Henry Clews
Fifty Years in Wall Street


THERE has recently been much discussion relative to the attitude of England and Russia towards the United States during our Civil War.  This was provoked by the war between Russia and Japan, which caused the partisans of Russia here to contend that Americans ought to sympathize with Russia in the contest.  They argued that Americans should do this because Japan has an alliance by treaty with England, and English sentiment was a good deal against the United States in our struggle, or rather in favor of the South as against the North, whereas Russia was on our side, and made us, in 1863, as they erroneously claim, an offer of naval assistance in the event of intervention by England and France.

It is very easy to assert, as it has long been asserted and by many believed, that Russia, in 1863, offered the United States Government the use of her ships of war that then came to the port of New York, and that this prevented, or may have prevented, England and France from recognizing the independence of the Southern Confederacy.  But we have yet to learn that there is any record of such an official overture by Russia, either at St. Petersburg or at Washington ;  and there certainly would be one in both countries if the assertion was a fact instead of being wholly mythical.

Would Lincoln or Seward have left the country in ignorance of such an affair, or of any suggestion in that direction, if it had been officially made ?  It is a myth that hardly calls for contradiction.  Such matters between nations cannot be kept secret, and the lapse of forty years since 1863 without revealing anything concerning the alleged orders, goes to prove that there were none of the kind, and that there was nothing to reveal.  The Russian ships came here in 1863, just as the Russian fleet with the Grand-Duke Alexis came to New York in 1871, merely on a cruise.

That sentiment in England during the war was largely pro-Southern among the wealthy mercantile and manufacturing class is not to be disputed.  But this resulted from the interruption of the cotton supply by the war and the blockade of the Southern ports, and from the loss of the South as a customer for British manufactures, involving much depression and distress.  The shoe pinched very severely.  Liverpool and Manchester, in particular, were great sufferers by the war, and smarted under the extinction, for the time being, of their Southern cotton supply and connections, and they were against the North largely because it had choked off this trade.**

But this sentiment, this irritation, due to business conditions growing out of the war, was merely personal, and in no way involved the British Government, or reflected its leanings, opinions, or future policy.  Liverpool and Manchester were, not unnaturally, sentimentally against the North, because it was, under the necessities of war, preventing the South from shipping its produce to England or importing British goods.  That feeling of irritability against the North would have disappeared at any time with the resumption of trade with the South ;  and it did disappear as soon as the war ended and the Southern ports were reopened to commerce.

England’s American trade up to that time had been very much larger with the South than with the North, for cotton was much more truly “ king ” then than it is now ;  and, apart from grain and provisions, the export trade of the North was very small in comparison with its present great extent.  Moreover, the wealth of the United States was small in proportion, and our social relations with England and the rest of Europe were not nearly as intimate and extensive as they have since become.  We have learned to know each other much better in the interval.

We had not then begun to export beauty and fashion, largely in the shape of American heiresses, for the delight and enrichment of the aristocracy of the Old World, and we could boast of no such colossal individual fortunes as we can now.

When, however, the British Government did, on one occasion, consider the question of recognition of the South and intervention in the war, it was solely on the proposition of the French Emperor, Napoleon the Third, who wanted to break up our Union in order to promote his scheme for planting the Latin race in America, by establishing, under French protection, an empire in Mexico, with Maximilian on the throne.  But his proposition was at once unanimously, emphatically and unconditionally rejected by the British Cabinet.

We have this on the highest official authority, that of Mr. Gladstone himself, who, in a letter to me dated May 30th, 1889, speaks thus positively on the subject :

26 JAMES’S STREET, May 30, 1889.


Having expressed my interest in the portions of your work which I read on the day of its arrival, I think it would be less than ingenuous if I did not, after reading what relates to the Cabinet of Lord Palmerston, on page 56 and in the following chapter, make some reference to it.

Allow me to assure you that, so far as that Cabinet is concerned, you have been entirely misled in regard to matters of fact.  As a member of it, and now nearly its sole surviving member, I can state that it never at any time dealt with the subject of recognizing the Southern States in your great civil war, excepting when it learned that proposition of the Emperor Napoleon Third, and declined to entertain that proposition without qualification, hesitation, delay, or dissent.

