Cotton is King!

Old England is mighty; Old England is free:
She boasts that she ruleth the waves of the sea;
(But between you and I that’s all fiddle-de-dee;)
She cannot, O Cotton! she cannot rule thee.
Lo! Manchester’s lordling thy greatness shall own,
And yield more to thee than he would to the Throne:
For before thee shall bend his fat marrow bone,
And deaf be his ear to the live chattel’s groan.

Title:Cotton is King!


Publication:Commercial Envelope

Published in:New York


Keywords:cotton, politics, satire


This deeply satirical poem, discovered by Rachel Jardine, was printed with its attendant image on one of a series of commercially produced envelopes in New York in 1861. It lampoons British supposed military might and pretensions to worldwide empire when the effects of the cotton blockade have exposed the country’s reliance on the product. Manchester, commonly known as ‘Cottonopolis’ as the epicentre of the British textile industry, is personified, and presented as subject to the regal figure of King Cotton. It should be noted that though the term ‘King Cotton’ was used before the American Civil War, its use during the conflict to bait the British for their commercial dependence on the product contains an ironic commentary on the UK’s monarchic political structure opposed to the republican democracy which the US represented. – SR