Tag Archives: Lord John Russell

The Laird Rams

September 5, 1863 – Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Great Britain, threatened war unless the British stopped clandestinely building warships for the Confederacy.

Charles Francis Adams | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Adams had demanded that the British government investigate allegations that naval warships were being built in British shipyards for Confederate use. This demand specifically referred to ironclads currently under construction in the Laird shipyards at Birkenhead that had become known as the “Laird rams.”

Emperor Napoleon III of France was listed as the rams’ original owner, but U.S. officials claimed the British government secretly knew that Confederate agents owned the ships behind the scenes. The agents arranged for the unarmed rams to be sold to Bravay & Company of Paris, on behalf of “his serene Highness the Pasha of Egypt.” The Pasha would then arm the rams and sell them to the Confederates on the open sea.

Adams and Thomas Dudley, the U.S. consul in Liverpool, had been gathering evidence that the rams truly belonged to the Confederacy since June. They argued that if such activity was taking place, it violated Britain’s avowed neutrality and had to be stopped. Secretary of State William H. Seward had even threatened to declare war on British Canada if evidence surfaced that Britain was aiding the Confederate war effort.

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Adams urged British Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell to stop construction on the rams, but Russell replied on the 1st, “Under these circumstances, Her Majesty’s Government cannot interfere in any way with these vessels.” Without Adams’s knowledge, Russell turned around two days later and issued orders detaining the rams at Birkenhead until British officials could investigate the matter further. Russell decided that such a move was necessary to maintain peaceful relations with the U.S., as well as British neutrality.

Adams wrote Russell on the 5th, unaware that Russell had detained the rams. Adams warned that if the rams left the shipyard, “It would be superfluous in me to point out to your Lordship that this is war…” Adams was then informed that the British government had already taken steps to prevent such a thing from happening.

This was hailed in the U.S. as a great diplomatic victory, and although the British government had decided on its own to detain the rams, Adams became a hero in the U.S. for supposedly forcing Britain to back down. This did much to ease tensions between London and Washington, at the same time dealing another damaging blow to Confederate hopes for independence.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 260; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 322-23; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9918-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 346, 348; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 404-05; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 682; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 202-03; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126-27; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363

The Emancipation Proclamation

January 1, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln signed the executive order emancipating all slaves in states and parts of states controlled by the Confederacy.

The Emancipation Proclamation | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The traditional New Year’s Day reception at the White House began at 11 a.m. The first hour was reserved for government officials, then the gates were opened to the public for the next two hours. Lincoln greeted guests in the Blue Room until 2 p.m. and then retired to the Executive Office, where the official draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, having been professionally engrossed at the State Department, awaited.

Lincoln’s hand was numb from shaking so many hands at the reception. This made him worry that his signature might look shaky on the document, which could cause people to claim that “‘he had some compunctions.’ But,” Lincoln said, “any way, it is going to be done!”

Administration officials witnessed him carefully sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Secretary of State William H. Seward also signed the document, the Great Seal of the United States was affixed, and it was sent to the State Department for official filing. Copies were sent to the press, and news of the signing soon spread throughout the country and then the world.

The decree pertained only to areas “the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States.” It did not pertain to 13 parishes in Louisiana, 48 counties in western Virginia, seven counties in Virginia, or the loyal slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. Thus, the proclamation technically freed nobody except in certain areas of the Confederacy under Federal military occupation, such as Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley or western Tennessee.

The order went beyond the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of September 22 by calling on slaves to “abstain from all violence” in an effort to ease fears that it would encourage slaves to rebel against their masters. Lincoln also added that he was issuing the proclamation as “an act of justice,” not just a military necessity.

Perhaps most importantly, the proclamation authorized the recruitment of blacks into the Federal military and navy, even if only “to garrison and defend forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts.” This would give the Federals an enormous manpower advantage against the Confederacy.

The proclamation indicated that Lincoln finally abandoned his longtime ambition to colonize former slaves outside the U.S. From this point forward, emancipation without colonization would be the unstated administration policy, though Lincoln still supported gradual, compensated emancipation in the loyal slave states.

Although the proclamation had dubious legal merit and questionable enforceability, it gave the U.S. a foreign relations advantage because countries such as Great Britain and France would not assist a slaveholding country against a country officially opposed to slavery. People in Britain held massive rallies celebrating the proclamation, and European recognition of Confederate independence soon became virtually impossible.

As word spread on the 2nd, northerners held mass meetings either celebrating or condemning the proclamation. Free blacks, former slaves, and abolitionists gathered at Boston’s Tremont Temple to rejoice this first step toward full freedom. Unionists also celebrated at Norfolk, Virginia; and Beaufort, South Carolina. Some abolitionists expressed disappointment that the proclamation did not free slaves in states loyal to the Union or parts of the Confederacy under Federal occupation.

Those critical of the proclamation argued that it was an unconstitutional decree with no basis in law. An editorial in the New York Herald called it “practically a dead letter… unwise and ill-timed, impracticable, and outside the Constitution.” The Richmond Examiner called the proclamation the “most startling political crime in American history.”

In Lincoln’s home state of Illinois, a Democratic legislator predicted that the widows and orphans of dead Federal soldiers would “become prey to the lusts of the freed negroes who will overrun our country.” The Democratic-controlled legislature approved a measure denouncing the Emancipation Proclamation and condemning Lincoln for turning the war’s cause into slave liberation.

Across the Atlantic, British Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell criticized the document for offering no “principle averse to slavery” because it made slavery “at once legal and illegal.” The London Quarterly Review opined, “It is little less than mockery to ask us to believe that Federals are fighting solely to extinguish, and Confederates solely to perpetuate, slavery.”

However, Lincoln shrewdly used a workers’ demonstration in England to garner support in promoting his proclamation. Manchester workers had long been suffering from the cotton shortage, for which Lincoln blamed not his blockade, but “the actions of our disloyal citizens.” Lincoln wrote:

“I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the workingmen at Manchester and in all Europe are called upon to endure in this crisis… Under these circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterance upon the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country… I hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an augury that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exist between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.”

Lincoln told the workers that the war would determine “whether a government, established on the principles of human freedom, can be maintained against an effort to build one upon the exclusive foundation of human bondage.” However, this did not acknowledge the fact that slavery still existed in the U.S. as well as the Confederacy, and Lincoln had not made emancipation a war aim until now, almost two years after the conflict began.

Nevertheless, Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Britain, wrote Seward about British reaction to the proclamation in late January. Adams stated that the British government and press had initially expressed skepticism toward the document’s legality and sincerity, but “if they become once fully aroused to a sense of the importance of this struggle as a purely moral question, I feel safe in saying there will be an end of all effective sympathy in Great Britain with the rebellion.”

Overall, most northerners feared the societal changes that the Emancipation Proclamation could bring. Regardless, the document transformed the war’s character by pushing the slavery issue to the center of American dialogue. This in turn pushed Congress to begin the process of enacting a constitutional amendment that could bypass a potential Supreme Court ruling against the proclamation and permanently end slavery.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 258; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 251; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8617-25, 8789-810, 9137; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 120, 155; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248, 251; Gara, Larry, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 242; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 497, 499; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 306-08, 312-13; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 752-53; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 563; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q163

Foreign Recognition or Mediation

October 22, 1862 – The leaders of Great Britain expressed new reluctance to recognize Confederate independence, and Emperor Napoleon III of France proposed foreign mediation between the two warring factions.

Lord Palmerston | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

When British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston learned of Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Antietam and return to Virginia, he wrote to Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell, “These last battles in Maryland have rather set the North up again. The whole matter is full of difficulty, and can only be cleared up by some more decided events between the contending armies.”

Many British officials had been leaning toward recognizing the Confederacy, but the recent defeats in Maryland, Mississippi, and Kentucky made them reconsider. Also, the Emancipation Proclamation was highly popular among the British subjects, which made the government even more hesitant.

But some British leaders still strongly supported the Confederacy. On the 7th, British Chancellor of the Exchequer William E. Gladstone delivered a speech at Newcastle, in which he initially praised northerners: “They are our kin. They were… our customers, and we hope they will be our customers again.” He claimed that Britain did not have “any interest in the disruption of the Union.”

But then Gladstone declared:

“We may have our own opinions about slavery; we may be for or against the (Confederacy). But there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army. They are making, it appears, a navy. And they have made what is more than either; they have made a nation.”

Amid loud applause, Gladstone said, “We may anticipate with certainty the success of the Southern States so far as regards their separation from the North is concerned.”

The Newcastle speech held significant merit because Gladstone was the third ranking member of the British government. An editorial in the British Economist contended that the speech “echoes the general sentiment of the country, and probably the real opinion of most members of the (British) Government.” However, it also defied Britain’s declaration of neutrality, and as such it prompted Gladstone to later declare that it was his greatest political blunder.

