Volume 25, No. 8 – August 2012
Volume 25, No. 8
In September, we will celebrate our 25th anniversary. Thanks to all who support the Round Table. Your membership and attendance make the organization viable and strong. Continuing participation will ensure that the Round Table remains a vibrant and diverse forum for presenting and exchanging various views.
Gerridine LaRovere, President
Wednesday, August 8, 2012 Program
Rodney Dillon, an original founder of the Round Table, will kick off our anniversary celebration in August. His program is entitled "Bringing the Civil War to Palm Beach County." Rodney was the Administrator of the Broward Historical Commission. He teaches history at Palm Beach State College and has a book store called Past Perfect Florida History. Please visit his website at: www.past-perfect-history-book.com. Rodney will be selling some books at our meeting and will donate a portion of the sales to the Round Table.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012 Program
Monroe Ackerman, a master spellbinder, gave us his insights into "Civil War Diplomacy." In 1860, Great Britain was the dominant nation on the globe. It used economic strength and naval superiority to maintain an equilibrium among the nations of the world so its economy could prosper. When the Civil War came, Britain elected to remain neutral. Only one of three events, or a combination of them, could force the British government it to go to war: (1) an attack upon it or one of its colonies; (2) a serious threat to its economic well being; or (3) a calculated insult to its national honor. To understand the varying path of neutrality which Britain chose to tread, an examination of its domestic politics, its economic condition and the rapidly changing geopolitics of the Western World is necessary.
When the Civil War began, European leaders were certain that the split was irreparable. How could the Northern states, with a population of 20 millions, subdue and reintegrate 10 million determined and warlike people, living in a vast area of 900,000 square miles? This might have been wishful thinking. Most of the British governing class felt it was in their best interest that North and South never be reunited. A united America, stretching from ocean to ocean, could be an economic and political threat to Great Britain. America’s merchant marine was already dominant in world trade; its industries were growing rapidly; and its wealth in raw materials and agriculture seemed limitless. A reunited United States might replace Britain as the world's foremost economic power.
Moreover, the success of America's democratic political institutions, especially the extension of suffrage to all white males was a beacon to British workers struggling for a new order in British politics. A divided United States would be no "light to the world," and the British governing class would be able to maintain the status quo. Great Britain was a constitutional monarchy, headed by Queen Victoria. The governing class consisted of the aristocracy, the landed gentry, the powerful merchant class, and the growing number of industrialists. They sat in the House of Lords and the House of Commons and ran the government. The governing class was divided into three political parties. The Conservative Party contained the old line Tories. Out of power, at no time did it challenge government on its American foreign policy. The Liberal Party was in power, but only by a slim margin, maintained by a coalition government made up of Liberals, old-line Whigs and former Tories, supported by some left wing Radical Party members. The Radical Party urged democratic political and social reforms. Two of its most important members, John Bright and Richard Cobden, were such ardent supporters of the Union that they were sometimes referred to as the "American members of parliament!"
The leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister was Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, KG, GCB, PC (October 20, 1784–October 18, 1865), known popularly as Lord Palmerston. He was 76, a curmudgeon and a chauvinist who disliked Americans and most things about America, including its democratic government, but he adopted a pragmatic approach to the conflict, best characterized as a "wait and see" policy which he reinforced with his jingle: "They who in quarrels interpose, will often get a bloody nose."
The British foreign minister, John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, KG, GCMG, PC (August 18, 1792– May 28, 1878), known as Lord John Russell before 1861, was 67, small of stature, intelligent and impulsive (but kept in control by the dominant Lord Palmerston). Russell, the grandfather of Bertrand Russell, claimed he liked Americans but his actions often belied his words. His family had helped rule England for over three hundred years. Like most of the governing class, his main concern was the economic effect the American war would have on Great Britain and its empire.
Lord Richard Lyons, a cold, humorless but intelligent, 41 year old bachelor, was the British minister in Washington, D.C. He disliked the brash, boisterous Americans, whose politicians (America had no statesmen) he believed were controlled not by the rules of international diplomacy but by the ignorant mob that elected them. He felt that the Union could only be controlled by stern and determined British action.
