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190 years of The Spectator

The duty of England and the American crisis

On the outbreak of the American Civil War, the magazine opposed the rest of the British press and supported the North against the slave-owning South

7 July 2018

9:00 AM

7 July 2018

9:00 AM

190 years of The Spectator

 

1 June 1861

The time has arrived when the national will on the American quarrel ought to be expressed. A party, numerous in Parliament and powerful in the press, is beginning to intrigue for the recognition of the South. They are aided by the fears of the cotton dealers, who dread an intermission of their supplies, by the anxiety of commercial men, who see their best market summarily closed, and by the abiding dislike of the aristocracy for the men and manners of the North. For the moment, their object is apparently to deprecate debate. They dare not as yet brave openly the prejudices of freemen, or advocate a cause based on antagonism to all that Englishmen hold dear. But they hope, if the nation can only be kept silent, they may talk the administration into acts which will commit us ultimately to the Confederated States.


There is too much reason to fear that the government, though certainly not prejudiced in favour of the south, allows itself to be deceived as to the true state of public feeling. But the ministry will make a fatal mistake if it confounds calm with indifference, or believes that the people would accept favour to the South either with apathy or applause. With the policy of neutrality, provided it be real, Englishmen of all opinions may concur. But if the neutrality is to be only official, if our ‘moral aid’ is to be lent to one side or the other, if the sympathies of England are to be formally expressed, there can be no reasonable doubt as to our side.

Every consideration alike of morality and convenience impels us irresistibly towards the North. There is no need to employ the vulgar argument that, caeteris paribus, it is as well for a state without friendships to be on the winning side. The power of England in the world is based on opinion rather than on strength. It is as the unswerving friends of orderly freedom that we secure in every country the support of its noblest minds. Do ‘the principles of civil and religious liberty’, so earnestly pressed on Spain, extend only
to white men and Europeans, or is human freedom to be our policy only when convenient to customers? It may not be wise or even right to declare war to redress a wrong but if England is to retain her position her sympathy must be with the slave.

The quarrel, cover it with cotton as we may, is between freedom and slavery, right and wrong, the dominion of God and the dominion of the Devil, and the duty of England, we submit, is clear. It is to refuse to recognise the Confederacy, even if in that mysterious Providence which occasionally confounds faith, slavery should for the moment win the game.


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