I HAVE thought Johnny Bull a clever old soul,
Sensible, jolly, good-natured, and kind,
Quite crusty at times, but urbane on the whole,
In a word a hail-fellow much to my mind;
And I've thought, when I looked on his ponderous chest,
“My eyes! what a heart to fill out such a breast!”
But my notions of John are now sadly changed;
Past pledges of love it seems he's forgotten;
In my stern hour of need I find him estranged,
His vest, I perceive, is but padded with cotton!
His friendship burns low, like a wick in its socket,
And sunk is his heart in the depths of his pocket!
He still remains grumpy, and prates of his rights,
Of injury done to his commerce and trade;
That the civilized world never witnessed such sights
As that humbug of stone we call a blockade.
Aha! he is artfully playing his part,
But I know that cotton is nearest his heart.
With him 'tis a matter of dollars and cents,
Allurements of trade have upset his reason;
Yet he may gather more pounds than half-pence
In warding the blows intended for treason.
The venture in which he's so dizzily whirling,
May cost him far more than four millions sterling.
Date:March 8th 1862
This satirical poem published in Harper’s in the summer of 1862 expresses a Union view of America’s relationship with Britain, figured through the familiar guise of ‘John Bull’. The poem suggests that former friendship has soured as Britain’s priority has been revealed to be wholly commercial, with a particular emphasis on the cotton trade. The ‘four millions sterling’ was an estimate of trade lost largely through cotton up to this point of the blockade, and the term ‘pounds’ is a pun referring to cannon weight – a barely veiled threat of future military action. – SR