After Gladstone’s speech, cotton prices fell and U.S. support rose in Britain. Palmerston discussed the matter at a cabinet meeting on the 22nd and then wrote to Russell, “We must continue to be mere lookers-on till the war shall have taken a more decided turn.”

The topic came up at another meeting a week later, with Russell and Gladstone both urging reconsideration of Confederate recognition. But Palmerston maintained the situation had changed since last month, “when the Confederates seemed to be carrying all before them… I am very much come back to our original view that we must continue merely to be lookers-on…” The cabinet rejected Russell’s and Gladstone’s request.

Meanwhile, Pope Pius IX wrote a letter to the Cardinals of New York and New Orleans that was published in the Catholic press, asking them to try helping to bring peace; the Pope supported Confederate independence. Less than a week later, Napoleon III of France met with Confederate envoy John Slidell at St. Cloud, where Napoleon suggested forming a joint council of France, Britain, and Russia to mediate a peace between the U.S. and the Confederacy. Napoleon said:

“My own preference is for a proposition of an armistice of six months. This would put a stop to the effusion of blood, and hostilities would probably never be resumed. We can urge it on the high grounds of humanity and the interest of the whole civilized world. If it be refused by the North, it will afford good reason for recognition, and perhaps for more active intervention.”

Napoleon directed Drouyn de l’huys, his Minister of Affairs, to write the French ambassadors at London and St. Petersburg. Since the lack of southern cotton imports was devastating the European economy, it was proposed that the ambassadors work with the Queen of England and Emperor of Russia to “exert their influence at Washington, as well as with the Confederates, to obtain an armistice.”

The governments of Britain and Russia considered the matter. Russia, which favored the U.S., refused to participate because the proposal seemed too much in favor of the Confederacy. Britain also declined, maintaining the neutrality policy. France, which had been inclined to recognize the Confederacy, followed Britain’s lead in continuing its neutrality until the military situation changed.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 253; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18052-60; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 791-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218-19, 226; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 123; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 282; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 552, 556; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 581; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-26; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462

The Enrica Escapes Great Britain

July 31, 1862 – Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Great Britain, urged British Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell to prohibit the newly constructed screw steamer Enrica from leaving Liverpool because it was suspected of being a Confederate commerce raider.

The Enrica, later the C.S.S. Alabama | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

U.S. agents in Britain had protested for weeks that the Confederates were paying for the construction of a warship in a British harbor, which violated international law because Britain had proclaimed neutrality in the conflict. When Lord Russell finally decided to stop the ship from leaving Liverpool, Confederate operatives notified James D. Bulloch, the Confederate agent overseeing the Enrica’s construction.

Bulloch responded by taking the Enrica out of Liverpool on a trial run on July 29, two days before Russell finally acted. Visitors aboard the ship were transferred to a tug, and the Enrica moved out onto the high seas, headed for the island of Terceira in the Azores. The ship steamed north around Ireland to avoid the U.S.S. Tuscarora, watching for her potential escape. The British colors above the ship were then lowered and replaced by the Confederate flag.

At the Azores, the Enrica was fitted with guns and loaded with ordnance and supplies from Captain Alexander McQueen’s merchant bark the Agrippina. Confederates christened the Enrica the C.S.S. Alabama, designed to attack Federal merchant shipping at sea. She proceeded to Nassau in the Bahamas, where her career as a feared commerce raider began. The birth of the Alabama would cause great tension between the U.S. and Britain for many years to come.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 260; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 198-99; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 792; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 186-87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 245; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 114; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122

Butler’s Notorious Woman Order

May 15, 1862 – Commanding the Federal occupation forces in New Orleans, Major General Benjamin F. Butler issued an order that solidified his infamous reputation among southerners.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In the two weeks since Butler’s Federals had entered New Orleans, they faced intense scorn from the residents for their unwanted occupation. Much of this enmity came from women, who insulted the soldiers, sang Confederate songs such as “The Bonnie Blue Flag” in their presence, or avoided them altogether. One woman dumped a chamber pot on Admiral David G. Farragut’s head from an upstairs window. Some of the women hoped to provoke the Federals into attacking them, thus giving the men a cause to rise up against their oppressors.

In response to this behavior, Butler preemptively issued General Orders No. 28:

“As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subjected to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous noninterference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

The published order | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The published order | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

This shocking order allowing Federal soldiers to treat the women of New Orleans like prostitutes was met by outrage throughout the South as an unforgivable insult to womanhood. Butler was nicknamed the “Beast,” a biblical reference. President Jefferson Davis later accused Butler of committing war crimes and authorized Confederates to execute him if captured. (Ironically, Butler had backed Davis for U.S. president at the first Democratic National Convention of 1860.)

