Queen Victoria Proclaims British Neutrality in American Civil War

Queen Victoria signs Proclamation of Neutrality on May 13, 1861, recognizing Confederacy's right to oppose US. Britain remains neutral in American Civil War, but provides support through trade and warship sales.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Queen Victoria Proclaims British Neutrality in American Civil War

Queen Victoria Proclaims British Neutrality in American Civil War

On May 13, 1861, Queen Victoria signed the Proclamation of Neutrality, recognizing the Confederacy's right to oppose the United States and stating Britain's neutrality in the American Civil War. Although Britain never officially recognized the Confederacy as a separate nation, it provided support in various forms.

Why this matters: The British government's decision to remain neutral in the American Civil War had significant implications for the conflict's outcome and the future of international relations. It also highlights the complexdiplomatic dynamics at play during this pivotal period in American history, with long-lasting consequences for global politics and trade.

The Proclamation, issued by Queen Victoria, stated: "And whereas hostilities have unhappily commenced between the Government of the United States of America and certain States styling themselves the Confederate States of America... We therefore have thought fit by and with the advice of our Privy Council to issue this our Royal Proclamation. And we do hereby strictly charge and command all our loving subjects to observe a strict neutrality in and during the aforesaid hostilities..."

The United Kingdom remained officially neutral throughout the American Civil War, but legally recognized the belligerent status of the Confederate States of America. Over 90% of Confederate trade with Britain ended, causing a severe shortage of cotton by 1862. Private British blockade runners sent munitions and luxuries to Confederate ports in return for cotton and tobacco.

The Lancashire Cotton Famine occurred in Manchester, causing an economic disaster due to the massive reduction of available American cotton. Despite high unemployment, some Manchester cotton workers refused to process any cotton from America, leading to direct praise from President Lincoln.

The Confederate strategy for securing independence was based largely on the hope of military intervention by Britain and France. A serious diplomatic dispute erupted over the Trent Affair in late 1861, but was resolved peacefully after five weeks. British intervention was likely only in cooperation with France, which had an imperialistic venture underway in Mexico. By early 1863, intervention was no longer seriously considered as Britain turned its attention elsewhere, especially toward Russia and Greece.

A long-term issue was the sales of arms and warships to the Confederacy, despite vehement protests from the US. Britain did not stop the sales of its arms and its shipyard, John Laird and Sons, from building two warships for the Confederacy, including the CSS Alabama. The controversy was partially resolved peacefully after the Civil War when the US was awarded $15.5 million in arbitration by an international tribunal for damages caused by the warships.

Confederate ships often docked in English ports, where they traded goods and were protected from the Union Navy. Several Confederate raiders, including ironclads, were built by the British, although some were never delivered due to fear of spreading the conflict to English shores. The C.S.S. Alabama, a famous raider, was crewed mainly by British sailors and was hunted down and sunk off the French coast by the U.S.S. Kearsarge.

The Proclamation of Neutrality, issued by Queen Victoria on May 13, 1861, had far-reaching consequences for the American Civil War and international relations. While Britain remained officially neutral, its actions, including the building of Confederate warships and the economic impact of the cotton trade, played a significant role in the conflict. The diplomatic disputes and the ultimate resolution of the warship controversy after the war highlight the complex international dynamics at play during this pivotal period in American history.

Key Takeaways

  • Queen Victoria signed the Proclamation of Neutrality on May 13, 1861, recognizing the Confederacy's right to oppose the US.
  • Britain remained officially neutral but provided support to the Confederacy through trade and arms sales.
  • The Lancashire Cotton Famine occurred due to the reduction of American cotton, causing economic disaster in Manchester.
  • Britain's actions, including building Confederate warships, had significant implications for the war's outcome.
  • The US was awarded $15.5 million in damages after the war for British-built warships that aided the Confederacy.