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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  August 6, 2011 10:00pm-11:00pm EDT

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names this is such an opportunity to help bothers i am reading. one is a book by lawrence block who is a mystery writer and i think it is called a drop of the hard stuff and it is a mystery novel. to me, he is such a terrific terrific mystery writer. that is at the top of my list. if i was not here to nine i would read that. he is terrific prevent george pellicano sue is a mystery writer writes about mysteries set in washington d.c. has a new book coming out and his wife told me about it. the we exercise at the same ymca. i want to see what he has done. . .
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>> she talks about this lesser known influence in the war of secession with pulitzer prize-winning historian, eric foner. >> host: i'm very happy to be speaking today with amanda foreman, the author of the new book, "a world on fire: britain's crucial role in the american civil war," which has gained a great deal of attention, a fascinating book, and we're going to have a nice conversation about britain, the american civil war and writing about civil war history. so, hello, amanda. >> guest: hello, eric. >> host: maybe we could just begin by asking you, somebody said there are about 50,000 books on the american civil war out there of one kind or another. um, why did you -- when and why
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did you come to the conclusion that you had something new to say about it, that and, you know, how did you get into the book and get interested in it, and why did you write it? >> guest: well, my first book was about an 18th century duchess, and because of that often the very first question i get when i'm on tour is, surely, you're a tourist in the civil war. how did you end up here? and the answer is that although i sound english, i'm actually with american. my father was blacklisted during the mccarthy period, and so he moved to london where he remarried, had a second family, and i'm the youngest product of that. but a few years on the film industry died in england, and my father moved back to l.a. and it was from l.a. that i actually went to boarding school in england, and that's why i sound english. >> host: getting this straight, okay. >> guest: anyway, but the reason why that's important is for my
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undergraduate, i went to lawrence college in new york. and having had a very privileged boarding school education, i was really on the outside of many of the fundamental concerns that were exercising campuses across the united states in the late 1980s. and actually, there was a sit-in at sarah lawrence which almost closed the college for half a semester. >> host: this had to do with what just as a matter of curiosity? >> guest: sure. it was a general sit-in protesting a number of things, mostly to do with the lack of diversity. >> host: i see. >> guest: they wanted a most diverse curriculum, among the faculty and the students. and these were concerns that had never crossed my mind before at all, actually, and the more i thought about it, i tried to understand what was going on. it seemed to me, actually, there were two protests going on. whether or not that was really grounded in reality or practicality or even the realms
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op possibility was one answer which i didn't have the answer to. but the second protest was really a protest set in the past and that every argument always ended up back in history. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: and it was, essentially, the slavery debate, civil war and reconstruction going, um, back and forth on its head in 1989. so that although all my classmates went on to be gainfully 'em lowed and become doctors -- employed and doctors and lawyers, i actually never moved from that spot. and i went to oxford to study that question. it had a profound effect on me. so i did my masters in the abolition of the slave trade and the politics behind it. it was while researching charles grey, the politician who had proposed the motion to abolish the slave trade in 1806, i came across his mistress, the duchess, and she was so fascinating, i became
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sidetracked. the duchess, starring keira knightly. but i actually always wanted to go back. >> host: so you went back to your earlier incarnation as a civil war or slavery historian or something like that. >> guest: that's right. but i also knew that after such a long break i wasn't going to pick up that old dissertation. and also i'd found a new topic while i was researching the duchess. while i was at chatsworth, i was given permission to look at all the archives, and she had married the fifth duke. the eighth duke of devon shire when he was a young man had actually gone out to america during the civil war. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: now, the reason he'd gone out, actually, was to escape his mistress. >> host: i see. [laughter] >> guest: and he couldn't afford her anymore. so rather than just fessing up, he ran off to new york thinking that she wouldn't find hip. ask about two weeks into staying
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at the fifth avenue hotel, there was a knock on his door, and it was the mistress. so he then ran to washington, d.c. thinking that, you know, it was a one-horse town, she'd never follow him there. and, of course, a week later skittles turned up. there was one place he was absolutely certain that she wouldn't get to, and that was the south because it was 1862, the war was on. so he and be his friend got in a a canoe and paddled across the potomac. and then he was seduced by something even more powerful than skittleses, and that was southern charm. and he became so enamored, he attached himself to robert e. lee and was his unofficial bag care carrier, even made eggnog for them. so when he returned to london in the spring of 1863, he was an unofficial spokesman for the southern cause, and yet his brother, lord frederick catch
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dish, who shared his political opinion -- they were both liberal in terms of their attitudes to modern life and liberal politically -- were pro-north. so he had in britain a microcosm, the macrocoz m of -- >> host: right. you know, one of the interesting things in your book which i was unaware of was the number of british people who fought in the american civil war on both sides, sometimes the same potential fought on -- person fought on two sides, but generally not, i guess. why did bitons enlist in the american civil war? >> guest: well, it's one of those answers that run the gamut. first, and i think most interestingly, you have those genuinely led by ideology. and we have instances of young men who joined the north because they wanted to help free the slaves. very few -- none, actually, wanted to fight for the north to maintain the union. that they didn't care about. but there were those who saw slavery as the issue.
