An Englishman’s Impressions of America (1865)


SIR: Having in my native land, during your late war, taken a deep interest in everything relating to your country, I became strongly impressed with a desire to pay a visit, in order that by personal observation the views I had previously entertained might be confirmed or corrected. While in England, I was repeatedly told that in your churches you had “nigger”-pews; negro carriages, like lumber boxes, on your railways; no seats for negroes in your horse-cars; and that in every possible way, even in the enlightened North, the negro was punished and trampled upon for no other reason than that he belonged to what was supposed to be an outcast race. Even in our large public meetings held for the purpose of discussing the great American struggle, the advocates of freedom were repeatedly told that, in the North, the hatred of the whites to the blacks was shown by hanging the negroes at the lamp-posts in the streets. Of course, we know that the terrible New York riot was not the work of the freedom-loving North, but was entirely to be attributed to the sympathizers with the South; yet in England, to a very large extent,the fiction was believed to be true, and the darker the falsehood, the more readily it was received. I have seen your churches, your railroads, and your cars, and have seen nothing which indicates to me that you regard the negroes as a proscribed race, over whom Providence has placed you to rule and punish with a rigorous hand. It is true, there is some prejudice against the negro on account of his color, but this prejudice is not general, nor is it anymore bitter than I have seen evidenced in England against the Irish. I have often seen in the news-papers where vacant situations are advertised, that the concluding sentence has been, “No Irish need apply. ”

Then again, it was said that the North, in endeavoring to put down the rebellion, was engaged in an impossible task. and the South must ultimately triumph. Mr. JOSEPH BARKER, who formerly lived in America, and whom many of your readers know, proclaimed most positively, time after time, on the English platforms, that this was a moral certainty. Before I left England, not only Mr. Barker, but every member of the “Southern Independence Association,” and every newspaper editor who sympathized with Southern despotism, were compelled to see how egregiously they had blundered, and how ridiculously foolish they had made themselves appear, by the dogmatical and dictatorial course which they had pursued.

William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator was a weekly abolitionist newspaper published in Boston. The paper held true to the founder’s ideals. Garrison was a journalistic crusader who advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves and gained a national reputation for being one of the most radical of American abolitionists.
Again, it was said that the war was of such an exhausting character that the North must of necessity collapse; for it could nerve the financial strain to which it would be subject. Are they facts? I see on every hand the evidence that your resources are almost inexhaustible. Your warehouses are filled with treasures, and your stores with customers. Your artisans are well dressed, and their homes abound with comfort. True, provisions and articles of domestic use are enhanced in value through the operations of the war, but then wages are high, and people generally seem content. The national distress which was predicted has not yet appeared, and I see no evidence of its approach. During a period of more than six weeks in succession, I have never seen a beggar in the land; but if I had been in England, I could not have been as many days without seeing a number.

In England, the abolitionists were described as fanatics, or persons of weak judgment and of small influence. But I have found them to be just the opposite. I never saw more enlightened, intelligent, and able men, and their influence is asserted by the fact that scarcely in any company can be found a man who will openly declare that he does not hold anti-slavery sentiments.

There are other points I would gladly have touched upon, but a fear lost your valuable space should be already occupied checks my pen; and I therefore conclude by expressing my gratitude to you for the publication of the Liberator. I have often been cheered by its warm and genial influences, while surrounded by the cooling Southern sympathizing atmosphere of England, and I rejoice that your self-denying labors in an honorable cause have been brought to such a satisfactory termination.

I remain yours, in the cause of freedom,

David Thomas,
Boston, Dec. 26, 1865.

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

Related Posts


Stay Connected

Connect with Accessible Archives on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin to stay up to date on news and blog posts or get our latest blog posts by email.

Positive SSL