A Conversation for The British Involvement in the American Civil War

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 1

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

This article does a good job of showing that the British had a predisposition to assist the CSA, and explains why.

What it does not do well is explain why neither Britain nor France actually involved themselves on the part of the CSA.

1) At that point in history, any nation fighting for independence from a larger power must first demonstrate that it had a reasonable chance to win. The Battle of Saratoga was the demonstration needed to bring France into the Revolutionary War. The CSA had barely repulsed the Union from their own soil by the time the Battle at Antietam was fought.

2) The Union victory at Antietam finally gave Lincoln the opportunity he'd been waiting for to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation. They would have been hollow words unless they were delivered after a significant victory... and to that point in the war, the Union had not fared well.

3) The Emancipation Proclamation made slavery a central issue to the war, which it had not been up to that point. British and French reluctance to assist the CSA was based in part on the practice of slavery, which they had abolished in their own countries some time before. The governments of Britain and France would have had a difficult time convincing their people to support a slave nation against one determined to free all slaves.

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 2


Thanks for the observations. Here are a few in reply

1) At any point in history, the ability to win is important in winning allies. In the War of Independance, it was fairly inevitable that France would join forces with anyone to defeat the Old Enemy. What was not as inevitable that the fledgling US would join with France. Both acts were seen as treasonable in GB. An example of this gone wrong was Vietnam when the South AND the USA should have defeated the North, but didn't.

2)Lincoln had already stated his intention to abolish Slavery during his Presidential campaign. Britain and France knew this well in advance of the conflict. He did not act immediately to keep the South from seceding and even after, he was holding back to try and appease Southern opinion. When it was obvious that there would be no peaceful or short conclusion to the War, he enacted it.

3)The abolition of Slavery was always a central issue, but not necessarily THE central issue. The main issue was the freedom of individual states to set their own laws and not have them be imposed upon them from central government, one example of which was abolition. This would make the South financially dependant on the North and not on foreign exports. These exports, of course, were mainly to the British and French which is why there was support in these countries for the South.

I am sure all these factors were an influence on GB and France but, as mentioned, Adams had a great political influence too and would have played upon the factors you mentioned. This was very low key and does not seem have been well documented. I shall research some more.


Where is the Big Picture?

Post 3

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

Here's a pretty good article discussing Lincoln's slavery position: http://www.lib.niu.edu/ipo/ihy970236.html

The problem was not that the South was about to lose its slaves. The problem was that, by not allowing new states to have slaves, the slave states were going to lose ground in Congress. The slave states worked to keep expanding slavery with the nation so that they could maintain balance. Once the balance was tipped, they feared for their lifestyle.

Many times prior to open conflict, Lincoln asserted that he had no legal authority to abolish slavery, and would not endeavor to. What was at stake in Congress was influence on economic policy. The "free" states pursued industry, and were struggling to match the production of Europe. To protect their market at home from better, cheaper European goods, they favored high trade tariffs. That would cause the European nations to raise their tariffs in response, and would be economically disastrous to the South, who needed international markets for their farm products.

With no more slave states entering the Union, high tariffs were a foregone conclusion in just a matter of time. And the Southern states still, after 90 years under a strong federal government, did not feel that the federal government had the right to overrule the will of the states. If they wanted to sell their goods in free markets in Europe, why should the federal government stop them?

The Republicans actually downplayed the issue of slavery in the 1860 election, focusing instead on economic issues, like the trade tariff and the need for a Pacific railroad. They also campaigned against the incumbent Democrat's corruption. If the Dems hadn't been so disunified, they would have won.

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 4


The 'Slave' states were in a minority anyway. As for the good, the 'free market' was a British invention, according to the US. They preferred the import tariff to keep their goods below the price of imports and ensure the market! The high taf=riffs were a Union ploy to keep the home market supplied from home. Most of the Southern states exports went to Europe (GB and France) for processing and was then returned as tariffed imports. Either way, they couldn't win.