In the decades prior to the Civil War, Lord Palmerston had been a leader in Great Britain's struggle to ban slavery and to outlaw the slave trade. By 1860, the movement had lost steam, but the Confederacy, bathed in the stench of slavery, had an uphill battle to convince the British people its cause was just. On the other hand, Palmerston resented the fact that the United States had signed a treaty to ban the slave trade, but dragged its feet on enforcing it. That many of the slave smugglers were home berthed in Boston and New York was an open scandal. The British people, with a few exceptions, opposed slavery, but did not understand the complicated nature of slavery in American society.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected President, the British assumed that the new Republican regime would move to outlaw the institution. Lincoln, constrained by the Constitution, by his need to placate the border states and by the innate racism of white Northerners, soon made it clear that the struggle was to save the Union, not necessarily to abolish slavery. Britons of all classes felt that the Republicans had reneged in their promise. If the North fought to preserve its empire with slavery intact, while the Confederacy fought to exist as a slave nation, they saw little morality in either side’s position.
On top of this, on March 1, 1861, in the waning days of the Buchanan Administration, most Southern Congressmen had departed and the Republicans administration adopted the "Morrill" Tariff, a protectionist measure that would deliver a blow directly to the British pocketbook and was resented by the governing class even more then the Union’s default on the slavery issue. British public opinion shifted to the South.
Why? Because the Confederacy had what Great Britain wanted: cotton. One-sixth of the British population depended in one form or another for their livelihood on imported cotton. In 1860, 85% of the cotton used in British textile mills came from the South! The Southern planters, convinced by their own propaganda that "Cotton was King," sure their control of the world's largest cotton source gave them leverage, withheld all cotton from the world market until recognition was granted. This was a grave error.
There had been bumper cotton crops in the South for in 1857-59 and British warehouses bulged with cotton. The textile mills during those years had produced an enormous supply of finished product, glutting the world market. Some of the textile mills worked part time until the world surplus was reduced. In short, Great Briton did not at this time need the South's cotton. The cotton embargo damaged the Confederacy's position in Great Britain more than it injured its textile industry. The British ruling class resented the South's attempt to coerce it into recognition by economic blackmail. France, was the second largest foreign consumer of Southern cotton. Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, elected as head of state, had seized control and ruled as Emperor. Although some outward trappings of democracy still survived, he effectively controlled the government. France had the largest army in Europe, over 600,000 men, and was busy enlarging its navy with strange new iron vessels.
Napoleon III did not trust the British and the British did not trust him. They looked upon him as a loose cannon, whose quixotic behavior might upset the world balance of power. Nonetheless, Britain and France agreed to act jointly in dealing with the conflagration in America. During the Civil War, Napoleon III, for the most part, followed the British lead, but often urged intervention or recognition of the Confederacy. However, when the chips were down, France drew back and followed Britain's lead.
The Civil War opened the door to several violations of the Monroe Doctrine. When Mexico defaulted on its national debt, Great Britain, France and Spain used military force to collect the debt. Lincoln tried to avoid this use of force by offering to pay the interest on Mexico’s debts for a term of years, but the allies rejected his offer. In violation of his agreement to stop with collecting the debt, Napoleon III sent an expeditionary force to put Maximilian of Austria on the Mexican throne and threatened to retake Haiti. Spain, harboring visions of past glory, took advantage of the moment to reoccupy Santo Domingo. Immersed in a fight for its life, the Federal government was helpless to do anything but protest.
Mid-century, Europe was seething with nationalistic fever. The reactionary peace imposed on Europe in 1815 was beginning to come apart. Italy had recently united as a nation, but France and Austria seized parts of that new country. The Greeks grew restless under the iron rule of a foreign king. The Poles threatened to revolt against Russian rule. Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had united the Germanic states, and took Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark by force. Russia, afraid that Britain and France might team up against it over Poland, sent its navy to the North’s East and West coast ports for shelter in the event of war. Britain’s situation was different: It had just fought an inconclusive and very costly war, in men and money, against Russia in the Crimea. Add the horrors of the recent Sepoy revolt in India, and Britain was gun shy about getting involved in another war.
South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, soon followed by five states from the deep South. On February 22, 1861, they formed the Confederate States of America, adopted a constitution, and swore in a Provisional President: Jefferson Davis. The seventh state, Texas, joined them a day later. The Confederate Convention authorized President Davis to appoint a three-man commission to seek recognition by the European powers. Davis, secure in the belief that the power of cotton would quickly convince Britain and France to recognize the Confederacy, played politics in appointing the head of the mission.
