The British Press on Lincoln
Some interesting articles
Sometimes I find interesting things while browsing British historical newspaper sites. Here are a few.
On May 13, 1865, The Merthyr Telegraph and General Advertiser for the Iron Districts of South Wales printed coverage of Lincoln’s assassination. The news was a few weeks delayed in getting to Europe, as there was no trans-Atlantic telegraphic access at that time. (An oceanic cable had been laid, but it disintegrated and was not relaid until 1866).
It covered a public meeting of working class men, apparently for the purpose of organizing a union movement. It seems there were divisions among the group that the meeting had been called to work out. They began with resolutions of condolence “with Mrs. Lincoln on her sudden and mournful bereavement, and wishes to convey to her its deep sympathy under her heart-rending trial.” One man decided to bring up abolitionism and American politics, at which point “Mr. Titus Lewis, of Carmarthen, here rose and said he attended many meetings of condolence with Mrs. Lincoln and the people of America, but he certainly didn't come there to have a political treat.” Others shouted that the speaker should be heard, and it turned into an “uproar.”
As things calmed down, the chairman seconded the condolence motion, and expressed regret at the political controversy. Another member moved "that this meeting expresses its sincere condolence with Mrs. Lincoln on her sudden and mournful bereavement, and wishes to convey to her its deep sympathy under her heart-rending trial."
But the man who had caused the uproar again insisted on speaking:
“There were few amongst the working classes who did not sympathise with the Northern States of America, and he was rather surprised at the chairman in seeking to prevent a free discussion. At the same time, knowing his temperament, he (the speaker) did not pledge himself not to enter into the question of slavery; on the contrary, he was glad to find the friends of the South were unwilling to speak upon this topic, as it was generally admitted that slavery was the cause of the war (no. no and cries of order). He acknowledged it was a difficult thing not to touch upon slavery and he would therefore go into it a little—(derisive laughter)—to show that slavery was the sole cause of the war.
(The Chairman: Ideally, sir, I must ask you to desist).
Well, I was going to observe (cheers and laughter). The speaker here concluded abruptly amid much confusion, and the resolution was seconded by Mr. Morgan Williams.
But that wasn’t the end of the meeting’s Lincoln-related commentary.
Order was again restored, when the Rector (Rev. J. Griffith) rose and was loudly cheered. He said, “Sir, I am, I may say, candidly sorry when resolutions similar to that just moved are brought before us and so little is said upon the subject (hear, hear). Mr. Williams came to me five or six minutes ago to move the resolution, when I felt it my duty to tell him—and I tell you now—that I could not move or second it because I was induced to attend for a very different purpose to what I have seen this evening. Still, when such a resolution as this is brought before you to express condolence with a widow and a nation, I should feel sorry, exceedingly sorry, considering my position, if I went out without saying one word in favour of it—(hear, hear) —and I should also feel sorry to go out without thanking you, sir, for giving our people of Merthyr an opportunity of expressing their sympathy with the people of America on this occasion.
Now, sir, if one place in England more than another has a peculiar fitness for sympathy with the people of America then that place is the town and parish of Merthyr. Until the late and most unhappy war, as I shall always call it, the Americans were amongst our best customers and I hops and trust that the day is not far distant when they will be so again (hear, hear). Still, it is not upon this ground a seeming bond of union between us and the people of the United States that we make our expressions of condolence because there is not a man or woman anywhere who would not be glad to have an opportunity, as I was, of expressing my abhorrence of the foul deed committed upon Abraham Lincoln- (applause) —A deed so foul … so infernal, I may say, and so unusual that I cannot charge my memory, while I range the world's history, with any instance as a parallel save in one for which I must go back 2000 years or so….the assassination of Julius Caesar, a man of whom it may he said with truth, whatever his faults may be—and I am not here to defend them—of him it may he said, he deserved a better death, far nobler than that from the dagger of the assassin. Now, sir, I don't, know whether it has occurred to you, but it has occurred to me several times, and it is a remarkable coincidence in the circumstances connected with the death of these two great men—Julius Caesar and Abraham Lincoln-- only to compare them simply in the way in which it has pleased God Almighty to take them away from this earth, that at the time of their death each had reached the zenith, the top bar in the ladder of his fame. Caesar's head was crowned with the laurels of victory, and his enemies were bleeding prostrate at his feet when he received the death blow. So it was with Lincoln, who had reached a crisis such as the world had never before seen, and which I (said the rev. gentleman) hope and pray, and sincerely trust it may never see again, (hear, hear).
