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London: Saturday, December 26, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1237, p. 650.

December 26, 1863

London: Saturday, December 26, 1863.

The last mail from America suggests at least one consideration to which we may venture to look with a certain amount of complacency. We have fresh and valuable testimony to the impartiality of Englishmen in reference to the American quarrel. It may be useful to note this, as hereafter, when the war shall be over, and the new state of things, whatever that may be, shall have been inaugurated, it will be extremely convenient to be able to appeal to facts, as admitted by the Americans themselves, in order to prove that we have never departed from the principle of fair play in our treatment of the unhappy war. We have taken neither one side nor the other; we have recognised the gallantry of each combatant, but we have refused to permit the sentiment of admiration for a people fighting for what it considered its rights to lead us into a recognition of those to whom we could not even have sent an Ambassador in safety. Nor have we allowed our detestation for the slave system to induce us to give material aid to those who, at the outset of the war, not only did not fight for the slave but offered his continued slavery as the price of the preservation of the Union. That we have held the balance fairly has been hitherto chiefly proved by the abuse lavished upon us by Northern speakers and writers; but the South, now that nothing can be gained by forbearance, is taking up the anti-English cry, and Mr. Davis is as "bitter," if not as vulgar, as the New York Herald.

Here it must be remarked that the Southerns are simply returning to their original state of mind. When the South had opened fire, the first gun was a signal for its journals to desist from abuse of England. For years previously nearly all the serious and earnest American attacks upon this country were made by the paper above mentioned, and other papers which, if issued in the North, were in the hands or at the command of the slaveowners. The lighter impertinences of the "Yankee" press were not things to be much regarded--they were the effervescent effusions of national prejudice, and little more. We caricatured the Yankee, and he called us names; but these interchanges of blows broke no bones. The power in the Union was Southern power, and for years all the more important offices were filled by able men, who foresaw what Washington had foreseen, and who, as we now know, were preparing everything for the outbreak. They knew that there was one great question in which England never could be with the Southern interest--the question of slavery; and there was, in their attacks upon this country, a reality of hatred which it would be absurd to confound with the petulances we exchanged with the mere Yankee. We are not complaining of this. The South believed that it could not exist without the "domestic institution;" and, as Mr. Davis fairly says, England thought that institution necessary in days gone by. At the same time, he has no more right to visit the sins of our fathers upon us, or to assail us for having nobler views as to our duties to our black fellow-creatures than our fathers held, than he has to upbraid us

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for discarding oil for gas, and stage waggons for railway cars. Letting this unreasonable taunt pass, as little in accordance with the spirit of progress so much talked about in America, we would say that the South, and those in the North who had Southern interests, hated England for a very good and natural reason, and lost no opportunity of imparting that fact. It is one which this Journal, in the recollection that its pages are not prepared for the day only, but will be referred to for the history of the times we live in, has repeatedly brought under the notice of our readers at the time when the gallant struggles of the South were exciting an admiration that tended to make a generous nation like our own forgetful of certain antecedents, which, nevertheless, ought not to be forgotten.

But the Sumter gun silenced the anti-English Southerns, and the Confederates fought on in a way which has never failed to command English sympathies. We were never brought face to face with the slavery question, for the reason that the war, when it began, had nothing to do with slavery. Or, if we had to touch the topic, it was forced upon us by the hypocrisy of certain folk in the North, who had the coolness to describe the war as waged for the liberty of the blacks, while the Chief Magistrate was solemnly offering him as a perpetual slave to those who would make submission to the Union. Having ridiculed that outrageous nonsense, we had ample leisure for admiring the skill of the Southern leaders and the bravery and endurance of their men. These points became more and more worthy of note as the war went on, and the North, after its first clumsy struggles, went to work with more earnestness, made a real blockade, and by enormous levies from a worthless population which it was only too glad to expend, measured its military purse, so to speak, against that of the South, but to a large extent gave counters for sovereigns. When the sea was blocked up for the South and it was forced to take to manufactures which it had previously despised, and when its citizens were sent out to sacrifice their valuable lives against the rabble which the North hired for the fray (be it ever remembered that we speak only of the earlier levies of the North, and that we do all honour to the Federal citizens who, later, responded to the call of Government), it was almost impossible not to wish well to the Confederates, who were contending against nearly all the disadvantages that can be opposed to a people in arms. And we may safely appeal to themselves, and also to the Northern press, which flamed with indignation at England's courtesies to "rebels" (there were some rebels in America, if we remember aright, in George III's time, and they saw no sin in rebellion), whether the British press and British society generally were niggardly in recognizing Confederate exploits and endurance. Bat we would not recognise Mr. Davis, because, among other reasons, it would have been rather humiliating to England had a nobleman sent out with credentials to that gentleman been snapped up by a Federal cruiser, and compelled to write to the Foreign Office from Lord Lyons's house.

The Federals, having abused us for three years for not sympathising with them and wishing Mr. Seward the success over the Confederates which he wishes the Emperor of Russia over the Poles, have begun to understand us a little better. Mr Beecher came with his treacle, and ever since his return has put very little brimstone into it, not more than could be expected from a political clergyman. Mr. Lincoln is almost complimentary, and is not afraid to say that we have not encouraged the breach of treaties, and have shown some good faith in restraining the supply of armaments to be used against a friendly nation. The Herald certainly menaces us with a Monitor or one of her sisters, which is to be moored "opposite London," and is to make the capitulation of the metropolis a necessity; but, as the American ironsides seem to have an unpleasant habit of sinking at their moorings, we may regard this threat as a friendly joke for the present. We behaved well, it seems, in informing the Federal Government of the conspiracy in Canada; and, upon the whole, in spite of the threats to tear old Mother England's hair, we believe that the North is regaining its good sense, and, even should the war end in three months, as Lord Lyons is reported to believe it will, we shall not, we think, be attacked by a Federal fleet on this side Midsummer.

But now it is the Confederates' turn; and they resume the line of argument and invective of old days. We are selfish and timid, and, at the same time, sentimental and bold; and we are so autocratic that we abhor the idea of a new and a free State; and we are so democratic that we detest the natural aristocracy of America. We do not care in the least about the slave; but we let our interest in him make us blind to the claims of the free man. We are glad to see the Union split up, and we desire that the yoke of the White House should be imposed upon these who detest it. We are horribly afraid of a war with France, and we have menaced Napoleon with the fall of his dynasty if he interferes in behalf of those against whom the Orleans princes fought. The floodgates have but just opened, and this is nothing to the cataract that is coming.

Well, it is Christmas, and we are bound to have no ill-feelings against anybody. But, even were we not chronologically fettered, we could entertain no anger against the South for thus bearing large and valuable testimony to the impartiality of England. We have pleased neither party, and a judge who gives a just sentence is usually similarly unfortunate. But the displeasure of extreme people is the crown of the moderate and righteous. Therefore, we are well pleased at the close of the year to add to our record that the South is as angry with us as was the North.

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