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London: Saturday, May 23, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1204, p. 554.

May 23, 1863


Mr. Bright's avowal of regret that the trades unions in this country do not take more action in political matters has not been expressed in vain. Encouraged by the member for Birmingham, the unions have been pleased to approach Mr. Adams, the American Minister here, with information as to their opinion upon the Federal and Confederate struggle, and have also favoured Lord Palmerston with a visit in the interest of Poland, and with suggestions for the benefit of the Foreign Office. Neither demonstration should be treated disrespectfully, for there is no doubt that, though the individuals composing the deputations may have no personal claim to public attention, they have been instructed to utter the sentiments which happen at present to be those of a very large number of English workmen.

The unions told Mr. Adams that they believed the cause of the North to be the cause of freedom, that they wished for the success of Mr. Lincoln's armies, and that any English sympathy that was manifested for the Confederates was entertained by other than the working classes. The deputation would not have fairly represented the order of mind which is usually found among the humbler orders, and would have been unworthy pupils of Mr. Bright, had they confined themselves to these statements and failed to impute unworthy motives to other persons. It was fitting, therefore, that Mr. Adams should be told that the educated classes in this country favour the South from enmity to democratic principles, and because personal interests are involved in the maintenance of an aristocratic system against which American institutions are a standing protest. We are not disposed to speak harshly even of this kind of talk. It is the language which is taught by the inferior press, and largely used in "the poor man's club," and it is a thousand times better that working men should speak out what they think to be truth than that they should mutter it in secret societies, or whisper it in exchange for pass-words and hand-grips, or that they should dilute their honest nonsense with the washy platitudes dear to vestrymen and hireling orators. If they really think that all the persons who are so much better qualified than themselves to form an opinion upon a question of foreign affairs are either haughty tyrants or interested knaves, by all means let them say so, and thus give a practical answer to certain other persons who affect to believe that the English workman requires an elaborate machinery of protection to enable him to express the political sentiments which he is afraid to utter in the face of his countrymen.

We are not vain enough to suppose that we are favoured with the ear of many of these who waited upon Mr. Adams, or that it would be very profitable to attempt to show them that one may be neither a tyrant nor a knave and yet be unconvinced that Mr. Lincoln is a patriot, and that the devastation of a vast and beautiful country is warranted even for the sake of forcing slave emancipation, were such the object of the invaders. Were we likely to be listened to, we might urge that white men have their rights to freedom as well as black men, and, moreover, that if Mr. Davis were to-morrow to send an envoy to Mr. Lincoln announcing the submission of the South on condition that the "domestic institution" were to remain intact, not only would peace be made on these terms by the next telegraph, but Mr. Davis's envoy would be the most popular individual in the Northern States. He would be photographed, fêted, serenaded, and the next week would be anything but a pleasant period in the life of "Massa Greeley," and such of his sable protégés as might come in the way of the exulting patriots of Federalia. This is, however, so perfectly well known to every dispassionate person that it is almost wonderful that masses of our fellow-countrymen can be blind to the fact. But they have been told that this is a war for the freedom of the slave, and they accept with child-like faith an idea which it is so very easy to grasp, and reproduce with an iteration that would be ludicrous if we could see anything diverting in the ignorance of men who honestly believe themselves qualified to govern the State.

While, however, the working class confines itself to an approbation, upon wrong grounds, of the policy of the Government of England, and restricts itself to a regret that our non-intervention cannot be reconciled with active measures in favour of the Northern States, there can be no serious quarrel with men who do no wrong, but simply blunder. We are not going to interfere for the South; we seize steamers that appear to have been fitted out with that intention; we encourage no breaking of the blockade; and Earl Russell and the Earl of Derby, as representatives of the two powers in Parliament, go out of their way to compliment the Prize Courts of America, and to declare that allowance ought to be made for the natural irritation of the Federals at the numerous attempts made by our merchants to sell munitions of war to the South. So far all classes are happily at one and, this is well.

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