He, Lincoln, I may call the captain of that crisis, for he had indeed to weather such a storm as no man ever weathered before. His indomitable perseverance, or as The [London] Times said, his "pig-headed obstinacy"-they give him a different epithet now—enabled him not only to weather that storm but to bring the vessel safely into harbour, (cheers). So it was in Rome, when the commonwealth had been drifting and tossing about in a stormy sea, and the billows surging and rolling so that no man could hold the helm, Caesar came up and seized with a strong arm and stronger will and guided the vessel safely into port. It was when going to the Capitol, as it was usual in those days before Christ was born, to thank the gods and to receive the acclamations it was then the dagger felled him to the ground. Notice the circumstances under which Mr. Lincoln fell. He was in the theatre, surrounded by the elite of Washington, sitting side by side with the wife of his own bosom, receiving the plaudits of the audience, when the coward and felon entered and shot him as a dog. Can anything, sir, be more detestable than this? Can we as a people be invited, one party more than another, to celebrate an occasion more solemn and more awful. I am sorry to think, sir, that we have not been unanimous, but I hope and trust that you have brought us to that unanimity of feeling upon that event than which nothing more solemn, nothing more mournful, nothing more awakening, could have happened, and which forcibly recalls the words of St. Paul,— Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
When I heard of this event first of all I could not get the matter out of my mind for some days, I felt as one who had lost a friend, or some one in one way or another most familiar to me. Forget it I could not, nor do I now (cheers). At the same time I do not hesitate to say that my proclivities were unmistakably towards the South. I had nothing in common with the North except my regard for Mr. Lincoln, and do most honestly declare i that no one could rejoice more than I did when the people of the United States called him to till the presidential chair a second time (cheers).
Why do I do this? You will call this inconsistency—rejoicing at the election of Mr. Lincoln, and not sympathising with the North. I will tell you my reason. I began to read of his character in those remarkable letters from America, under the signature of “Manhattan." I there saw pictures drawn with such exquisite skill, that no man, however deep a Southerner he might be, could fail to love the picture drawn of Abraham Lincoln (cheers).
I could there see his tenderness of heart, his love for his species, his hatred for that which was unreal. No man possessed the art of discovering a hypocrite as did Abraham Lincoln. If you want to know his character read these “letters," and don't go to the columns of the Times, which are one day this way and another that. There is just one instance of his skill and foresight which I will give you. A slimy, unctuous fellow went to the President one day for the purpose of getting General Grant dismissed from the service. After other means had failed he bethought himself that Lincoln was a temperance man, and he said, Why, President, you ought for shame to deprive him, for he liquors most awfully; he never goes to bed sober" (laughter). "Why, my dear friend," said Lincoln, "is it true? can it be so?" "Yes," said the man, people have seen him so who tell me." Well, I'll tell you what my friend will you do me a favour" The greatest I can," was the reply. Well, then, find out the liquor merchant of General Grant, and I will send a hogs-head to every major-general under my command" (continued laughter).
The rev. gentleman hoped they would all go away with a sense of the great loss a nation and the world had sustained, and alluded in touching terms to the graceful act on the part of Her Majesty, who, before the subject was mooted in Parliament or in the Privy Council, knowing what it was to lose a partner, of her own accord inscribed the words addressed to Mrs. Lincoln: A widow to a widow." He (the speaker) hoped all would most sincerely condole with Mrs. Lincoln as the Queen had done (cheers).
