Ports are Open, The
DESCRIPTION: Closed ports ruined trade. Out of work tradesmen were wrecking steam looms, and could not pay high food prices. A royal "proclamation ... [will] admit foreign grain to our markets." "Farmers quite distracted they'll go" but tradesmen will find jobs.
EARLIEST DATE: 1815 (according to Leyden)
KEYWORDS: war commerce farming nonballad political
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Leyden 36, "The Ports are Open" (1 text)
cf. "The World It May Wag" (tune)
NOTES [891 words]: The song refers to the cause of closed ports as a "Corporation Bill" which "some hundreds did kill While others it kept in high station It shut up our ports against peas beans and oats And it ruined the trade of our nation." The end of the policy is a royal proclamation that "the ports will stand open Till the twenty-fourth of December So parliament then when they do meet again Hope that too the poor will remember."
Leyden: "This song was written in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the battle of Waterloo. During the war between England and France the Government imposed severe restrictions on the import of cereals into British ports -- 'It shut up our ports against peas, beans and oats'. The price of corn was high.... Farmers invested capital in developing inferior land...; yields increased and profits rose accordingly, but the ending of the war was to change all that. British ports were once more opened and the effect on home prices was dramatic.... The song celebrates the opening of the ports. Farmers, of course, were angry.... For ordinary people, however it was a very optimistic period...."
This forecast of things to come in the near future presents a different picture of the effect of war on the economy than we see later in "The Grand Conversation Under the Rose" ("Come stir up the wars, and our trade will be flourishing") in the light of longer range harsh reality; also see the notes to "Ye Sons of Old Ireland."
The Jevons Index numbers for cereal prices from 1807 to 1818 illustrate the problem. The base year (index=100) is 1782: 1807 (173), 1808 (201), 1809 (211), 1810 (203), 1811 (182), 1812 (272), 1813 (256), 1814 (165), 1815 (137), 1816 (148), 1817 (198), 1818 (209). (source: British Financial Experience 1790-1830 by Norman J Silberling in The Review of Economics and Statistics, October 1919, Vol 1 No 4, Table 2, p. 283). In 1815 a corn law was passed allowing no cereal imports unless the domestic price reached a floor of 80s for 28 lbs (source: The Corn Laws: the Formation of Popular Economics in Britain edited by Alon Kadish, (London, 1996), Vol 1, p. xi).
The general problem of overplanting is behind the broadside Bodleian, Harding B 16(59c), "The Corn-Factor's Dream," H. Watson (Newcastle), 1817, which begins
A Corn factor sly, as the story is told,
Had a great stock of grain in his lofts still unsold
When harvest came on, which adverse to his plan,
Seem'd inclin'd to turn out well and ruin the poor man. - BS
This is in any case a strange view of trade during the Napoleonic Wars. It is certainly true that Britain had a bad tendency to mess with Irish trade -- e.g. building up the linen industry and then destroying it.
But the real problem in the early nineteenth century was the war with France. According to GodechotEtAl, p. 124, the Berlin Decree was issued on November 21, 1806. The purpose of this, according to Herold, p. 179, was to defeat Britain by economic blockade.
GodechotEtAl, pp. 126-127: "After the peace of Tilsit, and for the fourth time since 1793, France and England stood alone as adversaries.... Napoleon could no longer contemplate an invasion of England [due to Trafalgar]. Ever since the two powers became active foes, each had brandished the usual economic arm. England declared the coast of France in a state of blockade, and France renewed her prohibition against the importation of British goods, a practice that had been decreed as early as 1793 under the National Convention. At the beginning, these measures had not been very effective. However, little by little, war by blockade was perfected.
"In France for more than a century the premise had been accepted that the power of Great Britain, based upon its economic organization, was fragile. French economists... considered her system of credit abnormal. Her industry could prosper only by virtue of exportation to Europe. It ought, therefore, to be relatively easy to break down the system by excluding her exports from foreign markets; Great Britain would then be ruined and would not be slow to capitulate."
It was not the last time an enemy tried to strangle Britain, but it proved unfortunate because the French could only ban shipments to Britain -- whereas Britain could physically *stop* shipments along the coast using her navy. It also passed the Orders in Council, which barred neutrals from trading to France unless they sent their goods through Britain (which, along with impressment, was one of the leading causes of the War of 1812; see Berton, p. 45). There was a great deal of smuggling, and many of the countries of Europe found their own trade messed up (in this pre-railroad period, large shipments generally went by water or not at all). Napoleon's Continental System would eventually collapse. But, before it did, it caused much hardship and poverty in Britain.
A second thing much restricting British trade was the shortage of sailors. To keep the Royal Navy up to strength, the press gangs were constantly active, grabbing sailors wherever they could find them (this would eventually be the primary cause of the War of 1812 with the United States). Even had the trade had been possible, there were not enough crews to supply all the merchant ships.
If there were no ships in Ireland, it was less because of British regulations than because of Napoleon. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Berton: Pierre Berton, The Invasion of Canada [Volume I], 1812-1813, Atlantic-Little Brown, 1980
- GodechotEtAl: Jacques Godechot, Beatrice F. Hyslop, and David L. Dowd, The Napoleonic Era in Europe, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971
- Herold: J. Christopher Herold, The Age of Napoleon (English edition), American Heritage, 1963
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