“The Ports are Open”


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.


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." - 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 Jacques Godechot, Beatrice F. Hyslop, and David L. Dowd, _The Napoleonic Era in Europe_, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 124, the Berlin Decree was issued on November 21, 1806. The purpose of this, according to J. Christopher Herold, _The Age of Napoleon_, English edition, American Heritage, 1963, p. 179, was to defeat Britain by economic blockade.

Godechot, Hyslop, and Dowd, 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 nore 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 Pierre Berton, _The Invasion of Canada [Volume I], 1812-1813_, Atlantic-Little Brown, 1980, 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). The 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 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

Cross references

  • cf. "The World It May Wag" (tune)


  1. Leyden 36, "The Ports are Open" (1 text)
  2. BI, Leyd036


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1815 (according to Leyden)