Stars and Bars and Union Jack – How the British Nearly Supported the Confederacy

An excellent article – book review, actually, of A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War, by Amanda Foreman – by Kev Lee on Britain’s role in the War Between the States:

Was it a civil war twice over? Not only did the “war between the states” divide the American people, it sundered the larger English-speaking community stretching across the Atlantic. The conflict was followed with consuming interest by the British, it affected them directly, many of them fought in it — and it split them into two camps, just as it did the Americans.

Now that Americans are taught that the war was a noble conflict waged by Lincoln and the forces of light against misguided and contumacious Southerners, it’s especially valuable to be reminded that this was far from how all the English saw it at the time. To be sure, almost no Englishman defended slavery, long since abolished in the British Empire. The British edition of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” had sold an astonishing million copies, three times its American sales, and the Royal Navy waged a long campaign against the slave trade: during Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s visit to the White House in March 2009, President Obama was presented with a pen holder carved from the wood of one of the ships that conducted that campaign.

But while some English politicians, like the radical John Bright and the Whig Duke of Argyll, ardently supported the North, plenty sided with the Confederacy. They even included W. E. Gladstone, on his long journey from youthful Tory to “the people’s William,” adored by the masses in his later years. Apart from sympathy with the underdog, many Englishmen believed that the South had a just claim of national self-determination.

As Obama remembered to say at Buckingham Palace recently, a large part of the American population claims ancestry from British immigrants, great numbers of them arriving throughout the 19th century. Plenty of those took part in the war, and they were joined by more volunteers who came just for the fight, on one side or the other. The extraordinary cast portrayed in “A World on Fire,” by Amanda Foreman — who is also the author of “Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire” — extends from men who fled England to escape poverty to aristocratic Union officers like Major John Fitzroy de Courcy, later Lord Kingsale, a veteran of the Crimea, not to mention Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham, a soldier of fortune whose knighthood was actually Italian. Some, like the Welshman Henry Morton Stanley, even managed to fight for both sides.

Then there were the reporters, like Frank Vizetelly of The Illustrated London News and, most notably, William Howard Russell of The Times of London, who had become famous covering the Crimean War and reporting on the activities of Florence Nightingale. (In an odd conjunction, Foreman says that “Russell was the ideal choice. . . . Overeating and excessive drinking were his chief vices.” This is sometimes said of journalists, but rarely by way of commendation.)

What for American readers will be a more riveting — because unfamiliar — tale comes whenever Foreman turns from the patriotic gore to her true subject of the British and the war. While guns blazed, another battle was being waged, for English hearts and minds, at both the elite and popular levels. From Fort Sumter on, the London government was in a quandary, and so was Lord Lyons, who had the bad luck to be sent as minister to Washington shortly before the war began (the British representative was not yet an ambassador, of whom there were then very few, although not just three, as Foreman thinks).

Lyons carried out his difficult task with patience and courtesy. On the one hand, Southern politicians threatened that if London did not recognize the sovereignty of the Confederate States, the cotton trade would be cut off, driving England to economic collapse and revolution. On the other, the Union administration warned that such recognition could lead to war. In the event, London toyed with recognizing independence, and angered the North quite enough by acknowledging the South’s belligerent status.

Both sides had agents hard at work in England. Charles Francis Adams, scion of a famous Boston dynasty, was sent as American minister to the Court of St. James’s. He did as well as he could, although it didn’t help that he hated small talk, drinking and dancing, and that, as his son Henry said, “he doesn’t like the bother and fuss of entertaining and managing people who can’t be reasoned with,” which might be considered a definition of any diplomat’s job.

What nearly did take Washington and London to war was the principle of freedom of the seas. To make his case in London, Jefferson Davis dispatched two Confederate commissioners in November 1861 aboard the Trent, a British mail packet. But the electrifying news came that crewmen from the U.S.S. San Jacinto had boarded the ship near Cuba and seized the two.

“Have these Yankees then gone completely crazy?” Friedrich Engels asked his colleague Karl Marx, who himself wrote a good deal about the Civil War. Taking “political prisoners” in this way, Engels thought, was “the clearest casus belli there can be. The fellows must be sheer fools to land themselves in war with England.”

Despite this provocation, war did not follow. Other Confederate envoys reached London, and many Englishmen remained susceptible to the Southern claim. An unlikely British best seller was “The American Union,” written by James Spence, a Liverpool businessman who had traveled widely in America. Although he was scarcely disinterested — Liverpool had prospered in the slave trade and then by cotton — he argued plausibly that North and South were so different that enforced union was futile. And he held, not so implausibly either, that since slavery was doomed in any case, it was better that it should be ended without violence. This was taken up by John Delane, the editor of The Times, who maintained that the war was a contest for Southern “independence” against Northern “empire.”

