CHAPTER XVIII. THE KEY-NOTE OF BRITISH ATTITUDE
In 1860, the Liberal movement in England was at its lowest ebb since the high tide of 1832. Palmerston was generally believed to have made a private agreement with Derby that both Whig and Tory parties would oppose any movement toward an expansion of the franchise. Lord John Russell, in his youth an eager supporter of the Reform Bill of 1832, had now gained the name of "Finality John" by his assertion that that Reform was final in British institutions. Political reaction was in full swing much to the discontent of Radicals like Bright and Cobden and their supporters. When the storm broke in America the personal characteristics of the two leaders North and South, Lincoln and Davis, took on, to many British eyes, an altogether extreme importance as if representative of the political philosophies of the two sections. Lincoln's "crudity" was democratic; Davis' "culture" was aristocratic - nor is it to be denied that Davis had "aristocratic" views on government. But that this issue had any vital bearing on the quarrel between the American sections was never generally voiced in England. Rather, British comment was directed to the lesson, taught to the world by the American crisis, of the failure of democratic institutions in national power. Bright had long preached to the unenfranchised of England the prosperity and might of America and these had long been denied by the aristocratic faction to be a result of democratic institutions. At first the denial was now repeated, the Saturday Review, February 23, 1861, protesting that there was no essential connection between the "shipwreck" of American institutions and the movement in England for an expanded franchise. Even, the article continued, if an attempt were made to show such a connection it would convince nobody since "Mr. Bright has succeeded in persuading a great number of influential persons that the admission of working-men into the constituencies is chiefly, if not solely, desirable on the ground that it has succeeded admirably in America and has proved a sovereign panacea against the war, taxation and confusion which are the curses of old Governments in Europe." Yet that the denial was not sincere is shown by the further assertion that "the shallow demagogues of Birmingham and other kindred platforms must bear the blame of the inference, drawn nearly universally at the present moment, that, if the United States become involved in hopeless difficulties, it would be madness to lower the qualification for the suffrage in England."
This pretended disclaimer of any essential relation between the American struggle and British institutions was not long persisted in. A month later the Saturday Review was strong in contemptuous criticism of the "promiscuous democracy" of the North. Less political journals followed suit. The Economist thought the people of England would now be convinced of the folly of aping America and that those who had advocated universal suffrage would be filled with "mingled alarm, gratitude and shame." Soon W.H. Russell could write, while still at Washington "... the world will only see in it all, the failure of republican institutions in time of pressure as demonstrated by all history - that history which America vainly thought she was going to set right and re-establish on new grounds and principles." "The English worshippers of American institutions," said the Saturday Review, "are in danger of losing their last pretext for preferring the Republic to the obsolete and tyrannical Monarchy of England.... It now appears that the peaceable completion of the secession has become impossible, and it will be necessary to discover some new ground of superiority by which Mr. Buchanan or Mr. Lincoln may be advantageously contrasted with Queen Victoria."
These expressions antedated the news of the actual opening of the war and may be regarded as jeers at Bright and his followers rather than as attempts to read a lesson to the public. No such expressions are to be found in the letters of leading officials though minor ones occasionally indulged in them. As late as June, 1861, Adams declared that while some in England welcomed American disunion as a warning to their countrymen it was evident that but a small number as yet saw the cause of the North as identical with the world progress of free institutions. Evidently he was disappointed that the followers of Bright were not exhibiting more courage and demanding public support of the North as fighting their battle at home. They were indeed strangely silent, depressed no doubt by American events, and discouraged. It required time also to arouse intensity of feeling on the American question and to see clearly the issues involved. Aristocratic Britain was first to declare a definite lesson to be learned, thereby bringing out the fighting qualities of British democracy. Throughout 1861, the comment was relatively mild. In July, Blackwood's declared: