Realising they must achieve European recognition in order to win the conflict and, ultimately their independence, the Confederate Government in Richmond, Virginia, despatched numerous agents to London to work towards this vital goal including William Yancey, James Murray Mason, Henry Hotze, Caleb Huse, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and Benjamin Ficklin.
President Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William H. Seward, were well aware of the importance of Washington’s being well-represented in the British capital to thwart the Confederates’ diplomatic strategies and selected Charles Francis Adams as the US Minister to London. His son, Henry Adams, went with him to serve as his private secretary. Some key American figures already in London at the Civil War’s start would also play key roles, including John Adams Knight and George Francis Train.
The British response to the American Civil War was mixed, and Queen Victoria and Prime Minister Palmerston opted to quickly declare neutrality. Although throughout the conflict the British Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell, remained largely impartial, many parliamentarians, including William Henry Gregory, John Arthur Roebuck, and Lord Robert Cecil, favoured a Southern victory over a reunited American nation. Fewer MPs favoured the North, but those who did, including John Bright, Richard Cobden, and W. E. Forster, were very vocal about their beliefs, setting the scene for a protracted and vicious political fight.
London society was also split between North & South. Those partial towards the North included veteran anti-slavery activist George Thompson and academic Francis W. Newman, whilst wealthy aristocrat A. J. B. Beresford-Hope and architect George Edmund Street openly favoured the Confederacy.