Lord John Russell was the foreign secretary in Great Britain during the fall of 1862. It was a challenging period internationally as America sank deeper into its Civil War. The Confederates were marching on Washington, a cotton famine was creating economic problems, and the Union was experiencing numerous defeats.
Russell met with Lord Palmerston, who was the Prime Minister, and other European powers to discuss the option of providing mediation to the United States.
The idea was ultimately rejected after three months of intense discussions. Russell and the British decided to maintain their cautious neutrality stance when dealing with both sides in the American war.
Why Did the British Decide Against Intervention?
Early scholars believed that the British decided against mediation because they felt that Lincoln and the Union would reject it. There was widespread support for the North, but the rest of the world needed the economic engine provided by the South.
Any mediation would create new personal rivalries and divisions that could eventually turn into more fuel for the Civil War fire.
When the Union got a much-needed victory at Antietam, it frustrated Palmerston and Russell because it seemed as if the Confederate cause was hopeless.
Attitudes at home helped to convince the British elites that neutrality was necessary. Although the monarchy and nobles generally supported the Confederacy because of their trade ties, the common person in the UK supported the Union.
With France managing its own venture in Mexico, Britain was forced to turn to Greece and Russia for intervention. By 1863, the idea of mediating had died completely.
The British Almost Officially Recognized the Confederacy
Under the efforts of Lord Russell, mediation came to a head in the summer of 1862. Charles Adams, Sr., warned Washington that the British were interested in interfering between the two parties. If that happened, the goal was to give the South what it wanted.
The issue that faced Russell was simple. If the Confederacy was given full governing authority under secession, the British faced an all-out war with the remainder of the United States. That would mean an invasion in Canada, naval attacks, and no more grain shipments.
With so much on the line to lose, the British stepped back. The Civil War came to its natural outcome, and we can learn from these moments in history.