The Anglo-American Treaty of 1862 in Civil War Diplomacy
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The Anglo-American Treaty of 1862 in Civil War Diplomacy Conway W. Henderson Enlightened liberalism in the Great Britain of the early 1800's resulted in a world crusade, fueled by philanthropic emotion, that was designed for the suppression of the oceanic slave trade. A policing function of the high seas was assigned naturally enough to the British Royal Navy. The Admiralty did its duty well and tried literally to destory the slave trade, the handmaiden of the domestic slave institutions that sustained the economies of several nations and colonial holdings. The potential conflict with many nations and the great volume of slave trade that had to be halted did not make Great Britain's task an enviable one. Only a nation aware that it was the greatest maritime power in the history of the world could have dared such a mammoth undertaking . Britain's suppression of the slave trade was phenomenal not only because of the grueling mission to which she was willing to commit herself , but equally so on account of the energy Britain expended over many decades. Such an enduring drive proved necessary due to die growing market for slaves in colonial areas. The main stimulus to this market came from the industrialization that depended on money crops which could be worked by slaves, particularly cotton. However, by far the most crucial problem facing Britain was winning die co-operation, or at least the toleration, of other nations in her efforts to police the seas and rid them of the nefarious slave trade. Without doubt, the nation posing as the most serious obstacle to Britain's idealistic goal was the United States. Part of the general problem created by die United States was the inept enforcement of her own anti-slave-trade laws and the almost complete absence of cooperation with Britain that could have allowed the latter to enforce its laws. United States laws were either not applied or were not stringent enough. One law of 1820 called for the death penalty for transporting slaves to the United States and yet no conviction was made under it until Abraham Lincoln's administration. Another law provided for the seizure only of ships with slaves on board and not vessels merely fitted out for slaving, thus decreasing the chances for arrests by as much as 50 percent. Finally, with all laws, court convictions were rare even when there was convincing evidence. The British, of course, found such laxity frustrating.1 1 For a full account of the United States' laxity in enforcing anti-slave trade laws, 308 The rest of the problem was based on the refusal of the United States to allow British warships to overhaul, visit, and search American merchant ships suspected of trafficking in slaves. The prideful young Republic , remembering more serious encroachments upon her neutral rights, adamantly refused to view the right of search as anything but a flagrant violation of neutral rights in peace time. The American position was stated eloquently by Andrew Stevenson, in a letter to the British government dated April 16, 1841: It becomes my duty therefore again distinctly to express to your Lorship the fixed determination of my government, that their flag is to be the safeguard and protection to the persons and property of its citizens, and all under it, and that these continued aggressions upon the vessels and commerce of the United States cannot longer be permitted.2 The British insisted that a great humanitarian objective should not be frustrated by a point of honor over a flag.3 As the greatest sea power of the day, Great Britain had little to fear concerning the rights and honor of her own flag and, consequentìy, could not sympathize with the American position. AU that drew her attention was the fact that a majority of the slavers, both legally and ülegally, were continuing the odious practice of transporting slaves by claiming the protection of the American flag. And because she could not elicit support from the United States, she determined to search ships flying the American colors despite American protests.4 However, Great Britain did not apply the policy of slave trade suppression in a crass manner. To...