In the debate which took place on Mr. Roebuck’s proposal for the negotiation, Lord Russell took no part, and could take none, as he was a member of the House of Lords.  I spoke for the Cabinet.

You will, I am sure, be glad to learn that there is no foundation for a charge which, had it been true, might have aided in keeping alive angry sentiments happily gone by.  You are, of course, at liberty to publish this letter.

I remain, dear sir, your very faithful servant,


In this letter it will be seen, Mr. Gladstone, the Grand Old Man, as England called him, a member of the British Cabinet during Lord Palmerston’s administration, which extended from 1859 to 1865, more than covering the period of the war for the Union, assured me that the Cabinet never at any time dealt with the subject of recognizing the Southern States, except to decline to entertain the proposition of France, and this “ without qualification, hesitation, delay, or dissent.”

What could be more positive and emphatic than this ?  What more unequivocal, explicit and direct ?  It is an unqualified statement that the British Government had never during the war in any way considered the question of recognizing the Southern Confederacy, except on that one occasion, and England was the first nation to which the French proposal was made.  Had England joined France when Napoleon made his proposition, which she was the first to reject, that conspirator against us would have tried hard to help the South to succeed in disrupting the Union, for the purpose of regaining possession of Louisiana, and capturing as much additional territory as possible in order to annex it to the empire he expected to found in Mexico.  He wanted a weak neighbor.  We were saved from his machinations, and this great danger, by the resolute course of the British Government ;  and Napoleon thereafter sowed the wind to reap the whirlwind in Mexico.  He consigned poor Maximilian to disaster and an inglorious death, after his empire had fallen like a house of cards when the French troops, that had bolstered up his throne, were withdrawn.

This positive testimony from so high and competent an authority as Mr. Gladstone ought to be conclusive in effectually disproving the unfounded “ cock and bull ” story that England, at one time, contemplated the recognition of the Southern Confederacy, and that she was prevented from moving in that direction, and led to reverse her policy, and prevent the escape of the Confederate cruisers from Laird’s shipyard at Birkenhead, by the arrival at New York of Russian war-ships.

The fact that a Russian squadron, commanded by Admiral S. Lessovsky on his flagship “ Alexander Nevsky,” did come to New York late in September, 1863, and that its officers were very hospitably received and entertained, is the peg on which this story is made to hang.  I have good reasons for saying the ships came here with no such object, nor with “ sealed orders ” to take an active part in the war, if required.  New York was merely a port of call for them, and no doubt their officers were glad to get here and be fêted, as they were.  They also, it is safe to assume, appreciated the courtesy of William H. Seward, the Secretary of State, who afterwards told me that, when he heard of their arrival in American waters, he invited them to accept the hospitalities of the port of New York.  He, of course, foresaw that their coming here would, or at least might, have a good moral and political effect in our favor both at home and abroad, by depressing the South and encouraging the North, and causing any foreign Powers that might have been considering the advisability of recognizing the Southern Confederacy to postpone action under the impression that we had, or might have, Russia for an ally.

He was astute enough to see that this visit of the Russian squadron might seem to be what it was not, particularly to foreign eyes.  Appearances, we all know, are often deceptive, yet they sometimes exert great influence.  The visit of this squadron was a case in point.  It was a splendid “bluff,” at a very critical period in our history.  Its coming was all the more desired by Mr. Seward because, on the 3d of February, 1863, he had received a despatch from the Emperor Napoleon offering to mediate between the United States and the Southern Confederacy, to which he replied three days later, absolutely rejecting the offer, in very positive terms.  After that, early in July, the battle of Gettysburg had been fought, and Northern prospects had brightened very materially.  Nevertheless, the coincidence of an arrival, about the same time as the Atlantic Squadron came, of more Russian war-ships at San Francisco, under the command of Admiral Popov, added to Secretary Seward’s gratification ;  and, when the Russian officers of the Atlantic Squadron went on to Washington, he kept up the festivities to which they had been accustomed in New York by giving them a grand dinner.  He was a fitting host, as he had originally invited them to come here.