William Loudes Yancey of Alabama, a firebrand, along with a few others, had masterminded the rush to secession. Davis did not want this radical in his cabinet, and maneuvered him into accepting a position on the commission. This was a bad mistake. Yancey, a tobacco-chewing, charismatic stump speaker, was wrong for a diplomatic post, especially in Britain where his advocacy for the resumption of the slave trade would win him few friends. The other two men on the commission Ambrose Dudley Mann and Pierre Rost were little known and of no consequence. The commissioners departed for Great Britain before the attack on Fort Sumter, but did not reach there until April 27th. By then, the Civil War had begun. Their instructions were to seek recognition by reminding the British that any interruption in the flow of Southern cotton would be detrimental to Britain, and that an independent Confederacy was prepared to offer more advantageous trade arrangements than Britain had enjoyed before. They were to downplay slavery and blame secession on the tariff issue. The Commissioners immediately requested an interview with Lord Russell, who promptly met with them, unofficially, twice in early May. Both times, Russell was noncommittal on recognition. Undaunted, the commissioners had great faith in the power of cotton and believed recognition would come quickly.
On April 15, 1861, Lincoln called up 75,000 militia troops to put down "insurrection." On that same day Jefferson Davis announced in Montgomery, Alabama, that the Confederacy was prepared to issue letters of marquee and reprisal to privateers prepared to seek out and destroy Yankee commerce on the high seas. Lincoln replied on April 19th by ordering the United States Navy to blockade Southern ports. In the same proclamation he declared that all Southern privateers would be treated as pirates.
Lord Russell, on May 6th, two days after he met with the Confederate commissioners, announced to Parliament that Great Britain would remain neutral in the conflict between the North and the South. The French followed suit one month later. Under the rules of international law, a declaration of neutrality automatically recognized both parties to the conflict as "belligerents." A belligerent had well defined rights. It could blockade enemy ports, which would be respected by neutrals provided the blockade was effective. It could issue letter of marquee and reprisal to privateers, who had a right to attack enemy vessels, without fear of being accused of piracy. It could borrow money and purchase arms and munitions from neutrals. A recognition of belligerency was a step short of recognition of independence. Under international law, a neutral nation could recognize the independence of the insurrectionists only when the mother country abandoned its effort to subdue them.
William H. Seward, the genial and capable 60-year old former governor of New York, a long time United States Senator who had experience there with foreign relations, was Lincoln's Secretary of State. His well-publicized idea that a foreign war would reunite the people of the United States was scorned by European statesman. At the same time his bold warnings that the United States would tolerate no interference in its domestic problems and was ready to fight a foreign war to protect its internal integrity, left those same statesmen nonplused and unsure of themselves. They dealt with Seward with great caution. Seward, like Napoleon III, was considered by them to be unpredictable and dangerous.
Charles Francis Adams, a shy and unsocial, but brilliant, New Englander, was the son and grandson of presidents. He had grown up living in overseas embassies and had even attended an English boarding school. He knew and understood the inner workings of foreign relations. At Seward's urging Lincoln had appointed him as the United States' emissary to Great Britain. Although Adams had a low opinion of Abraham Lincoln, he was splendidly qualified for the position. Seward and Adams were outraged at Britain's declaration of neutrality. They felt that Lord Russell had acted precipitously after speaking to the Confederate commissioners but before hearing the United States' position. They felt that Britain had promoted the South to a equal position with the North before it had even proved itself capable of maintaining an army in the field or a navy at sea. They feared that it was only a very small step from a recognition of belligerency to a hasty recognition of independence. They believed recognition of belligerency gave the South the morale to fight a long war. Adams had delayed sailing for England because of his son's marriage and did not arrive there until after the declaration of neutrality. Both Seward and Adams labored arduously and fruitlessly for the next several years to persuade the British government to retract its recognition of the South as a belligerent.
