John Bull and Jonathan
Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, June 13, 1861
The following excellent jeu d'esprit has appeared in the Paris papers, and as it treats a subject of deep importance and interest at the present moment in a humorous manner, and from a French point of view, we offer a translation of it. It runs thus:
There is an old farce called "The Two Normans," wherein two cunning old men agree to settle their dispute by a game at cards, but as each one is continually producing a fresh trump, the game can never end. This game is commonly known by the name of "beggar my neighbor." A little comedy of the same kind is being played at this moment on the two sides of the Atlantic, between our good friend John Bull and his cousin Jonathan. It would lead us to believe that some drops of Norman blood still remain among our neighbors, and that there is less distance than we had supposed between Falaise and Washington.
At the Congress of Paris, France proposed the abolition of privateering in war; and John Bull at once gave in his adhesion to what he considered a good thing for him. "It was after the destruction of the French navy," said he to himself, "that I sustained the greatest losses, because all the French sailors were driven to privateering, and I had then no one to help me at sea in suppressing it. In case of another war with France, if the rates of marine insurance should only be quadrupled at Liverpool, all the commerce of Europe would be carried on immediately in American ships. If France should give up privateering, this would be all profit for me." And so he concluded the affair out of hand. Then turning to his American cousin: "Friend Jonathan," said John Bull, "France and I wish to deprive war of those harsh features which are no longer in accordance with the spirit of the age; we wish to liberate traffic by sea from all obstacles. Nobody has more to gain by this than you have, who are never interested in our European wars, and whose flag is to be seen everywhere. We shall then get rid of all those disputes relative to the rights of neutrals which have already embroiled us once, and will come up again on the breaking out of the first war. Unite with us, then, and sacrifice upon the altar of humanity a portion of the rights of belligerents."
"John Bull generous!" thought Jonathan; "it is not possible!" And without putting down a figure he divined the calculation. "I have," said he to himself, "one great ship which has never been used, because it had no crew, three or four frigates, and a cloud of small boats, which would do about as much harm to a ship of war as flies would to an elephant. The very first commodore that came along would thaw up my fleet in a week, and then he would destroy my commerce at his leisure. If I am not to fit out privateers, what injury can I do to England, and how shall I defend myself?" And he threw himself into the arms of John Bull. "My noble friend," said he, "I agree to your admirable proposition; I recognize your noble disposition; but it should be carried out completely. Let us renounce the right, even for ships of war, to capture merchant vessels; ships of war and frigates shall fight when they meet, they are for that purpose; but merchant vessels shall sail about unmolested. In this manner we will really establish freedom for maritime commerce."
It was now John Bull's turn to reflect. "If I am not to employ my ships of war to destroy American commerce, what hold shall I have upon Jonathan? Shall I go and burn the capital again, which did me but little credit the last time? or must I recommence the silly attempt upon New Orleans? What fear would New York or Boston have of a war which would not make them lose a dollar?" So John Bull excused himself for not concluding the bargain proposed, saying that he must talk with France about it, and wait for the next Congress.
Now it is Jonathan that resumes the conversation, and says to John Bull: "You know that I have had a little difficulty with the southern States; they talk of fitting out privateers against me. I have just issued an admirable proclamation wherein I have announced that I shall treat them as pirates. You, who wish to deprive regular governments of the right to resort to privateering, will of course not admit as valid letters of marque issued by rebels, by a pretended government which you have not recognised; and I do not apprehend that any Englishman will assist in fitting out privateers; this would be too palpable a forgetfulness of the noble principles which you have proclaimed."
"And cotton," thought John Bull, "what will become of that, if I let these northern boors crush the people of the south? Moreover, this south has no ships, and few or no sailors. Where would it buy nice little ships—clippers—but in the Clyde and the Mersey? and neat little steamers, but at Chatham? and good rifled cannon, and nice little rifles, but at Birmingham and Sheffield? and fine large shot, but in Wales? And then, if this same south should fit out privateers, and send a few to sea, the rate of insurance for ships would rise rapidly at New York and Boston; and then Havre, Antwerp, and Genoa, would not send anything except in English ships. Have I the right to deprive Liverpool and Bristol of so great a windfall? I should be wanting in all my duties were I to do so." And John Bull accordingly sent the following ingenious reply to Jonathan:
"I am a man of principle, and I never swerve from my word; but you were very wrong not to accept my little proposal of last year; had you done so it would now have been law in America as well as in Europe. Instead of this you have, by your refusal, reduced me to a state of impotence, which I deplore. I cannot impose upon the south what you refused to accept in their name when you had the right to do it. The south is not a regular government, and I do not recognize it as such; but in the case of Greece, in order to ruin Turkish commerce in the Levant, I made a little distinction which I will take the liberty to apply in the present case: while I do not recognize the south as a government I will grant them the rights of belligerents. I persist more than ever in my opinion. I abhor privateering, and I energetically blame the south for having recourse to a means of defence unworthy of our epoch and of our civilization. But if this government, which I will not recognize so far as it interferes with me, and which I recognize so far as it benefits me, shall think fit to do without my approbation, it is impossible for me to refuse its dollars and not sell it as many ships, guns and rifles as it will buy of me. Freedom of trade requires this. To prove to you my sincerity I have issued a proclamation, wherein I condemn privateering, and give notice that every Englishman who shall engage in privateering will violate the laws of his country; but if you happen to capture a privateer, on board of which there shall be an English sailor, you will observe that this sailor having a letter of marque from a government which I have recognized—in spite of myself, it is true—as having the right to issue it, you have no right to treat him as a pirate. So my High Chancellor has decided. You will, therefore, hand the sailor over to me, and I will send him to England, where I will recommend him to all the severity of a jury of shipbuilders and privateers."
This is what is called answering. Let us await the reply of Jonathan: as he is not less firm upon principles it cannot fail to be interesting and instructive.