Published on June 6, 2016
1. The role of Great Britain in the American Civil War “Recognition of the Confederacy meant war with the Union.” Robert Foussat History 4990 November 8, 2012
2. This paper is about British involvement in the American Civil war, and will argue that the Confederate diplomacy considered only one element of the position of Great Britain when seeking recognition of the newly formed Confederate States of America. The one element that the Confederates emphasized was the effect that an absence of cotton in the British textile industry would have on the British economy. This paper will also argue that the United States, (the Union), was more aware of the greater needs of the British, which were a beneficial trade with the Union, and a good financial relationship, and that the British decided to stay out of the American Civil War. This paper will demonstrate what the objectives of both the Confederacy and the Union with regard to Britain were. It will also argue why British recognition of the Confederacy was so important to the Southerners. Additionally, it will show the nature of the British position regarding the American conflict, and it will examine the issue of slavery in relation to diplomacy amongst Britain, the Union and the Confederacy. Lastly, it will demonstrate the effects of the war on the British economy, primarily by “King Cotton Diplomacy”, and explore why in the end did Britain took the position it did in the American Civil War. This paper will demonstrate that it was not, however, in the best interests of Great Britain to become openly involved in the conflict. With the onset of the American Civil War in 1861 the newly formed Confederate States of America, comprising eleven seceded states, representing the southern half of the United States, began a major effort to enlist British sympathies, aid and, if possible, military support against the North to force the government of Union President Abraham Lincoln to stop the war and formally recognize the Confederacy. On October 10, 1861, Union Secretary of State William Seward stated “it is never to be forgotten that although 2
3. the sympathy of other nations is eminently desirable, yet foreign sympathy or even foreign support never did and never can create or maintain any state.” 1 However, if it were not for the intervention of France, that the American colonies might not have been able to successfully win their war of independence from Britain in 1783. The major hole in Seward’s argument is that foreign intervention would not have made a difference in 1861, when French involvement was a major factor in the successful American Revolution eighty years earlier. For Seward to say in 1861 that foreign involvement would not have any lasting effect was strongly contradictory by the standards of American history. In that were it not for the intervention of the French the revolting American colonies could have very well have been overwhelmed and subjugated once again to British rule. There have been many attempts to explain the British position in the US Civil War. Most of the early commentaries by nineteenth century authors had a stronger bias in favor of a particular argument or theory. For example, the majority of public opinion written in the South during, and for most of the next generation after the war, took a very hostile position towards Britain. There were many instances of Southern accusations of various motives towards the British, suggesting that Britain was looking to profit from the war.2 On May 11, 1864, The Richmond Daily Dispatch also went on to say that, “Britain’s ‘malignant’ policy was aimed at ‘helping both the belligerents utterly to devour and destroy each other.’”3 This mentality was prevalent in the former Confederacy through the early twentieth century. This comment reinforced my view that in the face of 1 Seward to Carl Schurz, Oct. 10 1861, Frederic Bancroft Speeches, Correspondence and Political papers of Carl Schurz (New York, NY 1913), 192 2 Blumenthal, Henry, Confederate Diplomacy: Popular notions and international realities, (GA: Journal of Southern History, vol. 32, no. 2, 1966) 159 3 Richmond Daily Dispatch, (Richmond) May 11, 1864 3
4. defeat that the South was unable to see any other position than their own. Yet when the Confederacy was seeking British diplomatic and perhaps even military aid, no consideration for British interests was ever discussed. On May 16, 1861, Her Majesty’s Government issued a formal proclamation that stated that Britain would “maintain a strict and partial neutrality in the contest between the said contending parties.”4 Initially, this official statement should have ended any Confederate hopes for British intervention. This, however, did not lessen Confederate resolve to pursue British assistance and recognition. In 1861, the position of the Confederate States of America was to seek international recognition as a means of securing its position as an independent nation. The position of the United States of America was to put down the rebellion of the Southern states in order to preserve the Union. The South strongly appealed to Great Britain to aid them in their bid for independence, believing that cotton would be the only factor that would quickly and eagerly bring the British into the war, without considering the broad needs and situation of Britain. The Confederacy pressed the issue of National Sovereignty, yet the British still only formally recognized the government in Washington as the official governing body in the United States. In that cotton was indeed a necessary resource that had been provided by the American South, yet it was not the only resource required by Britain. Great Britain was heavily dependent upon Southern cotton for its large textile industry. The Confederates believed that cotton was such an important import to the British that they would need to intervene in the war for the sake of their workers 4 The Times, (London) Civil War in America, May 14, 1861 4
