Ephraim Douglass Adams.

Great Britain and the American Civil War online

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[Illustration: LORD JOHN RUSSELL
(_From Trevelyan's "Garibaldi and the Making of Italy_")]





This work was begun many years ago. In 1908 I read in the British Museum
many newspapers and journals for the years 1860-1865, and then planned a
survey of English public opinion on the American Civil War. In the
succeeding years as a teacher at Stanford University, California, the
published diplomatic correspondence of Great Britain and of the United
States were studied in connection with instruction given in the field of
British-American relations. Several of my students prepared excellent
theses on special topics and these have been acknowledged where used in
this work. Many distractions and other writing prevented the completion
of my original plan; and fortunately, for when in 1913 I had at last
begun this work and had prepared three chapters, a letter was received
from the late Charles Francis Adams inviting me to collaborate with him
in preparing a "Life" of his father, the Charles Francis Adams who was
American Minister to Great Britain during the Civil War. Mr. Adams had
recently returned from England where he had given at Oxford University a
series of lectures on the Civil War and had been so fortunate as to
obtain copies, made under the scholarly supervision of Mr. Worthington
C. Ford, of a great mass of correspondence from the Foreign Office files
in the Public Record Office and from the private papers in the
possession of various families.

The first half of the year 1914 was spent with Mr. Adams at Washington
and at South Lincoln, in preparing the "Life." Two volumes were
completed, the first by Mr. Adams carrying the story to 1848, the
second by myself for the period 1848 to 1860. For the third volume I
analysed and organized the new materials obtained in England and we were
about to begin actual collaboration on the most vital period of the
"Life" when Mr. Adams died, and the work was indefinitely suspended,
probably wisely, since any completion of the "Life" by me would have
lacked that individual charm in historical writing so markedly
characteristic of all that Mr. Adams did. The half-year spent with Mr.
Adams was an inspiration and constitutes a precious memory.

The Great War interrupted my own historical work, but in 1920 I returned
to the original plan of a work on "Great Britain and the American Civil
War" in the hope that the English materials obtained by Mr. Adams might
be made available to me. When copies were secured by Mr. Adams in 1913 a
restriction had been imposed by the Foreign Office to the effect that
while studied for information, citations and quotations were not
permissible since the general diplomatic archives were not yet open to
students beyond the year 1859. Through my friend Sir Charles Lucas, the
whole matter was again presented to the Foreign Office, with an exact
statement that the new request was in no way related to the proposed
"Life" of Charles Francis Adams, but was for my own use of the
materials. Lord Curzon, then Foreign Secretary, graciously approved the
request but with the usual condition that my manuscript be submitted
before publication to the Foreign Office. This has now been done, and no
single citation censored. Before this work will have appeared the
limitation hitherto imposed on diplomatic correspondence will have been
removed, and the date for open research have been advanced beyond 1865,
the end of the Civil War.

Similar explanations of my purpose and proposed work were made through
my friend Mr. Francis W. Hirst to the owners of various private papers,
and prompt approval given. In 1924 I came to England for further study
of some of these private papers. The Russell Papers, transmitted to the
Public Record Office in 1914 and there preserved, were used through the
courtesy of the Executors of the late Hon. Rollo Russell, and with the
hearty goodwill of Lady Agatha Russell, daughter of the late Earl
Russell, the only living representative of her father, Mr. Rollo
Russell, his son, having died in 1914. The Lyons Papers, preserved in
the Muniment Room at Old Norfolk House, were used through the courtesy
of the Duchess of Norfolk, who now represents her son who is a minor.
The Gladstone Papers, preserved at Hawarden Castle, were used through
the courtesy of the Gladstone Trustees. The few citations from the
Palmerston Papers, preserved at Broadlands, were approved by
Lieut.-Colonel Wilfred Ashley, M.P.

