Jonathan to John Bull

Dear John: I don’t forget
I am something in your debt
For giving me many a sinister slap,
But perhaps the recent news
May have modified your views—
Say!—what do you think of us now, old chap?
Not many months ago,
As you very well know,
Crowing lustily over each Fed’ral mishap,
You swore the rebel crew
Would “put the Yankees through”—
Well—what do you think of it now, old chap?
Once, running our blockade
Seemed a money-making trade,
‘Spite of many a menacing “Monitor”-trap,
But when you count the cost
Of your ships and cargoes lost—
Say!—what do you think of it now, old chap?
And how you used to mock
At our solid Union stock;
And then—to replenish your treasury’s gap,—
Took the “Cotton Bonds” at par,
(Like a donkey, as you are!)
Well—what do you think of ‘em now, old chap?
Once the “honor” of the South
Was forever in your mouth,
As oft as you viewed the American map.
But since “cavalier” you see
With assassin to agree—
Say!—what do you think of it now, old chap?
Ah!—John—that little debt—
We will make it even yet,
By giving your gouty old knuckles a rap;
And when the job is done,
We’ll have no occasion, John
To ask what you think of us now, old chap?

Title:Jonathan to John Bull

Author:John G. Saxe

Publication:California Farmer

Published in:San Francisco

Date:October 6th 1865

Keywords:politics, war


Written by the American satirist poet John Godfrey Saxe, this poem was first published in June 1865, when it was apparent that the Union had emerged the victor of a brutal and prolonged Civil War. At the point of writing, too, Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated by the Confederate sympathiser, John Wilkes Booth. The poem offers a mocking diatribe of the English commercial speculators - here represented by the caricature of the English persona, John Bull - who had sought to profit by gambling on the success of the Confederacy in the conflict. Through their funding of the Confederate efforts, the speculators were, quite literally, invested in the outcome of the war, ‘crowing lustily over each federal mishap’. The poem makes reference to the blockade-running attempts where cargo ships, financed by English merchants, sought to breach the Union blockade of Confederate ports, to deliver munitions or collect raw-cotton. These efforts were often thwarted by the Union navy, here represented by the “Monitor-trap” - a proud reference to the Union’s steam-powered, iron-clad warship, USS Monitor. Likewise, English speculators invested in the “cotton bonds”, which were issued by the Confederacy in 1863 as a means to finance their war effort; these bonds gave the holders a warrant to buy cotton below actual market value (“below par”). The poem was not unique in its presentation of an English speculator who placed profit before principle, as the New York Times echoed its sentiment when writing on 28th April 1865 that the holders of the ‘Rebel Loans’ (Cotton Bonds) were ‘the most unscrupulous, unprincipled, cynical and money-worshiping portion of the English business world.’ The poet links the immorality of the speculators and the Confederacy in using the language of ‘Cavalier’. The word speaks to the historic ties between the Confederacy and the English, as the term, used here to describe the Confederates of the Southern states, has its origins in the Royalist sympathisers of the English Civil War, who had settled in America in the seventeenth century.

Jack Cottam