5. livelihoods. The question has been presented as to why not the British could be neutral and trade with the Confederacy? From the onset of the war, President Lincoln enacted the “Anaconda Plan” where the Federal navy would blockade all Confederate ports and prevent all outside trade. Had the British attempted to continue the cotton trade with the south as they had before the war there would have undoubtedly been confrontations with the Union Navy, and there very well could have been an international incident that could have easily harmed all maritime trade between Britain and the Union. While yes, the British required cotton for its textile industry, the risks heavily outweighed the need to keep the Lancashire textile mills full of southern cotton. Before the Civil War was a certainty, Senator James Henry Hammond (South Carolina) made precisely this argument before Congress on 4 March 1858. This came to be known throughout the nation as the “Cotton is King” speech. In this oratory, Senator Hammond, stated that if there were a three year famine of Southern cotton, “England would topple headlong and would carry the whole civilized world with her… Cotton is King.” 5 This was the birth of what would be known to the world as “King Cotton Mentality.” Notwithstanding the British textile industry’s heavy dependence upon Southern cotton, it will be demonstrated that, outside of the need for cotton, the Confederacy did not consider the broad needs or best interests of the very nation whom they were attempting to persuade to come to their aid. The Confederate position was highly presumptuous and extremely one- dimensional in its approach towards international relations, whereas the war and the 5 Selections from the Letters and Speeches of the Hon. James H. Hammond, of South Carolina (New York: John F. Trow & Co., 1866), 311-322. 5
6. needs of the British and their empire were treated very differently in the British presses. At the beginning of the war London Times correspondent William Howard Russell toured the new Confederacy, and “was clearly irritated by the assumption, repeatedly expressed to him during his visit, that material considerations alone would determine British policy towards the South. ‘It is astonishing how positive all these people are that England is in absolute dependence on cotton for her national existence.’”6 While it was true that Southern cotton greatly affected the Lancashire textile region, it was only one region of a very vast and complex empire. While the absence of cotton did have a tremendous effect on the region during the war, it was not the sole deciding element that would persuade the British parliament that intervention was best and only option to restore this resource. I have found little evidence that the Confederates had ever considered the broad economic needs of the British Empire outside of the textile industry. Historian James M. McPherson stated in 1988 that the Confederates were well aware of the position that the absence of cotton in the Lancashire textile district would place Britain in, and that cotton was to be the main element of Confederate diplomacy with Great Britain. McPherson estimated that: “Britain imported three-fourths of its cotton from the American South.” 7 In addition, Ford Risley in 2004 elaborated on this point, quoting the Charleston Mercury in how it was the position of the paper that it was 6 Crawford, Martin, William Howard Russell and the Confederacy, Journal of American Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2, 1981 7 McPherson, James M. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988) 383 6
7. best for the Confederacy to push for “bankruptcy of every cotton factory in Great Britain and France or the acknowledgement of our independence.”8 In the historiography of the topic of cotton there is little in the way of varying viewpoints in the South regarding its absolute position that cotton was the only factor that would determine British policy regarding the Confederacy. Both those who were alive to witness it and those who have studied it 150 years later share the same views, that the Confederates gave little thought to the long term needs of Britain. The two very different positions taken by the British and the Confederate newspapers demonstrates that there was indeed little in common between the ideas and temperaments of the government and citizens of the Confederacy and government of Great Britain. The Charleston Mercury took the absolute position that the Confederates held an absolute strangle-hold on the British, and that British assistance was a certainty. The London Times correspondent observed the problem of the absence of Southern cotton as one, but not the only issue facing Great Britain. In 1959, historian Frank Lawrence Owsley expanded upon the view point of The Charleston Mercury, stating that the Union was “carrying on two sets of hostilities” in that not only was the North attacking the South literally, but was also continually attacking the British with high tariffs. 9 While it was true that the British did not care for the high American tariffs, it was hardly a reason to go to war over. To the dismay of the Confederates there was nothing officially said by the British that they had any intention of deviating from their announced position of neutrality. The only open deviation by a 8 Risley, Ford, The Civil War: Primary Documents from 1860 to 1865. Westport, Connecticut, (London: Greenwood Press, 2004) 163 9 Frank L. Owsley, King Cotton Diplomacy (Chicago, 1959), 192. 7
8. member of parliament to the contrary was by J. A. Roebuck, who in May of 1863 called for a motion for the recognition of the Confederacy. By this point in the war, with the Emancipation Proclamation becoming official on January 1 and with as tide of the war began to turn against the Confederates, “it was rather clear that the cause of the South would not command the support of any British party.”10 Henry Blumenthal, writing for the Journal of Southern History in 1966 explored another avenue as to why, in addition to cotton, the South believed that the British would come to aid the Confederates. This was the belief that there was a deep kinship between the Southern planter class and the British landowners.11 Yet, while there were some similarities between the Southern Planter class and the British country landowners in terms of manners, traditions and so forth, there was little similarity on the subject of slavery. In 1861 the South proved it was willing to fight for the institution, while British landowners were well known abolitionists at this point, Britain having ended the Slave Trade in 1807 and having legally abolished slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833. This was another failed attempt by the Confederates to bring the British and the Southerners into a sense of kinship. In the writings of Owsley and Blumenthal, Owsley in 1959 tended to focus more on the various elements of the war, from the tariffs and the various attempts of the Confederates to persuade the British to enter the war on their behalf. Blumenthal in 1966 pointed out how the Confederates took it a step beyond that and tried to appeal to the hearts of the British by attempting to list some of the ways that their very different lives 10 Jones, Wilbur Devereux, The British conservatives and the American Civil War. (The American Historical review. Vol. 58, No. 3, 1953) IL: The University of Chicago Press, 535. 11 Blumenthal, Henry, Confederate Diplomacy: Popular notions and international realities, (GA: Journal of Southern History, vol. 32, no. 2, 1966) 156 8