The opportunity to study these private papers has been invaluable for my
work. Shortly after returning from England in 1913 Mr. Worthington Ford
well said: "The inside history of diplomatic relations between the
United States and Great Britain may be surmised from the official
archives; the tinting and shading needed to complete the picture must be
sought elsewhere." (Mass. Hist. Soc. _Proceedings_, XLVI, p. 478.) Mr.
C.F. Adams declared (_ibid._, XLVII, p. 54) that without these papers
"... the character of English diplomacy at that time (1860-1865) cannot
be understood.... It would appear that the commonly entertained
impressions as to certain phases of international relations, and the
proceedings and utterances of English public men during the progress of
the War of Secession, must be to some extent revised."

In addition to the new English materials I have been fortunate in the
generosity of my colleague at Stanford University, Professor Frank A.
Golder, who has given to me transcripts, obtained at St. Petersburg in
1914, of all Russian diplomatic correspondence on the Civil War. Many
friends have aided, by suggestion or by permitting the use of notes and
manuscripts, in the preparation of this work. I have sought to make due
acknowledgment for such aid in my foot-notes. But in addition to those
already named, I should here particularly note the courtesy of the late
Mr. Gaillard Hunt for facilities given in the State Department at
Washington, of Mr. Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, for the
transcript of the Correspondence of Mason and Slidell, Confederate
Commissioners in Europe, and of Mr. Charles Moore, Chief of Manuscripts
Division, Library of Congress, for the use of the Schurz Papers
containing copies of the despatches of Schleiden, Minister of the
Republic of Bremen at Washington during the Civil War. Especially thanks
are due to my friend, Mr. Herbert Hoover, for his early interest in this
work and for his generous aid in the making of transcripts which would
otherwise have been beyond my means. And, finally, I owe much to the
skill and care of my wife who made the entire typescript for the Press,
and whose criticisms were invaluable.

It is no purpose of a Preface to indicate results, but it is my hope
that with, I trust, a "calm comparison of the evidence," now for the
first time available to the historian, a fairly true estimate may be
made of what the American Civil War meant to Great Britain; how she
regarded it and how she reacted to it. In brief, my work is primarily a
study in British history in the belief that the American drama had a
world significance, and peculiarly a British one.


_November 25, 1924_



I. BACKGROUNDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
III. THE DEVELOPMENT OF A POLICY, MAY, 1861 . . . . . . 76
IV. BRITISH SUSPICION OF SEWARD . . . . . . . . . . 113
VII. THE "TRENT" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203
VIII. THE BLOCKADE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 244
IX. ENTER MR. LINDSAY . . . . . . . . . . . . . 274



LORD JOHN RUSSELL . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_
_From Trevelyan's "Garibaldi and the Making of

LORD LYONS (1860) . . . . . . . . . _facing p_. 42
_From Lord Newton's "Life of Lord Lyons" (Edward
Arnold & Co_.)

SIR WILLIAM GREGORY, K.C.M.G. . . . . . " 90
_From Lady Gregory's "Sir William Gregory,
K.C.M.G.: An Autobiography"_ (_John Murray_)

WILLIAM HENRY SEWARD . . . . . . . . " 114
_From Lord Newton's "Life of Lord Lyons"_ (_Edward
Arnold & Co._)

C.F. ADAMS . . . . . . . . . . . " 138
_From a photograph in the United States Embassy,

JAMES M. MASON . . . . . . . . . . " 206
_From a photograph by L.C. Handy, Washington_

"KING COTTON BOUND" . . . . . . . . " 262
_Reproduced by permission of the Proprietors of




