"Doubly Foreign:" British Consuls And Slavery In The Antebellum South, 1830 - 1860




Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title




Upon ending their slavery in the British West Indies in 1833, Great Britain became known as the "Great Emancipator." Britain immediately began an official foreign policy campaign to end the slave trade and slavery wherever it existed. In the U.S. slavery continued to be deeply rooted in the culture of the Antebellum South, causing Britain to give the region a great deal of attention based upon British ethical, moral, and ideological concerns over slavery and the trade. Between 1833 and 1860, activities associated with southern slavery created unique moral and ethical challenges for the Foreign Office and British consuls sent to represent the official Foreign Policies against slavery and the trade in several port cities including Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans. Because no such list of who these men were exists, the researcher created Appendix A which includes a comprehensive list of the British consuls sent to the South from 1830 to 1860 and which may be helpful for future researchers. On one hand, the Foreign Office not only had to placate but also to seek trade alliances with the South for the all-important King Cotton for British factories; on the other hand, the Foreign Office continually attempted to promote Britain's abolitionist principles and ideology. This dissertation shows that the British Consuls, who were the foot soldiers on the ground in the South, were ethically and morally challenged because of what they encountered on a daily basis. Furthermore, the consuls were honor-bound to remain loyal to the British government, its laws, and foreign policy issues. On the other hand, the consuls were in essence exiled persons far away from home surrounded by slavery and slavery economics. However, the details of the private lifestyles they led, the businesses they operated, and the ideologies that they espoused during their tenure in office often remained unknown to the Foreign Office because of the great distance between the London home office and the consuls' duty stations. By examining how these individuals, who lived on the empire's periphery, interacted with the slaveholding communities in which they found themselves living and working within reveals how far they were ethically and morally tested. Investigating British consuls sent to the South from 1830 - 1860 is vitally important to understanding the difficulties and challenges of Britain's foreign policy position as the "Great Emancipator" in the Atlantic World.