Bull v Bird.
Title:Bull v Bird.
Publication:Hartford Daily Courant
Date:December 30th 1861
Written in December 1861 amidst a context of the tense diplomatic standoff between Britain and the Union, the poem is expressive of a view widely shared in the Northern states at the time of the Trent Affair: indignation over British hypocrisy. In November 1861, a Union navy ship, captained by Charles Wilkes, intercepted the British postal vessel, RMS Trent, and took captive the Confederate diplomats onboard, James Murray Mason and John Sliddell, allowing the ship to continue on its journey without the seized passengers. What ensued was an intense legal-diplomatic debate between Britain and the Northern States on the rights of belligerent vessels to intercept neutral ships in search of contraband; the ‘right of search’ as referred to in the poem. As the poet suggests in an infantilising opening address to John Bull, British claims of illegality were contrary to their historical practices of naval interception and impressment; proverbially put, the speaker mocks John Bull at ‘the thought of being fed | With your ony dony spoon?’. In the poem, the English intervention in the affair is taken as an affront to the Union cause and is attributed to John Bull’s ‘foolish greed for gain’. Ultimately, the poet warns, John Bull’s lust for cotton will likely result in a further self-inflicted injury, just as the Trent Affair has exposed his hypocrisy and damaged his ability to ever exercise the right of search again. JC.