A review of Slavery, Secession, & Civil War: Views from the United Kingdom and Europe, 1856-1865 (Scarecrow Press, 2007) by Charles Adams.
At long last Charles Adams’s new book, Slavery, Secession, & Civil War: Views from the United Kingdom and Europe, 1856-1865, has been published. I’ve been anxiously waiting for this book for about five years. The book contains about 500 pages of excerpts from European (mostly British) magazines and journals on the events leading up to the war, the war itself, and the nature of the Lincoln regime. This is a most valuable effort since the mainstream Northern press was censored during the war. Foreign writers, however, “were not arrested and imprisoned,” as they were in the North, writes Adams. “They were not silenced by aimed soldiers, mobs, or censorship of the mails,” and “their editors were not hauled off to prison,” to mention just a few of the more totalitarian acts of the Lincoln regime. Even today, writes Adams, the “gatekeepers” of “Civil War” history are “still making war on the South” by distorting history.
Although it is a very long book, I could not put it down. Nineteenth-century English commentators on the war were remarkably astute, well informed, and articulate in expressing their views—so astute as to make your typical mainstream “Lincoln scholar” of today sound like an uneducated boob. There were supporters of both North and South in the European press, although many Northern supporters switched sides once they began observing the behavior of Dishonest Abe and his regime. They all opposed slavery very strongly, but those who supported the Southern cause believed that the North’s invasion of the Southern states had nothing to do with freeing the slaves.
During the 1856-1860 period, writes Adams, quite a few British editors “saw the separation of the North and South as a good thing,” and believed that “slavery had no significant part in the conflict.” For example, Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, one of the “workingman’s journals,” wrote on March 21, 1857, that a major source of conflict was that Northern business interests wanted the South to “consent to the high protective tariff,” and if they did, “anti-slavery agitation would stop.” “Antislavery agitation” meant opposition to the extension of slavery, not Southern slavery. Pretending to want to “check the progress of slavery” in this way “has been only a disguise under which to advance the interests of the [Republican] party.”
This publication also noted that the black population of the North was generally treated as inhuman. “In scarcely any of the large cities of the North did they [blacks] escape violence” at the hand of whites. It was hardly likely, therefore, that Northern whites would fight a war and die by the hundreds of thousands purely for the benefit of black strangers, as has been taught to generations of American school children.
The Edinburgh Review was a prominent British journal that observed in 1858 that “abolition was not a policy of the North,” and that secession would actually spell the end of slavery because it would no longer be propped up by the federal government’s Fugitive Slave Act. This view was echoed by other high-quality British publications such as Fraser’s Magazine and The Saturday Review, among others. Thus, the most prominent British journals agreed on the eve of the War with a statement that Alexander Stephens would make five or six years later, that slavery was actually “more secure” in the union than out of it.
A British publication called The Quarterly Review ran a long article in April 1857 on the New York State Disunion Convention. The stridently pro-North Westminster Review, founded by philosophers James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill) and Jeremy Bentham, also wrote that “Massachusetts was, we believe, the first State which organized Disunion Associations.”
Who has ever run across that fact in an American history book?! The magazine also wrote of a Massachusetts secession convention that was held around the same time in the town of Worcester.
Perhaps the most influential pro-South journal in England was All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens. Writing on “The American Disunion” on September 6,1861, Dickens recognized that the opposition to slavery extension in the territories was not based on moral, but political and economic grounds. It was “a question of political power between North and South” because of the Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution, which added three persons to a state’s population count for every five slaves. This inflated the South’s representation in Congress, which in turn allowed the South to effectively oppose the North’s corporatist or mercantilist agenda of high tariffs, corporate welfare, and a government-ran central bank.
The Morrill Tariff was the main cause of the war as Dickens saw it. “Union means so many millions a year lost to the South [due to high protective tariffs on manufactured goods]; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this as of many, many other evils.” “The quarrel between the North and South,” Charles Dickens believed, “is … solely a fiscal quarrel.” (Dickens entertainingly wrote of how Lincoln “came across as a bit of a country bumpkin” to those Europeans who had met him.)
