Nevertheless American slavery and slave conditions were still, after 1850, favourite matters for discussion, almost universally critical, by English writers. Each renewal of the conflict in America, even though local, not national in character, drew out a flood of comment. In the public press this blot upon American civilization was a steady subject for attack, and that attack was naturally directed against the South. The London Times, in particular, lost no opportunity of presenting the matter to its readers. In 1856, a Mr. Thomas Gladstone visited Kansas during the height of the border struggles there, and reported his observations in letters to the Times. The writer was wholly on the side of the Northern settlers in Kansas, though not hopeful that the Kansas struggle would expand to a national conflict. He constantly depicted the superior civilization, industry, and social excellence of the North as compared with the South.
Mrs. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin excited greater interest in England than in America itself. The first London edition appeared in May, 1852, and by the end of the year over one million copies had been sold, as opposed to one hundred and fifty thousand in the United States. But if one distinguished writer is to be believed, this great British interest in the book was due more to English antipathy to America than to antipathy to slavery. This writer was Nassau W. Senior, who, in 1857, published a reprint of his article on “American Slavery” in the 206th number of the Edinburgh Review, reintroducing in his book extreme language denunciatory of slavery that had been cut out by the editor of the Review. Senior had been stirred to write by the brutal attack upon Charles Sumner in the United States Senate after his speech of May 19-20, 1856, evidence, again, that each incident of the slavery quarrel in America excited British attention.
Senior, like Thomas Gladstone, painted the North as all anti-slavery, the South as all pro-slavery. Similar impressions of British understanding (or misunderstanding) are received from the citations of the British provincial press, so favoured by Garrison in his Liberator. Yet for intellectual Britain, at least—that Britain which was vocal and whose opinion can be ascertained in spite of this constant interest in American slavery, there was generally a fixed belief that slavery in the United States was so firmly established that it could not be overthrown. Of what use, then, the further expenditure of British sympathy or effort in a lost cause? Senior himself, at the conclusion of his fierce attack on the Southern States, expressed the pessimism of British abolitionists. He wrote, “We do not venture to hope that we, or our sons, or our grandsons, will see American slavery extirpated, or even materially mitigated.”
[Footnote 1: State Department, Eng., Vol. LXXIX, No. 135, March 27, 1862.]