The Grand-Duke Alexis when he came to New York, with another Russian squadron, under another Admiral, in 1871, practically verified, in reply to my inquiries in conversation while I was acting as one of the Russian Reception Committee, what Secretary Seward had previously intimated to me—namely, that there was no foundation for the the story that the Russian squadron of 1863 had come here to help us in warfare, if needed.  Mr. Seward told me this very definitely on one occasion when I met him at Washington.  But that its officers enjoyed themselves here very much socially was evident from their profuse expression of thanks, and acknowledgement of obligations for the favors received, before they took their departure, and also from the fact that when they got back to Russia, they called in a body, with the Emperor’s approval, on Mr. Cassius M. Clay, the American Minister at St. Petersburg, to return thanks more formally for the courtesies and kindness of which they had been the recipients here.

Now, it is clearly to be inferred that, if they had come here to serve us at a grave crisis, by offering to take part in our war, they would not have felt themselves under such obligations to us ;  on the contrary, we should have been under very great obligations to them, which would have called for public acknowledgment.  Moreover, if the Russians had come on any such mission as naval co-operation in actual war, if needed, it would not only have been a matter of official record in both countries, but it would have immediately become known, not alone to the public here, but to the world.  It would have been simply impossible to keep the news from the press ;  and the Government at Washington would have had no object ;  no good purpose to serve, in concealing such an alliance, for alliance it would have been of great international importance, and one which would have tended, still more than the activity of our own navy, to show Europe and the South the hopelessness of the South’s struggle with the North.  Russia was friendly to the United States, of course ;  but this friendship between the two countries was very different from an offer, or a willingness, to help us by armed intervention in our favor.  Russia has never intimated that she had any such intention ;  and, indeed, such intervention on her part would have been folly, as her navy was then very small after the destruction of the Crimean War, and would have been powerless against England or France.

The conclusion is, therefore, that the sympathy with Russia in its present war with Japan, which many in the United States are endeavoring to stimulate on the strength of this Munchausen story of proffered war-ships, is based on a mere assumption.  Just as in the case of one of Dickens’s Characters, “ Mrs. Harris,” there was “ no such person,” so in the case of this visit of Russian cruisers, there was no such offer of these by Russia to the United States, nor any evidence of any intention to offer them by Russia.  On the Contrary, Prince Gortchakov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, repeatedly said to our Minister at St. Petersburg and in dispatches to the Russian Minister at Washington, that Russia greatly favored peace, and wished for its speedy return ;  but would never take sides in the controversy between North and South.

Finally, as to England, we have the word of William Ewart Gladstone that the British Government was not unfriendly to us throughout our Civil War, inasmuch as it was absolutely and entirely opposed to the recognition Southern Confederacy, and instantly and effectually check-mated the French Emperor when he tried to make it swerve from its consistent course of neutrality.  Had the British Government been unfriendly, it would have jumped at this chance to join France in recognition and intervention.  “ By their fruits ye shall know them.”

There is no reason in what I have said, however, for an anti-Russian and pro-Japanese feeling in the United States, or an anti-American feeling in Russia ;  and it is much to be desired that friendly feeling towards each other should prevail in both countries, but not at the expense of truth.  Even Japan, while fighting Russia, is showing good-will and generosity towards Russian officers and men, and treating them with uncommon courtesy and consideration.

My only object in thus writing is to present the matters referred to, involving the relations of the United States with England, France and Russia during our Civil War, in a true and proper light, and so to correct prevailing misapprehensions.  Russia’s course in Manchuria, however, by which she tightened, instead of releasing, her grip upon it, as she promised to do, sufficiently accounts for our lack of sympathy with her in her war with Japan.

While professing friendship for the United States, she has acted in bad faith, and by her restrictions ruined our growing trade there ;  and all the specious arguments put forward by Russia through the Russian Ambassador at Washington will not make the American people believe that Russian success in this war would be an advantage to the United States.

