Great Britain and the American Civil War eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 825 pages of information about Great Britain and the American Civil War.
to have been written on the 21st before there was any news from the battle-field, and the interview with Lyons on the 20th proves that the military set-back had no influence on Seward’s friendly expressions.  Moreover, these expressions officially made were but a delayed voicing of a determination of policy arrived at many weeks earlier.  The chronology of events and despatches cited in this chapter will have shown that the refusal of Lincoln to follow Seward’s leadership, and the consequent lessening of the latter’s “high tone,” preceded any news whatever from England, lightening the first impressions.  The Administration at Washington did not on May 21, even know that England had issued a Proclamation of Neutrality; it knew merely of Russell’s statement that one would have to be issued; and the friendly explanations of Russell to Adams were not received in Washington until the month following.

In itself, Seward’s “foreign war panacea” policy does not deserve the place in history usually accorded it as a moment of extreme crisis in British-American relations.  There was never any danger of war from it, for Lincoln nipped the policy in the bud.  The public excitement in America over the Queen’s Proclamation was, indeed, intense; but this did not alter the Governmental attitude.  In England all that the public knew was this American irritation and clamour.  The London press expressed itself a bit more cautiously, for the moment, merely defending the necessity of British neutrality[235].  But if regarded from the effect upon British Ministers the incident was one of great, possibly even vital, importance in the relations of the two countries.  Lyons had been gravely anxious to the point of alarm.  Russell, less acutely alarmed, was yet seriously disturbed.  Both at Washington and in London the suspicion of Seward lasted throughout the earlier years of the war, and to British Ministers it seemed that at any moment he might recover leadership and revert to a dangerous mood.  British attitude toward America was affected in two opposite ways; Britain was determined not to be bullied, and Russell himself sometimes went to the point of arrogance in answer to American complaints; this was an unfortunate result.  But more fortunate, and also a result, was the British Government’s determination to step warily in the American conflict and to give no just cause, unless on due consideration of policy, for a rupture of relations with the United States.  Seward’s folly in May of 1861, from every angle but a short-lived “brain-storm,” served America well in the first years of her great crisis.


[Footnote 197:  See ante, p. 80.]

[Footnote 198:  Barnes, Life of Thurlow Weed, II, p. 378.  Seward to Weed, December 27, 1861.]

[Footnote 199:  Ibid., p. 355.  Weed’s letter was on the Trent affair, but he went out of his way to depict Seward as attempting a bit of humour with Newcastle.]

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Great Britain and the American Civil War from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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