Mr. Morgan Williams moved that the following address be presented, through his Excellency, Mr. Adams, the United States minister — "To the President and Congress of the United States of America. The Address of the Inhabitants of Merthyr [illegible], in the Comity of Glamorgan, in public meeting assembled: [illegible] to convey to you our expression of painful sympathy in the heavy loss which the Government and the people of the United States have suffered by the death of President Lincoln, we express our unqualified detestation and execration of so hideous a crime. We are the more deeply shocked that this event has occurred at a moment when the triumph of the United States seemed on the point of completion. And as ihe murderous attack upon Mr. Seward the faithful minister of President Lincoln, who so well had supported him through the whole of this eventful crisis betrays the object of the crime we are [illegible] to believe that their death was intended to rob the people of the United States of their devotion to right and law, and to postpone the time when the long-desired peace should be obtained, but we shortly hope that the joint work of the restoration of the Union will not by this deplorable event, suffer, or caused to be long delayed. The death of him who so wisely and efficiently worked for that great end, will, we confidently trust, have only the more striking effect of strengthening the Union … We confidently anticipate they will express most unmistakably that the policy of which the great President was the embodiment, is to be carried [out? and that…] perfect freedom…will be extended over the whole of the United States, so that, integrity and worth—not colour and class-shall henceforward be recognized as the proper qualities [illegible] of those who govern…”
On January 20, 1893, The Cambrian reported that Dracula author Bram Stoker had joined the Lincoln research community:
At Toynbee Hall on Saturday evening, Mr. Bram Stoker lectured on "Abraham Lincoln," remarking at the outset it was scarcely credible that less than thirty years ago ideas and things were so different that amongst a people speaking our own language and cherishing notions of liberty like ourselves, millions of human beings amongst them were enduring the bondage of slavery. How it grew up in the American States, the compromises effected to sustain its existence, and the work of reformers and of apostles of freedom to remove the blot on the history of trans-Atlantic freedom, were detailed at great length, in addition to a very clear elucidation of the United States Constitution. They never had a more loyal son, a more patriotic citizen, a finer captain of men, than one of the greatest of the American presidents, Abraham Lincoln.
This was a few years before he published Dracula, but Stoker was well-known in the London theatrical community. His description of Lincoln was not the most eloquent or appealing.
He had been brought up amongst the pioneers—the men before whom the woods bent and vanished…the sinewy men who felled and built and conquered. Lincoln was essentially a child of the people—6ft. 4in. without stockings, and muscles of iron and nerves of steel, loosely and lankily built, a quaint and gaunt giant. A man once met him in a car, and, pulling out a jack knife, said to Lincoln, It has long been entrusted to me to give to the ugliest man. Surely you must be he. Accept the gift and I thank heaven it goes out of my possession." If plain in feature, there was an earnestness in Abe's soul that often when speaking beauty irradiated from that visage, with its big mouth full of great yellow teeth. Self-taught, wonderfully self-reliant, the soul of integrity, justice, and truth, when the hour came to promote the abrogation of slavery, Lincoln was the man for that hour. He had a big sinewy hand, and God destined that hand for a great work. Lincoln carried in its hollow the freedom of a great people.
I prefer Rev. J. Griffith’s remarks. Griffith was known for being a popular preacher with “Nonconformist” tendencies; an “obstinate” and “independent” advocate for the working classes.
The Tory authorities of the established Church had long come to regard him as an outrageous and irreconcilable opponent who would have decomposed the entire social and political character of the Church.In the serious industrial disputes of the 1870's John Griffith sided with the miners against their employers, and finally, in 1884, he openly supported the campaign of the Liberation Society to disestablish the Church in Wales.
Here’s an example “a letter from the eccentric Manhattan,” which had been published in the London Standard and reprinted, in part, in The Aberdare Times on July 18, 1863:
BLIND DESPAIR TAKING POSSESSION OF NEW YORK.
