CHAPTER XI. RUSSELL'S MEDIATION PLAN
The adjournment of Parliament on August 7 without hint of governmental inclination to act in the American Civil War was accepted by most of the British public as evidence that the Ministry had no intentions in that direction. But keen observers were not so confident. Motley, at Vienna, was keeping close touch with the situation in England through private correspondence. In March, 1862, he thought that "France and England have made their minds up to await the issue of the present campaign" - meaning McClellan's advance on Richmond. With the failure of that campaign he wrote: "Thus far the English Government have resisted his [Napoleon's] importunities. But their resistance will not last long." Meanwhile the recently established pro-Southern weekly, The Index, from its first issue, steadily insisted on the wisdom and necessity of British action to end the war. France was declared rapidly to be winning the goodwill of the South at the expense of England; the British aristocracy were appealed to on grounds of close sympathy with a "Southern Aristocracy"; mediation, at first objected to, in view of the more reasonable demand for recognition, was in the end the chief object of The Index, after mid-July, when simple recognition seemed impossible of attainment. Especially British humiliation because of the timidity of her statesmen, was harped upon and any public manifestation of Southern sympathy was printed in great detail.
The speculations of Motley, the persistent agitation of The Index are, however, no indication that either Northern fears or Southern hopes were based on authoritative information as to governmental purpose. The plan now in the minds of Palmerston and Russell and their steps in furthering it have been the subject of much historical study and writing. It is here proposed to review them in the light of all available important materials, both old and new, using a chronological order and with more citation than is customary, in the belief that such citations best tell the story of this, the most critical period in the entire course of British attitude toward the Civil War. Here, and here only, Great Britain voluntarily approached the danger of becoming involved in the American conflict.
Among the few who thought the withdrawal of Lindsay's motion, July 18, and the Prime Minister's comments did not indicate safety for the North stood Adams, the American Minister. Of Palmerston's speech he wrote the next day in his diary: "It was cautious and wise, but enough could be gathered from it to show that mischief to us in some shape will only be averted by the favour of Divine Providence or our own efforts. The anxiety attending my responsibility is only postponed." At this very moment Adams was much disturbed by his failure to secure governmental seizure of a war vessel being built at Liverpool for the South - the famous Alabama - which was soon completed and put to sea but ten days later, July 29. Russell's delay in enforcing British neutrality, as Adams saw it, in this matter, reinforcing the latter's fears of a change in policy, had led him to explain his alarm to Seward. On August 16 Adams received an instruction, written August 2, outlining the exact steps to be taken in case the feared change in British policy should occur. As printed in the diplomatic documents later presented to Congress this despatch is merely a very interesting if somewhat discursive essay on the inevitability of European ruminations on the possibility of interference to end the war and argues the unwisdom of such interference, especially for Great Britain's own interests. It does not read as if Seward were alarmed or, indeed, as if he had given serious consideration to the supposed danger. But this conveys a very erroneous impression. An unprinted portion of the despatch very specifically and in a very serious tone, instructs Adams that if approached by the British Government with propositions implying a purpose:
"To dictate, or to mediate, or to advise, or even to solicit
or persuade, you will answer that you are forbidden to
debate, to hear, or in any way receive, entertain or
transmit, any communication of the kind.... If you are asked
an opinion what reception the President would give to such a
proposition, if made here, you will reply that you are not
instructed, but you have no reason for supposing that it
would be entertained."
This was to apply either to Great Britain alone or acting in conjunction with other Powers. Further, if the South should be "acknowledged" Adams was immediately to suspend his functions. "You will perceive," wrote Seward, "that we have approached the contemplation of that crisis with the caution which great reluctance has inspired. But I trust that you will also have perceived that the crisis has not appalled us."