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but even more interestingly and perhaps almost counterintuitively today, there were young men who joined the southern cause and really had to endure a great amount of difficulty to get there. they had to get on a boat, run the federal blockade of southern ports and then enlist. so they often are the most eccentric or interesting characters, to be honest. >> host: and, you know, i was living in london for a couple of months earlier this spring, and i think you've done this too. i went on one of these walking tours of civil war london and particularly confederate london, and i was surprised even though i've studied this period a great deal, you know, i was surprised at how many prominent british people sympathize with the confederacy. members of parliament -- of course, you talk about this in your book -- members of parliament, church leaders, scholars, people invested in these confederate cotton bonds, some went to fight as you said. but why was there so much
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sympathy for the confederacy in britain given as, of course, you say britain had already abolished slavery many years before, anti-slavery was, basically, now a part of british culture in a significant way? why did so many prominent british people sympathize in one way or another with the confederacy? >> guest: there's no easy single answer, but you can piece together the answers. first of all, the very beginning of the war i think that the north was knocking at an open door. in general, most countries are not that thrilled with the thought of other country breaking up, you know? it's contagious. >> host: right. >> guest: but seward making a -- >> host: being the secretary of state -- >>ing so ri. william henry seward made a mistake by believing if he could raise the specter of a foreign war with a common enemy -- >> host: because he started out first with spain, right? his first proposal was the u.s.
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go to war with spain. that was a nonstarter. so, right, he started talking in a bellicose manner about britain. >> guest: that's right. and, of course, all it did was annoy the british and convince them that his previous statements about canada, british north america joining the constellation of the united states were actually true and not simply bloviating to the public. so he turned written which had been considering allying itself with the north into an armed mutual and really fully annoyed british opinion. that's the first thing. the second thing is, you know, ambiguity and nuance is the enemy of journalism. it really doesn't work. what the british public understood was the north was fighting for territory, the south was fighting for independence or freedom. >> host: so they saw this not as a slavery question, but sort of local self-determination, sort of like the greek war of independence against the ottoman empire or things like that. >> guest: that's right. or garibaldi's campaign against
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italy which was in mid flow, and gaer wallty was a hero. look at the north, there's been no word about slavery and, of course, t true until the emancipation problem proclamati. it was unclear to most americans, let alone to anybody abroad. so one man's freedom fight is another man's terrorist. and in britain the most magic words were fighting for freedom where just they had this power over the british, and they just blinded themselves to what was the truth. >> host: well, did -- i've wondered whether british leaders feared, i mean, you alluded to this maybe a minute ago, that seeing the american nation break up might actually encourage what we would call today separatist movements within great britain. obviously, the irish question was a perennial question there, the demand rule for irish independence, the scots, the welsh, britain itself has groups which are not always totally
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happy being part of the united kingdom. so was there this countervailing fear that the breakup of the union might somehow inspire efforts to maybe have greater independence for the groups within great britain? >> >> guest: well, certainly the irish, as we know one of the rallying cries was fight now, get training -- exactly. so there was that issue. >> host: of course, seward, presumably, felt that if britain wases hostile, that would actually encourage irish-american support for the union. >> guest: yes. oh, yes. there was layers upon layers here. you know, nothing is ever that simple. and the british, though, the clever, politically-astute politicians like the prime minister, for example, didn't want a divided america although, i mean, maybe perennially fighting within itself might have been useful. but they certainly didn't want
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america to divide into two with or three. >> host: it could have happened, of course. >> guest: they felt america had made it a tradition to stab britain in the back whenever britain was busy doing something in europe or overseas, and it couldn't be trusted. >> host: right. >> guest: so if you had two or three americas, you could never be sure one of them might not cause trouble for you. >> host: as you say, anti-british sentiment was a common feature of american politics in the 19th century, as they called pulling the lion's tail, you know, whatever it was. denouncing great britain was a pretty good way to get some votes, especially when all the irish came over here. and seward, i'm interested, seward plays an interesting role in your book as the american secretary of state. do you see seward as someone who's just kind of a blusterer and really is a little out of his element making all these threats and crazy schemes, or is there a method in his madness? i mean, is he trying to be so
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bellicose in his language that the british are kind of nervous? and they say, well, we'd better not do anything otherwise this crazy seward may go to war with us in canada or something like that? looking back at the whole four-year war, do you see seward as really a successful diplomat or secretary of state in terms of dealing with britain, or was he out of control, a loose condition non? >> guest: i think it's both. i feel he was a brilliant man. he knew he was a brilliant man. i think he genuinely believed he was the smartest man in the world. >> host: and he thought in the beginning, of course, that he should be the president. he was very unhappy that lincoln had gotten the nomination instead of him in 1860. >> guest: that's right. and i think although he rather brilliantly prevented war against britain, he's also the man who was the most responsible for that war almost breaking out. >> host: right. >> guest: so, you know, yes, he was a great self-correcter. >> host: uh-huh. people play interesting roles in this that are, you know, maybe
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somewhat counterintuitive like prince albert on his death bed, basically, right? sort of takes steps in the trent affair to avoid what seems to be a growing possibility of military confrontation, right? you don't normally think of prince albert as a key kind of player in terms of peace, etc. >> guest: no, and it's an interesting outcrops of seward's policies because if he hadn't created such friction between -- >> host: maybe you should say for our viewers, not all of them probably know what the trent affair was. briefly, what happened with that vessel? >> guest: yes. well, it's one of those small, diplomatic since? s that became -- incidences that became huge. the trent affair had two passengers onboard who were particularly controversial because they were two confederate ambassadors, james murray mason was going to britain. and seward and, indeed, all americans had wanted those two