9. and lifestyles were actually very similar. Owsley’s book went from the position that the Confederates were using many arguments that had British attention, but did not persuade them to action in their behalf. Wilbur Jones, in 1953, added arguments such as if the North were to lose the South permanently that the North would possibly look to moving into Canada to compensate for its lost territory.12 Where the thought of American intervention in Canada was an ever looming concern for the British, there was little to back up the idea that the Union army moving north was a viable threat. It was readily viewed as little more than a scare tactic to attempt to move the British towards involvement in the war. Where Blumenthal presented his point that it was the Confederate desire to persuade the British by an appeal to heart and home, and that the North was attacking countries, lands and homesteads in the South that were kin to the British in every way. In the North there was a growing concern as to what position Britain would take in its conflict with the South. McPherson mentioned a conversation with British Prime Minister Palmerston and Lord Russell in May 1861, where Russell expressed his desire to keep Britain out of the war. Palmerston, in response, made the comment “They who in quarrels interpose, will often get a bloody nose.”13 This suggests that Palmerston had the foresight to know that the British would not be able to leave the American Civil War unscathed should it choose to enter in any form. While there were many reasons, such as trade, the stability of the empire, and, quite frankly, Britain’s complete lack of preparedness for armed intervention, Palmerston and Parliament had the foresight to 12 Jones, Wilbur Devereux, The British conservatives and the American Civil War. (The American Historical review. Vol. 58, No. 3, 1953) IL: The University of Chicago Press, 528. 13 McPherson, James M. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988) 384 9
10. know that there was no version of events that involved intervention that proved entirely favorable to the British, and that the wisest course of action in the face of the situation was to simply do nothing. However, complete non-involvement would change when President Lincoln authorized the aforementioned “Anaconda Plan,” whereby the Federal navy blockaded all Confederate ports. This change directly affected British interests, in that the British were no longer able to receive Southern cotton, save by sporadic and inconsistent blockade running, and the only way Britain would be able reestablish the free trade of cotton would to be to run the blockade and risk open provocation of the Federal Navy. In January 1862 the Confederate Congress enacted a formal “Cotton Embargo,” where no cotton would be sent by any means to Britain in the hopes of coercing the British into breaking the blockade.14 However, notwithstanding the strain that the Anaconda Plan placed upon British-Union relations, the British were willing to respect the Union blockade and not to risk open conflict with the North by trying to break it. McPherson explained the position from the point of view that there were many factors affecting British policies and decisions, none of which had entertained the idea of going to war. Owsley reaffirmed my argument that the South was not considering the broad British decisions with regard to their decisions on Confederate policy, in that the Confederates myopically viewed cotton as the only factor that would be required to move the British towards intervention. British neutrality came very close to being undermined in October 1861. Two Confederate officials, James Mason and John Slidell embarked on a diplomatic mission from Charleston, South Carolina to Havana, Cuba, and booked passage to England via the British Steamer Trent. The purpose of Mason and Slidell’s journey was to persuade 14 Frank L. Owsley, King Cotton Diplomacy (Chicago, 1959), 19 10
11. Britain and France to intercede in the war on behalf of the Confederacy. On November 8, the U.S.S. San Jacinto fired a shot across the bow of the Trent, came alongside, inspected the ship and had the two Confederate diplomats removed.15 This event helped to bolster Confederate hopes that Britain would enter the conflict. Shortly after The Trent Affair became public knowledge Confederate Secretary of State and Confederate General Robert Toombs “…asserted four weeks later that these ‘very friendly’ powers will acknowledge us formally as soon as either time or our decided success gives assurance of our power to maintain ourselves.”16 Kenneth Bourne wrote in 1961 that while Britain was not going to back down from a confrontation and to any threat to their commerce trading, that Britain was very concerned about the ramifications of open conflict with the United States. For notwithstanding the strength of the British Royal Navy, Great Britain was not prepared for war, and parliament was especially concerned about being able to hold Canada should the Union turn its army northward, which is why they sent nine thousand troops to Canada almost immediately after The Trent Affair.17 In 2010, historian Howard Jones pointed out that what did not help the situation during this very precarious time in Anglo- American relations was in “Seward’s ominous directive authorizing (US Ambassador to the UK) Adams to put the Palmerston ministry on notice that recognition of the Confederacy meant war with the Union.18 Historian Charles M. Hubbard pointed out in 1998 that another factor in British history just before the Civil War was the Crimean War, 15 Adams, Charles Francis, The Trent Affair, an historical retrospect, (Boston, MA, 1912), 8 16 Toombs to Stephens, June 21, 1861, in Myrta Lockett Avary, Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens (New York, 1910), 67-68. 17 Bourne, Kenneth, British Preparations for War with the North, 1861-1862, The English Historical Review, Vol. 76, No. 301 (London, 1961), 601 18 Jones, Howard, Blue & Grey diplomacy: a history of Union and Confederate foreign relations. (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2010) 103 11
