Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Bishop McIlvaine, Slavery, Britain and the Civil War

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Bishop McIlvaine, Slavery, Britain and the Civil War

Article excerpt

Bishop McIlvaine, Slavery, Britain and the Civil War. By Richard W. Smith. ([Bloomington, Ind.]: XLibris, 2014. Pp. xvi, 311. Paper, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-4797-0289-3; cloth, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4797-0290-9.)

American historians have long been accused of writing with a sense of American "exceptionalism." Whether or not this is true, there remains a tendency to explore the history of the United States solely through American sources and people whose lives were situated squarely within American borders.

Richard W. Smith's Bishop McIlvaine, Slavery, Britain and the Civil War demonstrates just how permeable the Atlantic world was. Episcopal bishop Charles P. McIlvaine of Ohio exercised a startling level of international influence for someone so largely lost to American historical consciousness. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln himself asked McIlvaine to go to England on an informal mission to convince the hierarchy of the Church of England--still officially part of the British government--to throw its considerable weight on the side of the Union in the Civil War. At the time, Britain was officially neutral but was supplying the Confederacy with guns and ammunition.

As chaplain at West Point and of the U.S. Senate, McIlvaine was a respected figure in America, but in Britain, McIlvaine was treated with an importance he was likely unused to on his side of the Atlantic. He developed personal relationships with some of Britain's most prominent religious and political leaders--including the Prince of Wales--and his arrival in Britain was noted in important papers like the Guardian. Lincoln and McIlvaine's fellow Ohioan Salmon P. Chase looked to take advantage of these connections. While McIlvaine was possibly influential in converting some British elites away from the pro-Confederacy stance that was so popular among those who rightly assessed the enormous political advantage that a divided America would be to Great Britain, he and others successfully labored to defeat both Confederate and British efforts to grant the Confederacy official recognition from Great Britain. …

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