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.[amazon_enhanced asin=”037550494X” container=”div” container_class=”alignright” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]
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 “[amazon_link id=”1613820410″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Uncle Tom’s Cabin[/amazon_link]” had sold an astonishing million copies, three times its American sales, and the Royal Navy waged a long campaign against the slave trade: on his first visit to Downing Street, 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.
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Review by Geoffrey Wheatcroft