12. where loss of life for the British Army created a reluctance to charge headlong into another potentially costly war.19 There is a similar undertone in the writings of Bourne, Jones and Hubbard, in that all three agree that Britain was not desiring war with the United States, or with anyone for that matter. Historian R.J.M. Blackett writing in 2001 stated that the Trent Affair “pushed many [British] into the ranks of Confederate supporters.” 20 It was Blackett’s argument that many in Britain were ready to strike back at the Union. However, as the North had already fielded over two hundred thousand troops for close to a year by the time of the Trent Affair, it was doubtful that those nine thousand would have lasted long should it have come to repelling a Union invasion. As Bourne stated, one of the key factors that relieved the British, (before Lincoln formally apologized on Christmas Day), was the coming of winter. Lord Palmerston stated that the Americans would not want “to repeat all the terrors of Moscow,” speaking in reference to Napoleon’s disaster in the War of 1812. Where it was hoped by Palmerston that the Canadian winter in the 1860s could have the same effect on a potential Union invasion force that the Russian winter of 1812 had on the French Grande Armee, where the French suffered enormous casualties and set backs due to the weather.21 Senator Toombs honestly believed that the Trent Affair would be the final catalyst for Great Britain to declare war on the United States. It demonstrates just how out of touch the Confederates were, either by lack of information, (which was highly improbable, as the Confederacy had diplomats in London), or by lack of interest, with 19 Hubbard, Charles M., The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy. (Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1998) 19 20 Blackett, R.J.M., Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War. (Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2001) 92 21 Bourne, Kenneth, British Preparations for War with the North, 1861-1862, The English Historical Review, Vol. 76, No. 301 (London, 1961), 605 12
13. British interests. Toombs clearly had forgotten the lessons of the War of 1812 with regards to ship seizure and searching and the enormous strain the war had brought on commerce. Also that the United States and Britain had done much in the way of negotiation and “mutual tolerance” in the name keeping the peace and maintaining the flow of commerce. Acts of cooperation such as the Convention of 1818, which discussed fishing and boundaries in the North Eastern United States and Canada, and the Treaty of 1846 which discussed the westward expansion of the American-Canadian border along the 49th parallel, were two acts that demonstrated the desire for cooperation between Washington and London. In addition to the two acts of cooperation listed, there would be three more acts between the North and Britain that would come to fruition to the detriment to the South during the war. They were The Lyons-Seward Treaty of 186222 , and Treaty between United States and Great Britain for the Suppression of the Slave Trade; April 7,1862 23 , and February 17, 186324 The British had reacted angrily to the Trent Affair, but a declaration of war was not on the table in parliament. Throughout most of the South there was hope that the Trent Affair would cause Britain to enter the war. However, not all Southerners were of that opinion. Robert E. Lee, in a letter to his wife, Mary Custiss Lee, on Christmas Day 1861 said, “You must not build your hopes on peace on account of the United States going into a war with England. [This was after the jubilation that increased hope of such after the Trent Affair]. 22 Milne, A. Taylor, The Lyons-Seward Treaty of 1862, The American Historical Review, Vol. 38, No. 3. (IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1933) 23 Avalon Project, Treaty between United States and Great Britain for the Suppression of the Slave Trade; April 7,1862, accessed March 24, 2012, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/br1862.asp 24 Avalon Project, Additional Article to the Treaty for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade; February 17, 1863, accessed March 24, 2012, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/br1863.asp 13
14. She [the British], will be very loath to do that, notwithstanding the bluster of Northern papers. Her rulers are not entirely mad.”25 Historian Kenneth Bourne better examined the greater picture of what Britain was dealing with in the Trent Affair by examining the crisis from the perspective of the British, the North and the South. It was his conclusion that while initially tempers were heated with the incident, logic and reason soon replaced it after Lincoln’s apology on Christmas Day 1861.26 While the issue of national honor was an issue for the Union and the British, President Lincoln saw that there was little be gained by stubbornly holding his position with regard to the Trent Affair. Likewise, Blackett in 2001 stated that there was much talk in the British press and in Parliament of how to respond and even retaliate against the North. On November 28, 1861, Lord Palmerston himself said, “You may stand for this, but damned if I will!” Blackett then went to focus on the points that the British were not prepared in any degree for war, especially against a fully mobilized field tested Union army. The first hand account of Senator Toombs demonstrated a one-dimensional viewpoint of world affairs that was commonplace in the Confederacy. It is only through the viewpoint of Robert E. Lee that there seemed to be any sense of correct viewing of the situation. General Lee was a man of war and understood the logistics of what went into the making of war, and that the decision to go to war with a fully mobilized adversary was not something to be done lightly. Yet, General Lee was a soldier and not a politician who actively voiced his viewpoints during the war. Lee left the determination of policy to the policymakers. 25 Lee, Robert E., Recollections and letters of Robert E. Lee. (New York, Doubleday, Page & Company. 1904) 10 26 McPherson, James M. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988) 391 14
