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London, Saturday, January 4, 1862

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1125, p. 6.

January 4, 1862

London, Saturday, January 4, 1862

The events of the year having been summarised in another part of our Impression, we have now to complete the record by adding the latest news from the only part of the world where events have at the moment a strong interest for English readers. The arrival of the Africa places us in possession of a large mass of details, which our contemporaries have sought to arrange ingeniously, mosaic fashion, so as to present a picture of the American mind with reference to the dispute with England. We do not know, however, that the picture is a likeness, clever as is the manipulation of material out of which it has been produced. The only part which has, we think, been "reliably" (to use a vile word) presented is that which indicates the surprise which has seized the States at the attitude of this country. We have submitted so long, and with such good-natured forbearance, to every caprice, whim, and impertinence of our cousins that they had, not perhaps unreasonably, concluded that we had lost sight of the truth that under some circumstances patience ceases to be a virtue. We have shown, in contradiction to the incessant allegations of the Transatlantic press, that we did understand America and the nature of American institutions; and that, though ourselves working with a responsible Government, mutually dependent, and resting on the opinion of the intellectual and solvent classes of society, we could make all allowances for the difficult position of a Government under the dictation of mobs, and abandoned by the culpable selfishness of the respectable population. But the last outrage has been so flagrant that not only is England aroused, but all the strong Governments of Europe—some of them little inclined to be friendly to us—exclaim with united voice that such a thing cannot be borne; and the intimation of Earl Russell that there is a limit to our forbearance, though such notification was a matter of indisputable necessity, has astonished the Americans. The various utterances of the journals are not worth collecting, except in so far as they reflect the opinion of the peoples or may be supposed to be acceptable to it. The better men in the States are said to have recognised the justice of our demand, the Commander of the Army (at whom the Democratic party is said to cast strange glances, as at a future Dictator who shall put down the Abolitionists) having at once declared, it is alleged, that Mr. Lincoln must restore the Commissioners and apologise to England. But the formal delivery of the English demand would seem not to have taken place when the Africa's bag was sealed. The Congress, so ready the other day with a sycophantic compliment to Captain Wilks, had refused by 109 to 16 to back up his "action" any further, and had referred the question to the Government itself. Mr. Chase, the American Gladstone, had assured the representatives of the financial interest that the dispute would receive a speedy and pacific solution. So far, therefore, things may be said to look a little better; but it would be worse than foolish to augur that the danger of war has passed away. We wish that we could believe the Seward party wise enough and patriotic enough to consider the question only on its merits. They have never given any proof of such a statesmanlike disposition. They have sought nothing but popularity and the applause of that part of the populace whose good opinion is a reproach to honest men. Meantime they are being hard pressed by the Abolitionists, who are more in earnest than any other section of the American public, and who, naturally, are indignant that the slavery-hating Englishman is placed in such a situation that he cannot sympathise with the enemies of the slaveowner. It is hinted that the Abolitionists mean much more active hostility to the Government, and already the alarmists on the Seward side threaten the severest reprisals. With such foes close upon them, and with the discontent which the impatient mob is showing at the prudential inactivity of General M'Clellan (there were idiots, even in the London Common Council, who assailed Lord Wellington in the same way for his unmatched Peninsular tactics), and with a fearful expenditure to provide for out of an almost empty treasury, the position of the divided and intriguing Cabinet of Mr. Lincoln is far from enviable. This is to be much regretted, because the fact may make it impossible for the President to do what justice and true wisdom dictate in regard to England. He may feel himself obliged to make political capital, and refuse to yield the men, at the risk of bringing down prompt chastisement from the armed hand of England. A brilliant victory over the South at this moment would be the best guarantee for peace between us and the Americans—the national vanity would be appeased and prudent counsels would have a chance of prevailing. But there is small hope of anything of the kind; General M'Clellan adheres to the Fabian system; and, though he counsels justice, he takes no steps to do what alone would make justice tolerated. In this, of course, we have no right to blame him. If his own views of the future are such as are imputed to him—and if they are he is far too wise a man to give any sign of the kind—he may not be displeased to see the Government embarrassed by enemies whom it may be his mission to put down. Thus the matter rests until fresh advices arrive; and we repeat that the utmost that the last dispatches permit us to say is, that the Americans are surprised at our energetic protest against outrage, and seem inclined to consider that we may have good grounds for action.

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