By Charles Priestley
An example of English upper class support for the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
(This article appeared as 'Batavian Grace' in 'Crossfire', the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) no. 69 - August 2002. Reproduced here with additional photographs and minor corrections)
The traditional view of British support for the Confederacy is that it was largely the preserve of the upper classes, who felt greater kinship with an agrarian and aristocratic South than with the industrial North, while the broad mass of the population, hating slavery, supported the Union.
Yet it has been known for some time that the true picture was very much less simple. The almost universal support for the South in Liverpool, for example, however distasteful this may be to certain present-day inhabitants of that city, is attested to by friend and foe alike. Newspaper reports of the period, too, indicate that there was no lack of people of all social classes prepared to see the Confederacy as a small nation fighting for its freedom - much like the Italians or the Poles, perhaps, but linked to this country, unlike them, by ties of blood, language and history. More recent studies have pointed to the surprising strength of pro-Southern sentiment among industrial workers; indeed, there is good reason to believe that, for some of the more radical elements in Victorian Britain, dislike of the kind of capitalism represented by the North was a more important factor than any feelings about slavery. (1) It seems clear, then, that the Confederacy could count on the sympathy of a very much more representative cross-section of British society than is usually admitted even today. One prominent sympathiser who exemplifies perfectly the traditional pattern, however, is A. J. B. Beresford Hope.
Beresford Hope was born on Jan. 25, 1820, the third son of Thomas and Louisa Hope, and was christened Alexander James Beresford, Beresford being the name of his mother's family. The Hopes were of Scots descent, but had been resident for some two hundred years in Holland, where they had a successful mercantile and banking business. With other members of the family, Thomas Hope left Holland in 1796, after the occupation of the country by the armies of Revolutionary France, and settled in England. Here, his wealth enabled him to live the life of a country gentleman and to pursue his interest in art. He accumulated an outstanding collection of paintings, sculpture and vases and wrote several learned monographs on aspects of art and architecture. He is better known today however, for the highly successful romantic novel 'Anastatius', which was published anonymously in 1819. So untypical was this work of the staid and respectable Hope that it was immediately attributed to Byron - who later declared himself furious, first, that he had not written it and, second, that Hope had.
Hope died in 1831, whereupon his widow married her first cousin, William Carr Beresford, Viscount Beresford, famous as the commander of Wellington's Portuguese troops during the Peninsular War. Relations between Lord Beresford and his step- son seem to have been close and affectionate. On Louisa's death, Alexander took over responsibility for the care of his stepfather in his declining years. When Beresford himself died, in 1854, he left the estate of Bedgebury Park, in Kent, and the remainder of his extensive possessions to his stepson, who at once added the Field Marshal's name to his own, thus becoming Alexander James Beresford Beresford Hope (although others tended later to hyphenate the name, Beresford Hope himself does not appear ever to have done so.)(2)
Beresford Hope was educated at Harrow School and at Trinity College, Cambridge, at both of which he won several prizes, in particular for Latin composition. In this connection, it is interesting to note that Richard Washington Corbin, author of "Letters of a Confederate Officer to His Family in Europe", who also attended Trinity College (albeit some years after Beresford Hope), sent his sons to both Harrow and Trinity. (3) Given Beresford Hope's strong Confederate sympathies and his close lifelong links with the University in general and his own college in particular, it is not inconceivable that the two men met at some stage, and even that Beresford Hope suggested the choice of school.