When news of this order reached England, Prime Minister Lord Palmerston declared to Parliament, “It is a proclamation to which I do not scruple to attach the epithet infamous! Any Englishman must blush to think that such an act has been committed by one belonging to the Anglo-Saxon race.” British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell demanded that the Lincoln administration revoke the order. The administration would not.

Butler argued that the order was necessary because his men had been generally respectful toward the city residents and expected the same treatment in return. Butler also noted that the troops had shown remarkable restraint in not retaliating against the women’s repeated derision.

New Orleans newspapers initially refused to publish such an order, prompting the Federals to print it out on sheets of paper and post it on major street corners. Butler responded to the newspapers’ refusal by ordering the suspension of the New Orleans Bee and the occupation of the New Orleans True Delta offices.

The True Delta submitted to force and published the order, and other newspapers reluctantly followed suit. Several enraged ladies canceled their subscriptions, and Butler refused to explain his order to Mayor John T. Monroe. When Monroe objected to Butler’s actions, Butler ordered him, the police chief, and several others to be imprisoned at Fort Jackson.

The “Woman Order” was not regularly enforced, but after its publication, women generally stopped insulting the troops, so the order served its purpose anyway. Some who continued harassing soldiers were imprisoned at Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico. Women kept up a protest of sorts by painting the image of Butler at the bottom of their chamber pots.

Butler also earned the scorn of government officials by pitting laborers against planters. Butler initially offered to pay planters for their crops “for the benefit of the poor of this city.” He also helped alleviate some of the yellow fever that often struck New Orleans by reforming sanitation services. When the mayor objected to his efforts, Butler accused him of having no “regard to the starving poor, the working man, his wife and child.” Butler then appealed directly to the people, proclaiming, “how long will you uphold these flagrant wrongs and by inaction suffer yourselves to be made the serfs of these leaders?”

Louisiana Governor Thomas Moore issued a counter-proclamation, accusing Butler of trying to incite class warfare after coming “from a section of the country (New England) that has done more than any other to degrade and cheapen labor and reduce the laboring man to the condition of the slave.” Moore reminded Butler that “Southerners are a high-toned, chivalrous people.”

Moore’s message was printed in the New Orleans newspapers. This angered Butler so much that he ordered four of them closed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 171; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 840; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 152-53; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 55-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211-12; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 369; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

End of the Trent Affair

January 8, 1862 – The government of Great Britain received the official news that the U.S. would release Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell, thus averting an international crisis.

Confederate envoys James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate envoys James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Mason, Slidell, and their secretaries had been imprisoned at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor after being seized by Federals while traveling aboard the British steamer R.M.S. Trent. Federal Captain Charles Wilkes of the U.S.S. San Jacinto had sought to prevent the men from going to Europe and obtaining foreign recognition of Confederate independence.

The British had reacted to the seizure with outrage, with the U.S. finally backing down in late December and agreeing to give the envoys up to their care. Although the two-month affair had been somewhat humiliating for U.S. foreign relations, it actually benefited the Federals because Britain had withheld vital supplies from the Confederacy in case they would be needed in a war against the U.S.

Lord Richard Lyons, British minister to the U.S., arranged for Commander W. Hewett to take the English screw sloop-of-war H.M.S. Rinaldo to pick up Mason and Slidell. Lyons informed Hewett that the envoys had “no official character. It will be right for you to receive them with all courtesy and respect as gentlemen of distinction, but it would be improper to pay them any of those honors which are paid to official persons.”

Without fanfare, Federal authorities released Mason, Slidell, and their secretaries on New Year’s Day. They boarded the tugboat Starlight, which took them to Provincetown on Cape Cod where they were taken aboard the Rinaldo. Hewett reported that the men were picked up “without form or ceremony… The gentlemen remarked that their only wish was to proceed to Europe.”

Though originally scheduled to be taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the envoys were instead taken to the Danish island of St. Thomas. From there they continued on to Southampton, England, aboard the British mail packet La Plata. Hewett had instructions not to “convey them to any part of the coast of the States which have seceded from the Republic.”

When the British learned of the envoys’ surrender a week later, they hailed it as a diplomatic victory over the U.S. However, Prime Minister Lord Palmerston maintained that Secretary of State William H. Seward’s response of December 27 listed “many doctrines of international law” that Britain refuted, and Foreign Minister Lord John Russell wrote to Seward challenging his legal arguments. Nevertheless, there would be no war between the U.S. and Britain, much to the Confederacy’s disappointment.