Ironically, they erred in trying to do so. Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell were right about neutrality and its automatic corollary of belligerency. In the long run British neutrality, with its recognition of belligerency and the right of blockade, proved enormously beneficial to the North. Especially when Britain, in June 1861 closed its ports to all privateers. France and the rest of Europe followed suit. This action effectively put a stop to Confederate privateering almost before it began. If Confederate privateers could not bring their captures into neutral ports for adjudication as prizes that could be sold, there was no profit in privateering. These actions, to some extent, mollified Seward, who on May 21st had given Adams his famous Dispatch No. 10. Adams was instructed to read this strongly worded paper to Lord Russell, which among other things notified the British Foreign Minister that the United States would not tolerate his further meetings with the Confederate commissioners. If Britain chose to recognize the southern privateers and give them shelter, the dispatch strongly inferred that the United States, to prevent this, was prepared to go to war. Lincoln attempted to modify and soften this dispatch but Seward ignored most of those modifications in the final draft. He did, however, obey Lincoln's direction that Adams not read the dispatch to Lord Russell, but instead explain it in his own words. Adams had the good sense to soften the strong language when he met for the first time with Lord Russell. If the chauvinistic Lord Palmerston and the impulsive Lord Russell had read the dispatch in its original form the two countries would have moved to the edge of war. Nevertheless, Lord Russell did not meet again with the rebel commissioners or any other Confederate representative.
The seeds of this dispute began before the war even started when Lincoln and his cabinet discussed the steps the Union should take if war came. Lincoln never officially recognized an entity called the Confederate States of America. To him, the people of the South were United States citizens who had joined together as insurrectionists. They were, at worst, in rebellion against their lawful government. He felt that the government had the right to collect its revenue even if it had to do so by naval vessels stationed off the ports held by the rebels. Further, the lawful government had the right to close those ports to foreign vessels.
The cabinet discussed this as an alternative to declaring a blockade. Neither Lincoln, who admitted he knew very little about foreign affairs, nor Seward, who understood foreign relations but was not well versed in international law, fully comprehended the problems that would arise if Lincoln proclaimed a blockade. At any rate, Lincoln opted for the blockade on Seward's advice that it would involve fewer legal and constitutional complications than a closure of the rebel ports. Neither Lincoln nor Seward realized that under international law when a country imposed a blockade on its enemy [even rebels?] that enemy automatically became a belligerent in the eyes of any nation declaring its neutrality in the conflict.
All this was just as well. Britain and the European powers never would have accepted forcible closure of Southern ports by mere "municipal" law. First, the United States did not control these ports, the rebels did. Second, the insurrection was just too big to be considered a local uprising. Ten million people in revolt in an area the size of Europe did not look like an insurrection. It did not even look like a rebellion. It looked like a war between nations, and while the outcome was in doubt most of foreign powers were betting that the United States would never be put together again. Had the United States attempted to close the rebel ports, Great Britain and France would have declared it a illegitimate, unenforceable "paper" blockade. When Congress later passed a law closing rebel-held ports, Lincoln wisely chose not to attempt to enforce it. Declaring a blockade is one thing; enforcing it another. When Lincoln issued his blockade proclamation, the United States fleet was woefully small [90 vessels, of which only 42 were fit to sail]. Most of its vessels were on foreign station: the Orient, the Mediterranean and the West coast of Africa. An adequate navy had to be developed quickly to attempt to blockade 3,500 miles of Southern coast line with ten major seaports and numerous smaller landing sites. Britain, over the protests of the Confederacy, chose to recognize the blockade as effective and hence legal, even though early in the war few blockade runners were stopped. The blockade was never watertight. At its best, late in the war, it stopped only one out of every two vessels attempting to reach the sanctuary of a rebel port. [Still, the North, with over 500 vessels, captured or destroyed over 1500 blockade runners.]
Britain recognized the blockade, not because it believed it effective, but because it was in its self interest to do so. As the country with the world's most powerful navy, Britain was concerned that in a future war it might find it necessary to impose a blockade. It did not want to establish a precedent that would make it more difficult for it to strangle a future foe. Beyond this, Seward had left no doubt in the minds of British officials that a refusal to accept the blockade could well end in war. Britain ignored the abundant evidence about the ineffectiveness of the blockade, both from its own counsels and from the Southern commissioners, first because it did not recognize the Confederacy and therefore could and did ignore its commissioners; and second, since cotton was not flowing to Europe, the South could not deny that the blockade was effective. The Confederate government never acknowledged its unofficial embargo and consequently could not deny the effectiveness of the blockade! Jefferson Davis was hung on the petard of King Cotton!