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ambassadors to be captured and prevented from going to europe. and it was a captain, captain charles wilkes who himself had a rather checkered career in the navy. but nevertheless, he found these two, found the trent, took off these two ambassadors -- >> host: this is on international waters, correct? >> guest: yes. it would be the equivalent of iranian fighter yets intercepting a u.s. passenger plane, bringing it down and dragging off -- you just can't do that kind of thing. naturally, britain protested and demanded the release of these two boards. and at the mere hint that america wasn't going to do that, indeed, congress voted to give a medal of honor to charles wilkes, things like that, they sent over thousands of troops. and, in fact, there were 13,000 troops less than a week away from landing in canada in preparation to invade maine when seward persuaded the cabinet that these two terrible men had
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to be set free. >> host: right. but prince albert had sort of moderated a letter by lord palmer son, a very bellicose letter almost threatening war, and prince albert toned it down before it was sent. >> guest: that's right. because the foreign secretary was a man called earl russell who himself was a great man but riddled with social anxieties. he was a terrible communicator in many ways. and the letter he had written was so bell hi cose that it didn't -- bellicose that it didn't allow the united states to save face. and prince albert read this letter and realized russell had once again put his foot in his mouth. so as he was dying from cholera, he changed the wording, and the rest of the cabinet agreed -- >> host: right. he gave lincoln and seward the option of saying, well, wilkes acted without our authorization, so, you know, the government of the united states was not responsible for this. it was just a lone captain. yeah. so that was a very interesting,
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um, incident at which there are many, many in the book. let's talk for a minute about slavery and the war. at one point you say, i jotted this down, slavery was the insurmountable stumbling block to britain actually taking the side of the confederacy. of course, britain did not take the side of the confederacy. it was neutral. it declared neutrality right at the beginning. now, some americans felt britain was tilting toward the confederacy, as you know. but, um, one of the things i find interesting and if you could go back before the civil war, um, southerners had been very hostile to britain after britain abolished slavery in the 1830s. like, the whole texas battle in the 1840s, john c. calhoun, etc., thought britain was conspiring to try to get texas when it was an independent republic to abolish slavery on its own. southern pro-slavery people were quite annoyed at what they felt
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was britain's meddling with slavery in the new world. so it was not at all clear that southerners really would see britain as a likely ally. on the other hand, as you know, of course, britain depended on southern cotton for its textiles. we'll get to that in a minute. but you seem to think it was a big mistake of seward and lincoln, i guess, not to emphasize slavery right at the beginning. at the beginning of the war, the administration said this is a war about union, we are not fighting to abolish slavery, we are not emancipating slaves. i get the impression that you feel that really made it impossible for the union to really get the kind of support in britain at the beginning that it might have. >> guest: oh, i really do believe that. and it wouldn't have taken that much for the secretary of state, seward, to provide a letter that adams, the u.s. ambassador, could have shown lord john russell, the foreign secretary, in private to say domestically in america we can only talk about the war in terms of the union. right. >> guest: but as you and i know,
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this is a war, ultimately, about slavery. >> host: right. which eventually they do saw, but it takes a while. >> guest: it took two years, and that's a very long time in a war. >> host: absolutely. on the other hand, lincoln sent anti-slavery consuls to britain, one of the leading abolitionists was sent over to bristol, i think. and lincoln, who was a very shrewd guy, saw that sending an abolitionist as a counsel, not an ambassador, would actually help to appeal to british public opinion. so there were these sort of cross-currents going on where some people are talking about slavery, and some people are not talking about slavery. but one of the very interesting things in if your book is your tracing out of how british sympathizers of the confederacy kept saying, oh, you know, if confederacy wins, they're going to abolish slavery. in other words, nobody was willing to defend slavery in britain, right?
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>> guest: no. >> host: in fact, if confederacy becomes independent, britain will then pressure them to abolish slavery. >> guest: yes. and that was the prevalent opinion. and, in fact, the leading british supporter of the south, a man named james spence, who really masterminded the propaganda campaigns was fired by the confederate secretary of state, benjamin, because of his anti-slavery sentiments. >> host: which he publicly, yeah, publicly said this that, you know, we know the confederacy's going to abolish slavery. and the confederacy said, no, no, we're not abolishing slavery at all. you mentioned briefly toward the end of the book a plan or proposal that was carried to london from jefferson davis in early 1865. i mean, right toward the end of the war. that in exchange for british recognition, the confederacy would promise to abolish slavery? i mean, was that a very specific plan? is. >> guest: it was very specific, and it's a fascinating mission
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called the duncan mission after the man who carried it who himself had been the large slave holder in the southern, in the confederate congress. so the fact that he had agreed to undertake this mission went a long way to persuading confederate members of congress. but they had to go along with the plan. it was, obviously, a last ditch plan. >> host: right. >> guest: but when the british confederates, especially the confederate ambassador james mason, received the land and heard about duncan kenner, he was appalled. in fact, he almost refused to -- >> host: right. he wouldn't let kenner go and see the foreign secretary about it. >> guest: no. he'd been out of the south for so long, he just couldn't believe it and did everything he could to sabotage the message until the very last second when he, you know, hinted to it to the prime minister, lord palmerston, who could see it coming a mile away, that this was going to be the proposal. >> host: right, right.
