Tag Archives: British Prime Minister

DID A DYING PRINCE ALBERT SAVE A DYING UNITED STATES?

Our Man in Charleston

I’m currently reading a new non-fiction book that may interest some of you.   It tells the story of the British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina, in the years leading up to and into the US Civil War (1861 to 1865).

When southern states seceded from the United States, the hope across the Confederacy was that they would receive support from the British government.   Britain was the greatest power in the world at the time and had the most powerful military.   They had a great deal of support in the British press.   British commercial interests strongly suggested the United Kingdom would support the South – the UK was the biggest importer of southern cotton, which was needed to feed the clothing factories in the North of England.

The British government’s Consul in Charleston was Robert Bunch, who lived in the city with his wife and children.   His instructions were to ingratiate himself with prominent citizens and report to London.   His reports to the British government, via the Ambassador in Washington, Lord Lyons, were highly influential in determining Britain’s attitude toward the breakaway republic.

Great Britain had abolished the slave trade in 1807, the first major power to do so.   With the world’s most powerful navy, the British took it upon themselves to stop vessels on the high seas and free any slaves they found.   The US followed one year later, but American vessels continued to transport slaves from West Africa, where African leaders continued the practice.   These slave ships transported people in the most horrible conditions, many dying en route.   The Royal Navy’s ships were kept busy along the West African coast throughout the nineteenth century.

Bunch was repulsed by slavery and by those who kept slaves. But he hid his feelings extremely well, as he mixed with leading Charlestonians in the 1850’s.   The people around him thought that he sympathized with them and their “peculiar custom” of slavery and would support the South when it broke away from the North.   But he was, in fact, sending back to London reports on the brutality of slavery, reports that made it impossible for London to show any support for the Confederacy.

He did his job so well that the US Secretary of State, William Seward, pressured the British government to remove Bunch from Charleston as he was a “known” secessionist!

In late 1861, there was a major crisis between Washington and London that almost brought the two countries to war.   If that had happened, the UK would likely have recognized the South and the Confederacy would still exist.

The crisis was triggered when an American navy steamer, the USS San Jacinto, under Captain Charles Wilkes, boarded a British mail ship, the Trent, and arrested two prominent Southerners who were on their way to London to appeal for recognition and help.   The British protested volubly.   The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, wrote a seriously threatening note, which would have placed Abraham Lincoln’s Administration in a difficult position and would almost certainly have led to another war between the two great English speaking nations.

Then something interesting happened.

“Before the ultimatum could be sent, however, it had to be read and approved by the palace.   On other occasions this might have been largely a formality, and, indeed, in this case Queen Victoria had other priorities.   She was giving a dinner party and did not want it interrupted.   But Prince Albert, her beloved consort, begged off from the dinner, saying he felt ill.   Feverish with the first symptoms of the typhoid that would kill him a few days later, Albert sat down at his desk to look at the ultimatum, and he did not like what he saw. Palmerston and Russell (British Foreign Minister) were giving Lincoln and Seward no way out. They would have to bend to Britain’s will, release Slidell and Mason (the two Southern gentlemen), and apologize abjectly or face the greatest military power on earth.

“For twenty years Albert had made the fight against slavery, and especially the slave trade, one of his important causes.   He did not want to see the Crown tarnished by a war that might guarantee the continuation of slavery for generations to come.   He deeply mistrusted Palmerston’s bellicosity and thought of Russell as something of a lightweight.   He wanted the brashness in the official note to be softened:   “Her Majesty’s Government are unwilling to believe that the United States Government intended wantonly to put an insult upon this country…..”   The new wording left a way open for Seward to explain the incident as an accident, if only he would take it.”   (“Our Man in Charleston”, by Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey, pages 297-8, Crown Publishers.)

“The language offered by Prince Albert had left room for a face-saving response in Seward’s reply:   Charles Wilkes had not been acting under orders.   Three days after Christmas the correspondence of Seward and the British and French foreign ministers was published, announcing the release of the Confederate emissaries.”

War between the US and Britain had been averted, thanks to a German prince’s careful editing of a diplomatic note, written in English!   If the more strident note had resulted in war between Britain and America, London would have supported the Confederacy and the United States would have been permanently divided.   If Prince Albert had not been seriously ill, the outcome of the Civil War could have been very different.

The book is an interesting read and gives some fresh insight into the Civil War.

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BRITAIN DISARMING, GERMANY REARMING: SOUND FAMILIAR?

David Cameron and Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister address a press conference in Berlin on 7 June 2012.  Photograph: Carsten Koall/AFP/Getty Images
David Cameron and Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister address a press conference in Berlin on 7 June 2012. Photograph: Carsten Koall/AFP/Getty Images

Two hundred years ago, on June 18th, 1815, the British won the war against Napoleon.

Or so you thought.   As is generally the case with Europe, it’s not quite that simple.

British troops were only 36% of the allied troops that gained the victory.  Take away the Irishmen fighting in the British army, and the percentage of British troops was well below a third of those on the victorious side.

Other troops that fought in this allied cause, all wanting to end Napoleon’s domination of Europe, came from Prussia (eastern Germany) and what are today Belgium and the Netherlands. The battle took place on Belgian soil.

This is not to diminish the British contribution.   One result of the battle was that the United Kingdom became a global superpower and was unrivaled in Europe for almost one hundred years.

But it’s a classic example of how British relations with Europe are never that simple.   Also, of how the Brits can misread Europe, seeing their country as far more important than it really is.

Which brings us to the promised referendum on British relations with the EU, to take place in 2017.

There are 28 countries in the European Union, with more on the sidelines wanting to join the club. Britain is the third biggest economy in the Union.   It is, right now, the most successful economy, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to its shores every year.  These are mostly from Europe and, it is thought, attracted primarily by Britain’s generous social support system.   People from Eastern Europe can work in the UK and receive benefits for their progeny back home in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.   These benefits enable them to provide quite comfortably for their families, even if they earn a very small income in London or whatever other city they reside in.

British people get angry at this as they are the ones paying for it in their taxes.   But, as a member of the EU, the British government can do nothing about it.  The EU guarantees the free movement of people within member nations.

London wants to change this.  Most of the other members do not. The Polish leader made it clear to British Prime Minister David Cameron this is something he cannot change.  And that is correct. If the UK stays in Europe, it won’t change.  Mr. Cameron may hope it does, but it won’t – unless Germany is willing to change it, and that’s not likely.

Many (maybe most) British people are fed up with the EU, which they also heavily subsidize in other ways.  They want to withdraw from the organization and go back to the way they were 50 years ago.

What they don’t realize is that they cannot go back to the 1960’s, to the pre-EU days.

It’s not an option.

Prior to entering the European Common Market (as the EU was then called), Britain had an extensive system of trade with nations farther afield.   “Imperial preferences” left over from the days of the Empire, ensured close trade ties with the dominions of the Commonwealth: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.   These trade agreements were torn up by Britain when they joined Europe. It is unlikely that they can restore them more than 40 years later.

At the same time, in the 60’s, the British still had close trade ties with all their former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, the ACP countries.  These gave Britain cheap food, while the British were able to sell manufactured products to these countries without the hindrance of tariffs.

After Britain joined the European Community, it was a matter of urgency to help these less developed nations. The Lome Convention was signed in 1975, taking effect in April 1976.   It gave preferential access to Europe for member countries’ food and mineral exports.   This treaty, agreed to in the capital of the former French colony of Togo, effectively embraced all former British, French and Dutch colonies.   As this agreement was to help less developed countries, it did not extend to the British dominions, who were on their own.

Effectively, Great Britain, thirty years after World War II, handed over its former Empire to the European Union, now dominated by Germany.  What a supreme irony of history!

There is no turning back.

This is not to say that Britain will be entirely on its own if it separates from the EU.   Norway and Switzerland are two European countries that are not members of the EU.  Both have a per capita income that is higher than the EU average.

But it won’t be easy for Britain, certainly not as easy as the anti-Europeans are making it out to be.

The Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957 by the original six members of the European Community, pledged member countries to form “an ever closer union.”   The EU today is very different from the old European Common Market. It is far more intrusive and controlling than it was at the beginning.   And it is already talking about greater cooperation, with an EU Army not too far ahead.

Bible prophecy shows that another superpower is set to arise, a European power that will be a revival of the Roman Empire.   You can read about this new power in Revelation chapters 13 and 17.   Note the following words from chapter 17:

12 “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.  13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.  14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (Rev 17:12-14)   Clearly, this is not talking about the Roman Empire of two thousand years ago, as this superpower will be in existence when Christ returns.  The good news is that this “beast” power will not last long and will lead directly into the prophesied Kingdom of God.

Is Britain prepared for isolation, facing a German dominated European super-power on its doorstep, without any say in its composition and its purpose?

Interestingly, just four days ago, British defense chiefs warned that the country’s defenses had been so greatly diminished that the nation was now “feeble” on the world stage.   As Britain no longer has a deployable aircraft carrier, only one ship, HMS Ocean, is equipped to host US Marines and their MV 22 Osprey vertical take off aircraft, in the event of military action by Russia.   As Russia is rapidly increasing its military potential, warnings of a coming conflict between the West and Moscow are growing. The UK’s response is to go down the road of disarmament. The similarities with the 1930’s are quite blatant – Britain is once again disarming while Germany is rearming.

Berlin is spending an additional 8 billion euros (US 9 billion) on the new MEADS air defense system and the multi role combat ship 180.  3.9 billion euros ($4.37 billion) has also been set aside for four new battleships.

Germany is also working toward an EU Army, which will add to its military capacity.

Outside of the EU, Britain will have to fend for itself, something it seems ill-prepared for at this time.   Even a Conservative government is clearly more inclined to cut defense over higher health care costs, at a time of growing international tensions.

Individual Britons need to think carefully before the vote in the referendum.   There may be sound reasons to reject the EU, but there could also be serious consequences.   Britain’s relationship with Europe can be compared to a marriage.   It was certainly a mistake to marry in the first place, but divorce is not an easy option and needs to be considered carefully.