Mason and Slidell finally arrived in England on January 30. They were warmly greeted at Southampton, but when their train arrived at London, the reception was much colder. Only the London Times reported their arrival:

“We sincerely hope that our countrymen will not give these fellows anything in the shape of an ovation. The civility that is due to a foe in distress is all that they can claim. The only reason for their presence in London is to draw us into their own quarrel. The British public has no prejudice in favor of slavery, which these gentlemen represent. What they and their secretaries are to do here passes our experience. They are personally nothing to us. They must not suppose, because we have gone to the verge of a great war to rescue them, that they are precious in our eyes.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (January 1); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 107, 119; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6916; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 220; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 95, 102; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 156-57, 164; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q162; Wikipedia: Trent Affair

The Trent Affair: British Reaction Reaches the U.S.

December 15, 1861 – News of the British reaction to the seizure of Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell reached the U.S.

James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward interrupted a meeting between President Lincoln and Illinois Senator Orville Browning by showing them a British newspaper that had been aboard a ship recently arrived from England. The paper reported that the British would demand for the envoys’ release and an official apology, otherwise they would declare war.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Credit: Wikispaces.com

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Credit: Wikispaces.com

Seward expressed concern that Britain would assert that the seizure of Mason and Slidell had violated international law. Browning said, “I don’t believe England has done so foolish a thing. But if she is determined to force a war upon us why so be it. We will fight her to the death!” Lincoln likened this to a story about a bulldog whom onlookers said would not bite, until one man said, “I know the bulldog will not bite. You know he will not bite, but does the bulldog know he will not bite?”

The U.S. remained cautiously defiant. At a diplomatic reception that evening, London Times correspondent William Howard Russell overheard Seward say, “We will wrap the whole world in flames.” But the next day the House of Representatives would not approve a resolution introduced by Democrat Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio commending Captain Charles Wilkes for seizing Mason and Slidell, and refusing to release the envoys as a matter of national honor. Members referred it to committee instead.

Charles Francis Adams | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Charles Francis Adams | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

At London, Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Britain, received Seward’s message stating that Wilkes had acted without orders. Adams shared this with British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell, who felt it was a step in the right direction. However, Russell would not endorse any formal action until the U.S. government officially responded to the British communique.

The British public continued expressing outrage, no doubt influenced by editorials like one from the London Times that declared: “By Capt. Wilkes let the Yankee breed be judged. Swagger and ferocity, built on a foundation of vulgarity and cowardice, these are the characteristics, and these are the most prominent marks by which his countrymen, generally speaking, are known all over the world.”

Lord Russell’s formal instructions to Lord Richard Lyons arrived in the U.S. aboard the Europa on the 18th. Lyons met with Seward the next day and verbally communicated the demands from “Her Majesty’s Government.” Lyons explained that Britain deemed the seizure of Mason and Slidell “an affront to the national honor” that could only be corrected if the U.S. unconditionally returned the envoys to “British protection.”

Lyons also stated that his government required “a suitable apology for the aggression,” and if the U.S. did not comply in a timely manner, Lyons and his legation would return to Britain. Lyons granted Seward’s request for a copy of the message, which demanded a U.S. reply within seven days. However, since the governments had not yet officially discussed this matter, Lyons made the message unofficial to give Seward more time to respond.

President Lincoln held several cabinet meetings over the next few days to discuss the affair and a potential U.S. response to British demands. During that time, two British transports began conveying 8,000 troops from England to Canada, as bands played “Dixie” and “The British Grenadiers.” Lieutenant General Sir William F. Williams, commanding British forces in North America, began training 38,000 men of the Sedentary Militia for possible combat.

The Trent affair began affecting Wall Street, as a war with Britain would prove decidedly bad for northern business. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase could not sell his railroad stock because it had become nearly worthless; Chase’s broker advised him that U.S. business interests “trust you will have allayed this excitement with England: one war at a time is enough.”

Lyons tried meeting with Seward again on the 23rd but was informed by State Department officials that Seward would not answer the British demands until after Christmas. He stormed out of the State Department building and formally presented the British ultimatum to the U.S. government. Lyons wrote to Russell: “I am so convinced that unless we give our friends here a good lesson this time, we shall have the same trouble with them again very soon… Surrender or war will have a very good effect on them.”