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>> guest: they said, o oh, no, no, it's not about slavery just to shut him up. >> host: yeah. it's a very interesting moment. one other slavery question or incident that's quite interest anything your book is in 1862 well before the emancipation proclamation the u.s. did sign a treaty with britain to suppress the african slave trade, right? the lincoln administration agreed and, um, this was sort of taken as a straw in the wind, right? that emancipation was coming. because the previous administrations even though the slave trade was illegal both in britain and in the united states, that had rarely been enforced by previous american administrations. and lincoln, as you said, first of all, he executed a slave trader, gore don, the first time that had happened. and then he signed this treaty with the british which, i mean, which was, i guess, do you see that as an effort to get british support for the union, for the union cause? >> guest: well, i do partly. although i also believe that seward had done it because he
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believed in it. >> host: oh, he did. seward, of course, was anti-slavery. >> guest: yes. so i don't think it was that calculating from washington's side. >> host: right. >> guest: the tragedy is the efforts weren't really given the recognition they deserved in britain. >> host: right. >> guest: but it's actually one of my favorite moments in the book because of the elaborate schemes and subterfuge that had to be gone through in order for seward to get this bill passed in congress. >> host: right. right, right. that is very interesting. one of the things about that treaty which struck me as oddly interesting is that it allowed british warships to board american vessels off the coast of africa if they suspected they were carrying slaves. now, go back 50 years, that was one of the causes of the war of 1812 -- >> guest: yes! >> host: now they're saying you can do that if it's a question of suppressing the slave trade. one of the reasons some americans didn't like this treaty. >> guest: yes, i know it.
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it's the most amazing thick. and, in fact, that was why america refused to join the alliance to stop the slave trade in the first place for the last 20 years. >> host: right. >> guest: and it meant that the slave trade was o now being continued almost solely by the united states because they flew the american flag. >> host: right. one of the things that our conversation, i think, will reveal to those watching is that this book has got a gigantic kaleidoscope of characters and people both at every level of society from the queen and prince albert to the british government, the american government down to ordinary soldiers and people in both societies. and be, um, one of the interesting groups -- so it's an amazing piece of research. i mean, i commend you for just -- >> guest: oh, thank you. >> host: and also for somehow keeping track of them and putting them together in a cohesive story. so the narrative is fascinating. one of the groups that pops up in here, little known, i suppose, to most readers will be these british correspondents or
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journalists who were reporting the war. i guess the first question is, you know, today we have the internet, everything is instantaneous, right? something happens in the world, within ten minutes everybody seems to know. how long did it take news from the civil war in america to get to great britain? >> guest: in general it took about two weeks. >> host: two weeks. so it was not instantaneous at all. >> guest: no, it wasn't. in an emergency london could get a message to its ambassador in washington in the about ten and a half days. >> host: by a very fast ship. >> guest: a very fast ship to canada and then by telegram -- >> host: right. there was no atlantic cable yet. >> guest: no. >> host: but there was a cable up to nova scotia so you could get a ship there quickly. >> guest: right. >> host: so these reports on battles or things like that took a couple of weeks to get -- >> guest: it did. and it actually made the writing of the book rather tricky for that reason. every reaction is two weeks later, and so how much are you going to jump around? >> host: right, right.
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can you tell us a little bit about one or two of these reporters, william howard porter or frank -- >> guest: visatelli, yes. >> host: interesting characters. >> guest: they're all quite screenal. >> host: since you live in america, the british press lately have been guilty of certain screenal procedures, i guess, so this goes back a long way. >> guest: exactly. takes one to know one. so william howard russell is an interesting character because he had become taims for reporting on the crime yang war, and it was was l who brought florence nightingale to the attention of the world and also the poor state of the british army's health. so when he arrived, when he'd been sent by the london times to report on the civil war and he arrived in 1861, he arrived as a very, very famous journalist. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: and with his reputation intact. but part of that reputation was for telling the truth and for
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being neutral. and so this is exactly what he did. he reported on the war without varnishing either side. and his reports on the battle of bull run and the rather unfortunate defeat of the federal army which was, ultimately, a huge rout was so unvarnished that it infuriated northern readers who were just not used to that kind of reporting. and he was hounded out of the country. the tragedy is that from then on there were no pro-northern reporters there europe and from britain in particular reporting on the war. there were only pro-southern reporters. and there were two in particular, francis lawly and frank visatelli. one reported for the london timeses and the other for the london illustrated news. and francis lawly became so seduced by southern charm and his reports became so increasingly biased that when the south actually fell in 1865, times readers were surprised.
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that's not how they had thought the war was going at all. >> host: they thought the south was winning. >> guest: yes. they were shocked. [laughter] >> host: right. i think you say some of the british press virtually sort of apologized for their coverage -- well, especially after lincoln's assassination. you know, i think we really were unfair to lincoln. we completely misunderstood lincoln or things like that. the times, some of these journals -- that's right, they did. which is amaze, and i've never seen that since. that kind of open apology. and it just goes to show, actually, that, you know, often reporting becomes a kind of morality play. there has to be a good guy, a bad guy. so once the south had managed to seize the moral high ground because they were fighting for freedom, there was nothing anyone could say. even john stewart mill trying to point out that the south was fighting for the freedom to take away the freedom of others -- >> host: right. >> guest: -- it fell on deaf
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ears, and the north couldn't get any fair play. everything it did it was always given a slant. and it's fascinating when you compare that to modern reporting today. >> host: i wonder. [laughter] how much modern reporting today is slanted or not, some of it still seems to be, obviously. um, what about the index? there was this british newspaper -- that's a newspaper published in the britain with pro-southern backing or maybe even financing which sort of spread the confederate message in london? is. >> guest: yes. it's absolutely fascinating. the man who started it was a southern journalist called henry -- [inaudible] from mobile, alabama. he was a young man. he had had a career in the diplomatic corps already, so he spoke several languages, and be he had swiss parents, so he was able to understand the european mentality. his message should really be studied. he was a genius, actually.