The playing down of abolition in the elections of 1860 was a deliberate ploy to keep the vote of the Southern States. As it was, the Northern states held the majority of voters and more or less guaranteed the election of Lincoln. It was only AFTER the election it became an issue.

Just a note. You have put up a well argued case. Why not use these as your own entry on the State of the Union at the time? It would complement my entry very well.

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 5

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

ARRRRGH! STUPID BEEB! Let's see if I can get this through the third time...

Actually, I was just wrapping up a second University project on the American Revolution, and contemplating a Civil War project or two as the next logical progression, when certain activities caused me to feel disillusionment to the point where I no longer make contributions of any significance to the Edited Guide. Feel free to use anything you see here to cobble one together on your own, though.

Back to the 1860 election: Actually, any efforts the Republicans would have made to protect Southern votes would have been a waste of time. They weren't even on the ballot in any states that seceded, except Virginia, where he carried a whopping 1.1% of the popular vote.

What ended up happening is that there were basically two elections in 1860. Lincoln ran against Douglas in the North. The Southern Democrats split and put up their own candidate, Breckinridge. A third party called the Constitutional Union party appeared to challenge Breckinridge with Bell... they were against the Republicans, but favored keeping the Union together.

Douglas was the only one on every ballot. He split enough votes with Breckinridge in the border states that Bell was able to capture them. Breckinridge pretty much won the South. But in the North, Lincoln cleaned up against Douglas. And since there were many more electoral college votes in the North, he carried an easy victory there, despite fewer than 2000 votes in the entire South.

So basically, it was Lincoln over Douglas in the North, Breckinridge over Bell in the South, and Bell over a split Democratic ticket of Douglas and Breckinridge in the border states.

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 6


OK, you have 'the big picture'! Or a broader version of events at the time. Now I feel I'm looking at the situation through a telescope - the wrong way round. Am I bothered, NOOOOOO! (lies through his teeth!) My entry was prompted by looking at Civil War photos and, being a Brit, I didn't know our involvement was as prominent as it seems. Charles F Adams and the Consuls did the Union proud.

Your opening comments prompted me to do the H2G2 thing and go to your Space and read your bits and pieces. I do understand. I have had some scrapes with sub-editors, but being a laid-back sort, I haven't taken it to heart. My advice, for what it's worth, is to get back into writing and stop taking the easy way out. It's ONLY h2g2. It's not the end of the world, just evolving. Incidently, the comment I got from the editing team was that British Involvment would generate some discussion. It did, didn't it?

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 7

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

Dude... don't be ashamed. You are to be applauded. I didn't know the British ever got that involved, either. And I still don't have much knowledge about the Charles Adams fellow.

You got a bit of it wrong (and not entirely wrong, either... lots of history books right here in the US tell it pretty much the way you have), and I came over to talk about it. All those parts I'm not talking about are ones you did well.

The fact that you took an interest in the history of someone else's country does you credit, and the fact that you're seeing it as an outsider gives you a perspective that I lack.

You could always repay the favor of criticism by checking out my first Revolution project... I may have screwed up the bits related to British politics, especially in the first article: A415865

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 8


It seems pretty much a I understand it, however, here are a few points that merit explanation:

1 There was not, and still is not, a 'British Constitution'. It exists only, as you say, in precidence, in various enactments of parliament and tradition.

2 A standing army was, and still is, illegal (from the time of Henry VII). Armies were raised (and were until the end of Conscription in 1963) for military campaigns overseas or outside England and disbanded at the end of the campaign. This excluded the King's Bodyguard. The need for a standing army was realised during the time of the Spanish Armada, when England was threatened from abroad but it is a perceived need which only exists with Parliament's approval.

3 ENGLAND is the centre of all power. Wales, Scotland and Ireland are treated as conquered nations. Colonies are anything further afield. Power in England is held by the King who rules with the people's will. People here means only those with voting rights who are Landowners, Property owners and members of the House of Lords. The rest don't count. This gives a conservative, reactionary rule.