Still the Union blockade of the South continued, and many English ships continued breaking it or trying to; Wilmington, N.C., to Bermuda was one favorite route. Meanwhile, the Confederate government clandestinely commissioned warships from English shipyards. Most famous of these was the Alabama, built by Laird & Sons. The intended purpose of the ship was obvious, as Adams’s Liverpool consul told him, and as the London government belatedly admitted. But the Alabama escaped from under official noses in July 1862 to begin a devastating career raiding Northern ships, to the fury of Washington.

As if that rage weren’t enough, Lyons had to deal with the problem of British subjects caught up in the fighting. Both sides treated prisoners of war harshly. Of the 26,000 Confederate soldiers held over the course of the war at Camp Douglas near Chicago, more than 6,000 died, and at one point the prisoners there included 300 who claimed to be British subjects. They pleaded for Lyons’s intervention, but there was little he could do. One of the prisoners was the deplorable Stanley, who adroitly solved the problem by switching gray uniform for blue, unconcerned with politics: as he said, “there were no blackies in Wales.”

A succession of Southern victories further encouraged English sympathy for the South. In late 1862 Lord Hartington, subsequently a cabinet minister, and nearly prime minister, visited both North and South (it was surprisingly easy to cross from one to the other), at first proclaiming his neutrality. But in Virginia he met Jefferson Davis, as well as the modest and agreeable Robert E. Lee, and was persuaded that the South was fighting virtuously for her rights. Hartington couldn’t pretend that blacks were flourishing, but then “they are not dirtier or more ­uncomfortable-looking than Irish laborers” (an unhappy comparison so soon after the great famine, and from a man whose family owned huge estates in Ireland).

In its later stages, the war saw Southern terrorist conspiracies initiated from Canadian soil, which further inflamed the North. But English sympathy for the South lingered up until Lee surrendered at Appomattox in April 1865. Then, within days, came the shattering news that Lincoln had been assassinated. All at once, “newspapers that had routinely criticized the president during his lifetime,” Foreman writes, “rushed to praise him.” There were some wonderfully hypocritical about-faces, one from The Times, but best of all from Punch. Having just included Lincoln with Napoleon III in a gallery of April Fools, the magazine now hailed him as “a true-born king of men.”

Not the least absorbing part of Foreman’s story comes after the war. Stanley was hired by The New York Herald and set off on his African journey to find Dr. Livingstone, before returning to England, a seat in Parliament and a knighthood. That fascinating figure Judah Benjamin, the Jewish lawyer who served as Confederate secretary of state, fled to London, where he became a barrister and published “Benjamin on Sales,” a commercial law textbook that made him rich.

No American politician was now more vehemently Anglophobic than Senator Charles Sumner, who continued to denounce England, and whose verbal violence delayed a settlement of the Alabama dispute. His great rival, William Henry Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, also turned up the heat, demanding the Bahamas in recompense for the Alabama’s depredations, although he had further designs on Canada, as so many Americans did.

In the end, the Alabama question was settled admirably, by jaw-jaw rather than war-war, as Churchill might have said, when an arbitration tribunal meeting in Geneva awarded large damages against Great Britain. The London government paid without complaint, inaugurating a period of comparative harmony, until ­Anglo-American war nearly broke out again in 1895 over an obscure Venezuelan boundary dispute.

Such eyewitnesses provide a wealth of vivid description — and here is the one drawback of this thoroughly researched and well-written but exceedingly long book. The presence of so many Englishmen means that Foreman can too easily slip away from “Britain’s crucial role” to a general history of the war and its every battle. But there truly is no shortage of such histories, and we have all often enough vicariously supped full of the horrors of Antietam and Fredericksburg.

Altogether Foreman’s remarkable book should be a caution against one foolish phrase. A relationship, no doubt — but “special”?

Those of us with Confederate sympathies often wonder what might have happened had Britain’s government of the time not allowed itself to be swayed by the blandishments of Lincoln’s so-called “Emancipation Proclamation” (which did not, in fact, emancipate a single slave in areas under Union control, including the four slave states that remained part of the Union), and come in on the side of the Confederacy…

Democratic Party Image Dips, GOP Ratings Stable | Gallup

The Democratic Party’s favorable rating has dipped to 40%, while the GOP’s rating is stable at 39%.

Source: Democratic Party Image Dips, GOP Ratings Stable | Gallup

(Actually, as the above graph indicates, the GOP is up 3 points over its February 2016 rating.)

While noting that “Americans are quite negative toward both of the major political parties at this time,” a recent Gallup poll indicates that the Democratic party is losing their (slight) edge over the Republicans.

