How We’ll Break The Blockade.
Title:How We’ll Break The Blockade.
Publication:The Bristol Mercury
Date:November 16th 1861
This version of this Punch poem was published in Bristol in November 1861 but it was also republished in Littell's Living Age (which was published between 1844-1896) on December 28th of that year. The poem’s expression of a belligerent attitude to the Unions cause by elements in Britain in cahoots with the cotton producers of the Confederacy gives an indication of how close the two (or perhaps at this stage, three) nations came to international conflict. The blockade of cotton exports by the Union was predicted to cripple Britain’s economy, and this had interests beyond just the industrial areas of Lancashire very worried. Below is a more detailed analysis from Suzy Crowson from the University of Exeter. – SR
This anonymously-written poem of ten four-line stanzas (quatrains) articulates the Lancastrian people’s feelings of resentment against the Union blockade of all Southern ports in the American Civil War. The refrain, “we’ll break the blockade,” creates a pulsing return to the speaker’s “vow” to eradicate any barrier to the free trade of cotton with the Confederate States in the South.
The quatrain instils a sense of unity and solidity as the lines are arranged in orderly convoy, all lines close but not converging with their neighbours. The simple ABAB rhyme scheme suggests assuredness and conviction as each line anticipates its partner creating a sense of momentum that is explicit in the speaker’s insistent call to abolish the barricade. Further, the cross-rhyme imparts an anthem-like musicality which arouses the poem’s jingoism.
“Cousin Jonathan” is used by the speaker in addressing America, specifically the Northern states. What would be a phrase indicative of closeness is made goading and discomforting by the speaker’s threats: “cousin, we hear from a nice little bird, / That a nice little rod is in pickle for you.” The warning to Northerners of a punishment in reserve, ready for future use when and if deemed necessary eliminates the suggestion of friendship or kinship that is implied in the familiar term of address, “cousin.”
The poem does not espouse or condemn the cause of either side in the Civil War on an explicit level. That said it does reveal declining sympathies with loyalists of the Union. The blockade was an immediate cause of this decline, as was the anti-British attitude of the Northern press after England declared itself neutral. The poem touches on the issue of anti-British reportage in the North when the speaker quips, “your lying old Herald may splutter and rave” personifying and simultaneously denouncing newspapers such as the New York Herald as the ramblings of an outraged but frankly deluded person.
Suzy Crowson, University of Exeter