Sunday, June 21, 2015

June 20, 1861 - Southern elite dreams of return to British monarchy

A version of this Sully portrait of Victoria gazed
down on the men drafting the ordinance of secession
in Charleston's St. Andrew's Hall in 1860 
The South's Anglophile aristocrats loved to talk about returning to "The Mother Country," a theme picked up on by W. H. Russell in one of his dispatches from South Carolina and supported in this letter to Lord Lyons from Our Man in Charleston Robert Bunch.  Clearly they didn't think this through, since slavery had been abolished throughout the Empire almost 30 years earlier.

June 20 - The Letters of Mr. W. H. Russell, the special correspondent of the "Times" newspaper have been looked for in this Community with an anxiety which to a stranger might almost appear ludicrous—But to one who, like myself, has resided for several years in South Carolina, the desire on the part of the people to learn the judgment which would be pronounced upon them by an intelligent observer and writer, especially by one who commands the attention of the world to so great a degree as does Mr. Russell, appears both natural and proper. It has always been a subject of complaint at the South that the only knowledge of its social system possessed by the European public is derived from Northern sources by which it has been misrepresented and consistently vilified. … I can, therefore, fully appreciate the solicitude with which the criticisms of Mr. Russell were expected. He was to see and judge for himself, not to take at second-hand the interested or prejudiced opinions (as they are considered) of the North, or even of Great Britain on the subject of Slavery.

     Four of Mr. Russell’s letters from the Southern States have now appeared, and have, on the whole, given satisfaction. Altho’ it is asserted that on several points of detail he has not proved himself entirely correct (an opinion from which I altogether differ) there exists an universal disposition to admire his fairness and be flattered by his accounts of the people and the government. But I have found within the last few days some inclination to deny, and even to resent, the statements of his second letter from Charleston, dated April 30, to the effect that the people of South Carolina, or rather its upper classes, which in this State, at least, have the entire control of the “people,” and are the only portion of the population whose wishes are consulted, would not object to see the connection with the Mother Country revived, and themselves either the subjects of Her Majesty or of a Constitutional Monarchy under an English Prince. I have, therefore, thought it not inexpedient to assure Your Lordship that, in my humble judgment, Mr. Russell is entirely correct in the views he expresses. Language such as he describes has been told to me on numberless occasions by the very best and most influential persons in South Carolina, not only during the exciting scenes of the last few months, but from the day of my arrival here in 1853. My Predecessor, Mr. Matthew, informed me before I came of the existence of the same sentiment to a very great extent, and it is now infinitely stronger than ever. I affirm most deliberately that the governing classes of South Carolina would most gladly become the subjects of a Constitutional Monarchy based upon the principles of British Law. ...


  1. I don't think southern aristocrats had any realistic hopes of returning to British sovereignty, or perhaps more truthfully it had more to do with their pretensions and playing along British representatives.

    1. To some extent the two sides were playing each other, but the subject was broached many times, especially in the early days of the war when the South was puzzled by Britain's refusal to lend full support to the Confederacy. Later, that puzzlement turned to anger.

  2. Not to get too far off the point, but what would have happened if the War of Independence had gone the Crown's way, and Britain abolished slavery 50 years later. The second American rebellion, I think.

  3. Not to get too far off the point, but what would have happened if the War of Independence had gone the Crown's way, and Britain abolished slavery 50 years later. The second American rebellion, I think.