From the 21 December 1913 issue of The New York Times.


Mr. Charles Francis Adams Tells a Fascinating Story of Events and Personalities During the Civil War

TRANSATLANTIC HISTORICAL SOLIDARITY. Lectures delivered before the University of Oxford in Easter and Trinity terms, 1913, by Charles Francis Adams. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1913.

MR. CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS, in the Spring of this year, delivered four lectures before the University of Oxford. He describes their subject—not too clearly—as “Transatlantic Historical Solidarity.” They deal, three of them, with the war of secession and with the relations thereto of events in England, the fourth is devoted to an analysis of the character and career of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

This is a subject surely with which Mr. Adams may claim a fair title to deal. He fought in the war; he is the son of the American Minister to England whose service to his country in that period was as effectual and as gallant as that of any of our Generals, and he is a student of history. But he approached his task with certain misgivings, due to the warning of Mr. Bryce, gently but clearly intimated, that the war was pretty well forgotten in England and that it, perhaps, was not of so much intrinsic importance and interest as Americans, and especially an American who had taken part in it, might naturally feel that it was. A little discouraged, but not disheartened, Mr. Adams determined, changing his plan a little, to treat of matters connected with the war which he believed would concern Englishmen and might be considered of essential and enduring import.

Three aspects of the matter were selected by him for discussion. The first was the rise of a great nationality, from its source in the Island Kingdom, by processes and means and methods familiar in British history. He started to trace this evolution from the initiation of federation among the New England colonies in 1643 at the very historical moment that the nationality of the English people was asserted by the Parliament of Charles I. He followed the development of the idea and sentiment of a divided sovereignty in America, the sense of State sovereignty prevailing until the time of the formation of the Constitution in 1787. He made an acute and just analysis of the treatment of the subject in the Constitution, which he described as “an ingenious and deceptive modus vivendi,” which left absolutely undetermined the relative authority of each idea of sovereignty in case they should conflict. And he traced the influences which in the South gave validity and secured attachment to State sovereignty, while in the North national sovereignty was steadily strengthened.

Of course, in this double process slavery, his second subject, was the most important element. It was doomed in the North by its utter unfitness for the economic and industrial progress prevailing there; and this unfitness left more free the influence of the moral sentiment that spread the world over. In the South, on the contrary, slavery was adapted to the chief occupation, cotton raising, and was, for a long period, the source of great, though narrowly concentrated, wealth. Slavery, however, was wasteful and exhausting, and if its area did not extend, it was bound to perish. Lowell stated an economic truth when in 1846 he described slavery:

Famished in his self-made desert,
    Blinded by our brighter day,
Gropes in yet unblasted regions
    For his miserable prey

Then came the “irrepressible conflict.” Mr. Adams holds that it was fought out, not only on the battlefields of America, but also—and, so far as secession was concerned, decisively—in the arena of British opinion and in the great cotton spinning centre of Lancashire. Slavery and secession lost, in his judgment, primarily because the workmen of the mills and the great middle classes of England stood by freedom and against “chattel humanity” and rejected relief from their dire suffering through the recognition of the Confederacy and the “letting out” of cotton. And he thinks that the strong, almost fierce feeling that led them to do this was aroused by the reading of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” for this latter proposition he makes an ingenious and interesting argument. But it is not so convincing as his account of the peculiar course of happenings in the British Cabinet, which, it would seem, would in any case have made recognition of the Confederacy impracticable. He points out that Lord John Russell, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Lord Palmerston were fully prepared for recognition and for intervention in conjunction with Napoleon III., and had arranged for a formal decision to that effect at a Cabinet meeting to be held on Oct. 23, 1862. But on Oct. 7 Mr. Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a public speech, anticipated the decision, declaring, without consulting his chief or his associates, that Jefferson Davis had “created a nation” and that the preservation of the Union was hopeless, and intimating the early intervention of European powers suffering acutely from the industrial effects of war. The day of the Cabinet meeting came and passed and no decision was announced. Mr. Gladstone’s speech was repudiated, and the American Union was saved from apparently inevitable disruption by a quarrel between rival statesmen in the British Cabinet.

It is a fascinating story as Mr. Adams treats it, to which our summary does scant justice. He does not present it as completely conclusive. He recognizes the hazard of trying to say what would have followed had one or two apparently decisive events not happened. But his study is of remarkable interest quite apart from the question of the influence of Mrs. Stowe’s book or that of the jealousy of Russell and Palmerston. His analysis of the conditions which finally determined the sway of State sovereignty in the South and of national sovereignty in teh North is keen, candid, and convincing. Needless to say, he goes counter to many popular preconceptions with which he deals in his customary incisive and emphatic manner. That he enlisted the interest of his hearers we have no doubt, and that his little volume will take its place as a substantial contribution to a sound view of the great events discussed we are confident. Somewhat detached from the body of the work is the study of Gen. Lee, in some respects the most valuable and rewarding of the four lectures. It is equally removed in spirit from the angry condemnation of the great Confederate commander which at once time prevailed in this country, and from the adulation so common in England among those who sympathized as much with the “lost cause” as with the character of Lee. Mr. Adams modestly disclaims any authority as a military critic, but his examination of Lee’s achievements and defects as a commander is acute and of intense interest. His general explanation of the failure of the South through actual exhaustion is vividly and impressively made.