On graduating from Cambridge in 1841, Beresford Hope, like many Victorian gentlemen, was free of the need to work for his livelihood. He inherited from his stepfather a substantial income, and from his father a passion for art; possession of the one made it possible for him to indulge other. He was particularly interested in church architecture and decoration. A prominent member of the Ecclesiological Society, which championed Gothic Revival in England, he restored, at his own expense, St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, and commissioned the building of All Saints, Margaret Street, London, perhaps the supreme example of Victorian religious architecture. (4)
Unlike his father, however, Beresford Hope did not neglect more mundane matters. As early as 1841 was elected to Parliament from Maidstone in the Conservative interest and he remained a Member of Parliament, with two brief intervals, for the rest of his life. In 1842, he married Lady Mildred Cecil, daughter the Marquis of Salisbury and elder sister of Queen Victoria's later Prime Minister; the marriage linked Beresford Hope to one of the most important noble families in England and can only have encouraged his political ambitions. It was as an Independent Conservative, however that he was elected, and independent he remained throughout his career. When voting, he invariably ignored blandishments of the party whips in order to follow the dictates of his conscience - which tended to take a robustly reactionary line on most questions. Thus we find him, in 1859, stating his "undying, undeviating, and unmitigated opposition" to a bill permitting a widower to marry his dead wife's sister. In 1867, he equally fiercely opposed the Reform Bill introduced by the Conservative Government, accusing Disraeli of being more Liberal than the Liberals and referring to him scathingly as "the Asian mystery". Disraeli, in return, congratulated his opponent, in mocking allusion to Beresford Hope's Dutch origins and clumsy delivery, on his "Batavian grace". (5)
The outbreak of the war in America coincided with one of the two periods in Beresford Hope's life when he was not in Parliament, since he failed to win a seat in the 1859 election and was not re-elected until July, 1865. This was unfortunate for the Confederacy, since he was thus deprived of a natural platform for his views, which were decidedly pro-Confederate from the start. Lacking his usual forum, then, Beresford Hope resorted to giving public lectures on the war, delivering three lengthy talks on the subject in Kent in November, 1861, January, 1862 and January, 1863, and afterwards publishing these as pamphlets in order that they might reach the widest audience possible.
The earliest of his lectures, "A Popular View of the American Civil War", started with a general history of North America and an outline of the Federal system of government. Beresford Hope pointed out the resemblance of the American Constitution to that of Great Britain, "having its two Houses of Legislature, its old Saxon privileges, its common and statute law, and its trial by jury", but lamented that "all these glorious bulwarks of freedom, all these well poised safeguards of order, are alike overruled and trampled down by that miserable, levelling democracy and universal suffrage which is so rapidly landing the Northern States in a perfectly Assyrian despotism." In the South, on the other hand, while there is "the same universal suffrage among the whites, owing to the large landed proprietors and the condition of the country, the mob has not the same power." He went on to discuss in some detail the events leading up to the war, justifying secession by reference to 1776 and, in a nod to his own Dutch ancestry, to the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 which brought William of Orange to the throne of England. He attacked the "abominable acts of tyranny" of the Government of Abraham Lincoln, whom he labelled "an incapable pretender" and dismissed as "a bargee, rail-splitter, and attorney" (the first two being clearly less reprehensible, in Beresford Hope's eyes, than the last), contrasting Lincoln's physical appearance unfavourably with that of the "bold, ...daring, yet politic statesman" Jefferson Davis. He stated his conviction that "the inevitable design of Providence appears to be that the country should be divided into at least four great commonwealths" and finished by comparing the North, "the hotbed of anarchy", with the South, "fighting with one heart and mind for its independence from a hateful thraldom."
Returning to his thence some two months later in a lecture at Hawkhurst, Beresford Hope developed his arguments in favour of the South's right to secede. He repeated his view that the North had "violated private liberties" and condemned "that barbarous method of offensive warfare, unparalleled in history and revolting to humanity, which destroys for ever a great mart of trade and harbour of refuge open to the ships of the world, by sinking a stone fleet at its mouth." This time, he also stressed that it was in Britain's interests that the South should win - "the interests of England are what I care for in entering upon the argument." Reminding his hearers of "the lawless and piratical outrage which was perpetrated by Capt. Wilkes on the British flag", he ended by outlining his vision of the future. A Southern victory, aided by British recognition, would result in "gradual freedom for the slave, a liberal conservative constitution growing out of unbridled democracy, free trade with a boundless expanse of the richest soil, from which English mills and English ships will reap a golden harvest, the high civilisation of old Europe pervading a people prepared and grateful for its influence, and a true ally, not only for England on the Channel, but for England on the St. Lawrence." In the event of a Union victory, however, he could see "the worst passions of an unchained democracy let loose to work out its dream of universal insult and promiscuous conquest, or else a military despotism placing its iron yoke upon an enslaved people. (6)
No British supporter of the Confederacy, however, could hope to avoid for long the question of slavery, and Beresford Hope made no attempt to do so. His third lecture, given at Maidstone in early 1863, concentrated largely upon this subject. He had already referred, in his earlier lectures, to "the unhappy, the abominable institution of slavery", and expressed himself as "hating ... in common with all my countrymen, from the bottom of my heart, that detestable system."
