Britain's Response to the Emancipation Proclamation

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Aug 17, 2011
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Britain's Response to the Emancipation Proclamation
Amanda Foreman talked about the international response to the Civil War, particularly by Great Britain. She is the author of A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided. Ms. Foreman responded to questions from members of the audience.

“Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in England: A Propaganda Tool for the Enemy?” was a program of the 14th Annual Abraham Lincoln Institute Symposium, “The Latest in Lincoln Scholarship,” sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Institute and the Foundation for the National Archives at the National Archives at College Park​

I will provide clips to avoid extraneous material. The complete video is above.

First Clip.
EP in GB 1

In the beginning, Southern diplomacy seems to be working at least to the extent of keeping Britain from becoming pro-Union. There were Southern fumbles, but the political problems of Lincoln suggested hypocrisy to a British public with no understanding of the particular US politics.


BUT Less well known or understood is the controversy that the proclamation attracted abroad. Both Union and Confederate supporters in Britain tried to use it as a propaganda tool. And in the beginning, at least, it was the Confederates who benefited the most. The reasons for this were laid down at the start of the war when England was still pondering its response to the conflict. A poem in "punch" magazine on the 30th of March, 1861, neatly expressed Britain's cotton dilemma. QUOTE, though with the north we sympathize it must not be forgotten that with the South, we've stronger ties, which are composed of cotton.

The revelation of the London times journalist William Howard Russell that the South hoped to exploit these ties, along with his poignant descriptions of slave life, provoked outrage in England when his reports started to appear in April. But the North gained less support than Southerners feared, once Britons also learned that President Lincoln had promised not to interfere with slavery in his inaugural address. The British attitude, in general, dismayed US Ambassador Charles Francis Adams. Quote, people did not quite understand Americans or their politics, he wrote to his son, Charles Francis Adams they think this is a hasty quarrel. They do not comprehend the connection which slavery has with it. BECAUSE We do not at once preach emancipation. hence, they go to the other extreme and argument it's not an element in the struggle, unquote.

But adams himself was guilty of mischaracterization. THE English reaction was far more complicated than he allowed. EVEN The north's two biggest supporters, the radical mp and his colleague john bright believed that lincoln had made a mistake. The leading abolitionist richard webb complained, neither lincoln nor steward has yet spoken an anti-slavery syllable since they took office. This was true for steward who specifically instructed all u.s. Ambassadors and cons uls to avoid mentioning the word in connection with the union. The deliberate omission was a grievous miscalculation in regards to britain. Seward had used the trump card hoping it would appease the South. INSTEAD He had provided ammunition to his critics who accused the north of hypocrisy.

The economist magazine declared, quote, the great majority of the people in the northern states detest the colored population even more than do the Southern whites, unquote. Yet, for all the finger-pointing and public criticism of the north, the first Southern envoys in britain, william yancy and ambrose dudley mann failed to make the slightest changes. QUOTE, we are satisfied that the government is sincere in its desire to be strictly neutral. And will not countenance any violation of its neutrality, unquote. AND Writing to a friend in the South, yancy admitted that the mission was not turning out the way he had envisioned. QUOTE In the first place, impoornt as cotton is, it is not king in europe. Furthermore, he added, the anti-slavery sentiment is universal. Uncle tom's cabin has been read and believed.

However, not long afterwards, the british learned that lincoln had rejected general fremont's emancipation proclamation in missouri. Regardless of the problems at home, abroad, lincoln's rebuke played into the confederates' hands. Without the slavery issue, the north was simply a country fighting a rebellion in its nether regions. Quote, look at the Southerners here, henry adams, the youngest sochb adams, wrote indignantly on the 25th of october 1861. Every man is inspired by the idea of independence and liberty while we are in a false position, unquote. A speech by the liberal chancellor william gladstone in april 1862 restleeld extent to which ambiguity of the slavery question benefitted the South and damaged the north. Quote, there was no doubt, he declared. If we could say that this was a contest of slavery and freedom, there is not a man within the length and breadth of this room. There is perhaps hardly a man in all england howould for a moment hesitate on the side he should take, unquote. Gladstone felt vindicated after he received a letter from a liberian diplomat who declared he was, quote, very glad of the position which england maintains with reference to the war. Both sections of the u.s. ARE Negro hating and negro crushing, unquote. The South's chief propagandist in england, a journalist from mobile named henry hotts used every opportunity to blast the message that the war was about independence, not about slavery. HOTTS Was able to convince britons the new anglo-american slave trade treaty, which allowed the british navy to search suspected american slave ships and the bill abolishing slavery in washington itself were just window dressing. As proof, he pointed to the fact that lincoln had failed to win support from the border states for a gradual emancipation bill.
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!