CHAPTER XII. THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION

The finality of the British Cabinet decision in November, 1862, relative to proposals of mediation or intervention was not accepted at the moment though time was to prove its permanence. The British press was full of suggestions that the first trial might more gracefully come from France since that country was presumed to be on more friendly terms with the United States[846]. Others, notably Slidell at Paris, held the same view, and on January 8, 1863, Slidell addressed a memorandum to Napoleon III, asking separate recognition of the South. The next day, Napoleon dictated an instruction to Mercier offering friendly mediation in courteous terms but with no hint of an armistice or of an intended recognition of the South[847]. Meanwhile, Mercier had again approached Lyons alleging that he had been urged by Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, to make an isolated French offer, but that he felt this would be contrary to the close harmony hitherto maintained in French-British relations. But Mercier added that if Lyons was disinclined to a proposal of mediation, he intended to advise his Government to give him authority to act alone[848]. Lyons made no comment to Mercier but wrote to Russell, "I certainly desire that the Settlement of the Contest should be made without the intervention of England."

A week later the Russian Minister, Stoeckl, also came to Lyons desiring to discover what would be England's attitude if Russia should act alone, or perhaps with France, leaving England out of a proposal to the North[849]. This was based on the supposition that the North, weary of war, might ask the good offices of Russia. Lyons replied that he did not think that contingency near and otherwise evaded Stoeckl's questions; but he was somewhat suspicious, concluding his report, "I cannot quite forget that Monsieur Mercier and Monsieur de Stoeckl had agreed to go to Richmond together last Spring[850]." The day after this despatch was written Mercier presented, February 3, the isolated French offer and on February 6 received Seward's reply couched in argumentative, yet polite language, but positively declining the proposal[851]. Evidently Lyons was a bit disquieted by the incident; but in London, Napoleon's overture to America was officially stated to be unobjectionable, as indeed was required by the implications of the reply of November 13, to France. Russell, on February 14, answered Lyons' communications in a letter marked "Seen by Lord Palmerston and the Queen":

     "Her Majesty's Government have no wish to interfere at 
     present in any way in the Civil War. If France were to offer 
     good offices or mediation, Her Majesty's Government would 
     feel no jealousy or repugnance to such a course on the part 
     of France alone[852]."

The writing of this despatch antedated the knowledge that France had already acted at Washington, and does not necessarily indicate any governmental feeling of a break in previous close relations with France on the American question. Yet this was indubitably the case and became increasingly evident as time passed. Russell's despatch to Lyons of February 14 appears rather to be evidence of the effect of the debates in Parliament when its sessions were resumed on February 5, for in both Lords and Commons there was given a hearty and nearly unanimous support of the Government's decision to make no overture for a cessation of the conflict in America. Derby clearly outlined the two possible conditions of mediation; first, when efforts by the North to subdue the South had practically ceased; and second, if humane interests required action by neutral states, in which case the intervening parties must be fully prepared to use force. Neither condition had arrived and strict neutrality was the wise course. Disraeli also approved strict neutrality but caustically referred to Gladstone's Newcastle speech and sharply attacked the Cabinet's uncertain and changeable policy - merely a party speech. Russell upheld the Government's decision but went out of his way to assert that the entire subjugation of the South would be a calamity to the United States itself, since it would require an unending use of force to hold the South in submission[853]. Later, when news of the French offer at Washington had been received, the Government was attacked in the Lords by an undaunted friend of the South, Lord Campbell, on the ground of a British divergence from close relations with France. Russell, in a brief reply, reasserted old arguments that the time had "not yet" come, but now declared that events seemed to show the possibility of a complete Northern victory and added with emphasis that recognition of the South could justly be regarded by the North as an "unfriendly act[854]."

Thus Parliament and Cabinet were united against meddling in America, basing this attitude on neutral duty and national interests, and with barely a reference to the new policy of the North toward slavery, declared in the emancipation proclamations of September 22, 1862, and January 1, 1863, Had these great documents then no favourable influence on British opinion and action? Was the Northern determination to root out the institution of slavery, now clearly announced, of no effect in winning the favour of a people and Government long committed to a world policy against that institution? It is here necessary to review early British opinion, the facts preceding the first emancipation proclamation, and to examine its purpose in the mind of Lincoln.