However, British-perceived U.S. arrogance was slowly giving way as Lincoln and his cabinet continued discussing the matter. Editorials in southern newspapers jubilantly expressed hope that war between Britain and the U.S. would facilitate Confederate independence. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Chairman of the Foreign Services Committee, feared that the British might break the Federal blockade or the French might try colonizing Latin America. Pressure was increasing on the Lincoln administration to release Mason and Slidell.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8236; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 102-03; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6797-807; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 91-92; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 398; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 149-51; Wikipedia: Trent Affair

The Trent Affair: Awaiting Official Reactions

December 1, 1861 – The U.S. and Great Britain awaited each other’s official reactions to the seizure of Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell aboard the neutral British steamer Trent.

James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The ship Europa left England on December 1 carrying the dispatches from the British government to Lord Richard Lyons, British minister to the U.S. at Washington. The dispatches included the instructions from British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell listing British terms for settling the Trent affair, which had been toned down by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

The modified version still demanded the envoys’ release and a U.S. apology, but if the U.S. let them go, the British would “be rather easy about the apology.” They would most likely settle for an official explanation through Charles Francis Adams, the U.S. minister in London. A private message stated the opinion of many in Britain that the “best thing would be if (U.S. Secretary of State William H.) Seward could be turned out and a rational man put in his place.”

Meanwhile, the British War Office deployed 6,000 troops to Canada, along with a naval fleet of 40 ships bearing 1,275 guns under Admiral Sir Alexander Milne. In addition, British Secretary of War George Lewis proposed to Prime Minister Lord Palmerston to send out three more regiments and more artillery in the coming days.

Henri Mercier, French minister to the U.S., received instructions from France to support the British. In an effort to stem the European outrage, former U.S. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott traveled to Paris with Republican Party boss Thurlow Weed (Seward’s political benefactor). Scott published a letter in the Paris Constitutional stating that “every instinct of prudence as well as of good neighborhood prompts our government to regard no honorable sacrifice too great for the preservation of the friendship of Great Britain.”

President Abraham Lincoln similarly assured Canadian Finance Minister Alexander Galt that the U.S. had no hostile intentions toward either Britain or Canada. Galt informed Lord Lyons that despite Lincoln’s assertions, “I cannot… divest my mind of the impression that the policy of the American Govt is so subject to popular impulses, that no assurance can be or ought to be relied on under present circumstances.”

The continuing U.S. celebration of Captain Charles Wilkes as a national hero seemed to confirm Galt’s suspicions. Congress unanimously approved a resolution thanking Wilkes “for his brave, adroit and patriotic conduct in the arrest and detention of the traitors, James M. Mason and John Slidell.” The resolution also proposed that Wilkes receive a “gold medal with suitable emblems and devices, in testimony of the high sense entertained by Congress of his good conduct.”

William Howard Russell, the U.S. correspondent for the London Times, wrote of U.S. sentiment regarding the affair: “There is so much violence of spirit among the lower orders of the people and they are… so saturated with pride and vanity that any honorable concession… would prove fatal to its authors.”

The death of Prince Albert in mid-December added to the tension. As a U.S. supporter, the prince had urged British firmness with moderation. Many worried that his passing meant that cooler heads would not prevail. This worry quickly spread when news of Britain’s reaction to the Trent affair reached the U.S.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 102; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 149; Wikipedia: Trent Affair

The Trent Affair: British Outrage

November 27, 1861 – News of the U.S. seizure of Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell aboard the British steamer Trent officially reached Great Britain, where it was met with immediate outrage.

James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Commander Richard Williams of the Royal Navy, who had been aboard the R.M.S. Trent, submitted a report on the envoys’ seizure to British officials at London. He wrote:

“The commander of the Trent and myself at the same time protested against, this illegal act, this act of piracy carried out by brute force, as we had no means of resisting the aggression the San Jacinto being at the time on our port beam about 200 yards off, her ship’s company at quarters, ports open and tompions out.”

While northerners hailed Captain Charles Wilkes of the U.S.S. San Jacinto for preventing the envoys from reaching Europe, British officials viewed the boarding of one of their vessels as an invasion of Britain itself. As news of the incident spread, signs in city streets called the seizure of Mason and Slidell an “Outrage on the British Flag.”

Newspaper editorials condemned the U.S., with many blaming Secretary of State William H. Seward for trying “to provoke a war with England for the purpose of getting Canada.” An article in the London Chronicle went even further:

“Abraham Lincoln… has proved himself a feeble, confused and little-minded mediocrity. Mr. Seward, the firebrand at his elbow, is exerting himself to provoke a quarrel with all Europe, in that spirit of senseless egotism which induces the Americans, with their dwarf fleet and shapeless mass of incoherent squads which they call an army, to fancy themselves the equal of France by land and Great Britain by sea.”