Like other British sympathisers with the Confederacy however, such as James Spence and Col. Fremantle, he was able to reconcile his dislike of slavery with his admiration and support for the South. His own attitude towards the workers on his Bedgebury estate was paternalistic in the extreme - he planned at one stage, for example, to build a model village for them in the neighbouring woods, with a chapel, a "good cheap shop" and, in addition, a reformatory school, whose reluctant occupants would be encouraged to, "create a fresh farm in the heart of the woods while reclaiming the moor and bog, an ideal training for future emigrants"(7) - and he undoubtedly saw the typical Southern plantation-owner as having the same sense of responsibility towards his charges.
ARGUING AGAINST THE ANTI-SLAVERY SENTIMENT
His chief arguments were that the South had inherited the system of slavery through no fault of its own, that slavery, as practised in the South, was "not so generally cruel as many believe", that the Negro was treated a great deal worse in the Northern states than in the South and, finally, that a Southern victory would lead to gradual emancipation. In support of the second of these points, while repeating that slavery is "a curse and a misfortune", he stated that nevertheless "the best of the slaveowners make its chains as light as possible - they educate their blacks, they make them Christians."
"In the South," he said, "the slave...is well-treated; in social matters he is regarded as a fellow creature; he kneels at the same altar as the white man, and travels in the same train." Compare this with the situation in the North, where "the church, the tavern, the railway car, which the white man frequents, are prohibited to the free black, who is treated with as much aversion and loathing as if he were a loathsome reptile!" For this reason, "the slaves have stood by their owners, and are zealous for Dixie."
Of course there were slaveholders who abused their power, but such occurrences were rue. One such abuse was the separation of families; this was "in practice an exception...seldom carried out", but "the bare possibility of such an iniquity ought to be stopped altogether." Here, however, Beresford Hope was able to adduce a recent Pastoral of the Confederate Episcopal Church, in which the Bishops made precisely this point and proclaimed the duty of "the masters of the country" to arrange things so as to "prevent all necessity for the separation of parents and children, and of husbands and wives."
On the question of emancipation, while Beresford Hope wanted "as much as any one to see the Negroes free", it "must be gradual, not sudden." "Immediate emancipation" would mean "bloodshed, outrage, destruction of property, and perpetual starvation over the South." Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (which Beresford Hope referred to sarcastically as "a noble document") "enfranchises all the slaves over whom the United States have no authority, and keeps in bondage all the slaves in the Border States, and those portions of the Confederate States over which the United States' armies are dominant." In fact, "the enfranchisement of the slave is not a question to be settled off in an emancipating proclamation nor a sensation novel", but something which could "only be dealt with by men who have lived in the country where it prevails, men who have felt its evils while they understand its workings." A Confederate victory would allow the people of the South, freed of the pressure of the abolitionists in the North, "by embarking upon the gradual liberation of their slaves, to place themselves in full accord with English feeling." An independent South would "perforce be brought into intimate relations with Europe", and the force of European public opinion would "irresistibly compel it to change its course with regard to slavery...I honestly and entirely believe," he said, "that the cause which will tend to the confirmation of all the evils of slavery, is that of the North, and that the cause which is most likely to prove a benefit to the slave, and in the end relieve him of his shackles, is that of the South."