The rapid approach of General Lee and his army is the only topic of conversation in every part of the city. It is not Philadelphia and Baltimore that are now at his mercy, it is New York. A thousand reports are in circulation as to his movements. Some say that Philadelphia, or 12,000 of the most prominent of the citizens, have agreed to use their moral influence to have the city given up without any contest. This will leave General Lee free to go to Trenton, forty miles, in the fleet of steamboats that he will be able to find in the Quaker city. Once at Trenton, he is sixty miles from New York city, and he will have between him only the cities of New Brunswick, Elizabeth City, Rariton, Newark, and Jersey City. Those in England who have visited this city know that about a mile back of the river a long line of high hills arise. These are called Jersey Heights. From their top it will be two and half miles to Wall-street. From that point the rebels will be able to throw bombs and shells into the line of Broadway from the Battery to Central Park. There is a general feeling amounting to blind despair. Many feel confident that General Lee will be mild and merciful, and not retaliate the excesses of the Union troops while in the South; but war is war, even in its most modified form.
WHY DID THEY NOT LISTEN TO THE SELF-ORDAINED PROPHET?
Could our prominent and trembling citizens only read the early letters that I wrote, when I foretold the misery that would follow the attempts to defend Washington, instead of keeping back and letting the enemy destroy Washington. Now New York is exhausted as to men, but if she could raise 1,000,000 they would be a mob, and fall an easy prey to the veterans of Lee. Still Governor Seymour will do his best. He will raise all the troops he can, but more to have our fall respectable than for any other purpose. I suppose he will make better terms than any other man North.
THE SOUTH TO ABSORB THE NORTH
I was among some of the large merchants yesterday. They feel no alarm, but are sanguine that the rebel army will be here before the 1st of August. There is now one universal wish, and that is, that General Lee will keep the Union together; in other words, that, as the Confederacy of States has conquered the old United States, they will keep us as a part of the Southern Confederacy. We will fetch up again on that arrangement, for we can outvote if we cannot outfight them.
AH WHO IS MEAD?
While all eyes are turned towards the march of General Lee and his army, and its probable consequences, we were astounded yesterday when it was made known that Hooker was removed and Mead was appointed in his place. “Who is Mead?" was in the mouth of everybody. "He is the Broadway likeness taker," said one. This Mead is an Englishman, who has become a. daguerreotypist, and has taken to soldiering. It is not him, however, but another Mead. I read the papers occasionally, and ought to be posted, I could now say, if put upon my oath, that I believe Gen. Mead is the commander of the American army near Washington, but if asked that question on the 28th of June I could have sworn truly that I had never, to my knowledge, read of General Mead or Colonel Mead in connection with the army, or if I had, his name has been connected with no service or gallantry that has made an impression upon my mind sufficient to last forty-eight hours. Still, he may be a very great general. He may take Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore out of the Lion Lee's mouth. So too, the sky may fall, and we may catch capital English singing larks,but the general impression is that we shall do nothing of the kind.
WHERE WOULD THEY ALL BE
If General Lee reaches New York and our great city should surrender, as it certainly would do, where would Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and the Cabinet be ? Where would be the Government—the administration, and the Republican party? I am thinking that they would all go down together more rapidly than they rose up.
HOW TO DISPOSE OF DEFEATED GENERALS.
When General Lee catches Halleck and Stanton, I hope he will place them in a cage to send about the country as a show. However, that will not probably be done, as no man m this country has done so much to give the rebels success as General Halleck. Now is the time for the President to call out all of our major-generals who are on the staff, and give them command of such troops as they can raise- Fremont, Picayune Butler, MCClellan, Fitzjohn, Porter, Franklin, and Sigel. What a chance now so save Rome, York, and redeem their lost military reputations. Why not. General Lee has not reached Jersey, and when he does he must march 100 miles before he can see the steeples of our great commercial city.