Hence, American sympathies are not generally on the side of autocratic and grasping Russia, with its closed door, but with liberal Japan, and its open door.  Moreover, it is to be hoped that Russia will find her so-called “ special position ” of exclusiveness and monopoly in Manchuria untenable, and be compelled to abandon it, to evacuate that country, and leave its trade open to all the world.  Then the now idle and ruined factories, built there by Americans, could be turned to profitable account again.

Although our relations with Russia have always been friendly, past friendship does not justify present injustice.  The retention of her foothold in Manchuria, which she was to have held only until the country was pacified, and her obvious and avowed designs upon Corea, evidently aim at the acquisition of their territory, and point to similar ultimate designs upon China and Japan.

Such being the case, we may well sympathize with Japan in her struggle with Russia.  We owe nothing to Russia because some of her ships came to New York in 1863 ;  but we are indebted to England for having peremptorily declined the proposition of France to recognize the Southern Confederacy.

Moreover, England is our natural ally, as we are allied to her by an affinity of race, language, religion and free institutions.  As for “ the Yellow Peril,” of which so much has been said, especially by the Russian Ambassador, as something to be feared by the Western nations, it is purely imaginary and chimerical.  There is no more danger of China and Japan, if successful in war at home, invading and overrunning the rest of the world at any time in the future, near or remote, than there is of the man in the moon coming down and invading us with an army of moonshiners.

August 11th, 1905.

EDITOR New York Times, New York City.

DEAR SIR :  My attention has been called to an editorial in your issue of August 10th, entitled “That Gladstone Letter Again,” the letter in question being the one received by me personally from Mr. Gladstone.  The editorial by its wording seems to bring in question the authenticity and veracity of the statements contained therein.

The letter came to me voluntarily from Mr. Gladstone, as the result of an article written by me, and it should remove any doubt as to the position of the British Cabinet in connection with our Civil War.  The utterances of some of the individual members of the Cabinet did doubtless favor the South during a part of our Civil War, but when Emperor Napoleon’s proposition for intervention came up in the British Cabinet, the action taken was exactly as Mr. Gladstone states in his letter to me, and is borne out by Mr. Gladstone’s speech in the House of Commons made soon afterwards, and it was largely due to his speech that Mr. Roebuck’s motion on Napoleon’s proposition was defeated.

There is an unwritten law in England that the deliberations of the British Cabinet shall never be revealed by any member except by consent of the Crown.  Mr. Gladstone was known to be a great stickler for conventions, and his letter to me in which he expressly says I am at liberty to publish it could not have been written except by consent of Queen Victoria.

Very truly yours,

* Written for the North American Review, June 1904 issue, by Henry Clews.

** I except, of course, the great excitement and commotion created in England by the seizure Mason and Slidell, on November 7th, 1861, by Captain Wilkes of the U.S.S “San Jacinto,” when the British Government demanded their release and an apology ;  but that was because we had violated the rights of a neutral vessel by taking them from the “Trent,” flying a British flag.  We released them on that ground, and so at once ended the trouble that had threatened war.  This was a special case of our provoking.


IT gives me great pleasure to meet the members of the Chamber of Commerce of the city of Cleveland.

Next to New York—being from New York I have to make this distinction—next to New York, I consider Cleveland the home of the most worthy set of business men in the United States.  Your forefathers chose well when they elected to settle in this beautiful spot.  The wisdom which they displayed is proven by the twenty miles of docks on your water front and by the fact that your people own the largest tonnage on the lakes.

The natural resources of your surroundings have made you masters of trade in coal, iron, and petroleum.  Your harbors are commodious, and what they lacked in natural formation you have supplied by the famous breakwaters which have been built.  Your city is not only a natural business center, but also a railroad center.

Your Euclid Avenue is spoken of in the East as a model to be copied by the lovers of beauty.

Fifty years ago Cleveland was a village.  If you continue to thrive as you have, where will you be fifty years hence ?  It was in the soil of Cleveland that the seed was planted that has grown and developed into the greatest business plant in the world.  To-day the Standard Oil Company commands trade in every country on the face of the globe, and

* An address to the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland, Ohio, Tuesday evening, January 28th, 1908, by Henry Clews.


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