Author Interview--Michael J. Turner (Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain) Part 1

Niels Eichhorn's picture

Hello H-CivWar Readers:

Today we feature Michael J. Turner to talk about his new book Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain, published by Louisiana State University Press in October 2020.

Michael J. Turner received his doctorate from Oxford and is the Roy Carroll Distinguished Professor of British History at Appalachian State University. His previous works include Radicalism and Reputation: The Career of Bronterre O’Brien (2016), “Liberty” and “Liberticide”: The Role of America in Nineteenth-Century British Radicalism (2014), Independent Radicalism in Early Victorian Britain (2004), British Politics in An Age of Reform (1999).

Michael to start, how did you become interested in Beresford Hope and Andrew Jackson?

MJT: I began looking into Hope’s career some years ago when I was working on Victorian education reforms and, more specifically, the attitudes and activities of High Churchmen with respect to elementary, secondary, and higher education in Britain. Hope was a wealthy and influential High Churchman, involved in a wide range of Church-related issues and campaigns, and a Conservative MP for more than 35 years. He was a champion of the Gothic Revival, a collector, author, and polemicist, and he played a leading role in several learned societies. I intend in the future to use his writings and relationships as core elements in a book about problems facing the Church—internally and externally—and how they were addressed in the second half of the nineteenth century. His pro-Confederate activism was not something I really found out about until something happened, quite by chance, to pique my curiosity. I paid a visit to Richmond, Virginia, in March 2013. I was walking in Capitol Square and I spotted a statue of Stonewall Jackson. I knew who Jackson was, of course, though I did not know much about him. On the base of the statue, the inscription mentioned something about being a gift from “English gentlemen.” Nobody in the nearby museum seemed to know the story behind it, so when I got home I did some initial research and found that Hope, with whom I was already familiar, was a key figure in the commissioning, construction, and delivery of the Jackson statue. I decided to find out why.

There is a wider context to all this. Going back many years, I wrote a research paper as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester, New York, which touched on British responses to the American Civil War. I found this a fascinating subject, but I did not develop it further at that time (1992). I started working on other things, though I remained interested in British-American interaction, especially during the nineteenth century, and eventually I began to publish in the field. A series of articles, and a book on the role of America in British radicalism (2014), led directly to Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain. In the background, over the past 25 years or so, a significant trend in the relevant historiography has been the internationalization of the Civil War. Scholars have been placing the war in a wider setting, investigating its impact around the world and asking how and why it affected foreign opinion about America. I wanted to contribute to these discussions. Building on a longstanding interest in British-American interaction, intrigued by the connection between Hope and the Jackson statue, and wishing to add to our understanding of the Civil War as more than just an American war, my focus was on British perspectives that might previously have been under-studied or under-estimated. We already know a lot about the chief determinants of British attitudes—like cotton, or slavery, or ideas about democracy, or imperial security—but what about other factors?

What do you argue in your book?

MJT: The main points relate to questions that occurred to me in Capitol Square in 2013 when I saw the Jackson statue: why would “English gentlemen” wish to erect a monument to a Confederate general and why would they pursue this wish for so long? The statue was not delivered and unveiled until 1875, fully ten years after the end of the Civil War and more than ten years after Jackson’s death. In the book I argue that there was considerable sympathy for the South in Britain and that this arose not only from economic interest and political preferences, but also from a sense of social, ethnic, religious, and cultural affinity. Admiration for Southern “heroism,” personified in Stonewall Jackson, was of particular importance, and he was to have a lasting fame in Britain because of the values he was supposed to represent. 

It is a wide-ranging book. From the two points of entry—Hope’s leadership role in pro-Southern agitation and Jackson’s British reputation—the book opens up to explore many reasons why people in Britain wished the Confederacy well and continued to sympathize with the South in the postwar decades. I am trying to combine and add to two approaches: relating the Civil War to its international ramifications, and explaining British responses to the American crises of secession, war, and Reconstruction. My goal is to expand knowledge and understanding of these matters, not least by offering fresh insights gleaned from research into previously neglected sources and historical agents.

Since Civil War international relations is my area of interest, you certainly brought a new person to my attention. So, mission accomplished. I do want to pose that dreadful question: why does Hope matter? How influential was he and how did he come to embrace and support the Southern slave-holder rebellion?

MJT: As the first half of the book makes clear, Hope was an energetic campaigner for the Southern cause (and he absolutely did not regard the war as the result of a slave-holder rebellion!). Influence is difficult to measure, but there are indicators. He regularly appeared in assembly rooms and lecture halls, often by invitation, to talk about the situation in America. He wrote pamphlets, which went into three, four, and sometimes five editions. He put letters in the newspapers and contributed longer articles, including for the fashionable London weekly the Saturday Review, of which he was the founder-owner. Many of his speeches and writings were reported or reviewed, and his main arguments were further disseminated by friendly publications. He raised money, organized meetings, made introductions. He served as chairman of the Southern Independence Association in London and was on the managing committees of similar bodies elsewhere (Southern Clubs were formed in a number of towns). At times he worked closely with Confederate agents, notably Henry Hotze and James M. Mason, and he was known by members of the government in Richmond to be a useful ally. Later he became a friend of former Confederate leaders, including John C. Breckinridge and Jefferson Davis. He hosted them in London and on his estate in Kent. Hope was named as a beneficiary in Breckinridge’s will, and one of the last letters he wrote before his death in 1887 was to Davis. Perhaps the most telling sign of his importance to the pro-Southern lobby in Britain was the condemnation meted out to him by pro-Union and anti-slavery commentators in Britain and indeed by Northern newspapers in America. In view of all this, his ideas and activities offer promising lines of inquiry into the nature and extent of British sympathy for the South. He was both a leader and a representative figure. People were interested in what he was saying and writing. Not everyone agreed with him, of course, but his claims did make sense to some. Furthermore, the Jackson statue, which I discuss mainly at the end of the book, would not have happened without Hope. He was one of the promoters of the project from the outset. Treasurer of the committee formed within weeks of Jackson’s untimely death, Hope became the public face of the memorialization plan, explaining and justifying it in the press and, eventually, making the appropriate arrangements for delivery of the statue with the state government of Virginia. 

Like many others in Britain, Hope was very much an admirer of Jackson. The second half of the book explores Jackson’s status and fame in the British setting. Opinion about him was overwhelmingly favorable: as a Christian warrior, a dutiful patriotic gentleman, a military genius, a husband and father, a person of courage, piety, chivalry, decency, consistency, and character. There were negative comments too (mostly along the lines of “a true Christian would not go to war to preserve slavery”) but the positive outweighed the negative to a remarkable degree; and the statue was funded through a public subscription, not simply paid for by Hope and a few of his rich friends. There were plenty of small donations as well as large ones. Hope’s committee actually took in more money than was needed, such was the response. 

Hope had no choice but to accept the outcome of the war, but he did not give up his pro-Southern point of view. During and after the war, he powerfully articulated what others were thinking. He spoke and wrote for those who believed that the South had strong economic and political grounds for secession; that the South was more “English” and Christian than the North; that slaves would and should be emancipated in an independent Confederacy; and that the dismemberment of the old unwieldy Union would be best for both North and South as well as for Britain and the rest of the world.