Abdullah N. Sheikh
During the Civil War an important thing that the Union feared was foreign aid for the Confederates. In this respect, the country that was most probable to help them was Great Britain. The British had their eye on the internal affairs of the United States.
The export of cotton from the south was of vital importance to Britain. Their textile industry depended on it and that is why the south was confident of the English aid. This aid came during the first year of the Civil War and almost brought Great Britain and the United States close to war.
President of the Confederates, Jefferson Davis sent diplomats James Mason to Britain and John Slidell to France as ministers. To avoid the Union blockade, they boarded a British mail steamer, the Trent, from Cuba for passage across the Atlantic Ocean. On November 8, 1861, to the north of Cuba they were stopped by a union warship, San Jacinto, and forcefully removed the Confederate diplomats. This event was called the Trent Affair and it stirred a wave of indignation in Britain. They claimed that the American warship had violated the international law by removing passengers from the ship without taking the ship to a court for adjudication.
The warship landed in Boston on November 23 to deposit the Confederate prisoners at Fort Warren and was greeted with praise. The US House of Representatives passed a resolution to honor the captain of the San Jacinto, Charles Wilkes. The news of this event arrived in Britain on November 27 and they called an emergency cabinet meeting. The British Government asked the United States for an apology and return of the Confederate diplomats.
They issued an ultimatum, which was softened by Prince Albert. This affair had brought United States very close to a war with Britain and the Union would have to fight war on two fronts, one against Britain and another against the Confederates. Due to this affair the South failed to get help from the British. It also developed confidence between the governments of the United States and Great Britain. Before the British whose sympathies lay with the Confederacy thought of US as a peace making nation and they can have relations with them in the future.