John Bull and the Frenchman. CONTENT NOTE: This poem contains an offensive racist term
Title:John Bull and the Frenchman.
Publication:The New York Herald
Published in:New York
Date:August 9th 1863
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