15. One of the largest issues facing Britain with regard to its interests in the Civil War was the looming issue of Southern slavery. From the founding of the United States the subject of slavery was a constant issue. The North was against it and the South defended it, though it could be argued that the North was against it for a variety of reasons. While there was a section of abolitionists who were strongly against the institution of slavery based entirely on moralistic ideology, many in the north were not as concerned with the moral issue as they were with the political power given to the southern states due to the 3/5 laws, and also how southern agriculture could easily out-produce northern farms due to slave labor. The issue was brought forth in the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention in 1787.27 In a speech before Congress on February 6, 1837 Senator John C. Calhoun from South Carolina referred to African servitude as “a positive good,”28 arguing that the Africans had flourished under servitude and that slavery was much more beneficial than the factories in the North or the workhouses in Europe. Another problem that faced the nation with regard to slavery was how to manage the expansion of it. Was it to expand or was it to be contained within its current boundaries of 1860? If the South had had its way then the boundaries of Slave and Free states would have expanded all the way to California. Another problem particularly for Southerners was during the Mexican War of 1847-1848, where the majority of the soldiers and officers in the American army were from the South. It was known that over two-thirds of the territory that was to be won in the war was to be unavailable for expansion of slave territory. The South knew that it would not be able to expand, and the 27 The Problem of Slavery, Constitutional Topic: The Constitutional Convention 1787, accessed March 24, 2012, http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_ccon.html#slavery 28 John C. Calhoun Slavery a positive good. February 6, 1837. Library of Congress. http://www.archive.org/stream/remarksofmrcalho01calh#page/n5/mode/2up 15
16. balance of power would shift greatly between the Slave and Free states in favor of the North. Former President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis argued in his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government that had Northern and Abolitionists beliefs about the cruelty of slavery been accurate then slaves would have had to have been constantly watched over, and would have risen up against their masters en masse much earlier than the Civil War.29 However, it is evident that President Davis was overlooking the obvious slave revolt Turner Rebellion of 1831, where on the night of August 21, Turner led over 40 slaves in the brutal killing of over 55 whites in Virginia. It could be said that Former Vice President Calhoun and Confederate President Davis were men of their times and circumstances, where each had spent their lives around slavery and had been taught to think of the institution of slavery as being for the common good. Their arguments, while eloquent, were formulated to do little more than support the institution, rather than to speak openly about the subject. Little is said by either as to the counterarguments against their points short of dismissal. Yet with the onset of the war, there was a change of tone in the South and the Confederates no longer made the argument that slavery was a good practice, but that the war was being fought based on other issues such as states’ rights and self determination. States Rights over Federal Rights became the standing argument in the South before and during the war, and what was to be the main argument that was presented to Britain in the hopes of gaining British support. McPherson emphasized that the immediate war aims of 29 Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. (Richmond, VA: Garrett and Massie, 1881) 262-263 16
17. both the North and the South had nothing to do with slavery, and it only became a formal issue with the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.30 However, in 1981 Philip S. Foner argued that in the Lancashire area of England, where the majority of Britain’s textile mills were, and the viewpoint was very different. In that in the minds of the British workingman there was no separation of the war and slavery. At the height of the cotton famine in 1862, Marxist Ernest Jones spoke to several meetings of the working class of Lancashire, who had been made unemployed by the absence of Southern cotton due to the federal blockade about that he believed the root cause of the war was slavery. Jones said “we [the Confederacy] have four million black slaves here, but we have a million white slaves in Lancashire. Stop the cotton and they will starve.”31 Due to the strain brought on the region by the absence of Southern cotton in the Lancashire district of England there were many difficulties brought on by what was commonly referred to as “the cotton famine of 1862.” Yet, much to the disappointment of the Confederacy, the famine did not produce the violent revolution that Senator Hammond and others in the South had predicted. In 1863 British politician W.E. Forster stated to a large meeting of workingmen that, “no matter what the suffering we may endure, no matter what the sacrifices we may have to undergo, we will not allow our Government to depart from the strict principle of neutrality on behalf of the slave-holding Confederacy.”32 As Foner and Forster pointed out, the strain put upon the British textile industry was great, however, the British workers and people understood that a break in the Federal 30 McPherson, James M. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988) 312 31 Philip S. Foner British Labor and the American Civil War, (New York, NY, Holmes & Meier 1981) 75 32 The London Times,(London) September 23, 1863 17
18. blockade to restore the trade of cotton would have been a de facto endorsement of slavery. In examining the time of the two writings there was little change from the first hand account of 1862 and the historiographical account of 1981 on this specific matter. The British workers understood the bigger picture and pulled their resources to weather the storm of the cotton famine33 . In the North it is widely believed that there was a general viewpoint that the Union was to be preserved first and that all other pursuits were secondary. However, the abolitionist movement wanted slavery gone by any means necessary, and was not concerned how it was to be done or what would happen to the nation as a result of its immediate ending. In 1977, Kinley Brauer took the position that Northern politicians were unwilling to proceed with any aggressive approach towards slavery until it became official policy after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. 34 Brauer also argued that the Confederate dignitaries in London were prepared to offer emancipation in exchange for recognition. Foner pointed out that the British working class scoffed at such an idea, in that there was little in place to ensure that the Confederacy would not merely reinstate the slave trade once recognition was received35 . As was mentioned, the Confederacy was hopeful that the absence of cotton from British textile mills would create a revolution in Britain. McPherson pointed out that there were in fact “surplus stocks of raw cotton as well as of finished cloth piled up in Lancashire warehouses…The cotton famine from which the South expected so much did 33 Park, Joseph H. The English Workingmen and the American Civil War (Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 3 September 1924) 438-439 34 Kinley J. Brauer “The Slavery Problem in the Diplomacy of the American Civil War” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Aug., 1977) 439-469 35 Foner, Philip S. British Labor and the American Civil War, (New York, NY, Holmes & Meier Publishers, INC. 1981) 18