AN APPEAL TO KINSHIP
Finally, Beresford Hope appealed to his audience's feeling of kinship with the South. While "the Southern states are to a great extent communities of Englishmen still living in the 18th century, the Northerners are by this time Englishmen of no century at all, but a nationality partly original and partly a tessellation." He ended his last lecture with a plea for immediate recognition of "the independence and sovereignty of the Confederate nation on its own merits." His concluding sentence, with its Biblical reference, is curiously reminiscent, to a modem ear, of Martin Luther King: "They have passed the Red Sea - shall we never give them a hand that they may reach the Promised Land?" (8)
Beresford Hope did not, however, confine his rhetorical efforts on behalf of the Confederacy to his home county of Kent. On Oct. 16, 1863, for example, he addressed a crowded meeting of the Southern Club at Liverpool, the event being fully reported in The Times the following day. Claiming that his speech was "intended for the Confederate ear," he devoted the greater part of it to refuting a recent statement by the Foreign Secretary, Earl Russell, that the majority in England now sympathised with the United States. He disagreed with "the noble Earl", and challenged those who denied that "the sympathies of England were unmistakably with the Southern States of America" to "perform the most difficult of all logical operations, the proving of a negative." In support of his view, he adduced the reaction in the country to the death of 'Stonewall' Jackson, "which had excited almost as much regret, and his life as much admiration, as that of our own Havelock", and the universally favourable treatment in the British press of Southern statesmen and generals. Furthermore, if Lord Russell had been in the House of Commons, "he would have heard his political chief, Lord Palmerston, brand the acts of Butler as 'infamous' - the strongest word that had ever been used in the Legislature by a Prime Minister of England against the chosen general of an ally with whom we had not quarreled." Although the speaker suffered, on three or four occasions, from the attentions of a lone heckler, his sallies were greeted by the rest of his bearers, according to The Times, with "cheers" and "laughter", and his introduction at one point of an Irish joke with "great laughter".
Turning to "the ticklish question" of slavery, he congratulated his "Confederate friends present" that "the practical working of the system... was better understood in England now than it was some years ago. All the newspapers of the day" admitted that "the black peasant of the Southern states of America was as well clothed, as well fed, as well sent to church, as any peasant in the world', although this did not mean that "the condition of those peasants" could not be improved. In short, the "intellectual channels" of England had decided that, "whether...slavery was or was not defensible in itself, there was no blame to the actual inheritors of the system", who, "taken all round, were men who generally did work out that system in a spirit of philanthropy and of wisdom."
Finally, Beresford Hope, mindful of his audience, mentioned the Laird rams. "There had been certain questions about certain very magnificent ships that were building, it was said for a French house. He knew no more of those rams than this... He had read that they were for a French firm, and had very Mahomedan appellations. (Cheers). That was all he knew of them; and that was all anybody knew of them. (Roars of laughter). These ships with Mahomedan names were supposed by some as likely to lead to a change in the system of our international law... It was impossible that such could be the case (cheers), and he could give them the very best authority for saying that such could not be the case. (Cheers)."
Here Beresford Hope proceeded to read out extracts from a speech by the same Russell in February, 1858, vehemently opposing the Conspiracy to Murder Bill. The government of the time had introduced this bill under pressure from France, and Russell had expressed himself "shocked by some of the declarations made in the course of this debate, by which it seemed that the favour of a foreign Power was of more value to England than the maintenance of her ancient prestige... It is easy to ask for a mild measure at first to satisfy a foreign Power. At the same time, even any demand of this kind naturally rouses the jealousy and susceptibility of the British people... If I were to vote for the introduction of this Bill I should feel shame and humiliation." Having thus cunningly turned Russell's own words against him, Beresford Hope assured his audience that "England would brook contempt from Seward, and Sumner, and Lincoln, and the Northern states still less than brook it from that France whom she had often hated, but whom in the battlefields of Europe she had never ceased to respect. (Cheers)."
