Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stephen Pearl Andrews Meets With Lord Aberdeen

In my last post, I quoted John C. Calhoun as asserting that it was his understanding that in 1843 “an interview had taken place between Lord Aberdeen and a deputation of the World’s Convention.” Lord Aberdeen was then the British Foreign Secretary. The “World’s Convention” was a meeting of the British and Foreign Anti-slavery Society held in England in June 1843.

Calhoun was, apparently, the recipient of misinformation. A meeting was held, but in fact no agreement was reached. Norma Lois Peterson relates the bizarre story.

Stephen Pearl Andrews was a “young abolitionist,” originally from Massachusetts. “In the summer of 1843, Andrews was in England for the purposes of raising funds to purchase and emancipate Texas slaves and of enlisting the British government’s assistance in the project.” Andrews attended the “World’s Convention” in June 1843 and also met with Lord Aberdeen and other British politicians. Aberdeen “listened politely to [Andrews’s] plan, but . . . made no promise of a loan.”

Thereafter, Andrews met with Ashbel Smith, Texas’ minister in London.
[A]ccording to Smith, Andrews had assured him that a loan had been promised [by Aberdeen]. Without verifying it, Smith gave this account to [Duff] Green and to his government in Texas; Smith did not say it came only from Andrews. A few weeks later, after hearing Aberdeen’s explanation of the meeting, Smith had to send a retraction to his secretary of state.

This sort of story meshed precisely with Duff Green’s visions of a conspiracy between international abolitionists and the British government, and he swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Green promptly relayed Smith’s account of the Aberdeen-Andrews meeting to Washington – and to Calhoun.

It is, apparently, not clear whether Andrews or Smith was primarily at fault for misreporting Aberdeen’s reaction. Andrews may have placed the most optimistic spin on Aberdeen’s diplomatic evasions. But Smith, too, was predisposed to see conspiracies:
Smith, as a very strong advocate of annexation, was not above spreading propaganda in an effort to frighten the United States into moving on the issue. A month earlier, probably at the instigation of Green, Smith had written directly to Calhoun. Smith expressed his sincere belief that Great Britain’s ultimate purpose was to make Texas a refuge for runaway slaves from the South and eventually to turn that republic into “a Negro nation, a sort of Hayti on the continent,” under the protection of the British government.

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