19. not really take hold until the summer of 1862.” 36 McPherson also would go to state in 2002 that when the cotton famine began to be felt in Britain that the Confederates took the position that the only way their businesses would survive would be to stop the war. 37 To supplement British need for cotton the British government began increasing cotton production in Egypt and India, as well as importing from Russia, though the Lancashire textile industry was not able to return to its pre 1861 production capacity until after the wars end in 1865. On October 25, 1862, the London Times published an article entitled “The Essex Conservatives” which discussed the annual gathering of the Colchester Conservatives on October 23, where the subject of the Lancashire textile district arose. The American Civil War, Confederate recognition and the abolition of slavery were discussed, and “the time was not far distant when cotton would be grown in our colonies by free labor, and that the ordinary competition of trade would extinguish slavery without violence.38 In the winter of 1860 through the spring of 1861 the American South plunged headlong into a very wide, very deep unknown chasm. The Confederacy greatly overestimated its own resolve, its resources and ability to carry the war successfully and quickly. What added to Southern beliefs was that “Cotton is King” and that with that the South held the sole factor to determine the actions of two of the most powerful nations (Great Britain and France), on the planet to come to its aid at will. In June 1862, Confederate diplomat, and former United States ambassador to Egypt, Edwin De Leon held a private meeting with Palmerston, and in that meeting De 36 McPherson, James M. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988) 386 37 McPherson, James M. Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, the Battle that Changed the Course of the Civil War, (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2002) 56 38 The London Times (London) The Essex Conservatives, October 25, 1862 19
20. Leon once again pressed the question of British intervention, and Palmerston refuted the Confederate claims for British aide by saying, “you Southerners, as well as Northerners, have always insisted that European Governments must not interfere in affairs on the American Continent. We are adopting your Monroe Doctrine in our own non- intervention.”39 In reading De Leon’s discussion with Palmerston, the Prime Minister was careful not to be drawn in by De Leon’s passionate appeals to Palmerston’s sense of “moral obligation” to aid the South in its rebellion. Palmerston was very careful not to do any more than to deal courteously with the Confederates. De Leon’s account demonstrated that Jefferson Davis failed in the area of international diplomacy when he failed to send a fully trained ambassador to effectively persuade the British as to the “righteousness” of the Southern cause. De Leon approached Prime Minister Palmerston with a preconceived notion of what he would say, and did not effectively consider Palmerston’s counterarguments. De Leon became frustrated by his inability to persuade Palmerston when his arguments of why the South believed that it was in British interests to recognize the South. In April of 1861 the Confederacy jumped blindly into what was in effect, a very deep chasm in order to win its independence, and the South’s possession of cotton led Confederates to believe that the British Empire would quickly and eagerly jump into that chasm with it to secure British cotton needs. Most believed that the war would be over within a month, yet four years later would bring the complete destruction of most of what the South held dear and stood for. 39 Davis, William C. Edwin De Leon The secret history of Confederate diplomacy abroad. (Kansas, University of Kansas Press, 2005) 115 20
21. In his memoirs, in 1881, Confederate President Jefferson Davis addressed the issue of recognition of the South by the governments of Great Britain and France almost from the onset of the war. However, Davis did not take a firm position in his book, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, and merely stated the doings and actions of the great European powers in his book. Davis began with listing Great Britain’s original position of neutrality, Britain’s interactions with the North, the Alabama claims, the British non movement towards the Federal blockade. Then Davis listed various instances where the British did not adhere to the conditions of neutrality, and all but sided with the North. Davis stated “the duty of neutral states to receive with respect any new confederation that independent states may think proper to form, was too clear to admit form of denial, but its postponement was equally beneficial to the United States and detrimental to the Confederacy.” 40 When comparing De Leon’s discussion in 1862 with the statement made by President Davis in 1881, it was concluded that it was not the calling of Britain out for her varying forms of non-involvement in the war, as much as it was an attempt to strike back at Britain for not heeding the Confederate call for aid. As was stated, the Southern press charged the British with indifference, cruelty and of a desire to see the Northern and Southern belligerents wear themselves out in a war so Britain could easily enter at the end of the war and take the spoils of both nations. Davis noted that Britain did not adhere to the conditions of neutrality, yet said nothing of the ships that were built for the Confederate Navy in British shipyards. British-built Confederate commerce-raiders that would be the catalyst for the Alabama Claims in which the United States would file 40 Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. (Richmond, VA: Garrett and Massie, 1881) 320 21
