John Bull and the Frenchman. CONTENT NOTE: This poem contains an offensive racist term

John Bull and the Frenchman, we find,
On these points are both of one mind—
That the cause of our Union is rotten
Compared with tobacco and cotton;
That this terrible war ought to cease
At once in a treaty of peace,
Which will let our rebellious States go
To the rule of Jeff. Davis & Co.
But John keeps an eye on his brother,
And neither has faith in the other;
Both would like to “pitch in” if they durst;
But each is afraid to be first.
So John plays the neutral, while Nap,
A sweet and humane sort of chap,
With his olive branch— innocent bribe—
Pleads peace to King Jeff. And Old Abe.
But the neutral professions of John
Are shabby pretences, put on,
Which hide not, but rather disclose,
The tail of Old Nick and his toes.
His neutrality’s war in disguise
His philanthropy all men despite.
When cotton is at a high figure
He ceases to weep for the nigger.
John Bull has two strings to his bow—
He enjoys our legitimate trade,
And serves, through old Gideon’s blockade,
His rebel confederates right well
For the cotton which they have to sell,
But serves them still better— the cheat—
In his rebel piratical feet.
A neutral, of course, he remains,
As he rolls in his ill gotten gains,
As his means and his wits are employed
To have this republic destroyed;
To sever our country in twain
That he may be lord of the main;
And he dreams when this Union goes down,
Of a reign without end to the Crown.
As the flight of the Kilkenny cats
Was, doubtless, enjoyed by the rats,
This war is enjoyed by John Bull;
Ad so long as his pockets are full,
And the rebels are serving his ends,
The rebels he’ll treat as his friends;
But if to their ruin they plunge
He will squeeze them as dry as a sponge.
Such is Bull as a neutral. But how
Stands the sharp little Frenchman just now?
It appears that he stands very well
With that vagabond traitor, Slidell,
And would strike for King Jeff. any day
If Bull would lead off in the fray,
And would give even to slavery the track
For ten years of Southern tabac.
Meantime into poor Mexico
The Frenchman has slipp’d, as you know,
And set up, perhaps with the hope
Of humbugging Kaiser and Pope—
A Dutchman in purple to rule
As the Viceroy of France, and a tool
Who will not, when wanted, be deaf
To the cause or the claims of King Jeff.
And Texas, perhaps, is the slice
By Jeff. to be paid, as the price
For his kingdom’s defence and release
In a truce and a treaty of peace.
Uncle Sam will thus pay for the dance,
To the glory of Davis and France,
Till the Frenchman can wind up the ball—
But here comes the test to John Bull,
And this project may stick in his wool:
When rogues disagree, it is known,
Honest men may recover their own.
So England and France, in the toils
Of a squabble concerning the spoils,
Will surely be baulked of their prey,
And Justice will carry the day.

Title:John Bull and the Frenchman.


Publication:The New York Herald

Published in:New York

Date:August 9th 1863

Keywords:cotton, politics, trade


This Union-sympathising poem depicts the perceived tensions of British and French foreign policy during the American Civil War: both nations tentatively poised and tempted to intervene under pressure from commercial interest, though waiting for the other to make the first move. Indeed, the Confederate strategy was pinned upon the hope of the cooperative intervention of Britain and France, both of whom were facing pressure domestically over the cotton supply issue. As Abraham Lincoln noted in his first annual message on December 3, 1861, the ‘embarrassment of commerce’ was the ‘the principle lever relied on by the insurgents for exciting foreign nations to hostility against us’.* The poet presents Britain’s hypocrisy through the mercenary caricature of John Bull, whose ostensible commitment to neutrality is contradicted by his underlying avarice. Likewise, the Frenchman is willing and waiting to intervene ‘For ten years of Southern tabac.’ The poem warns against this zero-sum meddling in international affairs, framing the narrative with a lesson for British and French relations from contemporary events. The introductory and closing stanzas draw reference to the Second Franco-Mexican war, which saw Napoleon III take Mexico City in 1863, establishing the Second Mexican Empire. The invasion had the original backing of the United Kingdom and Spain, who, along with France, signed the Convention of London in 1861, declaring the intent to obtain debt repayments from Mexico by dispatching a military expedition. The United Kingdom and Spain subsequently withdrew their military commitments when it became apparent that France sought the seizure of Mexico. This diplomatic disagreement, the poet concludes, should act to perturb future cooperative interventions on the grounds of commercial interest: ‘England and France, in the toils / Of a squabble concerning their spoils, / Will surely be baulked of their prey’. JC *Beckert, Sven, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism, p.252