The Quarterly Review agreed wholeheartedly with Dickens, calling the protectionist tariff a “revolting tribute” paid to Northern businessmen by Southerners who “had been groaning for years under the crashing bondage of Northern protectionists.” This publication also noted that the Republican Party platform of 1860 supported the “inviolate rights of the states,” especially “the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions” (i.e., slavery); that Lincoln strongly supported his party’s platform; and that he also supported the notorious Corwin Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have enshrined slavery in the Constitution explicitly. (The Amendment passed the House and Senate before Lincoln’s inauguration, with exclusively Northern votes.) These are all facts that few, if any, American school students are ever made aware of but which were well known all around the world in the 1860s.
The Athenaeum, a London journal that published such famous authors as T.S. Eliot, George Santayana, and Thomas Hardy, echoed Dickens’s views regarding the economic causes of the war, and excoriated Lincoln as a dictator and a tyrant. “President Lincoln … suspended the writ of habeas corpus. He has muzzled the press and abridged the freedom of speech…. He has, without authority of law and against the Constitution … plunged the country into war, murdered … citizens, burned … houses…. He has seized unoffending citizens [of the North], and, … has imprisoned them in loathsome dungeons.” Moreover, “under the tyrant’s plea, he is proceeding to do a great many acts and things which would more become the savage and the brute.”
Blackwood’s Magazine, which is still being published, argued in 1861 that “slavery had no significant part in the conflict.” The union, through the Fugitive Slave Act, protected slavery, said Blackwood’s, repeating the view of other British journals that secession would actually lead to the demise of slavery by nullifying that federal law. The tariff laws, on the other hand, were “ruinous to the South.” They were “the chief complaint of the South,” and “have been for thirty years oppressive and unjust.” As for Lincoln, “He may possibly be a good attorney,” the magazine wrote, “though we should never have selected him as a legal adviser.”
By 1862, Blackwood’s was denouncing the Lincoln regime as “[M]onstrous, reckless, devilish.” ‘The North seeks to make the South a desert—a wilderness of bloodshed and misery,” and all for money. “The North would league itself with Beelzebub, and seek to make a hell of half the continent.” Lincoln had “inaugurated dictatorship” and “abolished liberty” in the North. ‘Taxes had been imposed, debt incurred, and paper money issued, to the fullest amount possible.” All of this is what today’s court historians call “a new birth of freedom.”
The events of the War proved to Blackwood’s that the “Yankees” of New England “do not care a straw for the Constitution,” for “they have sacrificed both legality and liberty long ago.” Nor did the Yankees “care a cent for the abolition of slavery on the day when the South inaugurated the war by the attack on Fort Sumter.” “With Mr. Lincoln at their head,” they “would have rejoiced exceedingly if the whole race could be transported to their native Africa.”
The prestigious Economist magazine, which is still one of the preeminent publications in the world, editorialized in 1861 that what motivated the North was its obsession for empire. “They have dreamed of omnipotence and immortality; and they feel, with angry disappointment and bitter humiliation, that such a disruption as now seems almost consummated is a deplorable end to all these ambitious hopes and all this … self-glorification.” The magazine published both pro-North and pro-South articles during the course of the war, and its analysis was always very astute.
Fraser’s Magazine, a high-quality publication that won high praise from Charles Dickens, editorialized that “it appears impossible to sympathize with the North” because the North was motivated not by humanitarianism or constitutionalism, but “jealousy, fanaticism, and wounded national vanity.”
By 1865, some British journals, such as MacMillan’s magazine, were expressing fears that the U.S. government, having destroyed the Confederacy, would turn on England next. England had traded with the Confederates, and after the war the Republican Party regime did arrogantly demand “reparations” from Great Britain for this “sin.” Thus, MacMillan’s asked, “Will [the U.S. government] be tempted to employ these [military] forces in an attack upon any foreign country?—and if so, will England be the country attacked?”
Quite a few British publications understood the War as the final showdown between the true federalists (Jeffersonian states’ rights advocates) and the nationalists that animated the American government from its founding. The North British Review, for example, wrote in May of 1861 that “The whole South stand upon State rights, or a nearly sovereign exercise of power; and a majority in the North sustains Federalism, or the delegation of a portion of that power to the national Government.”
Summing up American events in 1862, the Review wrote that the essence of the War was that “twenty million say to the other ten millions, ‘You shall continue to live under a government you detest, you shall submit to laws you wish to change, you shall obey rulers you repudiate and abjure.’” Only a “‘nisi riius’ [trial] lawyer could deny the right of a state to secede,” the magazine wrote, in what appears to have been a slap at Dishonest Abe the old railroad industry’ trial lawyer.
