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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Mark Bennett

Bennett, Mark (2014). Confederate supporters in the West Riding, 1861-1865: 'Cranks of the worst English species'. Northern History 51(2): 311-329.

Author(s) from Durham


During the American Civil War, an intense debate took place over whether Britain should support the southern slave-owning Confederacy in its struggle for independence, endorse the Union’s attempts to put down the rebellion, or hold strict neutrality between the two sides. Traditionally, Confederate advocacy has been seen as the prerogative of conservative elites motivated by a fear of democracy. This article takes a detailed view of Confederate supporters in the West Riding, both members of the Southern Independence Association pressure group and Confederate activists holding no official position. It investigates the occupational, social and political backgrounds of these individuals and concludes that there are no clear links between political affiliation and support for the Confederacy. It also examines the arguments used in public meetings and correspondence by supporters of the Confederacy, emphasising the anti-Union rather than pro-South nature of their words and highlighting the importance of anti-slavery to contemporary opinion. Finally, it looks more closely at attitudes within Sheffield, the only city within the Riding in which pro-Confederate meetings were held successfully, in which a study of both elite and popular loyalties reiterates the importance of local issues in Victorian politics.