Slavery, diplomacy, war: A Confederate propagandist in London

By Bennett Ostdiek

On January 22, 1862, nine months into the American Civil War, Henry Hotze arrived in London. Hotze had come to London to serve as a propaganda agent for the Confederate States of America. His mission was simple – to convince Her Majesty’s Government to grant official diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy. Both Hotze and the Confederate government believed that once Britain recognized Southern independence as an accomplished fact, the United States government would do the same and give up its military efforts to bring the seceded states back into the Union. At stake was nothing that than the independence of his homeland and the future of its signature institution – slavery.

By 1861, slavery, in the words of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, formed the “cornerstone” of the Southern way of life. The region derived its wealth from cotton production, and it depended on the labor of 4 million slaves to grow and pick its staple crop. Though the North benefitted from the wealth that slaves produced, by the 1850s its population had grown to abhor the South’s labor system. As Northerners became increasingly organized and political in their opposition to slavery, Southerners began to worry about the institution’s future. When in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president on a platform that called for preventing the expansion of slavery into the West, eleven Southern states seceded from the United States and formed their own government, which they called the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy was formed for the sole purpose of preserving the institution of slavery. Henry Hotze came to London in January 1862 for the same reason.

Upon arriving in London, Hotze quickly set to work, publishing several editorials and letters in the Morning Post during February and March of 1862. Studiously ignoring the issue of slavery, he argued that American states possessed the right to secede from the Union, that the Confederacy had created a stable government worthy of recognition, and that British recognition would cause the North to give up its war effort. Hotze felt satisfied with his efforts, noting that influential men were discussing his writing in many of London’s most important clubs. Though this may have been so, it seems unlikely that these men found his arguments particularly moving, for while Hotze eloquently described why the Confederacy deserved recognition, he neglected to offer a single reason why Southern independence would further British interests. In order to succeed in his mission, Hotze would have to convince the British that a Confederate victory would benefit them.

Meanwhile, Hotze had become dissatisfied with relying on the Post to publish his writing. In April 1862 he decided that the South needed its own newspaper in London and, in a truly astounding display of initiative, created just such a newspaper, which he called the Index. By the time the Index commenced publication on May 1, Hotze appears to have recognized the importance of writing from a British perspective. Still ignoring the issue of slavery, over the course of the summer of 1862 Hotze argued that international law gave Britain the right to recognize the Confederacy at any time of its choosing. Britain had a duty to humanity to bring the war to a close by recognizing the Confederacy; Southern independence would relieve the suffering of British cotton workers by enabling Southern cotton to once again reach textile manufacturers.

Having spent the first months of the summer explaining why Britain could and should recognize the Confederacy, Hotze declared on July 17, 1862 that the time for recognition had arrived. With the Union army in retreat after its recent defeat in the Seven Days’ battles and the Northern people demoralized and ready to give up the war effort, Hotze argued that events had presented Britain with an “opportunity of ending the war by a mere diplomatic act.” Indeed, the Confederacy followed up this victory with another at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and in September 1862 British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston began seriously considering recognition.

However, the Confederate army soon met defeat at the Battle of Antietam, and shortly thereafter Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, proclaiming all Confederate slaves henceforth and forever more free. Though the British had initially proved skeptical of the North’s intentions regarding slavery, Lincoln’s proclamation confirmed once and for all that the North was fighting for liberty as well as union. Finally forced to address the slavery issue, Hotze used the Index to argue that the Proclamation functioned as nothing more than a cynical Northern ploy to gain European support, but to no avail. The British were avowed haters of slavery, and proved completely unsympathetic to his arguments. Though Hotze continued to serve the Confederacy in London until the end of the war, by January 1863 the Proclamation had turned public opinion against the South and completely eliminated the possibility of recognition.

Despite his best efforts, Henry Hotze proved unsuccessful in his mission. He carried out his duties with intelligence and skill, and yet he proved unable to convince the British that Southern independence would further their interests. His cause’s downfall was the very cornerstone on which it had been built. The institution of slavery made the South wealthy, dragged it into Civil War, haunted the region through the 20th century and beyond – and it caused Henry Hotze’s diplomatic efforts to end in failure.

Further reading:

Don Doyle, The Cause of all Nations: An International History of the American Civil War, New York: Basic Books, 2013.

Howard Jones, Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010

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