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he arrived in london, and he did several things. with regard to the index, he started this magazine to be a general news magazine with a subtle southern slant. and we have his instructions to his journalists and editors on how to proceed, and they are masterpieces because he said above all, always avoid any kind of bombast. you're not there to inculcate. you're hardly even there to educate. you're there to be amusing. you are a general interest magazine. but where you can you must subtly draw things toward the southern point of view. >> host: so this is propaganda, basically. >> guest: it is propaganda. very clever. and it was meant to be like the american spectator or the british spectator or even, say, the atlantic. >> host: right. >> guest: if you were well educated, you would read the index and not realize you were always being subtly pulled to the other side. >> host: now, i wanted to go
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back and ask you just about cotton. there is a sort of narrative one can find on previous literature in the american civil war which talks about the heroism or cotton workers, you know, the so-called cotton famine by 1862 with cotton supplies no longer available from the south. those mills closed down, and many, many people were thrown out of work for the time being. but nonetheless, according to previous literature anyway, the, you know, the working class remained loyal to the union. now, is that a story you found to be correct, or is it the truth more complicated? if i mean, a lot of this book is in london, but what's going on in manchester in these cotton manufacturing districts vis-a-vis the civil war? >> guest: sure. i mean, since tomorrowal stories came out, there was a whole wave starting with -- >> host: revisionism. >> guest: no, no, no, those cotton workers half of them with
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pro-southern. and, of course, we always know nothing is ever the totality of the argument. there's always going to be exceptions. so the point is they didn't, these, you know, 500,000 cotton workers doesn't go marching in the streets, and they weren't rioting in london. so clearly something happened, and clearly, the majority felt something. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: so why did they? first of all, i think it's just a classic working-class understanding of owning the fruits of your labor. and that is a fundamental difference. >> host: right. >> guest: so i think there was a genuine class consciousness which moves them even though people understood the arguments that weighed slavery and they had people who had come back from america. >> host: right. >> guest: nonetheless, it is different from slavery. >> host: okay, yeah. >> guest: but the second reason is, also, the most expansive and best organized charitable campaign in british history to that point was organized by the early of darby and others to provide help to the cotton
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workers. including journalists like harriet -- [inaudible] who were involved this helping children, wives, families of cotton spinners who were out of work by starting up educational programs, alternative works programs. and it really went a very long way to assuaging the dire consequences of prolonged unemployment. >> host: um, as you well know, karl marx was sitting in london at this time and was writing dispatches now and then for the new york tribune about, commenting on the american civil war: did you find any of marx's writings of particular interest about any of these questions? >> guest: well, i did because, first of all, he was on the first to make the slavery points. >> host: right. >> guest: and it was also quite interesting when he criticized the north, which he did from time to time. he felt the leadership was lacking. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: he definitely felt that this was really a result of the secretary of state, william
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henry seward's poor leadership. but sometimes he'd be way off base because he wasn't always in touch with what a political liberal or elite opinion was saying in london. >> host: sure. and, um, what about abraham lincoln? he plays, i guess, a subordinate role in this book. seward is a much more prominent figure from the american administration. did lincoln, in effect, leave foreign policy to seward? i mean, he had plenty of other things to worry about, obviously. what's your assessment of lincoln and his sort of take on diplomatic affairs, or did he really just say, look, this is seward's realm, and i'm leaving it to him? >> guest: i really think that is the case. i mean, there are a couple of times when he did interfere, and they're very important. the first time was when he was goaded by charles sumner, the senator from massachusetts, to try to tone down one of william seward's most bellicose -- >> host: right. >> guest: -- dispatches o
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charles foster adams. but that was because sumner had told him to. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: there's a myth that lincoln said, oh, we must only have one war at a time. [laughter] but i personally never found a contemporary account of that. >> host: yeah. >> guest: so i -- >> host: and there are many quotations from lincoln floating around which probably never originated with lincoln. >> guest: yes. i mean, he might have said it, might have thought it and, certainly, a practical thought at the time if anyone had asked my opinion. >> host: right. >> guest: but i don't think he said that. at least not to seward. >> host: i haven't seen it specifically quoted directly at the moment, at the time. but, no, lincoln did seem to -- he had a cabinet which he allowed a great deal of leeway. he left the financial issues to secretary of the treasury chase, he left, i think as you say, he basically left foreign relations to seward. he kept military affairs under his direct control and the slavery issue under his direct control. and when subordinates started
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making policy about slavery, lincoln would slap them down like you were talking about general fremont issuing an order early in the war or general hunter. lincoln wanted, he said, i'm making policy about slavery, not every general out in the field. but it does seem like seward was in charge of that. um, you know, i'm interested to just go to a whole other area. um, your book, you're not a professional academic in the sense that you don't teach at a university. this is not a criticism in any way. i mean, obviously, you know history. you have a ph.d. degree, right, from ox forthford, as you said, so you're obviously a scholar. this book is what you might call popular history, and i don't say that as anything but praise. in other words, it's extremely well written, it's, it is heavily footnoted, and it's based on a lot of scholarship. but it's sort of history that tells stories along the way.
