Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Adams Threatens Britain With War (updated)



On this date in 1863, Charles Francis Adams, minister to the United Kingdom, wrote as follows to the British foreign secretary, Earl Russell, about the apparently imminent release of two ironclad warships from a British shipyard to the Confederate navy: "It would be superfluous in me to point out to your lordship that this is war!"
The next day, Russell told Adams the rams would not be delivered to the Confederates. They were ultimately purchased by the British navy.
This marked the denouement of a two-and-a-half-year pas de deux between Russell and Adams, in which the plans of the Liberal British government, whose leading figures were the famous statesmen Palmerston, Russell and Gladstone, to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy were derailed by US foreign policy along with military success at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Charles Francis Adams was himself the son and grandson of presidents, and father of a great writer who witnessed and wrote about the affair. (While Henry Adams is not portrayed in The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant, he is referred to unsympathetically by a vivid minor character. Update Sept. 8: And the account of Grant in the autobiographical The Education of Henry Adams was an unfair distortion.)
The sympathies of many Britons can be deduced from the above cartoon in Punch, by the Alice in Wonderland illustrator John Tenniel. While Americans might have seen Lincoln and Czar Alexander II as liberators, respectively, of slaves and serfs, Punch shows them as oppressors of Southern and Polish rebels. The Russian government, unlike the British and French, was friendly toward the Lincoln administration. So, to be fair, were many Britons.


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