Sunday, December 14, 2014
Between the Confederacy and recognition by Great Britain stood one unlikely Englishman who hated the slave trade. His actions helped determine the fate of a nation.
As tension in the United States over slavery and western expansion threatened to break into civil war, the Southern states found themselves squeezed between two nearly irreconcilable realities: The survival of the Confederate economy would require the importation of more slaves, a practice banned in America since 1807. But the existence of the Confederacy itself could not be secured without official recognition from Great Britain, which would never countenance reopening the Atlantic slave trade. How, then, could the first be achieved without dooming the possibility of the second? The South believed Britain would never risk losing the massive flow of cotton that fed British mills, and hoped this economic leverage would give it the bargaining chip it desperately sought.
The unlikely man at the roiling center of this intrigue was Robert Bunch, an American-born Englishman who had maneuvered his way to the position of British consul in Charleston, South Carolina, and grew in time to loathe slavery and the righteousness of its practitioners. He used his unique perch and boundless ambition to become a key player, sending reams of dispatches to the home government and eventually becoming the Crown's best secret source about the motivations and plans of the Confederacy. Doing so required living a double-life. To his Charleston neighbors Bunch was increasingly a pillar of Southern society, attending their galas and social events in presumptive agreement with their pro-slavery leanings. To the British government on Downing Street, though, he was a strident abolitionist, eviscerating Southern dissembling about plans regarding the slave trade.
In this masterfully told story of an unknown crusader, Christopher Dickey locates Consul Bunch as the key figure among Englishmen in America, determined to ensure the triumph of morality in the inevitable march to civil war. Featuring a cast of remarkable characters including legendary journalist William Howard Russell and soldier of fortune Hugh Forbes, The Charleston Consul captures a decisive moment in Anglo-American history: the pitched battle between those who wished to reopen the floodgates of bondage and misery, and those who wished to dam the tide forever.