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THE BEE-HIVE NEWSPAPER AND BRITISH WORKING CLASS ATTITUDES TOWARD THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR Kevin J. Logan The American Civil War has generated more questions and controversies than any other event in American history. Questions involving such issues as the inevitability of the war, ascribing the blame for its commencement, and its causes and results, have engaged the interest of historians for over a century. The controversy surrounding these issues has yet to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction , and probably never will be.1 This war, pitting brother against brother, has also raised many questions about the impact of the conflict abroad. Historians, both English and American, have been particularly concerned with the attitude of the English people toward the American Civil War. The English had strong emotional, cultural, and language ties to the United States, and, quite naturally, had strong feelings about the war. The key question which has long fascinated historians from both countries is that of the existence, or non-existence, of clearly defined class distinctions reflected in English attitudes. In short, were pro-northern and pro-southern sympathies among the English people significantly influenced by their socio-economic status? The traditional interpretation has been that the English aristocracy was generally pro-south and the working class generally pro-north. Evidence cited to support the alleged pro-southemism of the aristocracy includes the early recognition of the belligerent status of the South by the British government; the permissiveness of British authorities in allowing the construction of Confederate raiders, such as the Afobama, in British shipyards; and the persistent refusal by the British government, during the war years, to accept responsibility for the damage caused by those Confederate raiders. English working-class support for the North has been based on the assumption that the English workers would naturally sympathize with their 1 For the continuing historiographie controversy surrounding the Civil War, see: Eric Foner, "Recent Interpretations and New Directions," Civil War History, XX (Sept., 1974), 197-214; and Richard Curry, "The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877: A Critical Overview of Recent Trends and Interpretations," ibid. 215-239. 337 338CIVIL WAR HISTORY fellow workers of the North, who were fighting against the aristocratic slaveholders of the South.2 In recent years, a number of historians have challenged this traditional interpretation. Wilbur D. Jones, in an article published in 1953, cited letters and diaries of Conservative Party leaders as evidence to support his contention that the English aristocracy was strictly neutral during the war years. Joseph Hemon, on the other hand, agreed with the traditional interpretation of a pro-southern English aristocracy, but repudiated the longheld belief in a pronorthern working class, arguing that perhaps a majority of English workers shared Gladstone's sympathy for the Confederate struggle for independence. Finally, in a recent book, Mary Ellison offered a substantial case for dismissing the traditional view that the Lancashire mill operative supported the North in the war, despite the economic hardship imposed upon them by the disruption of cotton shipments from the South. Using labor newspapers as her major source of evidence, Ellison demonstrated that the working class, at least in Lancashire, supported the South, and that its support for the South increased in direct proportion to the intensity of Lancashire 's economic distress.3 This, too, is the type of historical controversy that will never be settled conclusively. One of the major problems encountered in dealing with a class interpretation of English attitudes toward the Civil War is the paucity of material that exists on the working class. Being less articulate than their better educated upper-class brethren, workingclass people were not prolific letter writers or diary keepers, and they left very little personal record of their opinions. One could study labor newspapers, as did Ellison, but most of them were so shordived as to be of little use in determining working class attitudes toward any problems or issues external to the immediate working class existence. There was, however, one exception to this 2 For example see: E. D. Adams, Great Britain and the American Civil War (2 vols.; New York: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1925); H. C. Allen, Great Britain and the United States; A History...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 337-348
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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