He concluded by saying that "he had detained them long, but he felt that he had not occupied them fruitlessly if he had contributed one iota to that object which was his hope and prayer, - the consolidation of the kindly feeling and the good understanding which had grown up between England and those most ancient British colonies, her dearest and eldest children, Virginia and the Carolinas (loud and reiterated cheers)." James Spence then moved a vote of thanks, which occasioned more cheers, and the meeting broke up. (9)
Almost exactly a year later, Beresford Hope was back in Liverpool for the Southern Bazaar, more properly the Bazaar in Aid of the Southern Prisoner's Relief Fund, which was held at St. George's Hall, October 18-22,1864. Beresford Hope's wife, Lady Mildred, was one of the "lady patronesses" of this affair, and she and Beresford Hope stayed for the five days of the bazaar with Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Hull, in Rodney Street. The 12 stalls at the bazaar had each been given the name of a Confederate state (including Kentucky, but not Missouri) and Lady Mildred and Mrs. Hull, with the aid of the female members of their families, were responsible for Tennessee. According to The Liverpool Daily Post, Beresford Hope, an early visitor on the opening day, "made extensive purchases". Since the Tennessee stall had, in the opinion of the reporter, "one of the best collections of goods in the room"', it seems probable that Beresford Hope's purchases contributed to the stall's total takings for the day of £200. The bazaar raised, in all, nearly £21,000. (10) Six months later, the Confederacy collapsed.
Beresford Hope was now free to concentrate on British politics. On July 12, 1865, he was returned to Parliament from Stoke-upon-Trent, and three years later he achieved his ambition of being chosen by the electors of the University of Cambridge, whom he continued to represent until his death. He was thus able, once again, to give Parliament and country the benefit of his thoughts on a wide range of issues, and was prominent enough to merit, in 1870, a caricature by 'Ape' in the pages of Vanity Fair. This picture, inevitably entitled "Batavian Grace", shows a stout Victorian gentleman with a bushy beard, a monocle and a somewhat irritable expression. The ironic tone of the accompanying text suggests that, to some at least of his contemporaries, Beresford Hope's tendency to see himself as an expert on almost any subject was a source of some amusement. He was not, however, without a sense of humour himself.
Turning to fiction late in life, he produced two successful novels, 'Strictly Tied Up' (1880) and 'The Brandreths' (1882), of which 'The Times' said that they gave "many smartly-written and amusing descriptions of, society in the present day." (11)
CONTINUED LINKS AFTER THE WAR
Beresford Hope's support for the Confederacy did not end, however, with Appomattox - or even Durham Station. He had decided at the outset that the South's cause was just, and saw no reason to change his mind simply because fate appeared to disagree. His London residence, Arklow House, Connaught Place, had been a rendezvous for Confederate officials, agents and sympathisers throughout the war; Yancey, Mason, Bulloch, Hotze, Spence and Edwin De Leon had all been welcomed there. (12) With the end of the war, "broken-down Confederates found their way in swarms to England", and Beresford Hope continued to offer them the hospitality of his home. (13)
He was also very much concerned at this time with a project to produce a statue, paid for by British sympathisers, of 'Stonewall' Jackson. This was something which, in fact, he had suggested soon after Jackson's death; 4,000 guineas had been subscribed and a sculptor found, but the end of the war, together with the artist's other commissions, caused the work to be suspended. Former Confederates now encouraged Beresford Hope to revive the plan and the statue was finally shipped over to Virginia and unveiled in Richmond on Oct. 26, 1875, before an enthusiastic crowd. There was a balance in the fund of £243, which Beresford Hope, as treasurer, sent to Virginia to be invested as seemed best. This was eventually used to produce two gold medals to be presented each year to the two most distinguished graduates of the Virginia Military institute. The medals, each bearing the inscription "Jackson-Hope Medal, the Gift of English Gentlemen", are apparently still awarded today. (14) It was perhaps as a result of this that Beresford Hope received honorary doctorates in 1881 from both Washington and Lee University and what 'The Times', in his obituary, referred to as "the University of South Tennessee" (presumably the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee).