This writeup on the Gallup website suggests that the “Democratic Party’s positioning appears weakened, largely because its own supporters now hold a less positive view of the party,” and warns that “if Democrats cannot improve their party’s image between now and November 2018, it may hinder their ability to regain some measure of power in Washington.”

That would not upset me. Although I am among those Americans who are “quite negative toward both of the major political parties,” I am basically in agreement with one commentator who suggests that “Democrats are not in touch with the needs of Middle America. They’ve become a fringe coastal party, more interested in riots, illegals, refugees, and gender-neutral bathrooms” than in serious governance.

More’s the pity!

Immigration policy, then and now

Immigrant policy - meme

The radical (and even some of the less-radical) Left is great on sound-bites, memes, etc., that support (or seem to) their position, but not so good on the facts and logic behind the situation portrayed – ironic, since they often also claim to be on the side of “reasons” and “science,” but I digress!

In any case, they seem to have a great deal of difficulty with the distinction between legal and illegal immigration (and sometimes with legality in general, but again, that’s a digression). I especially liked two of the comments on the original post:

“The left can keep track of 47 genders but the difference between legal immigrant and illegal immigrant escapes them quicker than a greased soap bubble.”

And this:

“Actually those are immigrants that are being herded through Ellis island to be questioned and medically examined to determine if they should be allowed to enter the United States based on whether they would be a benefit or detriment to American society. Those that fail will not be allowed to enter. So, yes let’s look at the past, and see how a real immigration policy works.”

That’s not even to mention the restrictions on who was allowed to immigrate to the United States in the first place, pre-1965: “The Hart–Celler Act of 1965 marked a radical break from the immigration policies of the past. Previous laws restricted immigration from Asia and Africa, and gave preference to northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern Europeans.”

One can agree with those policies or disagree with them, but one thing is clear: it wasn’t just any old “Tom, Dick, or Harry” who wanted in, that got in.

Note also: “The first significant federal legislation restricting immigration was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.” Remember that the Chinese were brought in to serve as cheap labour for the railroads; in fact, many of those imported or encouraged to immigrate – from the Irish and Eastern Europeans of the 19th and early 20th centuries to people from Central and South America today – are being brought in by or on behalf of corporations who want, once again, cheap labour.

Ironically, those who support “open” immigration policies are also, whether they know it or not, supporting crony capitalism / corporate plutocracy. To continue:

“Individual states regulated immigration prior to the 1892 opening of Ellis Island, the country’s first federal immigration station.” So it wasn’t just a free-for-all, as some try to claim. “New laws in 1965 ended the quota system that favored European immigrants, and today, the majority of the country’s immigrants hail from Asia and Latin America.” A fact which is altering not only the ethnic makeup of this country, but our culture and society as well – whether for better or for worse being debatable.

Again, the situation is more complex than a simple “immigrants made America great.” Much more!

QOTD: On ancestors and descendants

Major David French Boyd, CSA
Major David French Boyd, 9th Louisiana Infantry, Confederate States Army; First President of Louisiana State University

“He who feels no pride in his ancestors is unworthy to be remembered by his descendants.”

Maj. David French Boyd, CSA; 1st President of LSU

Particularly ironic, in light of current events in Louisiana (New Orleans, in particular)!

Happy Mother’s Day (U.S.)!

Happy Mothers Day - Facebook profile pic.png

Wishing any and all mothers who may be reading this a truly happy and blessed Mother’s Day!

And at the same time, remembering with deep love and appreciation my own dear mother, who went to be with her Lord and ours in February of 2007 – ten years ago this year. I still think of her and miss her, every single day.

Ma 1975
   Jean Elizabeth “Betty” (Reamer) Harbold, c. 1975 – my beloved “Ma” (1927-2007)

If your mother is still alive, tell her how much you love her, how much she means to you! Because you never know how much longer, or shorter, will be the time you can spend together. And if your relationship with your mother is not all it could or should be, then please, if it is possible, do what you can to repair it.

Again, we don’t know how much time we have, and – unless she is a truly vile person, which is blessedly rare – I know of no one who thinks, looking back on their life, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time with my mother…”

Again, Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers! And thank you for the work you put in to your families. May God bless and keep you!

Party at the Palace: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry invite 850 children to a party at Buckingham Palace. | The Royal Family

The party was held in honour of the children of those who have died serving in the Armed Forces.

Source: Party at the Palace: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry invite 850 children to a party at Buckingham Palace. | The Royal Family

Wisdom from our Roman Catholic brethren

vitruvian_man - Da Vinci

“The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit: Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honour since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.”

— Catechism of the Catholic Church, ❡❡ 364

Far too many Christians fall into the Gnostic heresy of devaluing the material world, including the human body, and believing that only “things spiritual” have ultimate worth. Do not be like them!