Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lord Brougham Questions Lord Aberdeen, August 18, 1843

Continuing his remarks in the Senate on February 12, 1847, John C. Calhoun described his understanding of the intentions of the British government with respect to Mexico as of early 1844, when he assumed office as Secretary of State:
What was then the condition of Texas? She was weak, and could not long remain without the support of England or the United States. The British Government saw this, and commenced its operations under the suggestion of the World’s Convention, by pressing Mexico to recognize her independence on condition of abolishing slavery.

As we have seen, Calhoun based his understanding on communications from Duff Green and at least one letter from Ashbel Smith, the Texas minister to Great Britain. Calhoun and other southerners, inclined to see anti-slavery conspiracies, also thought they detected public confirmation by the British government.

They pointed in particular to an exchange in the House of Lords on August 18, 1843 between Lord Aberdeen and his political opponent Lord [Henry] Brougham, “a Whig who opposed both slavery and the slave trade.” Brougham asked what the government was doing to stop the sale of slaves from the United States to Texas. Norma Lois Peterson describes Aberdeen’s response, which alarmed southerners:
The foreign secretary tried to structure his reply in a manner that would neither offend the anti-slavery British public nor unduly alarm the United States. He began by announcing the armistice between Mexico and Texas, which had been arranged with the help of Great Britain, and he said he was willing to continue his country’s good offices until a firm peace could be established. Further, he reiterated his usual statement: namely, that the entire world knew the position of the British government on the subject of slavery – that it desired to see slavery terminated everywhere eventually. The Aberdeen–Brougham exchange was reported in the London Morning Chronicle on the following day.

In short, here was clear evidence that Britain was intervening in Texan affairs, coupled with a statement of its intent to remain involved in the Texas – Mexico negotiations. Moreover, as Professor Peterson explains,
the general nature of Aberdeen’s statements, the American pro-annexationists insisted, indicated that he had something to will hide, he was not revealing all. Britain, they were certain, did intend to interfere in Texas, using humanitarianism as a ruse; but the real reason was not a noble one, and there seemed to be enough truth in their accusations to convince some doubters. Certainly, Britain had no wish to see the United States expand its domain to include the strategically located Lone Star Republic, an area that was capable of raising, with slave labor, cotton and other products to compete with those produced by British colonies.

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