Lord Russell now obtained some helpful advice: The international law doctrine that a blockade, to be accepted, must be effective was interpreted, by the Foreign Office lawyers to mean that if the ships blockading a port created an "evident danger" to the vessels trying to use that port, the blockade would be deemed effective and therefore lawful. The South cried foul. Their tabulation of the many ships that sailed in and out of their ports through the Yankee blockaders was ignored. All that mattered to the British was whether those ships in doing so faced some "evident danger" of being captured.
There was a further reason why Great Britain did not wish to risk a war with the United States as it might end with the loss of two very valuable possessions in the new world: Canada and the West Indies. Seward had hinted and the American press had often declared that the North in the event it lost the South would compensate itself by expanding Northward at the expense of Canada. In case of a war with the United States there was little doubt that both Canada and the West Indies would be targeted by the North. The British were not overly concerned about the safety of the West Indies--they thought their powerful Navy could protect those colonies--but Canada was another story. Canada had not yet confederated. The separate colonies were woefully unprepared to resist United States aggression. They were at odds with the mother country over who should pay the cost of arming and training the various militias and of building the necessary fortifications and military roads. [shades of the American Revolution!]
In 1861, Britain had very few regular troops in the Canadian colonies. Lord Palmerston, as a warning to Lincoln and Seward, had several regiments of regulars sent there in 1861, but then Royal Army feared that many regulars would successfully desert. Until the fall of 1863 the arming of Canada was a constant preoccupation of the Palmerston Government. Except for the Trent crisis when some 10,000 troops were hastily sent, Canada remained naked to Yankee aggression. This caused Britain considerable concern.
There was one more and perhaps the major reason why Great Britain did not intervene in the conflict. As noted earlier, Europe was in turmoil. At any time Britain might become involved in war with Russia over Poland, or Prussia over Denmark, or France over Italy. No such war happened, in part because Britain was worried about having to fight a war with the United States at the same time it was engaged in a European imbroglio. Britain did not interfere with France's adventure in Mexico because it was happy to see that country stuck in a quagmire on the American continent and so unable to cause trouble in Europe. France followed Britain's lead during the Civil War because its commitments in Europe and Mexico it did not leave it with the strength to confront the United States on its own.
"And the war came." The Confederate tide rose and fell. The Union disaster at First Bull Run confirmed the British mind that the South would win independence. Lord Palmerston mockingly called the Yankees' precipitous retreat "the Bull Run Races." By the end of the year the Confederate victories at Wilson' Creek and Ball's Bluff reinforced this feeling. This did not lead to recognition and by mid September 1862, Yancey was unhappy with his lack of progress and wanted to go home. Jefferson Davis decided to replace the three commissioners in London with a representative in London and another in Paris.
James Mason of Virginia was appointed to London and John Slidell of Louisiana to Paris. Mason was a poor choice. As a United States Senator he had drafted the infamous Fugitive Slave Law of the Compromise of 1850. This made him unpopular with slavery-hating Britons. Slidell, who spoke excellent French, was a very good choice. He was knowledgeable, intelligent and resourceful. No matter what their qualifications, without ever reaching London, these two and rash US Naval officers almost triggered war between the United States and Britain. The emissaries, after some delays, reached Havana, Cuba, where they boarded the British ship Trent bound for London. They carried diplomatic dispatches. Captain Charles Wilkes, a 40-year veteran of the United States Navy, in command of the thirteen gun sloop USS San Jacinto. was returning from duty off the coast of Africa when he learned about the Trent, its important passengers and their dispatches. Considering himself an expert on international law, he believed that the dispatch case was enemy "contraband" which he was entitled to seize from a neutral ship. He extrapolated from this the novel concept that since the dispatches were contraband than the two emissaries were the "embodiment of the dispatches" and also "contraband" so he was entitled to seize them as well!
