In the summer of 1863 Mr. Beecher had been sent to Europe for a rest. On his return he came to England, and immediately there arose a general demand for him to represent America. His marvellous success in the anti-slavery campaign preceding the Civil War, his widespread popularity, and particularly his power over audiences, made many look to him as the providential ambassador. He demurred at first, but at last yielded.
When he arrived in London, Manchester, and Liverpool, where great mass meetings had been arranged for him to address, he found that every effort had been made to discredit him, by huge posters placed throughout the country asking: "Who is Henry Ward Beecher? He is the man who said the best blood of England must be shed to atone for the Trent affair. Men of Manchester, Englishmen, what reception can you give this man? He is the friend of General Butler. He is the friend of that so-called gospel preacher, Cheever. His impudence in coming here is only equalled by his cruelty and impiety."
The meeting at Liverpool was announced as follows. "At a meeting held in New York at the time when the Confederate envoys, Messrs. Mason and Slidell, had been surrendered by President Lincoln to the British Government, from whose vessel (the Royal Mail Steamer Trent) they were taken, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher said, This act will demonstrate the unfeeling selfishness of the British Government and bring us to a realisation of our national humiliation. This opinion comes from a Christian minister who wishes to obtain a welcome in Liverpool, where operatives are suffering almost unprecedented hardships caused by the suicidal war raging in the States of North America, and which is being urged on by fanatical statesmen and preachers of the North!"
These posters and notices of the press had so inflamed the public mind that when Mr. Beecher entered the great halls in Liverpool, Manchester and London, he had to face a howling mob. When he arose to speak, the tumult and hisses made it impossible for him to be heard. Calmly he stood and faced the storm like a giant oak for a period of one hour to one hour and a half, at each one of these three great meetings, before the audience would listen to anything which he said; gradually sentence after sentence began to reach them, and here Mr. Beecher showed his great power as an orator. He slowly quieted the mob until they listened to every word he said, and when he closed, the applause which greeted him was greater than the groans and the howling with which he had been received. He had met the enemy and conquered.
He had an easy road afterwards in following up this victory, speaking in different towns and cities all over England, and everywhere the people received him with respect and enthusiasm. By degrees he succeeded in slowly changing the opinions of the people from favouring the cause of the Confederate States to indorsing the struggle of the North for Union and Liberty. Returning to London before sailing for America, he was received with great honours by the most noted men in that city, including royalty. Dinners, breakfasts, and receptions followed one another in quick succession until he took his departure.
Upon his return home he was tendered a great reception in the Academy of Music, Brooklyn. The people of the North had been watching every step of his course in England with deep anxiety, for it was a serious time in the history of this nation. The service which he rendered his country at that time earned the gratitude of the American Government and people, and made him the most popular man of the North. I may add that this period of Mr. Beecher's life was the one of his greatest power and influence, and marked one of the greatest epochs in his history.