Friday, 1 August 2008

The Threatening Notice

Punch, Volume 48, February 18, 1865, p. 67

Throughout the Civil War, Confederate agents and sympathizers hatched various plots to enter the Northern states across the Canadian border, for purposes ranging from arson to sabotage to freeing Rebel soldiers held in Union prison camps. As the South's fortunes grew more desperate, attempts were actually made to carry out some of these schemes. In October, 1864, a Confederate raiding party which had assembled in Canada attacked the town of St. Albans in Vermont, where they terrorized citizens, robbed three banks, and attempted to set buildings on fire. After shooting several civilians, one of whom died, the raiders fled back across the border. Although some were arrested by local authorities, British and Canadian officials refused to extradite them for trial in the United States. All were subsequently set free by a Canadian judge.

Reacting to such provocations, Secretary of State Seward in late 1864 gave the requisite six-months' notice that the United States intended to abrogate the Rush-Bagot Convention. This agreement, originally negotiated in 1817 and ratified by the Senate in the following year, had for decades provided for the disarmament of the lengthy U.S.-Canadian border. Many in Canada and Britain were alarmed, seeing Seward's move as a preliminary step towards a possible American invasion. But Lincoln's counsel of "one war at a time" remained the government's policy. The threatened abrogation never came before the Senate, and the proposal was allowed to lapse at the end of the Civil War in 1865. In retrospect, Seward's notification was probably intended only as an expression of the Federal government's frustration at Canada's seeming inability to prevent Confederate belligerents from operating out of its territory.

In this odd scene, "Uncle Sam" is personified as a huge, glowering American eagle, dressed in stars-and-stripes clothing similar to that worn by Lincoln in previous cartoons. The President, in contrast, appears reasonably neat and properly dressed in a manner befitting a small-town lawyer. In avoiding his usual caricature, Tenniel seems to present a more sympathetic view of Lincoln as a prudent, reasoned voice for moderation, holding firm against extremists within his own government. John Teeial was also the illustrator for Alice's adventures in wonderland.

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