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The United States of America: A History
Book 4: Chapter XIII - England and America


AMERICA looked to England for sympathy when the rebellion began. England had often reproached her, often admonished her, in regard to the question of slavery. The war which threatened her existence was a war waged by persons who desired to perpetuate slavery, and who feared the growing Northern dislike to the institution. The North expected the countenance of England in her time of trial. It was reasonable to expect that the deep abhorrence of slavery which had long ruled in the mind of the English people would suffice to decide that people against the effort to establish a great independent slave-empire.

Most unfortunately, that expectation was not wholly fulfilled. The working-men of England perceived, as by intuition, the merits of the dispute, and gave their sympathy unhesitatingly to the North. In the cotton-spinning districts grievous suffering was endured, because the Northern ships shut in the cotton of the South and deprived the mills of their accustomed supply. It was often urged that the English Government should take measures to raise the Northern blockade. Hunger persuades men to unwise and evil courses. But hunger itself could never persuade the men of Lancashire to take any part against the North. So genuine and so deep was their conviction that the Northern cause was right.

But among the aristocratic and middle classes of England it was different. Their sympathy was in large measure given to the South. They were misled by certain newspapers, in which they erringly trusted. They were misled by their admiration of a brave people struggling against an enemy of overwhelming strength. They were misled by an unworthy jealousy of the greatness of America. Thus unhappily influenced, they gave their good wishes to the defenders of the slave-system. The North felt deeply the unlooked-for repulse. An alienation of feeling resulted which will not be completely effaced during the life-time of the present generation.

A variety of circumstances occurred which strengthened this feeling. A few weeks after the fall of Fort Sumpter, England, having in view that there had been set up in the South a new Government which was exercising the functions of a Government, whether rightfully or otherwise, officially acknowledged the undoubted fact, and recognized the South as a belligerent power. This the North highly resented; asserting that the action of the South was merely a rebellion, with which foreign countries had nothing to do. A few months later the British mail steamer /rent was stopped by a rash American captain, and two gentlemen, commissioners to England from time rebel Government, were made prisoners. The captives were released, but the indignity offered to the British flag awakened a strong sentiment of indignation which did not soon pass away. Yet further, there was built in a Liverpool dockyard a steam-ship which it was understood was destined to serve the Confederacy by destroying the merchant shipping of the North. The American Ambassador requested the British Government to detain the vessel. So hesitating was the action of Government, that the vessel sailed before the order for her detention was issued. For two years the Alabama scoured the seas, burning and sinking American ships, and inflicting enormous loss upon American commerce. These circumstances increased time bitter feeling whelm prevailed.

All good men, on both sides the Atlantic, earnestly desire that England and America should be fast friends. It was possible for England, by bestowing upon the North that sympathy which we now recognize to have been due, to have bound the two countries to each other inalienably. Unhappily the opportunity was missed, and a needless estrangement was caused. But this is not destined to endure. England and America now understand each other as they have never done before. The constant intercourse of their citizens is a bond of union already so strong that no folly of Government could break it. It may fairly be hoped that the irritations which arose during the war will gradually pass away, to be succeeded by a permanent concord between the two sections of the great Anglo-Saxon family.


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