It is hardly surprising, then, that when Jefferson Davis landed in Liverpool in August, 1868, at the start of his trip to England, Beresford Hope hastened to put his house at his disposal. His offer was declined, but the two men were able to meet when Davis arrived in London in early September, staying initially, according to The Times, in lodgings at No.36, Clarges Street, off Piccadilly, a short carriage-ride from Connaught Place. From this time on, they maintained a friendly if sporadic correspondence, which lasted until Beresford Hope's death in 1887. On July 4, 1869, for example, Beresford Hope wrote to Davis, by then living at 18, Upper Gloucester Place, begging him not to worry about "the conventional hour for visiting (for we are always glad to have the pleasure of seeing one for whom we have so high an admiration and regard)", regretting that Lady Mildred had been "really very ill" and, therefore, unable to see the former President a few days earlier and, finally, pressing Davis to agree to a date for his family's visit to Bedgebury and suggesting the second week in August - "and we expect a good visit." Some twelve years later, on Aug. 7, 1881, we find Beresford Hope writing to thank Davis for sending him a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, which Beresford Hope had already reviewed in The Saturday Review. Lady Mildred had died in Nice in March of that year and Beresford Hope had brought out a second edition of Strictly Tied Up as a memorial to her; he begged Davis to accept a copy. One of the last letters Beresford Hope ever wrote, indeed, was to Jefferson Davis. In this, dated July 10, 1887, and written from Arklow House, Beresford Hope thanks Davis for a newspaper which the former President of the Confederacy had sent him, complains of his recent "serious illness", refers to "that maniac Gladstone" and asks to be "most kindly remembered" to Mrs. Davis." (15)
Alexander Beresford Hope died on Oct. 20, 1887, and was buried at Christ Church, Kilndown, a short distance across the fields from Bedgebury, six days later. He was laid to rest next to his wife in an ornate Victorian tomb just outside the South wall of the church, which his stepfather, Marshal Beresford, had built and he had embellished. A special train was laid on to bring mourners down from London, and The Times, in its account of the funeral, published a list of the more important of these - a list which it had hastily to amend the following day, having omitted three of the most important. (16) There are no obviously Confederate names on the list, but it would be pleasant to think that those Southerners who heard the news and who knew of Beresford Hope spared a thought and a prayer for an Englishman who had never wavered in his support for the Confederacy and who had done all that was within his power to advance the cause of Southern independence.
1. Royden Harrison, 'British Labour and the Confederacy', International Review of Social History, II (1957), pp. 78-105, cited in Michael Brook, Confederate Sympathies in North-East Lancashire 1862- 1864, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society Vols. 75-76 (1965-6).
2. Dictionary of National Biography.
3. W. W. Rouse Ball and J. A. Venn, 'Admissions to Trinity College, 1851-1900'.
'Admissions to Trinity College, 1901-1989. '
4. 'All Saints, Margaret Street' (Pitkin Pictorials Andover, Hampshire, 1990).
5. 'The Times', October 21, 1887.
6. A. J. B. Beresford Hope, 'A Popular View of the American Civil War and England, the North, and the South, published together as England, the North, and the South: Being a Popular View of the American Civil War' (fourth edition, London and Maidstone, 1862).
7. Letter to the Rev. Benjamin Webb, 1851, quoted in John Newman, 'The Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald' (London, 1969).
8. A. J. B. Beresford Hope, op.cit; 'The Social and Political Bearings of the American Disruption' (second edition, London and Maidstone, 1863).
9. 'The Times', October 17, 1863.
10. 'Liverpool Daily Post', October 18-19, 1864.
11. 'The Times', October 21, 1887.
12. Gordon W. Batchelor, 'The Beresfords of Bedgebury Park' (Coudhurst, Kent, 1996).
13. 'The Daily Telegraph', October, 1887, quoted in Batchelor, op.cit.
14. Batchelor, op.cit.
15. Hudson Strode (ed.), 'Jefferson Davis: Private Letters 1823-1889' (New York, 1966, reprinted 1995).
16. 'The Times', October 27 and 28, 1887
Alexander Beresfod Hope as seen by 'Ape' in 'Vanity Fair'.