This letter was written by Rev. William Arthur (1819-1901) of London. Rev. Arthur was a Wesleyan Methodist minister and the author of numerous pamphlets and books. He wrote the letter to his friend and fellow Methodist minister, Rev. George Peck, DD (1797-1876) of Scranton, Pennsylvania. In the mid-1850’s, Rev. Arthur was hosted by Rev. Peck on a tour of the U.S. at which time Rev. Arthur experienced his first American camp meeting.
The fascinating letter attempts to set the record straight as far as the mood of the English citizenry toward the war then being waged in the United States. Rev. Arthur assures his friend that the English have had no inclination to support the Confederacy in spite of the economic impact caused by the decline in the exportation of cotton from the southern states. He adds that if the Lincoln administration would take a stand against the perpetuation of slavery in the U. S., the English government would show even greater support.
Addressed to Rev. Dr. Peck, Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States
Wesleyan Mission House
Bishopsgate Street within London
March 13, 1862
My Dear Dr. Peck,
Accept my thanks for your kind letter. Your name & that of your son are ever connected in my thoughts with most grateful recollections of f____ debts, hallowed now by solemn ties to the better land.
In writing & speaking about America, I had no idea that any one on your side would know or care about it, but just wished to combat wrong impressions & to promote good feeling. In fact, none of us who take for or against the worth think of the effect our words on the other side, as we ought to do, & those who have never been in America are utterly unaware of the effect produced by newspaper articles & speeches, & when told receive but a very faint impression of it. Many who are reckless enough would weigh their words a little did they know how seriously they may be taken.
There never was a greater mistake than to suppose that this country wanted to drag yours into a war or any considerable party in it. I do not say but that individuals remembering all the filibustering & aggression of your pro-slavery politicians would be glad to see chastisement administered, compounding the very man who have replaced those mischief-makers & against whom they took arms with themselves; but the notion which many who ought to know better insist upon that our aristocracy meant to set us at war with you is as untrue as was the one prevalent here that W. Seward meant to force a war upon us. The Southerners manages to deceive both parties. So strong was the belief here that Seward had resolved on a war that persons of considerable position thought themselves fully entitled to assure our government that they had information that the real destination of DuPont & Sherman’s Armada was the great West Indies Islands! No doubt they had the information & no doubt as to where it came from.
On the other hand, before hostilities began some excellent Americans assured me that before six months England would be in treaty with the South to subdue the North. Your press alleged it, your people believed it, the irritable tone of Mr. Seward’s dispatches shows that he fancied that the best way to avoid it was by daring England. The South staked all on the faith that England would fight for her cotton. The French press said she would. Your people, instead of having either the generosity to believe we should do nothing so wicked & foolish or the tact to assume that we could not so betray our history told us in all provoking forms—and go on telling us to this moment—that we shall do so. To an Englishman, nothing looks so like an intention to pick a quarrel as telling him he is looking out for a pretext for one.
The pretext came by Captain Wilkes’ foolish hand. The man here in England who said that your government did not deliberately intend a war with us, for some days, set down as a simpleton. But the result proved that you did not seek a rupture, nor we a pretext, that in spite of newspaper spleen on both sides, the governments & people wanted good neighborhood. There we are, thanks be to God, at peace in defiance of the follies of editors.
Then you would have it that we would, should, must break the blockade, but though Manchester suffered no one here heard a word there calling for that course. It was a long doubted whether the blockade was effective but when that began to be believed, all idea of interference died., & our government took its ground against it. This remember was before the success of the North had set in—when to ordinary English eyes, your prospects looked the darkest, & when the pinch in our cotton districts was really setting in.
I said a May last & I say now with more satisfaction & thankfulness, that if we are ever in trouble & you treat us as we have treated you, we shall have a good reason to be grateful. If you suffer as much as our people have done, are abased as much as ours have been, are provoked by as sharp an assault & coaxed by as powerful & promising a would-be ally, and yet hold on your way with a simple & strict neutrality, you may write saucy things but English common sense will say that you have done the right one. Judged by the “Times,” I should be ashamed of England for its ignorance & untruth have been past belief. But judged by our public conduct, I am proud & grateful, & that the more because few could understand your real position. Most people still believe that the restoration of the Union will give slavery a new lease of its life & that your government is—if not friendly to its preservation—indifferent. They know of acts. They do not know explanations & bearings of acts which are familiar to you. Had it been plain that slavery was to be ended, all England would have been your supporters. Don’t say they could understand it if they would. No, appearances are all against the government to foreign eyes. I believe that slavery will perish in consequence of the war, be its extinction slower or speedier.
Do let good men on your side do all in their power to keep up a warm heart to Old England. I say again, we ask no better than that you do to us as we have done to you. Bishop McSwaine & Mr. Thurlow Weed have been very useful here in giving many share correct views of your affairs.
May the Lord bless you & the churches & the Nation & may no wrath of man ever be permitted to bring your arms & ours into conflict. Surely, surely there is war enough & sin enough without all that would come out of such a war.
Yours ever gratefully & affectionately, — Wm Arthur
If you will make out a list from American papers of the bad things England was to do & has not done & put them down to her credit, I think you will say that she is a creditable old lady after all the young people may say.
You write from Scranton. I have a pleasing recollection of a gentleman of that name living there whom I met at Methodist Missionary Society, Dodge’s of New York.