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British Opinion

Jack Bull

An 1861 cartoon from the London Punch, with "Jack Bull," a symbolic characterization of the Royal Navy, admonishing the upstart American Navy not to make trouble in the wake of the Trent Affair. 

The Illustrated London News Jan 2nd 1863

Newspaper Article providing updates on the ongoing American Civil War. Jan 2nd, 1863

The Illustrated London News

British news with updates on the American Civil War. jan 20th 1864

The Illustrated London News

British news with updates on the American Civil War. July 25th, 1863

Proclamation of Neutrality "Civil War in America"

       During the American Civil War, Great Britain contemplated courses of action they could take to influence the war, whether for economic reasons or diplomatic. British public opinion on what actions to take were divided (Campbell). There were a multitude of pro-Confederate groups due to the similarities the Confederates had with British society. The aristocrats and the working class of British society supported The Confederacy. However, there were also many pro Northern groups. The support for The Union in Great Britain came from the radical lower class, anti-slavery groups, as well as industrial workers. Despite the majority of British citizens taking sides, a minority chose to remain neutral because they distrusted, disliked, or just simply wished for Great Britain to stay out of other country’s domestic affairs.

       Many people in Britain argued in favor of the Confederacy because of the similarities between their cultures. Much like Great Britain, the southern states valued aristocratic protocol, decorum, and gentlemanly manners; they also shared a similar outlook because of these overlapping values. Cultural similarities increased British opinion of the Confederacy, but they also had cotton which the British valued. Many argued siding with the Confederates would be the wise choice economically. Supporting the Confederacy also supported a war against Great Britain's industrial rival, The Union (Campbell). The Union was a beacon of democracy and Great Britain's competition in the industrial world.

       People in Great Britain who favored The Union over The Confederacy were usually lower class workers who supported democracy and progressive human rights. The lower working class saw the North as the champion of democracy, and an example to stand by. Many people in Great Britain were morally against slavery and viewed emancipation as “a sacred thing” (The Illustrated London News). There was sizable sympathy for black Americans for Great Britain. A London newspaper article from November, 1862 openly denounces the Confederacy for being pro-slavery. “The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society have issued an address with a view of calling forth public sympathy in this country with the Emancipation Party in the Federal States of America. The South is charged with having designedly provoked war for the sole purpose of founding a confederacy to perpetuate slavery (The Illustrated London News). Many books such as Uncle Tom's Cabin became popular in Great Britain, which supported anti-slavery sentiments throughout the country. Abolition of slavery quickly became a topic of debate in Great Britain.

       Throughout Great Britain, supporting the Union or the Confederacy was a common topic of debate. Supporting either side had its advantages and disadvantages. However, not everyone in Great Britain was enthusiastic about supporting a specific side. Many believed Great Britain should steer clear of the United State's Civil War due to the consequences it could have if the side they supported conceded. Others believed staying neutral would be the best economic choice because Great Britain could trade with both opposing sides of the war. Other British citizens were absolutely opposed to Great Britain intervening, because they believed the war was not Great Britain's problem, and should not trouble themselves by intervening in domestic politics.

       Great Britain’s civilian population was split; the people did not overwhelmingly support either side of the US. Many historians make arguments for which side Britain was in favor of, however the public's opinion of the Civil War varied depending on the social mobility and perspective of people in Great Britain.


British Opinion