[“We must be careful to guard against causing resentment to the United States. The United States would punish Canada.”—Mr Ritchie 1 at Croydon. 2]


From the hall where Mr Ritchie
Spoke about the reason which he
Thought had caused the resignations
That the Cobden Club deplore,
I observed the Parrot flying,
And in mournful manner crying,
“We are certain to be punished,
And Your food will cost you more.”

“Hi! Come back,” I said, “and tell us
Who it is that will compel us
To abandon all our chances
British trading to restore?
Are we then a subject nation
That we act with hesitation?”
But the bird in bursts of sorrow
Stuttered, “Food will cost you more.”

“Were the Yanks apologising
While McKinley 3 was devising
Tariff walls to bar the exports
That we sent them before?
Did the Germans crawl before us
When their rising duties saw us
Crowded out? Did they go squawking
That ‘Your food will cost you more’?

“Do you fear that Squashville city 4
Will not hold our conduct pretty,
Or the Emp’ror of Sahara
Will declare a real war? 5
Do you hold that Kars or Joppa 6
Will not think our tariff proper?”
But the bird in words of terror
Cried “Your food will cost you more.”

“If the Empire should require it,
Do we care who don’t desire it
When the factories are humming
As they hummed in days of yore?”
But the bird continued sighing
And occasionally crying.
“I’m afraid, and so is Ritchie,
And Your food will cost you more!”


C T Ritchie was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Balfour government until September 1903, when he was one of three free traders in the Cabinet who chose to resign rather than support Balfour’s proposals for retaliatory tariffs.


Ritchie made his remarks in Croydon on 9 October while addressing a meeting of his constituents to explain his views on the political situation. He told the meeting:

The one thing that this country would desire to guard against [. . .] is that we should give the United States any ground for anything like resentment on their part against us. I am sure that there is not a man in this room who would not greatly regret to see any disturbance of the extremely friendly relations that exist between ourselves and the United States.

After suggesting that there would be resentment on the part of the United States if Canada was allowed to send corn into the British market at a preferential rate, he added:

Further than that, remember how the United States could punish [. . .] Canada.

The poem’s preamble slightly misrepresents what he had said, substituting “would punish” for his “could punish”. In its account of the speech, the Express reported him correctly.


William McKinley (1843-1901), 25th President of the United States (1897-1901), was closely associated with the use of tariffs as an instrument of protection. While still a member of the House of Representatives, he promoted the Tariff Act of 1890, which raised average tariff rates from just under 40% to nearly 50%. Subsequent attempts by Democrats to reduce tariffs significantly were frustrated, though a watered-down version of their proposals eventually passed as the Revenue Act of 1894. This led to some slight reduction in tariffs, those these were quickly reversed when, within months of McKinley’s election as president, the Dingley Act was rushed into law: this raised average tariffs to 52%, the highest in US history.


There is no US city named Squashville. The name seems to have originated with the Canadian writer Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865) who used it as a generic name for small rural towns whose inhabitants are fiercely proud of their town. It occurs in a newspaper article which was later incorporated in his book, Sam Slick in England (1862):

All over America, every place likes to hear of its members to Congress, and see their speeches, and if they don’t, they send a piece to the paper, enquirin’ if their member died a nateral death, or was skivered with a bowie knife, for they hante seen his speeches lately, and his friends are anxious to know his fate. Our free and enlightened citizens don’t approbate silent members; it don’t seem to them as if Squashville, or Punkinville, or Lumbertown was right represented, unless Squashville, or Punkinville, or Lumbertown, makes itself heard and known, ay, and feared too. So every feller in bounden duty, talks, and talks big too, and the smaller the State, the louder, bigger, and fiercer its members talk.


This refers to Jacques Lebaudy (1868-1919), a French millionaire. In May 1903 Lebaudy, accompanied by a small party of hired sailors, landed on the coast of north-west Africa, in an area that was only loosely under the control of the Sultan of Morocco, and declared himself “Emperor of the Sahara”.

Lebaudy visited London at the end of September 1903 (see poem 15).


Kars is a city and province in Turkey, Joppa (or Jaffa) is now part of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv-Yafo; in 1903, both were cities of the Ottoman empire.

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