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London: Saturday, April 11, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1198, p. 403.

April 11, 1863


If we do not "drift" into trouble with the Federal States it will not be the fault of noisy speakers and intemperate writers. These individuals are assuredly doing their best to assist in what Lord Palmerston described as the manufacture of American political capital at the expense of England. Of this process, as carried on in Washington and New York, we have, perhaps, no great right to complain, and England has never shown herself harsh in her judgment of the acts of a nation struggling with unexampled difficulty, debt, and disaster. But we must protest, and that emphatically, against the attempt of the American organs here to break the neutrality which has been proclaimed from the Throne, and which has been recognised by all the temperate and respectable part of the nation. This attempt has been postponed until the reverses met by the Federals, and the solemn declaration of the South that nothing shall re-unite it with the North, have exasperated the Union organs beyond all bounds, and it is therefore shown to be a sort of desperate resource, akin to that by which Mr. Lincoln, after showing every willingness to coalesce with the slaveowners, proclaimed freedom to the slaves of "rebels" while retaining the others in bondage. Principle has nothing to do with the matter, and the effort to alter British policy is merely an expedient of war.

This will not do. England has determined not to be dragged into the American struggle if she can possibly avoid it; and the resolve of a nation ought not to be affected by the scribblings of fanatics or the nonsense of hireling orators. Nor will it be. The agitators against neutrality are the most insignificant persons who ever tried to shout themselves into notoriety. The names of the speakers at the meetings in aid of Mr. Seward are names which, in ordinary times, cause a man instinctively to pass on from the report to some other part of the paper. They have an influence like that of the headings of the advertisements which seek to enlist attention by some paradox to which the puff is clumsily appended. The country laughs at such demonstrations. But, for all that, they may become excessively mischievous by their operation in America. Readers there are proverbially ignorant of the relative value and power of our public men. The New Yorker who is told in his own paper that Exeter Hall or St. James's Hall has been crowded with sympathisers, and that fiery addresses have been delivered to them amid storms of approbation, thinks that all this means something, and has an influence in the national councils. He does not know, and could scarcely comprehend the facts if laid before him, that a gathering of thirty or forty of our statesmen in a quiet room in Piccadilly or St James's-square would have more to do with directing the policy of the Legislature than the largest crowd that ever assembled to cheer Blondin, George Thompson, or Tom Thumb. The American does not understand the secrets of English public life, the formation of public opinion here, and the certificate of character implied in the position of a leading politician. The New Yorker cannot see why an Edwin James has to emigrate, while a Roundell Palmer is called upon to advise the Crown on international law. Hence these mob-meetings, and the angry and vindictive talk which impudently claims to be the utterance of the people, and is nothing of the kind, will produce--nay, we believe, are producing--upon the American mind a very evil influence. It will be believed in the North that the Government of England and the people of England are not as one in the matter of neutrality, and the inference will be that, if the North menaces us with war, the people will drive Lord Palmerston from office and reverse his policy. The idea is so ridiculous to us, of course, that there is danger of our refusing to believe that it can be entertained in the North, and only those who are really aware of the helpless ignorance of the American people (in spite of their high education at the hands of the newspapers) upon the real feelings of Englishmen, can entirely appreciate the importance of the consideration in question. We can assure our readers, however, that very few statements discreditable to England would fail of obtaining belief in America, and that none at all would be rejected by the directors of a large portion of the American press as too outrageous to form texts for fresh abuse of this country. It is painful to have to say this; but it is better to bear any such pain than to permit mischief to go on which may cause quarrel and bloodshedding.

The Federals, having shown that they either cannot build vessels which are swift enough to catch the Confederate cruisers, or cannot spare for that service officers of sufficient skill and spirit to run down these privateers (and there is no lack of brave and able officers in the gallant navy of the North), content themselves with abusing England because some of the Southern vessels have been built--where the North may build equally good ships if it likes--namely, in British dockyards. The law of England, both domestic and international, is perfectly clear, and the proceedings which it is necessary to take to prevent the sailing of a ship on a supposed errand of war are as well known to the lawyers as those which are taken on a dishonoured acceptance. If the case can be proved the vessel is stopped, as has been done, we learn, in the instance of a newly-constructed bark, which was to have gone by the name of the Alexandra until she had left England and taken in her guns. But mere suspicion will not do. A policeman does not capture a lounger on mere suspicion that at night he means to "open a bank," with a crowbar for his capital. Regular evidence must be adduced; and, whether the law be sufficiently stringent or not, it is law. We hear very few complaints when expeditions, under the most transparent disguises, are fitted out against monarchies, and when adventurers, of more or less respectability, enlist men and buy guns for the promotion of any revolution whatever, except the Southern revolution. Hitherto the law has been found to work very well. But an exceptional case, to the minds of sympathisers with the North, has arisen, and those who were foremost in their ostentatious support of insurrectionary movements in Europe clamour against the ordinary English doctrine that proof of guilt shall precede punishment. And even this is not all. The House of Commons is open to the petitions of the nation and of all classes in the nation; and it is to the House of Commons, where a Liberal majority sways, that these malcontents should address themselves for an alteration of the law, if it be deemed too feeble. No such abject and constitutional course will, however, satisfy "the friends of freedom." The Government is called upon to violate the law, to exercise a despotic sway, and to do on behalf of the Northern States of America that which, had it been done on behalf of the King of Naples or the Emperor of Russia, every organ of Federal interests would have stigmatised most furiously as a proceeding worthy of the days of Castlereagh and Sidmouth.

Were the Government to take this course, and act upon suspicion only, it would not only be a violation of British law, and a sacrifice of the traditions which are dearer to us all than any foreign alliance, but a direct departure from the policy announced three times from the Throne. The sympathisers with Mr. Lincoln call on us to interfere on behalf of the Federals, and to treat the South as enemies. We shall not do so; but it is very desirable that the country should understand that these unconstitutional demonstrations, though they can do no harm here, may produce much in America, and that the Anglo-American organs are doing their best to involve us in a horrible war.

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