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This Week in History
November 1-7, 2015

Special from the Committee of Correspondence*

Prince of Wales Toured United States as Secession Crisis Threatened;
British Heir to Throne Witnessed Election of Abraham Lincoln
(November 6, 1860)

By Pam Lowry

* The Committees of Correspondence, best known from Benjamin Franklin’s work, were the American colonies’ means for maintaining communication lines in the years before the Revolutionary War. In 1764, Boston formed the earliest Committee of Correspondence to encourage opposition to Britain’s stiffening of customs enforcement and prohibition of American paper money. The following year, New York formed a similar committee to keep the other colonies notified of its actions in resisting the Stamp Act. In 1773, the Virginia House of Burgesses proposed that each colonial legislature appoint a committee for intercolonial correspondence. The exchanges that followed built solidarity during the turbulent times and helped bring about the formation of the First Continental Congress in 1774. The Committees continued to function in the following years as a US Intelligence Service.

A 1942 U.S. postage stamp commemorating the American-Chinese alliance based on the ideas of Sun Yat-sen and Abraham Lincoln.

December 12, 1860—President James Buchanan has received a letter from Queen Victoria informing him that the Prince of Wales has returned safely to England after his extensive tour of the United States. The Prince, who had earlier toured the British Dominion of Canada, was invited to our nation in a letter sent by outgoing President James Buchanan to Queen Victoria on June 4th. President Buchanan, who is known for his pro-British sympathies, was Secretary of State when concessions were made to the British over the Oregon boundary question, and served as President Pierce's Minister to Great Britain from 1853-1856. Many Americans feel that it is strange, to say the least, to have invited the heir-apparent to the British throne to tour America when Britain itself clandestinely supports the secession aspirations of the Southern states and hopes for the breakup of the Union into several weak and warring sections.

Mr. Buchanan has been strongly criticized recently for allowing federal munitions to be transferred to Southern arsenals during this period of national crisis, and has made the now-infamous statement that "There is but one possible contingency which can endanger the Union.... Should the time ever arrive when Northern agitation and fanaticism shall proceed so far as to render the domestic firesides of the South insecure, then, and not till then, will the Union be in danger."

The Prince of Wales, who will some day ascend the British throne as Edward VII, traveled with a large suite of courtiers and government officials. He entered our nation by way of Detroit on September 21, 1860 and was entertained by balls and dinners at many cities along his route to Washington, where he was received by President Buchanan at the White House. From there, the Prince and his suite journeyed to Richmond, Virginia, where they were accorded an enthusiastic reception. The Americans invited to the royal festivities seemed more concerned with what finery they would wear than with the fate of their country if the Southern states should secede from the Union.

President Abraham Lincoln with his son in Richmond,Virginia,welcomed by freed slaves in 1865.

Although the Prince was scheduled to leave America on October 20, 1860, he reportedly changed his plans due to "shipping delays," enabling him to see more of the Southern states and to return to Philadelphia where he witnessed the presidential election (on November 6). Mr. A.K. McClure, the head of Abraham Lincoln's campaign in Philadelphia, reports that the Prince spent the evening of the election on his hotel balcony surrounded by his suite of nobles, "watching what he regarded as the dying agonies of the Republic." The Prince was reportedly astounded that the tumultuous crowds of election night did not reappear the next day, and subsequently announced that he would now return to Great Britain.