Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War

By Van Vugt, William E. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War


Van Vugt, William E., South Carolina Historical Magazine


Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War. By R.J.M. Blackett. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001. Pp. xiii, 273; $ 49.95, cloth.)

During the 19th century, Great Britain and the United States were the most interconnected nations in the western world, both in terms of their economic relations and their culture. Though political tensions flared from time to time, the two nations shared much through migration and trade, and from a realization that they were, culturally speaking, "cut from the same cloth." The relationship was nourished by the exchange of ideas as well as people and commodities. Thus it was natural that when the Americans plunged into their catastrophic Civil War, Britons took especially keen interest in it. Beyond their obvious concern of maintaining supplies of American cotton, the British realized that the war was closely connected with their own political issues and developments. The British themselves became divided into pro-Union and pro-Confederate camps, and attempted to influence the British government's relations with the United States. In Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War, R.J.M. Blackett carefully explores who supported each side and why, how the issues of the American Civil War were intimately connected with British politics, and how British partisans in the War influenced their government's decisions. This is an important and readable book that deserves wide readership for its contributions to our knowledge about the transatlantic world during the American crisis.

Generally, many English Conservatives and aristocrats supported the Confederacy, while Radicals, some liberals and many members of the working class supported the Union. However, Blackett goes beyond this simple dichotomy to show a more complex picture. Many supported neither side, but condemned both for the wanton carnage. For others the war confirmed both the superiority of the British system and the dangers of unbridled democracy, and was evidence that American liberty was nothing but humbug. Still, many others saw the war as a tragic necessity that would finally shed the United States of the paradox of being the land of liberty and the land of slavery. For them America was still the hope of the future.

Among Blackett's most valuable contributions is his picture of the many African Americans in England during the 1850s and the war years, many of them refugee slaves who hit the lecture circuit to drum up support for the Union, especially after emancipation was declared. Few parts of Britain were left untouched by their efforts, though they did not always get along with the British antislavery organizations. As long as the war was about national unity and not slavery itself, British supporters of the Confederacy had the upper hand. …

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