Tag Archives: Newsweek

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.

ADMINISTRATIVE BLINDNESS

 

Eleanor Clift

Eleanor Clift is an arch-liberal who writes for the “Daily Beast / Newsweek.”  She is also a regular contributor to the weekly political discussion on PBS, “McLaughlin Group.”

Eleanor has often made me think of the old story about Winston Churchill.   When the very liberal Lady Astor came up to him one time, she said:  “Mr Churchill, if I was your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee.”  Churchill’s response was:  “Lady Astor, if I was your husband, I’d drink it!”  If I were married to Eleanor, I would have drunk it a long time ago, and I’m not a coffee drinker.

It’s been six years now since the Obama Administration came to power.   During that time, I’ve not heard her utter one criticism of the president.   The other regular “liberal” on the program, Mort Zuckerman, who voted for the president in 2008, is quite capable of pointing out the president’s faults, but not Eleanor, oh no.

Eleanor and the president are in tandem.   While she is incapable of saying anything bad about the president, he seems equally incapable of saying anything bad about Islam.   He can’t even bring himself to say anything negative about Islamic militants.   He won’t even use the term, lest people associate Islam with extremism.

I’m not one of those people who think the president is a closet Muslim.   He is certainly sympathetic to Islam, which is dangerous at this time in the history of the West.   For what we need now is for a powerful personage on the world stage to speak plainly and bluntly to the Islamic world – to make it absolutely clear that extremism will not be tolerated and that Muslim leaders must unequivocally condemn acts of terror.

This applies to US, UK and French based Muslim leaders, imams in our mosques.   If they will not condemn acts of terror, then they should be expelled, deported from our countries to the Islamic country they came from.   Instead, many of these imams are actively recruiting young men and women to join ISIS.

A firm stand needs to be taken, but we are not going to see it from the US president or anybody in the Administration.   Rather, we are being constantly told that Islam is a religion of peace, that extremists have taken hold of a peaceful religion, that Christians did some awful things to Muslims during the Crusades, etc., etc.   The refusal to face up to reality is a hallmark of this Administration.

There has been no clear condemnation of the massacre of 148 students Thursday in Kenya by Muslim extremists, a death toll that is set to rise.

On the same day, we hear nothing but good things about the new deal with Muslim Iran, even as Iranians celebrated all night in the Iranian capital, Tehran, firmly believing that they have triumphed in their long struggle with the West.   Their perception is that Allah has given them victory over the Great Satan.   If they have won, how can we in the West claim victory?   The Israeli prime minister has made it clear that the agreement will ensure Iran has nuclear weapons, not stop them.   He has described the deal as a threat to Israel’s survival.

Of course, it’s not just the Administration that is at fault here.   Most members of the press and the average citizen have their heads in the sand.

The trouble is, eventually they will have to come up for air, when they just might have to focus on reality.