English Neutrality—The Situation in the Southern States

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written December 1862

Written : London, November 29, 1862.

First published in Die Presse, December 4, 1862

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 19
Collection(s): Die Presse

THE negotiations between the Cabinet here and the government at Washington on the corsair Alabama[1] are still pending, whilst fresh negotiations on the renewed fitting out of Confederate warships in English ports have already begun. Professor Francis W. Newman, one of the theoretical representatives of English radicalism, publishes in today’s Morning Star a letter in which, among other things, he says:

When the American Consul at Liverpool had got opinion of counsel as to the illegality of the Alabama and sent his complaint to Earl Russell, the law officers of the Crown were consulted and they, too, condemned it as illegal. But so much time was lost in this process that the pirate meanwhile escaped.… Is our Government a second time going to wink at the successors of the Alabama escaping? Mr. Gladstone has made me fear that they are: in that speech of his at Newcastle … he said that he had been informed that the rebel President, whom he panegyrized, was “soon to have a navy.” Did this allude to the navy his Liverpool friends are building?… Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell as much as the Tory Party are animated by a hatred of republicanism strong enough to overbear all ordinary scruples; while Mr. Gladstone, a probable future Prime Minister, has avowed himself an admirer of perjured men, leagued together against law to extend slavery.[2]

Of the papers that arrived from America today, the Richmond Examiner, an organ of the Confederates, is perhaps the most interesting. It contains a detailed article on the situation, the most important features of which I summarize in the following extract:

The extraordinary and sudden increase in the enemy’s sea power threatens to make our prospects gloomy. This weapon has acquired such a range that in many respects it seems more dangerous to us than the power of the enemy on land. The Yankees now command 200 more warships than at the outbreak of the war. Great preparations have been made for naval operations during the coming winter and, apart from the vessels already fit for service, some 50 ironclad warships are in process of construction. We have every reason to believe that in the armament and construction of its ships the Yankee fleet which will descend upon our coast this winter far surpasses its predecessors. The objectives of the forthcoming expeditions are of the greatest importance. It is intended to capture our last seaports, complete the blockade and, finally, open up points of invasion in Southern districts, in order with the beginning of the new year to put the Emancipation Acts into practical operation. It would be foolish to deny the advantages which must accrue to our enemy from the capture of our last seaports, or to dismiss such misfortune lightly with the consoling thought that we can still always beat the foe by waging war in the interior.… With Charleston, Savannah and Mobile in the enemy’s hands, the blockade would be carried out with a severity of which even our sufferings hitherto have given no idea. We would have to give up all thought of building a fleet on this side of the Atlantic Ocean and submit anew to the humiliation of surrendering our shipbuilding to the enemy or destroying it ourselves. Our great system of railroad connections in the cotton states would be more or less broken through, and perhaps too late we would make the discovery that the land warfare, on which such great hopes are built, would have to be continued under circumstances which forbade the maintenance, provisioning and concentration of great armies.… These disastrous results arising from a capture of our seaports sink into insignificance, however, before a greater danger, the greatest danger of this war—the occupation of points in the cotton states from which the enemy can carry out his emancipation plan. Great efforts are naturally being made to safeguard this pet measure of the Abolitionists from falling through and to prevent the spirit of revenge, which Mr. Lincoln has corked in a bottle till January 1, from fizzling out in the harmless hissing of soda-water.… The attempt is now made on our most defenseless side; the heart of the South is to be poisoned.… Prediction of future misfortune sounds bad to the ears of the masses, who blindly believe in the government and consider boasting to be patriotism.… We do not assert that Charleston, Savannah and Mobile are not in a condition for defense. In the South there are naturally whole scores of military authorities, according to whom these ports are more impregnable than Gibraltar; but military men and their mouthpieces have too often lulled our people into false security.… We heard the same story with regard to New Orleans. According to their description, its defensive works surpassed those of Tyre against Alexander. Nevertheless, the people woke up one fine morning to see the enemy’s flag waving from its harbor. The defensive condition of our ports is a secret of official circles. But the indications of the immediate past are not comforting. A few weeks ago Galveston fell into the enemy’s hands almost without a struggle.255 The local newspapers had been forbidden to write about the town’s means of defense. No cry for help resounded save that which struck the deaf ear of the government. The people were not roused. Their patriotism was requested to remain in ignorance, to trust the leaders and to submit to the decrees of providence. In this way another prize was presented to the enemy. The method of wrapping all military matters in a mantle of secrecy has borne bad fruit for the South. It may have reduced criticism to dead silence and drawn a veil over the mistakes of the government. But it has not blinded the foe. He always seems accurately instructed on the state of our defense works, whilst our people first learn of their weakness when they have fallen into the hands of the Yankees.

  1. (Reference Note) In 1861, the Alabama, a Confederate war vessel, was built in England; just before she was officially launched, she was taken outside of the three-mile limit and there fitted out with munitions and armaments. The American Minister, Adams, immediately protested to the British government, condemning the transaction. For a number of years the Alabama preyed on Northern commerce; she was finally destroyed in 1864 by the American cruiser, Kearsarge. After the war, the United States, holding England responsible for the damages done, claimed and received reparations
  2. Morning Star, November 29, 1862.—Ed.