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and too often many academics don't really write that way and don't really, therefore, get much of a -- it's narrative-based, i guess. >> guest: oh, sure. >> host: and i just wonder when you, as a writer, if you think about that when you're writing, when you were writing this book. i mean, of course, you wrote your first biography which is a slightly different thing because you have the life laid out for you, you know when it begins and when it ends. but in terms of the narrative of this book, you know, did you -- do you think of yourselves as writing something different from kind of academic history, or is it, or is that really not a distinction that makes any sense to you? >> guest: well, i mean, i know exactly what you're saying. and, you know, my decision not to teach was a very personal one although i'm a research fellow at queen mary college at university of louis london. >> host: right. >> guest: i have five very small children, and i had to make that decision, was i going tock a hands-on mother and have as many
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children as i wanted? one was going to limit the other for me. so i made that sacrifice, and it's something i live with, and i'm happy with it. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: now, in terms of academic writing, there are two kinds of writing, definitely. one for trade, one for the mass market, although how mass that is nowadays is another question. [laughter] and then one for the universities. >> host: right. >> guest: and i suppose i feel that they not only work in parallel, but feed off each other. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: i really wanted to do something specific, i guess, because i trained as a biographer in oxford, and that was my supervisor, for example, was one of charles james fox's biographers. so that was the tradition of historical writing that i came out of. and i wanted to write a history in the round. i, i guess being on the outside -- >> host: history in the round -- >> guest: history in the round. >> host: meaning that you're looking at it from all sorts of
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different perspectives at the same time? the. >> guest: yes, that's right. it's inclusive of both. and also it crosses countries. >> host: right. >> guest: and it's a kind of writing. and you can do it at all times. you have to have a rather specific moment when you can capture that 360-degree angle. >> host: right. >> guest: and it's also very heavily psychological. but i really believe especially in these sorts of circumstances the psychology of the, um, people concerned are vital. why is it that, you know, russell, lord john russell, for example, doesn't -- thinks about supporting the south? is it, a, because he's simply an economic determinanter and feels only -- [inaudible] is it because he has suddenly become immune to the slavery argument? be what is it? or is it because he's actually at heart quite a vain man and saw himself as an angel of mercy and was hijacked by the humanitarian argument?
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>> host: right. >> guest: you can only know these things if you have made a very solid study of that man's entire background starting from childhood. what sort of man is he? >> host: right. so in this a way it's novelistic not in the sense of inventing things which a novelist has the ability to do, but in terms of focusing so much on character and the development of characters, and it's filled with all sort of interesting characters of every kind. and you do, i mean, you do have a wonderful way of figuring out what makes these people tick, you know? i guess the, not even the downside, but what makes it different then is that larger social forces do not come into play the way they might in a more academically-oriented book. >> guest: for sure. >> host: so, you know, there's room for every kind of history. this is not a criticism. reading it i kept thinking because -- it's not -- there's plenty of books on the civil war which really are not scholarly at all and they're just, you know, fantasy, but this is, you
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know, the footnotes, the research, you're familiar with the literature, etc. so, you know, the scholarly apparatus is there. but the mode of writing seems to be more character based than -- >> guest: oh, sure. >> host: -- many other kinds of history that are out there. >> guest: i took the camera that is normally on high, and be i moved it down to street level. and i did it, i honestly did it very consciously because i think there are many books out there, you know, my father be's house with many roofs. >> host: right. there's no one way to write history. >> guest: right. and i just felt mine was additive. coming from an entertainment family -- >> host: ah, i see. well, there is a lot of entertainment. sometimes one might feel, in a sense, there's so many perspectives, and also one of the points you make is there's a lot of misunderstanding, right? it's not like everyone is rationally assessing the situation as it develops. a lot of people are confused, a lot of people don't know what's going on, are either vain or
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misinterpret events or are prejudiced in one way. there's a lot of confusion throughout this period, right? >> guest: well, that's right. there's 197 characters in the book, but actually there's 198, and that eighth is the reader because what the reader has is foreknowledge and background knowledge. >> host: right. >> guest: and it enables the reader to make these judgments while the characters are really about simultaneously making misjudgments. >> host: right. >> guest: and i think it's a rather pleasing place to be when you know what so and so was thinking as someone else is making a decision to act, you know? >> host: right. yes, i think that is one of the very appealing things about the book that, you know, in this a way the civil war makes it easier for you, right? in the sense that everybody who reads this book is going to know how the civil war ended. you don't have to tell them that at the beginning. so when they see people saying, oh, the con fed as is si is definitely going to win, they know that person's making a mistake, but that's what history
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is full of. but did you worry about it being very long? i mean -- >> guest: oh, sure. >> host: did your publisher say, look, i mean, it's obviously been very successful, but did your publisher say you'd better cut this down, it's too many people, too many quotations -- >> guest: all of the above. >> host: they did? okay. >> guest: absolutely. and in this many ways this is, it was an anti-commercial decision to keep it at the length that it is. but i just felt that i couldn't, i literally couldn't say it any shorter not artistically anyway. >> host: uh-huh. no, it doesn't seem long to me, but i am used to reading very long books. [laughter] >> guest: it is long. but it's long in the kind of 19th century sense. >> host: right. >> guest: i sort of modeled it in a way on a 19th century novel -- >> host: right, right. >> guest: even though i hate novelistic devices in history books. i really can't stand it, actually. >> host: was all the dialogue, um, directly out of sources? you had --
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>> guest: oh, sure. >> host: you had conversations, and sometimes -- >> guest: it's reported speech. oh -- >> host: you didn't make up any dialogue? >> guest: i hate that stuff. no, that's what i mean, i can't bear it. >> host: right. >> guest: also it was a dark and stormy night, as it were, it was because somebody wrote in a letter, it was a dark and stormy night. >> host: your first book was made into a movie. the duchess s that what it was called? >> guest: yes, that's right. >> host: i get the impression from reading articles in the press that you weren't 100% happy with the end result, or maybe it's just they were different genres. how did you feel your first, your biography up on this screen? >> guest: well, you know, on an emotional level it's all terrific, you know, just to have that accolade. and in some weird way, you know, in the entertainment industry, um, you're not real until your book has been turned into a film. and then suddenly you must be a good writer because your book's
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been turned into a film. just that alone was useful and terrific. what pained me about the film which in many ways was beautiful and had great merit to it was that i felt it was fundamentally sexist. and maybe it's a harsh thing to say, but i felt a man had written the script, a man had directed the film. and neither of them could imagine a world or a universe in which a woman was interesting for herself. not because she was attractive to a man or because of how she made the man feel about himself or what he went on the to achieve later. but that the woman could genuinely be an agent of change -- >> host: which is quite clear in your book -- >> guest: yes. >> host: that she was, but -- >> guest: not in the film at all. >> host: right. >> guest: i did find that absolutely infuriating. >> host: uh-huh. but as you said somewhere, you sold the rights. you learned what it means to sell the rights to your book.
