King Cotton in the Vocative.

Oh! oh! must I lie here forever, bound,
Discrowned and caged, like Bajazet of old
For base-born foes to mock at! Is it meet
That I, who’ve swayed the sceptre of a king—
That I, whose stint or largess has made sad
Or glad the heart of millions—should become
At once so poor, so powerless, so abject,
That e’en the ebon Atlases, whose necks
Have bent so low beneath my awful throne,
Do mock me to my face with wild eyahs!
Oh grim John Bull, have pity on my bonds!
Where are your thunderous bellowings? Where the hoofs
That shake the earth with pawing of its sands?
And where the horns that gore and toss sky-high
Whatever dares to thwart your gentle will?
When those Infernal Yankees would dethrone
Your dusky friend of Bluefields—when the Czar
Would strike the sceptre from the Turk’s weak
You bellowed, like a dinotherm, “Hands off!
Look you, who hits my royal kin hits me!”
Oh Bull! behold a mightier one diskinged
By sordid knaves and louts, so color-blind
To all Imperial hues that never yet
Was sense of purple in their stolid soul.
Ah reinstate me, rehabilitate
The power and prestige that so long were mine;
Then name the ready recompense yourself,
And gratitude shall pay as soon as named.
You shall have access, free as welcome winds,
To all my realm; shall come and go at will;
Shall buy, and sell and barter what you please,
And when, and where and how your fancy prompts;
In short, bring in, untariffed, all the sweat
Of your white slaves, and bear away, untaxed,
The bloody filth of my four million black.
Too small the bribe? (Alas! how vast must be
The pocket that already buttons in
Huge segments of a world, and yet cries more!)
Well, if you must— there, take my realm itself
And all its peerless C. C. C.’s (that is,
Cream of the cream of all creation, John,)
And with them all the human chattelage
Whereon their grandeur trembles, only haste
And set King Cotton on his throne once more!

Title:King Cotton in the Vocative.


Publication:The Evening Post

Published in:New York

Date:February 28th 1862

Keywords:cotton, politics, trade


Published in the Evening Post during the Union’s blockade of the Confederate cotton supply, the poem presents a mocking characterisation of a desperate King Cotton, once imperious, now pleading for the intervention of John Bull. ‘King Cotton’ was a term used to describe the diplomatic strategy adopted by the seceding States in early 1861, where the Southern States withheld supply of raw cotton in an effort to force the commercial hand of Britain. Despite these efforts, the British maintained diplomatic neutrality, and Abraham Lincoln subsequently issued orders for a Union Blockade of Confederate ports in April 1861. The poem, with its sardonic tones, exposes bare the mercenary nature of the Confederacy’s diplomatic offering: the promised continuation of chattel-slavery to satisfy the profiteering greed of John Bull - the caricature of British commercial interest. King Cotton, with a weakened negotiating position, begs John Bull with the prospect of a lucrative future trading relationship, underpinned by the common currency of exploitation. The personified voice of the Confederacy offers unfettered transactions, tempting John Bull to ‘bring in, untariffed, all the sweat |Of your white slaves, and bear away, untaxed, |The bloody filth of my four million black.’ JC