RICHARD COBDEN, ALS, 9 pp, 5 1/3 x 8 ¼, January 1, 1863, Midhurst [West Sussex, England] writes to Abram Hewitt, future mayor of New York City and later Congressman. Cobden was a British radical reformer, member of Parliament and manufacturer. He writes a superbly descriptive content letter to Hewitt, highly critical of America for its failure to concentrate its military forces and capture Richmond.
"The friends of the North here are shocked at the palpable incapacity of your government & at the resultless, unscientific & vulgar butchery which characterises your battles."
“My dear Mr Hewitt
“I am afraid you will have thought me unmindful of my promise to you respecting the iron-plates. After seeing you, I was travelling for three months in Scotland & the North of England. On my return to London I inquired from a member of the Iron Plates Committee what had been done, & I found that no "blue book," as the result of their inquiries, had been presented to Parliament. It appears that in March 1861 the Committee made its Report & advised its publication but the government made some objection & so the Committee was advised to give out no copies except to those who are officially permitted to possess them. It seems however that copies are always open at the Office for the inspection of those who apply together with photographs of experiments &c. I suppose all who are technically interested in such matters will find little difficulty in becoming acquainted with the results of these experiments. In fact, as they are nearly two years old, they have been since superseded probably by improved contrivances. I have no technical knowledge of the kind & confess to some little distaste for the subject, & therefore am not likely to be very profoundly skilled in the improved process for destroying life & property.
“I have however my theory as to the tendency of these rapid & incessant improvements & inventions in armaments. I consider that they have a decided tendency to afford greater advantages to those who are on the defensive than to those who are the aggressors. The nature of these new armaments is so complicated & they are so multifarious in their appliances that they are less available the farther they are removed from the basis of operations which is the seat of their manufacture & equipment. In proportion as this becomes apparent will be the tendency to observe a distinction in the character of your armaments—by separating in your preparations those which are intended for defensive from those designed for offensive war. From the moment you come to view the subject in these separate lights you will see the immense advantage of defensive over aggressive armaments. Look for instance at your latest cupola batteries with their cupolas plated with 9 inch iron & carrying 450 pounders. It would be impossible to send such a vessel across the Atlantic. It is only suited for still water or comparatively so, & to be close to a port where it can always have a supply of fuel, ammunition, provisions &c. To carry an armament of that kind across the Atlantic to attack a distant power you must have a vast floating arsenal like the Warrior, costing ten times as much as a Monitor, & being only 4 or 5 inches of iron instead of 9; for the longer the voyage you have to take & the more you are restricted, for the sake of flotation & capacity of freight, to a thinner coat of iron. Then suppose the Warrior could approach your coast (which would be difficult enough as it draws 30 feet) it would be shattered to pieces by the great guns of the Passaic cupola which would be invulnerable to the lighter guns of the Warrior. I conclude therefore that as this principle becomes developed & clear to mens minds, there will be an end of all idea of coercing a people 3000 miles distant & possessing the resources of mechanical & manufacturing production such as now are possessed by a first-class civilized, wealthy nation.
“When I had the pleasure of seeing you I understood you to say that it was in contemplation to place some very large guns for the defense of New York harbor. Has anything been done? I should be obliged by your letting me have the latest particulars of your coast defenses both in the shape of floating batteries, gun boats, & c. & also of fixed forts or batteries on the shore. What is your largest gun? All this information will be useful to me on the meeting of Parliament in the first week of next Feby. There will be I dare say some talk on the part of some of our fire-eaters about intervention or recognition, & I should like to be well posted with your preparations for coast & harbor defences.
“I wish I could begin the new year with the glimpse of a prospect of peace in your country. I do not see the chance of it at present. The friends of the North here are shocked at the palpable incapacity of your government & at the resultless, unscientific & vulgar butchery which characterises your battles. It seems to us that you neglect the most obvious maxims of war in dispersing your forces over such a wide space. Why not do one thing at a time? Why not take Richmond & thus close the political difficulty & danger which you are dreading from Europe. Recognition or intervention would no longer be talked of if you took possession of Richmond. All the rest is skirmishing & mere squandering of strength until that is done. Surely if you concentrated all your strength on the Confederate capital it could be taken. If not it certainly is vain to think of taking it and at the same time subjugating a thousand miles of territory behind it. But, I repeat, you are obviously violating the first rule of military strategy, which says that there should be a concentration of force on one point, & in Napoleons plans that one point was always the capital. But I am going beyond my "[crepidoma?]." Pray remember me most kindly to Mrs Hewitt, & to Mr & Mrs Cooper & all your family circle, & remember me to any of your friends & neighbors who may not have forgotten me. I remain
“Very truly yours
COBDEN first visited the United States for about three months in 1835 and returned for four and a half months in 1859. On his latter trip, he traveled more than 4,000 miles on American railroads. While in New York City, he visited Abram Hewitt and Hewitt's father-in-law the renowned Peter Cooper and toured parts of the city with Hewitt.