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>> guest: that's right. i sold my rights. [laughter] >> host: and they had, they could do anything they want. i must say i am, i hope i don't offend thin out there, but i am not a big fan of history films, you know? i think there are a few good ones, but most of the ones i know take such liberties with the truth, and, of course, then when students come into class, this is what they know about history, what they've seen on a bill m, you know? -- film, you know? and you have to disabuse them frequently of misconceptions they've gotten from hollywood movies. >> guest: i know, it's awful. [laughter] i mean, yes. i suppose, again, it's why with "world on fire" i wanted to make it as entertaining as possible so it would give people that sensation that they can get from a film -- >> host: are they going to make a film out of this? it has probably more characters -- >> guest: no. it won't be a film, but it will be a miniseries. >> host: oh, tv. >> guest: yes, six parts. that will allow the space for the story to breathe.
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>> host: that's great. is that bbc? >> guest: bbc and hbo together are developing it. now, of course, it takes many green lights for these things to end on the screen, but the train has certainly left the station. >> host: good. that sounds interesting. although i'm also not a big fan of history on tv, but there are exceptions. >> guest: exactly. sometimes the best is the enemy of the good. >> host: still, on the other hand, it will bring awareness of a neglected piece of our history to a lot of people if it becomes a series. so that will -- >> guest: well, i hope so. and, you know, there are questions that are relevant today. questions, for example, what is the efficacy of an embargo? the south tried to enforce recognition by instituting an embargo. >> host: right. the north tried to blockade the south, and the south sort of embargoed itself.
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>> guest: that's right. and neither of these things really worked on their own. and we can think of many times in the last 50 years. opec, for example, oil prices where this embargo has been used as a tool. >> host: well, american embargo on cuba has been going on for about 50 years, but they still seem to be in power down this. >> guest: right. it doesn't really work. the second question is when should a country interfere in the affairs of another country? >> host: right. >> guest: we have those questions right now. and it was the question that was really on the minds of the british then. >> host: right, right. >> guest: and sometimes there is no right answer. >> host: no, of course, there's no answer that's true for every situation. um, let me just -- since we're getting down toward the end of our conversation, let me go back to your d fill, your previous life and ask you what role, if any, do you think race, racism played in british attitudes one way or the other? i mean, was race, did people talk about it during the civil war?
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was there attitude towards slavery, in a sense, overlaid with racist assumptions about black people or how would they, how were black people portrayed in the british press, you know? did race come in as a factor, racial attitudes in the debates over the american civil war? >> guest: they began to be raised in quite a significant way by henry hart si in mid 1863. and there was the, um, ethnological society split in half over the question of race and what it meant. and one side actually led by henry who joins the society gave it more of an mesh cast of what race -- american cast of what race meant, and the other side didn't. so britain was sort of waking up to the racial debate. before then we have very interesting accounts by men like frederick douglass who in his autobiography noted that when he went to london and was a guest of the duchess of sutherland
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said afterwards, as you know, in england americans who would, you know, refuse to shake his hand in america would ask him for an introduction to the duchess. right, right, right. douglass and others, as you say, found racism not nearly as pervasive in britain as they did this united states, including in the northern united states. >> guest: that's right. the fascinating figure who i think -- >> host: black abolitionist woman. >> guest: exactly. who trained to become a doctor and, ultimately, practiced medicine in the italy, she left the forth north feeling, you know, really persecuted and wrote about that once she reached england where she became a friend of feminists and others. and said that, you know, she felt her color to be a chain around her neck in new york where she was kicked off endless trams and that kind of thing. but not in england. >> host: right. on the other hand, i don't think you would probably say there was no racism in britain.
