CHAPTER XVIII. THE KEY-NOTE OF BRITISH ATTITUDE
On May 8, 1865, the news was received in London of Johnston's surrender to Sherman. On that same day there occurred in the Commons the first serious debate in thirty-three years on a proposed expansion of the electoral franchise. It was a dramatic coincidence and no mere fortuitous one in the minds of thoughtful Englishmen who had seen in the Civil War a struggle as fateful in British domestic policy as in that of America herself. Throughout all British political agitation from the time of the American revolution in 1776, there had run the thread of the American "example" as argument to some for imitation, to others for warning. Nearly every British traveller in America, publishing his impressions, felt compelled to report on American governmental and political institutions, and did so from his preconceived notions of what was desirable in his own country. In the ten years immediately preceding the Civil War most travellers were laudatory of American democracy, and one, the best in acute analysis up to the time of Lord Bryce's great work, had much influence on that class in England which was discontented with existing political institutions at home. This was Mackay's Western World which, first published in 1849, had gone through four editions in 1850 and in succeeding years was frequently reprinted. Republicanism, Mackay asserted, was no longer an experiment; its success and permanence were evident in the mighty power of the United States; Canada would soon follow the American example; the "injustice" of British aristocrats to the United States was intentional, seeking to discredit democracy:
"... Englishmen are too prone to mingle severity with their
judgments whenever the Republic is concerned. It is the
interest of aristocracy to exhibit republicanism, where-ever
it is found, in the worst possible light, and the mass of the
people have too long, by pandering to their prejudice, aided
them in their object. They recognize America as the
stronghold of republicanism. If they can bring it into
disrepute here, they know that they inflict upon it the
deadliest blow in Europe."
On the opposing side were other writers. Tremenheere argued the inapplicability of American institutions to Great Britain. The theoretical bases of those institutions were in some respects admirable but in actual practice they had resulted in the rule of the mob and had debased the nation in the estimation of the world; bribery in elections, the low order of men in politics and in Congress, were proofs of the evils of democracy; those in England who clamoured for a "numerical" rather than a class representation should take warning from the American experiment. Occasionally, though rarely, there appeared the impressions of some British traveller who had no political axe to grind, but from 1850 to 1860, as in every previous decade, British writing on America was coloured by the author's attitude on political institutions at home. The "example" of America was constantly on the horizon in British politics.