With a shot across her bow, the San Jacinto intercepted the Trent on November 8th in the Caribbean. Captain Wilkes sent Lieutenant D. M. Fairfax and a boarding party to seize the emissaries and their dispatches and to take the Trent as a prize. Fairfax apprehended Mason and Slidell, but failed to find the dispatch case, which had been placed with the Master of the Trent for safe keeping. Not wanting to inconvenience the passengers or anger the British, Fairfax let the ship go. When he returned, he convinced Wilkes that his actions had been correct. They were not. Under international law, Wilkes was obligated to take his captives, their contraband, and the ship that carried them into port before a prize court for an adjudication of the legality of the capture. If it were not legal, he could be held personally liable to the injured parties for damages. Wilkes proceeded to Boston where his captives were incarcerated and he received great notoriety. The US House passed a resolution congratulating him. Gideon Wells the Secretary of the Navy honored him. However, country-wide rejoicing over this "splendid victory" did not last long.
Cooler heads soon realized that Briton would react with fury, as it did. It found the illegal seizure a calculated insult to its national honor (one of the three causes of war noted earlier) and rapidly prepared for war. Reinforcements were sent to Canada and the Atlantic naval squadron was augmented. All military supplies bound for the United States were embargoed, including a large shipment of saltpeter, desperately needed to manufacture gun powder. The British cabinet prepared a strongly worded ultimatum demanding the release of Mason and Slidell. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, on his death bed, modified its harshness but not its intent: the United States must release Mason and Slidell and apologize, or else face the wrath of the British Empire.
Now the diplomats went to work. Although the British Cabinet demanded a reply and apology to its ultimatum within 7 days of its receipt, Lord Russell informed Lord Lyons he could extend that period in the interest of peace and go easy on demanding an apology. Seward, realizing the United States was in the wrong, urged Lincoln to release the captives. Lincoln, anxious to save political face, preferred to submit the matter to foreign arbitration, but Seward, who realized the British were in no mood for delay, prevailed. At a special cabinet meeting on Christmas day, 1862, the United States agreed to release Mason and Slidell. Lincoln purportedly said "One war at a time is enough." Seward's dispatch to Britain was a diplomatic masterpiece: the United States was releasing the prisoners because Captain Wilkes had acted without instructions, which was true, and he congratulated the British for now agreeing with the Americans that no belligerent had a right to remove a noncombatant from a neutral ship without the adjudication of a prize court. This was the reason for the War of 1812! There was no apology. The uproar in Britain subsided.
As 1862 went along, the Federal armies began to see success. They won the battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky; General Grant captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in the same state; the Federals won the three-day battle at Pea Ridge in Arkansas; they won the battle of Shiloh; seized Island Number 10; and occupied the South's largest city, New Orleans. By June 1st General McClellan was within five miles of Richmond. It began to look to the British and the Europeans that the United States would survive and that the war would not be a long one. But then, Stonewall Jackson, set loose in the Shenandoah Valley, ran rings around three Union armies, as a prelude to General Lee's victories in the Seven Days Battle and the Second Battle of Bull Run, and his advance into Maryland, ending with the bloody Yankee "victory" at Antietam.
It was now August 1862, and the cotton inventory in England was almost exhausted. There was heavy unemployment in the cotton textile area and considerable human suffering. A crisis was developing. No end to the Civil War was in sight. Lord Russell felt the time for England to intervene had arrived, but his Cabinet members were all spending the summer at their country estates. Palmerston and Russell scheduled a Cabinet meeting on October 23rd. Palmerston, ever practical, had gone on record that unless the Yankees suffered a great defeat in Maryland, he was against any offer of mediation. Knowing such an offer implied recognition and risked war, he opposed mediation without the support of France.
Then on October 7th, William Gladstone, the Minister of Finance, in a public speech urged recognition of the South! Lord Russell circulated a memorandum among the Cabinet members that the combined powers propose an armistice during which the sides could calmly weigh the benefits of peace. The proposal, in reality, informed the North that the European powers felt it could not win the war and wanted it ended. Momentum for intervention appeared to be building, but was quickly cut short by a public speech and a memorandum passed among the Cabinet members by the liberal and well respected Sir George Comewell Lewis, the Minister of War. He insisted that the Confederacy had not legally or morally established its de facto independence, that any proposal for an armistice would favor the South and would be deeply resented by the North, and would most likely result in an expensive war with the United States. Lord Palmerston agreed with him and urged his "wait and see" policy. At an informal meeting, the majority of the Cabinet agreed not to intervene. Lord Russell abandoned his proposal.
