CHAPTER X. KING COTTON
In judging governmental policy, however, the truth as regards the causes of distress in England is the more important element. The "Cotton Lords" did not choose to reveal it. One must believe that they intentionally dwelt upon the war as the sole responsible cause. In the first important parliamentary debate on cotton, May 9, 1862, not a word was said of any other element in the situation, and, it is to be noted, not a word advocating a change in British neutral policy. It is to be noted also that this debate occurred when for two months past, the numbers on poor relief in Lancashire were temporarily decreasing, and the general tone of the speakers was that while the distress was serious it was not beyond the power of the local communities to meet it. There was not, then, in May, any reason for grave concern and Russell expressed governmental conviction when he wrote to Gladstone, May 18, "We must, I believe, get thro' the cotton crisis as we can, and promote inland works and railroads in India." Moreover the Southern orders to destroy cotton rather than permit its capture and export by the North disagreeably affected British officials. Up to the end of August, 1862, Russell, while writing much to Lyons on England's necessity for cotton, did not do so in a vein indicative of criticism of Northern policy nor in the sense that British distress demanded special official consideration. Such demands on America as were made up to this time came wholly from France.
It was not then cotton, primarily, which brought a revival in July of the Southern attack on the Government through Parliament. June had seen the collapse of Lindsay's initial move, and Palmerston's answer to Hopwood, June 13, that there was no intention, at present, to offer mediation, appeared final. It was not cotton, but McClellan's defeat, that produced a quick renewal of Lindsay's activities. June 30, Hopwood had withdrawn his motion favouring recognition but in doing so asked whether, "considering the great and increasing distress in the country, the patient manner in which it has hitherto been borne, and the hopelessness of the termination of hostilities, the Government intend to take any steps whatever, either as parties to intervention or otherwise, to endeavour to put an end to the Civil War in America?" This was differently worded, yet contained little variation from his former question of June 13, and this time Palmerston replied briefly that the Government certainly would like to mediate if it saw any hope of success but that at present "both parties would probably reject it. If a different situation should arise the Government would be glad to act." This admission was now seized upon by Lindsay who, on July 11, introduced a motion demanding consideration of "the propriety of offering mediation with the view of terminating hostilities," and insisted upon a debate.
Thus while the first week of June seemed to have quieted rumours of British mediation, the end of the month saw them revived. Adams was keenly aware of the changing temper of opinion and on June 20 presented to Russell a strong representation by Seward who wrote "under the President's instructions" that such recurrent rumours were highly injurious to the North since upon hopes of foreign aid the South has been encouraged and sustained from the first day of secession. Having developed this complaint at some length Seward went on to a brief threat, containing the real meat of the despatch, that if foreign nations did venture to intervene or mediate in favour of the South, the North would be forced to have recourse to a weapon hitherto not used, namely to aid in a rising of the slaves against their masters. This was clearly a threat of a "servile war" if Great Britain aided the South - a war which would place Britain in a very uncomfortable position in view of her anti-slavery sentiments in the past. It is evidence of Adams' discretion that this despatch, written May 28, was held back from presentation to Russell until revived rumours of mediation made the American Minister anxious. No answer was given by Russell for over a month, a fact in itself indicative of some hesitancy on policy. Soon the indirect diplomacy of Napoleon III was renewed in the hope of British concurrence. July 11, Slidell informed Mason that Persigny in conversation had assured him "that this Government is now more anxious than ever to take prompt and decided action in our favour." Slidell asked if it was impossible to stir Parliament but acknowledged that everything depended on Palmerston: "that august body seems to be as afraid of him as the urchins of a village school of the birch of their pedagogue."
Unquestionably Persigny here gave Slidell a hint of private instructions now being sent by Napoleon to Thouvenel who was on a visit to London. The Emperor telegraphed "Demandez au gouvernement anglais s'il ne croit pas le moment venu de reconnaitre le Sud." Palmerston had already answered this question in Parliament and Thouvenel was personally very much opposed to the Emperor's suggestion. There were press rumours that he was in London to bring the matter to a head, but his report to Mercier was that interference in America was a very dangerous matter and that he would have been "badly received" by Palmerston and Russell if he had suggested any change in neutral policy.