A few weeks after penning this letter to Hewitt, when news of Lincoln's signing the final Emancipation Proclamation had reached England, Cobden wrote to Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts: "You know how much alarmed I was from the first lest our government should interpose in your affairs. The disposition of our ruling class, and the necessities of our cotton trade, pointed to some act of intervention; and the indifference of the great mass of our population to your struggle, the object of which they did not foresee and understand, would have made intervention easy, indeed popular, if you had been a weaker naval power. This state of feeling existed up to the announcement of the President's emancipation policy. From that moment our old anti-slavery feeling began to arouse itself, and it has been gathering strength ever since. The great rush of the public to all the public meetings called on the subject shows how wide and deep the sympathy for personal freedom still is in the hearts of our people.... If an attempt were made by the government in any way to commit us to the South, a spirit would be instantly aroused which would drive our government from power...."
In this letter, Cobden refers to the HMS Warrior, which was built for the Royal Navy in 1859-1861 at a cost of £450,000. The HMS Warrior was a 40-gun steam-powered armored frigate, built in response to France's launching in 1859 of the first ocean-going ironclad warship. Made obsolete by the 1873 launch of the HMS Devastation, the Warrior was decommissioned in 1883 and served in various support roles until 1979, when the Royal Navy donated the ship to The Maritime Trust for restoration. It is now a museum ship in Portsmouth.
Cobden (1804-1865) was born in Sussex, England, and went to work for his uncle in London at age 15. He worked as a commercial traveler in muslin and calico and later became the co-owner of a calico printing factory. He managed the sales outlet in Manchester, where he settled in 1832, and the business prospered. In 1835, he published his first pamphlet on England, Ireland, and America, advocating peace and free trade. He aided in the incorporation of Manchester and served as one of its first aldermen. While campaigning for British schools, he first met John Bright. Together, they founded the Anti-Corn Law League in Manchester in 1838, which sought to repeal taxes on imported grain that kept food prices artificially high. In 1841, he was elected to Parliament for Stockport. When Parliament repealed the Corn Laws in 1846, much of the credit went to Cobden. He toured much of Europe as a radical spokesman, then moved his family to London. He actively supported peace and non-interventionism based on free trade. With the establishment of the Second French Empire in 1851-1852, Cobden tried to calm British public opinion, sacrificing much of his popularity. He opposed the Crimean War, dismissive of the attempt to maintain the Ottoman Empire. His opposition to the Second Opium War cost him his seat in Parliament in 1857, but he was reelected in 1859. When the American Civil War began, Cobden was deeply distressed but fully supported the Union cause because of the Confederacy's association with slavery. He died in April 1865, just before the war in America ended.
ABRAM STEVENS HEWITT (1822-1903) was born in New York and graduated from Columbia College in 1842. After teaching mathematics there, he traveled to Europe in 1843 and 1844 with his student, Edward Cooper, the son of industrialist Peter Cooper. He became virtually a member of the Cooper family and in 1855 married Sarah Amelia Cooper (1830-1912), with whom he had six children. In 1845, Hewitt and Edward Cooper started an iron mill in Trenton, New Jersey, where they developed innovative iron products. They supplied iron rails to the ever-expanding network of railroads in the nation. Hewitt supervised the construction of the Cooper Union in New York City in 1859, which used innovative iron beams and patented hollow bricks. During the Civil War, Hewitt strongly supported the Union cause, supplying gun metal to armories for the manufacture of rifles and building mortar beds for army and navy ordnance bureaus. Hewitt served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1875-1879 and again from 1881 to 1886. In 1876 and 1877, he served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and managed Samuel J. Tilden's unsuccessful campaign for the presidency. In 1887 and 1888, Hewitt was the mayor of New York City, and during his tenure, he developed a plan to fund and construct a subway system in the city.
A few edge chips to the final page with one tear repaired with archival tape. Else in very good condition and a fine letter from a British radical reformer and abolitionist.
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