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>> guest: sure. in fact, that'd be silly. >> host: in fact, this is a different story in a way. i think it's at the same time as the american civil war, maybe more of a coincidence, events are taking place in jamaica which are reinforcing a kind of racist view that right after the american civil war ended they had the morant bay rebellion in jamaica, a sort of conflict between the former slaves and white planters there. and many in britain see this as a sign that blacks are inherently violent and, you know, kind of savage. and it actually leads to a greater repression in british policy toward the west indies. but i think it's interesting that they don't seem to play a major role in the way people are thinking about the american civil war. the british government is not saying, oh, well, these blacks are out of control. >> guest: oh, no. no, no. nothing like that. and, in fact, it's at a government level that some of
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the greatest amount of correspondence between washington and, between the british embassy and washington in london is over the plight of black british seamen who have been impressed into the u.s. navy or other black british subjects who have been caught up in the war in some terrible way. >> host: of course, britain, as you know, in previous wars had played the role of abolition during the american revolution. quite a few thousand slaves ran away to british lines and left with the parish and be ended up in canada or syria leone and then the war of 1812 the same thing happened. so britain had proved receptive to black presence in a way that was quite unusual compared to the northern or southern united states. there was a great deal of hostility, as you know, toward free blacks in, throughout the united states which is one of the reasons why the whole battle over reconstruction after the war becomes so volatile. >> guest: yes. >> host: no one knows quite what is going to be the status of these former, of these former
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slaves. um, let me ask you perhaps it's unfair after someone has just published an 800-page book. [laughter] have you thought about another book, or are you taking a little time off from writing, which would be fair enough? the. >> guest: i am thinking. i would like to do a concise history of the global aspects of the civil war. you know, maybe just 100,000 words. >> host: wow. so not just britain, but the global picture -- >> guest: well, i would like to just to wring it into focus, and it would be much more of a, as it were, traditionally academic book. >> host: uh-huh. i mean, this would be cutting edge because this notion now of what they call globalizing american history or internationalizing american history is being done, is now what many people are trying to do. of course, it's easier said than done. >> guest: yes. >> host: you have to know a lot of the history of many, many countries, and you have to have some language skills which many american historians, i have to say, don't have. we're pretty monolingual over
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here. but still, i think the global american civil war would be a very interesting -- >> guest: sure. well, thank you very much. >> host: -- thing to tackle. in fact, i was wondering when i read your book, it's already long enough, but you could do the same war for france. >> guest: oh, yes. >> host: you could do the same book for russia. and, of course, russia abolishes serfdom in 1861. and many other countries kept their eyes on the american civil war because it was such a pivotal event in history. >> guest: absolutely. and look how the use of railways was imitated, you know, as a tool of war. >> host: right. >> guest: i think there were really profound effects. >> host: yeah. and you could end up with writing a book now -- you could end up with ulysses s. grant's tour of the world -- >> guest: oh, yes. >> host: -- after he leaves the presidency, 1877 he embarks on this tour which takes him to europe and then the middle east and asia eventually. and everywhere he is hailed as a
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hero. in other words, grant means something to people all over the world because of the american civil war. obviously, before the war no one heard of grant. but, you know, therefore, you've got a great subject ahead of you. but anyway, we're not worrying about amanda's next book. we're talking about her current, recent book "a world on fire: britain's crucial role in the american civil war." so, um, just it's been a pleasure talking to you here and congratulations on the book. and, um, you know, good luck with it and thank you for writing it. >> guest: oh, thank you for having me. >> that was "after words with," booktv's signature program in which authors of the latest nonfiction books are interviewed by journalists, public policymakers, legislators and others familiar with their material. "after words" airs every weekend on booktv at 10 p.m. on saturday and 12 a.m. on monday.
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you can also watch online. bo do to and click on the topics list on the upper right side of the page. >> here's a look at some upcoming book fairs and festivals over the next few months. on september 2nd, decatur, georgia, hosts the "atlanta journal-constitution"'s decatur book festival. the brooklyn book festival begins on september 15th. the author lineup includes kurt anderson, paul berman and walter mosley. then the 16th annual baltimore book festival started september 23rd. also on the 23rd, st. augustine, florida, will host the florida heritage book festival. please let us know about book fairs and festivals in your area, and we'll add them to our list. e-mail us at would it be fair to say that there has been some level of more acceptance? when you look at recent
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scandals, um, and correct me if my thesis here is wrong, that it's the one set are attached not just with personal lives or sexual scandals, but then there's some other wrongdoing that eventually takes people out of office? >> >> that's right. >> in other words, politicians can survive sex scandals. >> david vitter, the senator from louisiana, won his last election in a landslide victory. so it is possible right now because americans have gotten more and more used to sex scandals involving their politicians. ultimately, we argue that's a good thing because it'll enable us to stop eventually talking and obsessing about the sex lives of presidents and politicians and start focusing on what really matters. >> what makes it so bad is not just the prostitutes in new orleans and washington d.c. but he was mr. abstinence in the senate. and when you have somebody that
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hypocritical getting caught up in a sexual escapade, it just makes it even worse. >> well, instead of talking about this conceptually before we go to phone calls, and our lines are already busy for you. let's just give one for instance. what's your favorite story in the book? >> with well, my favorite chapter turned out to be the eleanor or roosevelt -- >> complex white house. >> it was complicated. he had his girlfriend, missy he hand, live anything a bedroom next to him. she had her girlfriend, lorena hickok, living next to her this white house together. the american public didn't, obviously, know any of this. but the fascinating thing about the story is that missy lehan, franklin's girlfriend, lorena hick cock -- eleanor's -- turned out to be essential to helping these two great figures become great heros. it's an essential piece


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