Secession and Slavery in Great Britain: Debate in The Times of London

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Feb 5, 2017

Secession and Slavery in Great Britain: Cassius Clay and Edwin DeLeon debate in The Times of London

By Niels Eichhorn | June 11, 2019 | Comments 0 Comment

On May 13, 1861, Queen Victoria announced Great Britain’s neutrality in the Civil War, which raised Southern hopes of recognition and Northern fears of the same. The Queen’s proclamation and public reaction to the outbreak of hostilities were the result of long-standing assumptions about the sectional division in the United States.[1] Aware of British attitudes about the political system, slavery and abolition, and the geographic differences in the United States, private individuals determined to explain to British readers the causes of the rebellion, attract British sympathy and support, and hopefully alter the course of the war in their section’s favor.
One week after the announcement of British neutrality, in London’s newspaper The Times, northern and southern writers debated the reasons for secession and war and laid out arguments for why Great Britain should support their section. On Monday, May 20, 1861, The Times published a letter by the anti-slavery Kentuckian and new U.S. Minister to the Russian court, Cassius M. Clay, and on Saturday, May 25, 1861, Edwin DeLeon, a secessionist and former U.S. minister to Egypt, provided a southern counterargument. Clay and DeLeon eloquently defended their respective sections with arguments designed for a British audience and to solicit British support. They utilized arguments to fit their audience’s expectations and perceptions. These two installments of the debate in The Times (a future post will deal with the third one by John L. Motley) illustrate how public diplomacy played out in the British newspapers as individuals from the two belligerents tried to win European support.
Cassius Clay. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
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