In 1862, less than a year after he had assumed his post in London, the
American Minister, Charles Francis Adams, at a time of depression and
bitterness wrote to Secretary of State Seward: "That Great Britain did,
in the most terrible moment of our domestic trial in struggling with a
monstrous social evil she had earnestly professed to abhor, coldly and
at once assume our inability to master it, and then become the only
foreign nation steadily contributing in every indirect way possible to
verify its judgment, will probably be the verdict made against her by
posterity, on calm comparison of the evidence[1]." Very different were
the views of Englishmen. The historian, George Grote, could write: "The
perfect neutrality [of Great Britain] in this destructive war appears to
me almost a phenomenon in political history. No such forbearance has
been shown during the political history of the last two centuries. It is
the single case in which the English Government and public - generally so
meddlesome - have displayed most prudent and commendable forbearance in
spite of great temptations to the contrary[2]." And Sir William
Harcourt, in September, 1863, declared: "Among all Lord Russell's many
titles to fame and to public gratitude, the manner in which he has
steered the vessel of State through the Scylla and Charybdis of the
American War will, I think, always stand conspicuous[3]."

Minister Adams, in the later years of the Civil War, saw reason somewhat
to modify his earlier judgment, but his indictment of Great Britain was
long prevalent in America, as, indeed, it was also among the historians
and writers of Continental Europe - notably those of France and Russia.
To what extent was this dictum justified? Did Great Britain in spite of
her long years of championship of personal freedom and of leadership in
the cause of anti-slavery seize upon the opportunity offered in the
disruption of the American Union, and forgetting humanitarian idealisms,
react only to selfish motives of commercial advantage and national
power? In brief, how is the American Civil War to be depicted by
historians of Great Britain, recording her attitude and action in both
foreign and domestic policy, and revealing the principles of her
statesmen, or the inspirations of her people?

It was to answer this question that the present work was originally
undertaken; but as investigation proceeded it became progressively more
clear that the great crisis in America was almost equally a crisis in
the domestic history of Great Britain itself and that unless this were
fully appreciated no just estimate was possible of British policy toward
America. Still more it became evident that the American Civil War, as
seen through British spectacles, could not be understood if regarded as
an isolated and unique situation, but that the conditions preceding that
situation - some of them lying far back in the relations of the two
nations - had a vital bearing on British policy and opinion when the
crisis arose. No expanded examination of these preceding conditions is
here possible, but it is to a summary analysis of them that this first
chapter is devoted.

* * * * *

On the American War for separation from the Mother Country it is
unnecessary to dilate, though it should always be remembered that both
during the war and afterwards there existed a minority in Great Britain
strongly sympathetic with the political ideals proclaimed in
America - regarding those ideals, indeed, as something to be striven for
in Britain itself and the conflict with America as, in a measure, a
conflict in home politics. But independence once acknowledged by the
Treaty of Peace of 1783, the relations between the Mother Country and
the newly-created United States of America rapidly tended to adjust
themselves to lines of contact customary between Great Britain and any
other Sovereign State. Such contacts, fixing national attitude and
policy, ordinarily occur on three main lines: governmental, determined
by officials in authority in either State whose duty it is to secure the
greatest advantage in power and prosperity for the State; commercial,
resulting, primarily, from the interchange of goods and the business
opportunities of either nation in the other's territory, or from their
rivalry in foreign trade; idealistic, the result of comparative
development especially in those ideals of political structure which
determine the nature of the State and the form of its government. The
more obvious of these contacts is the governmental, since the attitude
of a people is judged by the formal action of its Government, and,
indeed, in all three lines of contact the government of a State is
directly concerned and frequently active. But it may be of service to a
clearer appreciation of British attitude and policy before 1860, if the
intermingling of elements required by a strict chronological account of
relations is here replaced by a separate review of each of the three
main lines of contact.

