William E. Gladstone's: "Insincere Neutrality" During The Civil War
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WILLIAM E. GLADSTONES "Insincere Neutrality" During The Civil War Edited by Robert L. Reid Willam E. Gladstone's speech at Newoastle-on-Tyne on October 7, 1862, was the most unequivocal expression of support for the Confederacy publicly presented by a member of the British government. In its most celebrated passage, Gladstone told his audience: We know quite well that the people of the Northern states have not yet drunk of the cup—they are still trying to hold it far from their lips—which all the rest of the world see they nevertheless must drink of. We may have our own opinions about slavery; we may be for or against the South; but there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears , a navy; and they have made what is more than either, they have made a nation.1 Delivered at a time when the ministry of Lord Palmerston was giving serious consideration to proposals of mediation, the speech caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Initial northern reaction was reflected in the comments of Benjamin Moran, secretary of the United States legation in London. Calling the speech "an insulting attack upon us," Moran speculated that it represented a preliminary announcement of British determination to recognize the South.2 Such fears were quieted by the decision of Palmerston and the Cabinet to reject joint European intervention in mid-November, a decision which ended this critical phase of Anglo-American relations. Gladstone's remarks, however, were not forgotten. During his first ministry (1868-1874) the outstanding grievances between Great Britain and the United States were resolved in the Treaty of Washington of 1871. American claims resulting from damage done by ships which embarked from British ports were to be adjusted by a tribunal of arbitration . When the American case was presented at Geneva the following year, excerpts from the Prime Minister's speech at Newcastle and another address in Parliament on June 30, 1863, were used as evidence of "insincere neutrality" and "unfriendly feeling of members of the British cabinet" during the American crisis.3 1 John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gkdstone (London, 1903), II, 79. 2 Sarah .A. Wallace and Frances E. Gillespie (eds.), The Journal of Benjamin Moran, 1857-1865 (Chicago, 1949), II, 1078. 3 The Case of the United States to be hid before the Tribunal of Arbitration, to be convened at Geneva . . . (Washington, D.C., 1871), pp. 86-87. 293 294CIVIL WAR HISTORY This indictment, with the implicit charge that Gladstone was a southern sympatìiizer, persists in historical accounts and the quoted passage from the Newcastle speech is recounted in a number of standard American history textbooks.4 In a recent article Joseph Hernon contends that Gladstone "is probably the key to interpreting British opinion on the Civü War." He then reaffirms the contemporary northern view by arguing that the development of Gladstone's opinion "reflects die evolution of British opinion" from support of the Confederacy to sympathy with the Union as the war ended.5 In a fragmentary note written in 1896, Gladstone attempted to explain his earlier position. With the South's fortunes at their zenith, friends of the North in England were advising compromise to avoid "further bloodshed and greater calamity." Consequently, his own misjudgment of the situation led to the Newcastle declaration which, he admitted, had been a mistake of "incredible grossness."6 Scholars have not been inclined to place a charitable construction on this recantation. Henry Adams, whose perspective was conditioned by his experiences in London during the war years, said the juxtaposition between the 1862 speech and the note in 1896 made one question Gladstone's sanity.7 A British historian wrote: "more than thirty years later he repented of it [Newcastle declaration] in almost an excess of sackcloth ."8 Such harsh interpretations, however, fail to consider the concluding paragraphs of the fragmentary note. Here Gladstone wrote that he had prepared a "lengthened statement" at the time of the Geneva arbitration to refute the charges of hostile animus.9 That statement was addressed to the American minister, General Robert C. Schenck, a...