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The Expulsion of the Consuls

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By Oct. 8, 1863, Britain had crossed the line — at least in the eyes of Judah P. Benjamin, the Confederate secretary of state. Benjamin’s frustration rang out loud and clear from a letter he wrote that day to Allan Fullarton, Britain’s acting consul in Savannah, Ga. Fullarton’s offense? Like other consuls, he was helping British subjects in the Confederacy avoid conscription, which Confederate officials were increasingly applying to citizens and noncitizens alike. Britain allowed that foreign-born men could be required to take part in emergency local defense but denied the Confederacy’s right to draft them into regular military service. But to Benjamin, every time a foreign consul took it upon himself to determine the reach of Confederate conscription, he made an unacceptable assault upon the Confederacy’s sovereignty.

And so, on Benjamin’s advice, President Jefferson Davis ruled that the British consuls could “no longer be permitted to exercise their functions or even to reside within the limits of the Confederacy.” In a move that seemed to slam closed any hopes that Britain would recognize Confederate sovereignty, on Oct. 8, 1863, its consuls were expelled from the Confederacy.

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Possibly not the brightest thing the Confederacy did. Unless there were a lot of military-aged British men in the Confederacy, this has to score as one of history's great 'own goals'.

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