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(975 posts)
Mon May 13, 2024, 08:02 AM May 13

On This Day: Queen proclaims neutrality, but UK provides some support for the Confederacy - May 13, 1861

(edited from article)
May 13th – Proclamation of Neutrality
May 13, 2019

It was 158 years ago today, May 13, 1861, that Queen Victoria signed the “Proclamation of Neutrality”, which not only recognized the Confederacy’s right to oppose the United States, but also stated that it would not “interfere” in the ongoing Civil War. Though the English never officially recognized the Confederacy as a separate nation, it did, however; provide support, and in many forms.

Confederate ships often docked in English ports, where they traded their goods and were protected from the Union Navy. Several Confederate raiders were built by the British, including Ironclads that were never delivered, because there was fear of spreading the conflict to English shores. The famed raider C.S.S. Alabama, which was hunted down and sunk off the French coast by the U.S.S. Kearsarge, was crewed mainly by British sailors, and she was not the only ship to have such a complement.

War almost broke out after the Union seized two Confederate emissaries on the English ship H.M.S. Trent off the shores of Cuba. The Parliament protested, and prepared for war, but cooler heads prevailed and the anger subsided. Though the Queen signed a nice, fancy document 158 years ago, it’s frightening to think that at that time, the United States was all alone, except for support from one other country, Russia, let that seep in for a little bit.

(edited from article)

... And whereas hostilities have unhappily commenced between the Government of the United States of America and certain States styling themselves "the Confederate States of America."

And whereas we, being at peace with the Government of the United States, have declared our Royal determination to maintain a strict and impartial neutrality in the contest between the said contending parties:

"We, therefore, have thought fit, by and with the advice of our Privy Council, to issue this our Royal Proclamation:

And we do hereby strictly charge and command all our loving subjects to observe a strict neutrality in and during the aforesaid hostilities, and to abstain from violating or contravening either the laws and statutes of the realm in this behalf, or the law of nations in relation thereto, as they will answer to the contrary at their peril.
Given at our Court at the White Lodge, Richmond Park, this 13th day of May, in the year of our Lord 1861, and in the 24th year of our reign.

(edited from Wikipedia)
United Kingdom and the American Civil War

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland remained officially neutral throughout the American Civil War (1861–1865). It legally recognized the belligerent status of the Confederate States of America (CSA) but never recognized it as a nation and neither signed a treaty with it nor ever exchanged ambassadors.

Lancashire Cotton Famine

Over 90 percent of Confederate trade with Britain ended, causing a severe shortage of cotton by 1862. Private British blockade runners sent munitions and luxuries to Confederate ports in return for cotton and tobacco. In Manchester, the massive reduction of available American cotton caused an economic disaster referred to as the Lancashire Cotton Famine. Despite the high unemployment, some Manchester cotton workers refused out of principle to process any cotton from America, leading to direct praise from President Lincoln, whose statue in Manchester bears a plaque which quotes his appreciation for the textile workers in "helping abolish slavery". Top British officials debated offering to mediate in the first 18 months, which the Confederacy wanted but the United States strongly rejected.

[Trade with Confederacy fell over 90% ]

Large-scale trade continued between Britain and the US. The US shipped grain to Britain, and Britain sold manufactured items and munitions to the US. British trade with the Confederacy fell over 90% from the prewar period, with a small amount of cotton going to Britain and hundreds of thousands of munitions and luxury goods slipped in by numerous small blockade runners operated and funded by British private interests.

[Confederate sought military intervention by Britain and France]

The Confederate strategy for securing independence was based largely on the hope of military intervention by Britain and France. A serious diplomatic dispute erupted over the "Trent Affair" in late 1861 but was resolved peacefully after five weeks.

British intervention was likely only in co-operation with France, which had an imperialistic venture underway in Mexico. By early 1863, intervention was no longer seriously considered, as Britain turned its attention elsewhere, especially toward Russia and Greece.

In addition, at the outbreak of the American conflict, for both the United Kingdom and France the costly and controversial Crimean War (October 1853 to February 1856) was in the still-recent past, the United Kingdom had major commitments in British India in the wake of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and France had major imperial ambitions outside of the Western Hemisphere, and was considering or had already commenced military ventures in Morocco, China, Vietnam, North Africa, and Italy.

[UK supplies arms and two warships to Confederacy]

A long-term issue was the sales of arms and warships to the Confederacy. Despite vehement protests from the US, Britain did not stop the sales of its arms and its shipyard (John Laird and Sons) from building two warships for the Confederacy, including the CSS Alabama. Known as the Alabama Claims, the controversy was partially resolved peacefully after the Civil War when the US was awarded $15.5 million in arbitration by an international tribunal only for damages caused by the warships.

In the end, British involvement did not significantly affect the outcome of the war. The US diplomatic mission, headed by Minister Charles Francis Adams Sr., proved to be much more successful than the Confederate missions, which were never officially recognized by Britain.

Long-term impact

The Union victory emboldened the forces in Britain that demanded more democracy and public input into the political system. The resulting Reform Act 1867 enfranchised the urban male working class in England and Wales and weakened the upper-class landed gentry, who identified more with the Southern planters. Influential commentators included Walter Bagehot, Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, and Anthony Trollope. Additionally, many British and Irish men saw service in both the Union and Confederate State Army.


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