Louisiana State University Press


In Ambivalent Nation: How Britain Imagined the American Civil War Hugh Dubrulle makes a valuable contribution to the body of scholarship that seeks to expand the temporal and geographical frame that scholars employ when examining the American Civil War. Through an analysis of the way that Britons discussed topics including American politics, race, nationalism and the military during the antebellum, Dubrulle reconstructs popular attitudes on the eve of the conflict. He then highlights the areas of continuity within British Civil War discourse. By treating British responses to the Civil War as part of an on-going conversation, Dubrulle emphasizes the ‘passionate ambivalence’ that characterized popular attitudes towards the conflict. Furthermore, he offers a valuable codicil by suggesting that such an analysis public discourse also enriches our understanding of the Palmerston administration’s diplomatic approach in which ‘sentiment and policy’ seemed so at odds.

Dubrulle places on emphasis on viewing the United States through a postcolonial lens and this approach pays dividends. It allows him to tease apart the different ideological strands that made up the Anglo-American connection in this period. Dubrulle’s introductory vignette (focused on a hoax letter to the London Times in 1856 regarding ‘railways and revolvers in Georgia’) is indicative of the value of such an approach and suggests that it has the potential to further disrupt our assumptions about the Anglo-American relationship. Crucially, the post-colonial lens helps to shed light on the contradictions that emerged when Britons tried to define American national character.