22. damage claims against Britain for damage done to Federal ships by ships built for the Confederacy in Britain. This is a convenient omission of facts by the former president when his country benefited from Britain’s willingness to do business with both belligerents during the war. British ambassador to the United States, Lord Lyons stated the position of the British government from the stance of not making policy and decisions with regard to the Civil War until the problems were laid out before them41 . Lyons spoke of many instances of meeting with Secretary of State William H. Seward and that he needed to be careful not to arouse the suspicions of Seward as to the position of Britain towards Confederate recognition. There were many instances of Seward being very forceful with Lyons with regard to Federal interests, and Lyons repeatedly had to reassure Seward that Britain had not moved from its officially declared position of neutrality of May 1861. 42 The United States Secretary of State William Seward did not bother with the formalities extended to him and his country by Lord Lyons. On several occasions, Secretary Seward took close to a threatening tone with the British43 . Lyons noted that, “Mr. Seward alluded to the eventual acquisition of Canada as compensation to the Northern States for any loss… of the southern part of the Union. 44 British correspondent for the London Times, William Howard Russell, spoke of his journey through the Confederacy in 1861, and of the many people and situations he witnessed while there. Russell spoke of the great hospitality of most all of the 41 Kinley J. Brauer “The Slavery Problem in the Diplomacy of the American Civil War” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Aug., 1977) 458 42 Lord Newton Lord Lyons A Record of British Diplomacy Volume I (London: Edward Arnold 1913) 43 McPherson, James M. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988) 388-389 44 Lyons to Russell, The American Civil War through British eyes; Dispatches from British Diplomats Vol. 1 (Kent State University Press 2005) 60 22
23. Southerners that he met, who almost all spoke very highly of Britain and often drank to the good health of Queen Victoria. What astounded Russell was the common belief that British recognition of the Confederacy was a certainty, and that the bulk of Britain’s cotton was furnished by the American South was all that was necessary for Great Britain to force mediation upon the Lincoln government. Yet, as one who was not involved with the conflict, Russell was able to make an impartial observation on the war, the politics, the diplomacy of the countries and their peoples.45 The United States preferred to keep relations with Great Britain as unchanged as possible, yet as the war progressed and the “Anaconda Plan” went into effect, it undoubtedly defeated that idea and put strain on Britain and on Anglo-American relations. A major factor that would affect Confederate relations with Britain would be the ever looming issue of slavery. Britain was strongly abolitionist, and while there were some in Britain who voiced support of the Confederacy for reasons such as seeing the American experiment of democracy fail, and the restoration of the cotton trade without the high Union tariffs, the nation itself could not publicly support any nation who sought to preserve the institution of slavery. The South tried by various means to persuade Britain that the war was about states rights and not about the preservation of slavery, yet that was taken seriously by few, if any, in parliament. On the other hand, the argument of “King Cotton Diplomacy” manifested itself early in the conflict, yet did not fully take effect until the autumn of 1862, due to a cotton surplus in Britain at the time. The South did its utmost to pressure Britain to break the blockade to resume the cotton trade and restore the livelihoods of those in the Lancashire 45 Russell, William Howard, My Diary North and South. (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1863.) 23
24. manufacturing districts. Yet, once again, the Confederates, who were certain that a cotton embargo would bring the British economy to its knees, misjudged Britain’s resolve, its resourcefulness and its dedication to abolitionism. The British workers proved Senator Hammond’s words to be false and that there was more to the English working man than money. The Confederate approach to diplomacy towards Great Britain was one sided and inconsiderate of the greater needs of the British islands and her commonwealth. When the war began going poorly for the Confederates there were many in the South who laid blame on the British, the way one would upon the failure of an ally with a pact of mutual assistance, for their dilemma. The Confederates took a major gamble in believing that the power of a cash crop would be the means of almost buying their independence. When Britain did not draw the sword as was hoped, the Confederates laid many unjust claims on the British government and its people. This is a case in point that the Confederates did not entirely consider exactly what they were asking the British to do for them. The only time during the Civil War where Britain came even close to drawing the sword against the North really had nothing to do with the Confederacy, sovereignty or cotton. The anger that arose from the Trent Affair was solely due to the Federal Navy’s direct search and seizure of a British vessel in international waters. Its significance going as far back as the War of 1812, and the uneasy peace with the British and American navies ever since the war, in that both sides had agreed to not interfere with one another’s merchant and civilian fleets as a condition of the peace. The Trent Affair had brought all of the past struggles memories back to the forefront of British affairs and was not going to be lightly overlooked. Yet when President Lincoln released the diplomats with a 24
25. formal apology to the British it demonstrated to the British that the United States was indeed capable of diplomacy. Yes, Great Britain was very dependent on the American South for its cotton for the British textile industry, yet that was only one aspect of the economic affairs of the United Kingdom. As was mentioned, the British actually had a cotton surplus in Lancashire in the early months of the war, so the cotton famine was not felt as quickly in Britain as Richmond would have hoped. Another factor that further strengthened the British’s relations with the North was due to the crop failures in Britain in 1862 and it was said that King Corn was more powerful than King Cotton, because food imports to Britain from the United States rose greatly during that time of crisis. An additional factor to build on was with the Lyons-Seward Treaty of 1862, with the Union’s formal allowing the British Royal Navy to stop and search any ship flying the American flag to search for and seize any slaves, would serve to strengthen relations between London and Washington. This being that relations being strained between the United States and Britain dating back to the War of 1812 regarding search and seizure of American vessels, that the United States refused to allow the British to have any access to their ships, and the trouble with this for the British was that while attempting to enforce the abolition of the slave trade across the Atlantic, that there were many non-American slave ships that would fly the American flag to keep the Royal Navy from stopping them. With the Lyons-Seward Treaty of 1862, it gave Britain the freedom it needed to further suppress the slave trade and strengthened British relations with Washington. Needless to say, this strengthening of relations between the Union and Britain did not serve to help in the Confederate cause for independence with British aid. 25
