Jonathan to John.
Title:Jonathan to John.
Publication:The Barre Gazette
Date:February 7th 1862
This poem in the Yankee dialect, published in the Union-sympathising Barre Gazette, is a truncated reprint of a larger composition by the American Poet James Russel Lowell, first published in the Atlantic Monthly (under the assumed personae voice of Hosea Biglow). The omitted introductory stanzas to this poem imagine a conversation between two patriotic landmarks, the Concord Bridge and the Bunker Hill Monument, both debating the Union’s response to the Trent Affair, and situating the event within an idealised narrative of American democratic character. (https://www.bartleby.com/371/394.html) The stanzas printed in The Barre Gazette offer an address to John Bull, from two caricatures of the Union personae, Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam. The poem was written after the Trent Affair had threatened conflict between the Union and Britain, and the poetic voices express an indignation towards the British response, as Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam lambast the hypocrisy of the imperialistic John Bull. In November 1861, the Union naval captain, Charles Wilkes, had intercepted the British mail ship, RMS Trent, and removed the two Confederate diplomats on board, James Murray Mason and John Sliddell. Britain was outraged by this alleged transgression of International Law, and Lincoln was later forced to acknowledge this fact, disavowing the actions of Charles Wilkes, and releasing the Confederate diplomats. The poem, however, takes a more aggressive tone in its refusal to bow to the pressures of an interfering John Bull: ‘We give the critters back, John, | Coz Abram thought ‘twas right; | It warn’t your bullyin’ clack, John, | Provokin’ us to fight’. As Brother Jonathan boldly declares in the closing stanzas of the poem, the Union cause and democratic vision is left unshaken by this threat of British involvement: ‘God means to make this land, John, | Clear thru, from sea to sea, | Believe an’ understand, John, | The wuth o’ bein’ free.’
The poet, James Russell Lowell, was a staunch supporter of the Union and Abraham Lincoln’s cause. Between 1857 and 1861, he had served as the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and under his steer, it had become one of the first important American periodicals to take a decided stand against slavery. (Wortham, Thomas, “Lowell, James Russel” in American National Biography, (Online, February 2000)). JC