THE PENNSYLVANIANS RATHER LIKE IT
One of the funniest things of the invasion for Lee is to witness how joyfully the Pennsylvanians like to be ravished. They offer no resistance, but take it kindly. They welcome the rebels, and only charge them 6d. for a cup of coffee, while our Union troops that have gone from New York on purpose to save them, have to pay 50 cents for a cup of coffee. Pennsylvania has a population of three millions, yet she does not say, "You cannot come in Mr. Ferguson Davis." Oh, no!. She exclaims fondly, "Come to my arms, my pretty rebel Lee!" What a coquette But remember that it is the state that has given us a Buchanan. At any rate, she seems to be content with her new rulers, and — perhaps New York city may follow her example…
A COMPLIMENTARY DISTINCTION.
Our Postmaster-General Blair, by universal consent is acknowledged to be the leading post-office jackass in the world. Speaking of jackasses puts me in mind of a story current here for a few days. Some one asked General Lee why he did not go to Washington, instead of into Pennsylvania? “Because, sir, I want horses, and not jackasses."…
HAVING A GOOD OPINION OF HIMSELF
There is one man in this country who regards Lincoln as his inferior, and does not hesitate to say it in a [illegible]. I allude to Mr Seward, the Secretary of State. In his note to our man, Dayton, at Paris, about Poland Wm H. Seward says “Having taken counsel with the President, I am now able to communicate to you our views on this subject, for the information of M. Drouyn de Lhuys." Our views might apply to Napoleon, or to a set of Ministers. It would have been modest for Mr Seward to have adopted the usual phraseology-"I am directed by the President to inform" &c. But Mr. Seward has never yet acknowledged himself as second fiddle to an upstart, such as he regards Mr. Lincoln, and he never will….
And on April 21, 1866, that same paper, The Aberdare Times had this rather interesting write-up.
A SENSATION DRAMA! The frightful tragedy which startled the whole universe on the 14th of last April at the Washington Theatre has been dramatised, and for the first time performed at Mulhausen in the South of France. The piece is entitled La Vie et la Mort d' Abraham Lincoln," and is divided into. seven tableaux :— The author has sketched the early days of the President's humble life in the first act, and as a barrister in the second. In the third he has attained the rank of President, and Booth appears as a suitor for the hand of his niece, which proposal being rejected rankles in the breast of the lover, who becomes his mortal enemy. In the fourth act, Surrattville is depicted, and Mr. and Mrs. Surratt appear on the scene, as well as Jefferson Davis, who gives it as his opinion that as long as Lincoln is permitted to live the cause of the South is lost, and exclaims, "Who will get rid of this man for us?" "I!" replies his future murderer. The fatal 14th of April furnishes the material of the fifth and sixth acts. Abraham Lincoln, aged and worn by the tremendous responsibilities of the war, grants an audience to a mother, who frantically calls on him in the name of her dead sons, killed in the war, to make peace on any terms. Lincoln, exhausted by this scene, has, however, sufficient command of his feelings to promise his wife that he will accompany her to see" King Lear." The whole of the death scene is then represented. The President, his wife, and Miss Harris take their places in a front box in the midst of of the theatre. On the stage the actors perform a portion of "King Lear." A pistol shot, the screams of women, and the death groan. of the dying President are admirably given and while the audience are absorbed in the horror of the moment, Wilkes Booth jumps from a box on to the stage, brandishing a poniard, and uttering the well-known words, "Sic semper tyrannis." The question arises (says the correspondent of the Morning Star) whether the author of this startling drama is justified in thus bringing Jefferson Davis on the stage. Davis is and has been for months a solitary captive incarcerated in a State prison awaiting his trial. It strikes one as monstrous thus to drag a living man before the public, and put into his mouth a suggestion worthy of a demon. The correspondent does not say how the piece was received.