26. Had the Confederacy been more considerate of the position of the British empire, it is my opinion that they would have seen that it was not practical for the Confederates to have the smallest hope that it would have been in the best interests of the British empire to intervene in the American Civil War. The arrogant manner in which the position of Great Britain was treated in the southern press did little to aid in the strengthening of the southern cause to the British. Had the Confederates used a considerably greater amount of diplomacy with the British, and not have vested all of their hopes in cotton being their only requirement to ensure British aid, then maybe the British would have at least may have been more willing to consider recognition. In 1864 President Davis offered emancipation for recognition by the British, yet this was seen to have little relevance to the British for by then the war had turned against the South and the British knew that the war was not going to last much longer anyway. Had Richmond offered that to London from the onset of the war, there was a much better possibility that the British would have been more sympathetic to the Southern cause. In the end, cotton was certainly a very valuable commodity, however, the Confederacy offered very little to Great Britain for what it was asking in return. Had the Richmond politicians considered that from the start, they would have known better than to ask in the first place. 26
27. Bibliography Primary Sources Adams, Charles Francis, The Trent Affair, an historical retrospect, (Boston, MA, 1912) Avalon Project, Treaty between United States and Great Britain for the Suppression of the Slave Trade; April 7,1862, accessed March 24, 2012, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/br1862.asp Avalon Project, Additional Article to the Treaty for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade; February 17, 1863, accessed March 24, 2012, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/br1863.asp Calhoun, John C. Slavery a positive good. February 6, 1837. Library of Congress. http://www.archive.org/stream/remarksofmrcalho01calh#page/n5/mode/2up Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. (Richmond, VA: Garrett and Massie,1881) Davis, William, C. Edwin De Leon The secret history of Confederate diplomacy abroad. (Kansas, University of Kansas Press, 2005) Lee, Robert E., Recollections and letters of Robert E. Lee. (New York, Doubleday, Page & Company. 1904) Lyons to Russell, The American Civil War through British eyes; Dispatches from British Diplomats Vol. 1 (Kent State University Press 2005) Richmond Daily Dispatch, (Richmond) May 11, 1864 Risley, Ford, The Civil War: Primary Documents from 1860 to 1865. Westport, Connecticut, (London: Greenwood Press, 2004) Russell, William Howard, My Diary North and South. (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1863) Selections from the Letters and Speeches of the Hon. James H. Hammond, of South Carolina (New York: John F. Trow & Co., 1866) Seward to Carl Schurz, Oct. 10 1861, Frederic Bancroft Speeches, Correspondence and Political papers of Carl Schurz (New York, NY 1913) The Problem of Slavery, Constitutional Topic: The Constitutional Convention 1787, accessed March 24, 2012, http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_ccon.html#slavery 27
28. Toombs to Stephens, June 21, 1861, in Myrta Lockett Avary, Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens (New York, 1910) “Civil War in America,” The Times (London) May 14, 1861 “War in America” The Times (London) September 23, 1863 “The Essex Conservatives” The Times (London) October 25, 1862 28
29. Secondary Sources Blackett, R.J.M., Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War. (Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2001) Blumenthal, Henry, “Confederate Diplomacy: Popular notions and international realities” Journal of Southern History, vol. 32, no. 2, (1966) 151-171 Bourne, Kenneth, “British Preparations for War with the North, 1861-1862,” The English Historical Review, Vol. 76, No. 301 London, (1961) 600-632 Brauer, Kinley J. “The Slavery Problem in the Diplomacy of the American Civil War” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Aug., 1977) 439-469 Crawford, Martin, “William Howard Russell and the Confederacy,” Journal of American Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2. MA: Cambridge University Press, (1981) 191-210 Foner, Philip S. “British Labor and the American Civil War,” New York, Holmes & Meier Publishers, INC. (1981) Hubbard, Charles M., “The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy.” Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, (1998) Jones, Howard, “Blue & Grey diplomacy: a history of Union and Confederate foreign relations.” North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, (2010) Jones, Wilbur Devereux, “The British conservatives and the American Civil War.” The American Historical review. Vol. 58, No. 3, IL: The University of Chicago Press (1953) 527-543 Lord Newton, “Lord Lyons A Record of British Diplomacy Volume I” London: Edward Arnold (1913) McPherson, James M., “Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, the Battle that Changed the Course of the Civil War,” Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, (2002) McPherson, James M., “The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era.” Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, (1988) Milne, A. Taylor, “The Lyons-Seward Treaty of 1862,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 38, No. 3. IL: The University of Chicago Press, (1933) 511-525 Owsley, Frank L. King Cotton Diplomacy (Chicago, 1959), Park, Joseph H., “The English Workingmen and the American Civil War” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 3 (September 1924) 432-457 29
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