But now, Napoleon III, whose Foreign Minister had shown no enthusiasm for Lord Russell's proposal, appointed a new Foreign Minister and, urged on by John Slidell, advocated that France, Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia recommend a six month armistice, with the blockade suspended. This proposal was so pro-Confederate that the British rejected it both in private and in public.
While this was going on, Abraham Lincoln had delivered his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. In Britain, pro-Northern, anti-slave supporters loved it while pro -Southern and anti-Northern factions deplored it. The conservative, influential London Times accused the Lincoln Administration of delivering it ". . .when its military and political powers are most broken . . ." There were numerous warnings, from prominent people including Lord Russell, that it would encourage the slaves to revolt and end in a massacre of southern woman and children. Lincoln was ridiculed because he "freed" the slaves where he had no power to do so and left them as slaves in the territory he controlled. After January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect with no servile uprisings, public opinion in Britain began to swing back to the North. The North now had morality on its side. It was now fighting for freedom as well as for Union. British anti-slavery sentiment was rejuvenated, but the war was far from over and one of the greatest threats to peace was yet to come.
Next to the confrontation over the Trent, the issue that brought the two nations closest to conflict was the Confederacy's program to build commerce raiders in Britain. The hero of this project was Davis’ most successful overseas appointee, James D. Bullock of Georgia, a veteran of the United States Navy and commercial maritime service. He organized and supervised the building of warships in the Liverpool shipyards where Southern sympathy was strong (the city's wealth had grown out of the slave trade). Bullock found a loophole in British neutrality laws prohibiting constructing and arming warships for belligerents in Britain, so his first ship was constructed but not armed using a false name and forged ownership papers. The ship sailed to the Bahamas where cannons were installed and ammunition loaded and it was christened as the CSS Florida. Before the Union Navy caught it in 1864, it destroyed 38 American merchant vessels. Lord Russell ordered Bullock’s second ship detained, but Bullock induced the Liverpool customs agent to allow the ship to take a "trial run" from which of course it never returned. As the CSS Alabama, it was the scourge of the American merchant marine. Before being sunk by the USS Kearsage in mid 1864, it destroyed 64 to 68 American ships. The United States merchant fleet never recovered from this devastation. At an arbitration held in Switzerland in 1872, the British Government agreed to pay the United States $15 million for damages caused by the "illegal" Confederate commerce raiders.
Bullock kept trying, but one ship was detained by the British and eventually purchased by Britain! Three other commerce raiders were built but had short and unimportant lives. In mid summer 1863, two very powerful ironclad warships ("Rams") were launched by the Laird Company. Some observers called them the most powerful ships in the world. Adams, more anxious and upset than at any other time, sent Russell a final note on behalf of the United States saying, "It would be superfluous [for] me to point out [to] your Lordship that this is war." Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells ordered 30 privateers to drive British commerce from the oceans and beefed up the defenses of Northern seaports. Unknown to Adams, his note to Lord Russell and Russell's action to detain the first of the Rams, occurred at the same time. The British Government embargoed both Rams and the crisis was over. James Bullock had, indeed, been very good at his work, but American public opinion scars due to British connivance in the Confederate ship building program lasted several generations.
While the Laird Ram problem was coming to a boil, John A. Roebuck, an independent member of Commons, who believed Yankees were the scum of every nation while Southerners were true gentlemen, brought a motion before the House of Commons demanding that the government begin negotiations with other European Powers toward the recognition of the Confederacy. The motion was not argued until June 30, 1863. It was coldly and rudely received and soundly defeated in the House of Commons. Four days later, Union armies won the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg. The Confederacy was slowly bleeding to death.
By the end of 1863, while the bloody struggle between North and South would continue for another 15 months, the battle for the hearts and minds of the British people and their government was over. The United States, with its growing military, naval and economic power, had won the diplomatic battle, but not without a hard fight.
Howie Krizer, who should be the Assistant Editor of this Newsletter, advises us of an opportunity to "relive" the Civil War courtesy of reenactors. The uniforms, weapons and utensils are authentic. The free event, at American Legion Post 65, 263 NE 5th Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33483, runs from noon-5 PM, Saturday, August 11th and noon-4 PM, Sunday, August 12. Call (561) 330-6905 for details.
Last changed: 08/04/12