Throughout most of 1863, the strain of diplomacy continues in London as the war continues in the States. Minister Adams learns that William Laird & Son, shipbuilders in Liverpool, are constructing two ironclad warships for the Confederacy. Adams sends a series of notes of protest to British Foreign Secretary Lord Russell. On September 1, 1863, Russell writes the American Legation to state that he cannot interfere with these vessels in any way. Adams responds in the strongest possible terms on September 5: "It would be superfluous in me to point out to your Lordship that this is war!" Fortunately, Russell has already reconsidered his position; on September 2, he orders the two warships to be detained. Russell seeks an alternative buyer for the vessels.
Minister Adams's diplomatic victory in London is the result of bold candor as well as timing. When the war in the States was very much in doubt, the Confederacy contracted for two ironclad warships, which the narrator refers to as battering rams due to their heavy prows and a method of ramming the enemy. During the summer of 1863, however, the Union gains two decisive victories within a few days. On July 4, the Confederate garrisons at Vicksburg, Mississippi, surrender to General Grant after a siege of more than six weeks. The major port between Memphis and New Orleans, Vicksburg is a key to the control of the Mississippi River. Even more important is the Union victory at Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, where, on July 1-3, General Meade's forces defeat General Lee's, both sides suffering terrible casualties. The North is at an advantage by the end of the summer, and so is Minister Adams.
The narrator points out that Minister Adams especially likes Russell. The British Foreign Secretary reminds Henry of his grandfather, the Minister's father, John Quincy Adams. As part of Henry's education, however, he notices that his father never completely trusts Russell. Henry's father is not about to allow England to build more vessels for Jefferson Davis's Navy. He insists that Russell intervene. Russell initially tries to stall for time as he did during the crisis involving the Alabama, that time effecting the vessel's escape. Minister Adams correctly assesses the situation and takes the strongest possible stance by stating unequivocally that this means war! Russell has already reconsidered and capitulates. On September 8, he informs Adams that "instructions have been issued which will prevent the departure of the two ironclad vessels from Liverpool." He then negotiates to have the British navy purchase the vessels, with the likely intent of selling them to another European nation. Henry is learning that, as Gladstone says and the narrator quotes to end the chapter, politicians are the "most difficult to comprehend" of all mankind; the reason is that they say and do whatever best serves their cause.
fatuity stupidity, especially complacent stupidity.
idée fixe (French) a fixed idea, an obsession.
collusion a secret agreement for fraudulent or illegal purpose; a conspiracy.
vertigo a whirling sensation causing loss of balance; dizziness.
coercion an act of restraining or constraining by force of any kind.
animus a feeling of hostility or hatred.