The London Standard saw the capture as “but one of a series of premeditated blows aimed at this country… to involve it in a war with the Northern States.” The London Post declared, “In one month, we could sweep all the San Jacintos from the seas, blockade the Northern ports and turn to a direct and speedy issue the war.” The British demanded “reparation and apology” for this blatant violation of international law.

The British Parliament immediately approved an embargo on all shipments of saltpeter from British India to the U.S. Seward had arranged for the du Pont company to buy Indian saltpeter to use in gunpowder, so such an embargo threatened to affect the U.S. ability to wage war. Plans were also quickly drawn to build more warships in case of war with the U.S. The British military buildup soon became its largest since the Napoleonic Wars.

Charles Francis Adams | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Charles Francis Adams | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Great Britain, was in London when the news broke. He stated that “while a storm of enthusiastic approval was sweeping over the northern part of the United States in the 12 days between November 15th and November 27th, a storm of indignation of quite equal intensity swept over Great Britain between November 27th and the close of the year.”

British public opinion had already tended to favor the Confederacy because the U.S. blockade was depriving the British textile industry of precious southern cotton. Confederate support grew all the more with this U.S. insult to British honor.

News of the “Trent affair” reached France the following day, with Emperor Napoleon III meeting with his cabinet to discuss their options. Although they had not yet learned of the British response or heard from Henri Mercier, French minister to the U.S., they agreed that the Trent’s boarding was illegal and resolved to support any British demands in response. Edouard Thouvenel communicated this policy to Count Charles de Flahault in London.

An emergency cabinet meeting took place in London on the 29th. Members read dispatches from Lord Richard Lyons, British minister to the U.S., describing the wild celebrations throughout the North and reminding them that he had warned Seward may try a move such as this. Lyons recommended that Britain dispatch troops to Canada in a show of force.

Prime Minister Lord Palmerston instructed the War Office to suspend budget reductions for 1862. He then read a legal brief he had requested from the Law Office, which confirmed that Captain Wilkes’s seizure of the envoys was “illegal and unjustifiable by international law.” Palmerston exclaimed to his cabinet, “You may stand for this, but damned if I will!”

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell met with Adams, who was unaware that Seward had already notified Russell that Wilkes had acted without orders and could provide no further information. The men did not exchange official information, but Adams saw “little reason to doubt that the same steamer which bears this (letter to Washington) will carry out a demand for an apology and the restoration of the men.”

Palmerston believed that he and Adams had a verbal agreement that the U.S. would not interfere with British shipping. Palmerston informed Russell that the affair may have been planned as a “deliberate and premeditated insult” by Seward to “provoke” a war with Britain.

Scottish poet Charles MacKay wrote to Seward, “There never was within memory such a burst of feeling as has been created by the news of the boarding of the La Plata (Trent).” MacKay stated that the British were “frantic with rage, and were the country polled I fear that 999 men out of 1,000 would declare for immediate war.” Confederate sympathies, formerly “coldly expressed,” were now “warm and universal.”

MacKay wrote, “Englishmen would rather fight with any power in the world than with America, but I do assure you their blood is up and they mean mischief in this business.” This feeling was felt in all “classes of society,” even among those who normally urged peace. One such peace monger in Parliament told MacKay “that if this insult were not atoned for he saw no use for a flag; that he would recommend the British colors to be torn into shreds and sent to Washington for the use of the Presidential water-closets.”

James L. Graham, Jr., an American residing in Edinburgh, wrote that the Trent affair had “entirely monopolized the public mind.” He had never witnessed such “intense a feeling of indignation exhibited in my life. It pervades all classes and may make itself heard above the wiser theories of the cabinet officers.”

Lord Russell instructed Lord Lyons to notify Seward that Britain considered the seizure of Mason and Slidell an act of aggression. Lyons was to give Seward seven days to turn the envoys over to British authorities and apologize for the seizure, otherwise the British legation would leave Washington. Russell also directed naval forces to mobilize.

Queen Victoria of England | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Queen Victoria of England | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Before finalizing these messages, Russell sent them to Queen Victoria for review. Prince Albert, the Queen’s ailing consort, persuaded Russell to soften the demands so as to prevent the certainty of war. Under the new position, the Queen would accept Seward’s acknowledgement that Wilkes, “the U. S. naval officer who committed the aggression was not acting in compliance with any authority from his Government.”