The level of European interest in Lincoln by 1865 appears to have been pretty strong, even among the general public. On May 5, 1865, The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser:
THE assassination of President Lincoln has really and profoundly touched the hearts of men far and near. Detestation of the crime is on every tongue, but there is besides a true and lively sympathy with the people of the United States under a calamity from which indeed they are not quite the only sufferers. The feeling ran instantaneously through British North America, and it is universal here. If, in the ways which it finds for uttering itself, it overleaps the bounds of custom and precedent, why, we are disposed to say, so much the better. If a violent death at the very moment of supreme success has made a hero of the victim himself, and if the dead President, who by his thorough honesty of purpose, his moderation, good nature, and self-control, his shrewdness, his rough and homely vigour of mind and character, had done such great things for his country, and whose reputation had been steadily rising during the last years of his life, is now in danger of being as much overpraised as he was depreciated formerly, this again is so natural that it escapes criticism; and the estimate of him which is generally accepted now is in fact nearer the truth than the old one was. The noisy and fulsome declamations of would-be demagogues, to whom a grave public misfortune is an occasion for pushing them- selves into notoriety, may disgust us, as indeed they do, but should not prevent us from expressing simply what we think and feel. Sympathy is a great peacemaker. If anything that we have done or said, or have left undone or unsaid, during this wretched war, has reasonably or unreasonably wounded the Americans, let them know that we at any rate join heartily with them in deploring this great loss and abhorring this great crime…
This telegraph column from the July 8, 1865, Aberystwith Observer is interesting and amusing
Further down in the same column:
“That an immediate unanimous yes was not returned as soon as the proposal was made is not to the credit of the States.” The British press threw itself solidly behind Mary in her battles for compensation.
Some other examples, from the old clothes scandal period:
That America should have chosen for her chief office a man of worth, although he was penniless, is certainly to her credit, and the Americans boast of it. But if America permits the widow of her greatest modern president, who emancipated the slave and perished in the discharge of his duty, to be in even comparative want, it will be an everlasting blot on her fair name. Mrs. Lincoln has a claim on the United States above all other widows, and unless Uncle Sam has very much changed in his character, it is one which will be cheerfully recognized, and munificently responded to.1
One of the most remarkable cartoons I have seen for a long time is in Judy this week, and has reference to the American nation's conduct to the wife of the late President Lincoln. There is Mrs. Lincoln pointing to her articles of finery, remnants of the splendour of the White House, and saying surely that can't be their value. She is replied to by an unmistakeable Yankee who "kalkilates” [“calculates”] that Abe was a "rale hoss," [“real horse”] but that fame does not live in these days.2
This was essentially a joke about Yankee WEIRDness, implying that they valued impersonal market logic over loyalty and honor. Calling someone a “real horse/hoss” seems to have meant they were impressive. This was a Welsh paper, and by “Yankee,” they probably meant a Northern American specifically. It was often said that Northerners “calculated,” whereas Southerners “reckoned.” I can’t find a copy of the cartoon, unfortunately.
From Judy: “A NATION'S GRATITUDE." A most painful and indecorous affair is the recent scandal about Mrs. Lincoln and the late President's goods and chattels. So different are the accounts that reach us, concerning the merits or demerits of the case, that it is not easy to decide who is most to blame in the matter. There is one name, however, that should be kept out of the dirt; and in order that posterity may know how the memory of "honest Old Abe” has been respected by his country, "Judy" suggests that the following epitaph should be inscribed upon his monument:— Here rests Old Abe, upon the lap of earth, A man who was to fame-not fortune-known. He served and loved the land that gave him birth, Till murder sternly marked him for her own. Large was his bounty and his soul sincere;" He gave his country all he could-his life. He gained from every honest eye a tear, But didn't gain provision for his wife.3
And in the summer of 1868, when it was announced that Mary was postponing her voyage to England, one paper commented, “England has been temporarily deprived, through illness, of an interesting visitor.” 4
The Brecon Reporter and South Wales General Advertiser, October 26, 1867.
Monmouthshire Merlin, November 2, 1867, quoting a London Letter dated October 31, 1867.
The Brecon County Times Neath Gazette and General Advertiser for the Counties of Brecon Carmarthen Radnor Monmouth Glamorgan Cardigan Montgomery Hereford, November 2, 1867.
Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire Shropshire and North Wales Register, August 22, 1868.