forced to work it, in effect suggesting that the war should cease for the benefit of the slaves. The use of the term ‘negro’ was standard at the time, and not considered offensive in Britain; in fact it was used by abolitionists (see ‘Farewell Old Year’ on this site, by Thomas Hodson).
Of course, though published originally in the London Punch magazine, and therefore representing metropolitan equivocation in respect to the American Civil War, this republication in the Bury Times suggests at least some sympathy in the north of England with such ambivalent attitudes, especially in relation to the recommencement of local industry. Many Lancashire newspapers published poems which were not explicitly pro-Union, which at the very least suggests a range of opinions prevalent in the region. – SR.