Academic journal article The Journal of the Civil War Era

Reannealing of the Heart Ties: The Rhetoric of Anglo-American Kinship and the Politics of Reconciliation in the Prince of Wales's 1860 Tour

Academic journal article The Journal of the Civil War Era

Reannealing of the Heart Ties: The Rhetoric of Anglo-American Kinship and the Politics of Reconciliation in the Prince of Wales's 1860 Tour

Article excerpt

On the evening of September 20, I860, a crowd estimated at thirty thousand gathered in the Detroit quays. Illuminated by the light of hundreds of colored lanterns affixed to riggings of the docked vessels, the individual faces of those who waited showed a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and fatigue, as many of them had been there for hours. (1) As the election campaign that would decide the next president of the United States was in its final, feverish weeks, mass meetings were far from unusual, but the crowd had come to engage in a decidedly unrepublican activity-welcoming the heir to the British throne. The royal visitor was none other than Albert Edward, eldest son of Queen Victoria and the great-grandson of George III, who was commencing his travels in the United States after a state visit to British North America. Any hope the young prince and his advisors had of relaxation following the frenetic pace of the Canadian tour was abruptly dashed upon his arrival in the City of the Straits. Upon landing, his steamer was besieged by curious onlookers who surged forward with such single-minded purpose that one member of the prince's retinue was shoved overboard and nearly drowned by the paddlewheel. (2) The prince was finally extricated and bundled into a waiting carriage to be conveyed to the relative safety of his hotel, but the reception he received in Detroit largely set the tone for the remainder of his visit.

During his thirty days in the United States, the Prince of Wales and his suite traveled nearly twenty-six hundred miles from the sparsely settled prairies and booming commercial cities of the West to the nation's capital and then briefly to Virginia before continuing to some of the principal cities of the eastern seaboard. Nearly everywhere the prince visited, from St. Louis, Missouri, to Portland, Maine, he was enthusiastically welcomed with balls, addresses, parades, and spontaneous demonstrations of affection. Until the moment of his departure, crowds of curious spectators were his constant companions. (3) When his train stopped in rural Illinois, onlookers jumped up to peer into the carriage windows and offered their dirty hands for shaking. (4) Not even the sanctity of his lodgings was respected, as chambermaids sold strips of his bedclothes and water from his washbasin. (5) While the prince and his companions generally bore these incessant intrusions with good humor, the London Times wryly observed that the young royal was being "mobbed by democratic hospitalities." (6)

The enormous popularity Albert Edward enjoyed during his brief visit to the United States raises several questions but none more compelling than the seeming contradiction of a nation steeped in republican tradition and intensely Anglophobic political rhetoric welcoming to its shores the great-grandson of the monarch from whom its founders had fought to obtain their liberty. At first glance, that all of this occurred against a backdrop of sectional division only heightens the inherent contradictions. As closer examination reveals, however, these fears of disunion shaped both the visit and the language Americans deployed to convey its significance. More than any other interpretive framework, Anglo-American kinship, both literal and figurative, defined the visit. Familial metaphors had long been used to describe relations between the mother country and her former colonies, but in the context of the royal visit they gained a higher emotional valence, expressing the matrix of reciprocal rights and responsibilities that continued to connect the two nations even after political separation and inspiring dreams of a common destiny. (7) By embracing Albert Edward as a kinsman, the visit's organizers reoriented the relationship between the United States and Great Britain around intimacy and affection rather than power. The language of family they popularized in the context of the royal visit lent added poignancy to the rites of remembrance and reconciliation in which the prince participated, laying a firm foundation for new avenues of Anglo-American friendship. …

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