Russell expressed certainty that once “this matter shall have been brought under the consideration of the Government of the United States, that Government will of its own accord offer to the British Government such redress as alone could satisfy the British nation, namely, the liberation of the four gentlemen (Mason, Slidell, and their secretaries) and their delivery to your lordship in order that they may again be placed under British protection and a suitable apology for the aggression which has been committed.”

If Seward did not comply within seven days of receipt of this letter, Lyons would “repair immediately to London.” Russell ordered the naval forces to act only in self-defense. He warned that “the act of wanton violence and outrage which has been committed makes it not unlikely that other sudden acts of aggression may be attempted. Vice-Admiral Sir A. Milne will take care not to place his ships in positions where they may be surprised or commanded by batteries on land of a superior force.”

Unaware of the outrage the Trent affair had caused, U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles sent a complimentary letter to Wilkes:

“I congratulate you on your safe arrival, and especially do I congratulate you on the great public service you have rendered in the capture of the rebel emissaries. Messrs. Mason and Slidell have been conspicuous in the conspiracy to dissolve the Union and it is well known that when seized by you they were on a mission hostile to the Government and the country. Your conduct in seizing these public enemies was marked by intelligence, ability, decision and firmness and has the emphatic approval of this Department.”

Americans remained largely unaware of the British reaction, though many surely had a notion, until Russell’s letter reached Lyons at Washington three weeks later.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 51, 52; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 257; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 97-98; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 157; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 86; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 396-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 143-44; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 390; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 81; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461; Wikipedia: Trent Affair

Affairs in Europe and Mexico

October 16, 1861 – The European powers entertained the possibility of recognizing Confederate independence, while France capitalized on the war by invading Mexico.

Since Great Britain often took the lead in setting European international policy, both U.S. and Confederate officials looked to the British to see how Europe would react to the war between North and South. Britain was still split between the two sides; the London Post favored British recognition of the Confederacy, while the London Times supported the U.S.

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

However, Confederate officials were encouraged by an article in the Times on the 16th quoting a speech delivered by British Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell at Newcastle. According to the Times, Russell said that the war was not being fought over slavery or tax policy; rather, it was being fought over which political party would rule the South. Russell declared that one party fought for “empire” and the other for “independence,” and separation was “the only logical and permanent settlement of the controversy.”

This did not change the fact that the official British position remained neutrality. Two days after the Times article was published, Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston reminded Lord Russell that Great Britain’s “true policy” was “to go on as we have begun, and to keep quite clear of the conflict.”

One thing that British officials agreed upon was that the people were starving for cotton. Not only was the Federal blockade limiting southern exports, but the Confederates were withholding cotton in the hopes that countries needing the precious commodity would intervene on their behalf. Both Palmerston and Russell contended that “the cotton question may become serious by the end of the year… We cannot allow some millions of our people to perish to please the Northern States.” Discussion began among British and French diplomats about possibly joining forces to lift the Federal blockade.

Meanwhile, Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Great Britain, issued a complaint to Lord Russell that the Confederacy was importing supplies for the war effort from Nassau in the Bahamas. Russell responded by obtaining a report from Nassau authorities denying the charge. Russell forwarded the report to Adams, who stated that this sufficiently dispelled “the suspicion thrown upon the authorities by that unwarrantable act.” While British authorities resisted supplying arms to the Confederacy, they openly supplied them to the U.S.

France followed Britain’s lead, with Henri Mercier, French minister to the U.S. notifying Lord Richard Lyons, British minister to the U.S., that if Britain recognized Confederate independence, France would follow suit. But Adams used his powerful influence to prevent the British from doing so for now.

The French then took advantage of the war by landing an army at Vera Cruz, ostensibly to suppress a civil war in Mexico. This was part of Emperor Napoleon III’s plan to set up a protectorate that would expand French influence into the Western Hemisphere. The Mexicans resisted at Puebla, but the French prevailed. President Benito Juarez’s regime was replaced by a puppet government led by Napoleon’s handpicked ruler, Archduke Maximilian of Austria.

The Lincoln administration noted that the French conquest of Mexico violated the Monroe Doctrine, which had declared that the U.S. would not permit Europe to interfere in the Western Hemisphere affairs. Administration officials worried that France would extend its influence to other Western nations and ally itself with the Confederacy. Ultimately, the French did neither out of fear of U.S. reprisals.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18125; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 84; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38-39; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 124, 132; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 384; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461