Once independence had been yielded to the American Colonies, the
interest of the British Government rapidly waned in affairs American.
True, there still remained the valued establishments in the West Indies,
and the less considered British possessions on the continent to the
north of the United States. Meanwhile, there were occasional frictions
with America arising from uncertain claims drawn from the former
colonial privileges of the new state, or from boundary contentions not
settled in the treaty of peace. Thus the use of the Newfoundland
fisheries furnished ground for an acrimonious controversy lasting even
into the twentieth century, and occasionally rising to the danger point.
Boundary disputes dragged along through official argument, survey
commissions, arbitration, to final settlement, as in the case of the
northern limits of the State of Maine fixed at last by the Treaty of
Washington of 1842, and then on lines fair to both sides at any time in
the forty years of legal bickering. Very early, in 1817, an agreement
creditable to the wisdom and pacific intentions of both countries, was
reached establishing small and equal naval armaments on the Great Lakes.
The British fear of an American attack on Canada proved groundless as
time went on and was definitely set at rest by the strict curb placed by
the American Government upon the restless activities of such of its
citizens as sympathized with the followers of McKenzie and Papineau in
the Canadian rebellion of 1837[4].

None of these governmental contacts affected greatly the British policy
toward America. But the "War of 1812," as it is termed in the United
States, "Mr. Madison's War," as it was derisively named by Tory
contemporaries in Great Britain, arose from serious policies in which
the respective governments were in definite opposition. Briefly, this
was a clash between belligerent and neutral interests. Britain, fighting
at first for the preservation of Europe against the spread of French
revolutionary influence, later against the Napoleonic plan of Empire,
held the seas in her grasp and exercised with vigour all the accustomed
rights of a naval belligerent. Of necessity, from her point of view,
and as always in the case of the dominant naval belligerent, she
stretched principles of international law to their utmost interpretation
to secure her victory in war. America, soon the only maritime neutral of
importance, and profiting greatly by her neutrality, contested point by
point the issue of exceeded belligerent right as established in
international law. America did more; she advanced new rules and theories
of belligerent and neutral right respectively, and demanded that the
belligerents accede to them. Dispute arose over blockades, contraband,
the British "rule of 1756" which would have forbidden American trade
with French colonies in war time, since such trade was prohibited by
France herself in time of peace. But first and foremost as touching the
personal sensibilities and patriotism of both countries was the British
exercise of a right of search and seizure to recover British sailors.

Moreover this asserted right brought into clear view definitely opposed
theories as to citizenship. Great Britain claimed that a man once born a
British subject could never cease to be a subject - could never "alienate
his duty." It was her practice to fill up her navy, in part at least, by
the "impressment" of her sailor folk, taking them whenever needed, and
wherever found - in her own coast towns, or from the decks of her own
mercantile marine. But many British sailors sought security from such
impressment by desertion in American ports or were tempted to desert to
American merchant ships by the high pay obtainable in the
rapidly-expanding United States merchant marine. Many became by
naturalization citizens of the United States, and it was the duty of
America to defend them as such in their lives and business. America
ultimately came to hold, in short, that expatriation was accomplished
from Great Britain when American citizenship was conferred. On shore
they were safe, for Britain did not attempt to reclaim her subjects
from the soil of another nation. But she denied that the American flag
on merchant vessels at sea gave like security and she asserted a naval
right to search such vessels in time of peace, professing her complete
acquiescence in a like right to the American navy over British merchant
vessels - a concession refused by America, and of no practical value
since no American citizen sought service in the British merchant marine.

This "right of search" controversy involved then, two basic points of
opposition between the two governments. First America contested the
British theory of "once a citizen always a citizen[5]"; second, America
denied any right whatever to a foreign naval vessel in _time of peace_
to stop and search a vessel lawfully flying the American flag. The
_right of search in time of war_, that is, a belligerent right of
search, America never denied, but there was both then and later much
public confusion in both countries as to the question at issue since,
once at war, Great Britain frequently exercised a legal belligerent
right of search and followed it up by the seizure of sailors alleged to
be British subjects. Nor were British naval captains especially careful
to make sure that no American-born sailors were included in their
impressment seizures, and as the accounts spread of victim after victim,
the American irritation steadily increased. True, France was also an
offender, but as the weaker naval power her offence was lost sight of in
view of the, literally, thousands of _bona fide_ Americans seized by
Great Britain. Here, then, was a third cause of irritation connected
with impressment, though not a point of governmental dispute as to
right, for Great Britain professed her earnest desire to restore
promptly any American-born sailors whom her naval officers had seized
through error. In fact many such sailors were soon liberated, but a
large number either continued to serve on British ships or to languish
in British prisons until the end of the Napoleonic Wars[6].