The Review had nothing but seething contempt for the Lincoln regime. “Mr. Seward has been one of the most signal failures ever known,” it wrote in 1862. And “Mr. Stanton has made up for want of real vigour and talent, by a lawless, fitful, and ineffective violation of the civil rights of every [Northern] citizen whom he fancied he could oppress with impunity.” Furthermore, “looking over all the … chief Federal authorities … never was a country so miserably served.”
Nor was the Review fooled by the Emancipation Proclamation. It clearly understood that by applying only to “rebel territory,” the Proclamation freed no one. It was denounced as “perhaps the most grotesquely illogical and inconsistent decree ever issued by a government.” It catalogued numerous reasons why it believed the Proclamation was “a blunder and a crime.” The real cause of the War, the Review believed, was so that “a mighty conception of universal empire may be realized.”
The humorous journal Punch published hundreds of editorial cartoons related to the War. One particularly eye-catching one reproduced by Adams is entitled “The Federal Phoenix,” published in December of 1864. A giant Lincoln head is the head of a “phoenix,” a mythical bird of ancient Egypt which, according to Adams’s account, “was consumed voluntarily by fire and rose again from its own ashes to a youthful life.”
There is a blazing fire in the cartoon, and the crumbling logs in the fire represent the old Jeffersonian republic of the founders that was facing imminent destruction. Written on the logs are “low tariff and world trade”; “United States Constitution”; “states’ rights”; “habeas corpus”; and “free press.”
The Quarterly Review went so far as to say that “there was little difference … between the government of Mr. Lincoln and the Government of Napoleon III.” The reason given for this harsh condemnation was that in the Northern states “scarcely any dared to oppose” the party in power for fear of “a charge of treason”; there has been “the manipulation of elections”; “pitiless conscription”; and “disregard of personal liberty” (in the North, mind you). Moreover, “There is no Parliamentary authority whatever for what has been done. It has been done simply on Mr. Lincoln’s fiat.” He declared himself dictator, in other words, all in the name of promoting “freedom.”
This magazine was just getting started: “Mr. Lincoln is a poor plagiarist in the art of tyranny. There is nothing striking or original in his proceedings; his plan is just like that of any Old-world despot, to crush out adverse opinion by sheer force.” These awful precedents created a situation whereby “it is now the undisputed law of the United States that a President may suspend civil liberty whenever and for as long as he thinks fit.” Wilson, FDR, and George W. Bush, among others, have all proven this prediction to be prescient.
The prestigious Times (of London) turned against the North as the war proceeded, editorializing that the North was fighting for “nothing more than the old idea of Empire and national grandeur expressed in more specious language.” It harshly condemned the Republican Party for putting “empire above liberty” and having “resorted to political oppression and war rather than suffer any abatement of national power.”
Adams includes a few excerpts from French, Spanish, and Italian publications as well, but they seem quite feeble compared to the extraordinarily well-informed and incredibly well-written British essayists that he surveys.
The most striking thing to me about this collection of essays is how so many of them supported the Southern cause simply because the writers were aware of many of the essential facts about Lincoln, his regime, and the War—facts that most Americans seem completely unaware of. They all knew about his promise of everlasting support for Southern slavery, his eagerness to codify it in the Constitution, his dictatorial destruction of personal liberty in the North, and his waging of a barbaric war on the civilians of the South. They also knew that the Republican Party was the party of political plunder, and that it fully intended to plunder the South economically with protectionist tariffs and corporate welfare funded by a central bank, among other schemes.
These and many other facts have been swept under the rug by generations of American “gatekeepers” in academe and elsewhere. Most Americans today are so ignorant of this period of history that all they know about it is a few of Dishonest Abe’s political slogans and a little nineteenth century Republican Party propaganda. This propaganda is repeated over and over and over again in the public schools, by all the “Lincoln scholars,” and by (mostly) contemporary Republican Party politicians and their media mouthpieces.
The Lincoln Myth is the ideological cornerstone of the American empire and its sole claim to moral authority. Thanks to Charles Adams, we now know that during Lincoln’s time there were a great many highly educated and articulate Europeans who saw this spectacular bundle of lies for what it was.
This article was originally published in the Volume 26, Number 3 issue of Southern Partisan magazine.