4 England always maintained the status quo. Any one who thought otherwise usually moved elsewhere, eg the Pilgrim Fathers. North America, in particular the Eastern States, was a good place for people with views that did not coincide with those of the ruling elite in England. Civil laws, in particular, were less rigidly applied and freedom of thought, although not exactly encouraged, was tolerated. The distances between settlements was also an isolating factor as was the distance from England. Travel was a risky affair with a mortality rate of around 30-40% on long sea voyages.

5 Quartering. The first barracks in England were built in Berwick-on-Tweed between 1712 and 1714 for a Border Garrison. All troops in Scotland, Ireland and North America were put in barracks due to the local situation and the need for local defence. In England, troops were quartered on any house (usually an inn or hostel) that would have them. This extended to domestic property if necessary. Proper barracks did not appear in England until the 1790s. The Quartering Act had two major aspects. Barracks were expected in the colonies, the cost of building was now visited upon the colonies themselves. The use of private dwellings was simply an extention of military practice in England. In those days, Regiments would be away on garrison duties for years, some in the Caribbean staying there for 18 years!

6 There were many factions in England that would have happily joined forces with the North American colonists, but they were few in number and the presence of garrison troops meant that they would have been quickly dealt with. The ruling classes would have seeen to that. They had too much to lose! The Scots were defeated only 20 - 25 years earlier (1745)and the population cowed and deprived of their traditions for rising against Protestant England. This was still a vivid memory for some. There was a scare factor here.

That was on first (screen) reading. Being an old traditional soul, I'll print it out and read it again later.

Thanks for the compliments.

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 9


May I add some points about France and England?

Louis Napoleon wanted to recognize the Confederates but would not act before Britain did. Really, that's the only reason France didn't get involved. In fact, the US was so wary of France that immeadiately after the war they dispatched Sheridan and a number of troops to the Mexican border for protection. (Remember that during this time France had installed Maximillian as the Emperor).

As for Britain, there wasn't a really one singular attiude. To be sure, the aristocracy favored the South. But the working class, led by John Bright, saw the Northern cause as tied to their own struggle and remained pro-Northern despite the sufferings of the Cotton Famine. It still would have caused unrest if Britain had recognized the CSA, even if done before Antietam and the Proclamation.

As an aside, the only country that supported the North was Russia. They saw the US as a growing check on the power of Britain and did not want to see the coountry fall apart.

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 10

Researcher 233570

In reply to this:

2. There has been a standing British Army since 1661 and the restoration. The standing army itself dates to the Army of the English Republic of about a decade previously. Henry VIII was responsible for raising a standing navy.

3. England has the same amount of power her population gives her. The Scots, Welsh and Irish are represented in parlaiment, slightly more than their population should allow. However, the English are more numerous than the celtic nations combined. The Monarchs power was essentially broken by the start of the 18th century and the 1688 revolution.

4. The Pilgrim Fathers moved because of a change in the status quo, puritanism being on the decline as a national force at the time.

Where is the Big Picture?

Post 11


In reply -

2. The Armed forces exist only because Parliament renews the Defence Act annually. The fact that there IS a standing army is a case of 'needs must'. In the past, the need for a standing army only became apparent in policing the Empire. Until then, regiments were given a Parliamentry/Royal licence or commission to be raised for a specific campaign and disbanded at the end of that campaign. In reality, there was always a need to keep regiments active in other places too, so they received a commission for that area too. The officers received the commission (as they still do) but it was limited in time and scope. The soldiers just served as long as they were needed as a result.

3. The time under discussion is the American Revolution and at that time there was quite disproportionate representation in Parliament. Most MPs appear to have bought/bribed their way in. They were all landed gentry or those with a considerable commercial stake in the land or industry. They represented the 'status quo'.

4. Fair point, but they moved before the great resurgence in Puritanism that led indirectly to the English Civil War. The religious status quo at that time (1615)was more Calvanism than Puritanism (James I and/or James VI) and the Puritans were never favoured either in Late Elizabethan or early Stuart England.

Thanks for the comments.

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