There were other, possibly greater, causes of the War of 1812, most of
them arising out of the conflicting interests of the chief maritime
neutral and the chief naval belligerent. The pacific presidential
administration of Jefferson sought by trade restrictions, using embargo
and non-intercourse acts, to bring pressure on both England and France,
hoping to force a better treatment of neutrals. The United States,
divided in sympathy between the belligerents, came near to disorder and
disruption at home, over the question of foreign policy. But through all
American factions there ran the feeling of growing animosity to Great
Britain because of impressment. At last, war was declared by America in
1812 and though at the moment bitterly opposed by one section, New
England, that war later came to be regarded as of great national value
as one of the factors which welded the discordant states into a national
unity. Naturally also, the war once ended, its commercial causes were
quickly forgotten, whereas the individual, personal offence involved in
impressment and right of search, with its insult to national pride,
became a patriotic theme for politicians and for the press. To deny, in
fact, a British "right of search" became a national point of honour,
upon which no American statesman would have dared to yield to British

In American eyes the War of 1812 appears as a "second war of
Independence" and also as of international importance in contesting an
unjust use by Britain of her control of the seas. Also, it is to be
remembered that no other war of importance was fought by America until
the Mexican War of 1846, and militant patriotism was thus centred on the
two wars fought against Great Britain. The contemporary British view
was that of a nation involved in a life and death struggle with a great
European enemy, irritated by what seemed captious claims, developed to
war, by a minor power[7]. To be sure there were a few obstinate Tories
in Britain who saw in the war the opportunity of smashing at one blow
Napoleon's dream of empire, and the American "democratic system." The
London _Times_ urged the government to "finish with Mr. Bonaparte and
then deal with Mr. Madison and democracy," arguing that it should be
England's object to subvert "the whole system of the Jeffersonian
school." But this was not the purpose of the British Government, nor
would such a purpose have been tolerated by the small but vigorous Whig
minority in Parliament.

The peace of 1814, signed at Ghent, merely declared an end of the war,
quietly ignoring all the alleged causes of the conflict. Impressment was
not mentioned, but it was never again resorted to by Great Britain upon
American ships. But the principle of right of search in time of peace,
though for another object than impressment, was soon again asserted by
Great Britain and for forty years was a cause of constant irritation and
a source of danger in the relations of the two countries. Stirred by
philanthropic emotion Great Britain entered upon a world crusade for the
suppression of the African Slave Trade. All nations in principle
repudiated that trade and Britain made treaties with various maritime
powers giving mutual right of search to the naval vessels of each upon
the others' merchant vessels. The African Slave Trade was in fact
outlawed for the flags of all nations. But America, smarting under the
memory of impressment injuries, and maintaining in any case the doctrine
that in time of peace the national flag protected a vessel from
interference or search by the naval vessels of any other power, refused
to sign mutual right of search treaties and denied, absolutely, such a
right for any cause whatever to Great Britain or to any other nation.
Being refused a treaty, Britain merely renewed her assertion of the
right and continued to exercise it.

Thus the right of search in time of peace controversy was not ended with
the war of 1812 but remained a constant sore in national relations, for
Britain alone used her navy with energy to suppress the slave trade, and
the slave traders of all nations sought refuge, when approached by a
British naval vessel, under the protection of the American flag. If
Britain respected the flag, and sheered off from search, how could she
stop the trade? If she ignored the flag and on boarding found an
innocent American vessel engaged in legal trade, there resulted claims

Online LibraryEphraim Douglass AdamsGreat Britain and the American Civil War → online text (page 1 of 59)