That which really did inspire the feelings and the wishes, and which did influence, though it could not be permitted fully to control, the action of England, had not been counted upon by either section of the country; perhaps its existence had not been appreciated. This was the intense dislike felt for the American republic by nearly all Englishmen who were above the social grade of mechanics and mill operatives. The extent and force of this antipathy and even contempt were for the first time given free expression under the irresistible provocation which arose out of the delightful likelihood of the destruction of the United States. The situation at least gave to the people of that imperiled country a chance to find out in what estimation they were held across the water. The behavior of the English government and the attitude of the English press during the early part of the civil war have been ascribed by different historians to one or another dignified political or commercial motive. But while these influences were certainly not absent, yet the English newspapers poured an inundating flood of evidence to show that genuine and deep-seated dislike, not to say downright hatred, was by very much the principal motive. This truth is so painful and unfortunate that many have thought best to suppress or deny it; but no historian is entitled to use such discretion. From an early period, therefore, in the administration of Mr. Lincoln, he and Mr. Seward had to endeavor to preserve friendly relations with a power which, if she could only make entirely sure of the worldly wisdom of yielding to her wishes, would instantly recognize the independence of the South. This being the case, it was matter for regret that the rules of international law concerning blockades, contraband of war, and rights of neutrals were perilously vague and unsettled.
Earl Russell was at this time in charge of her majesty’s foreign affairs. Because in matters domestic he was liberal-minded, Americans had been inclined to expect his good-will; but he now disappointed them by appearing to share the prejudices of his class against the republic. A series of events soon revealed his temper. So soon as there purported to be a Confederacy, an understanding had been reached betwixt him and the French emperor that both powers should take the same course as to recognizing it. About May 1 he admitted three Southern commissioners to an audience with him, though not “officially.” May 13 there was published a proclamation, whereby Queen Victoria charged and commanded all her “loving subjects to observe a strict neutrality” in and during the hostilities which had “unhappily commenced between the government of the United States and certain States styling themselves ’the Confederate States of America.’” This action—this assumption of a position of “neutrality,” as between enemies—taken while the “hostilities” had extended only to the single incident of Fort Sumter,