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In the lead commentary of the October 17, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, editor John Bonner reconsidered the American tradition of no entangling alliances with foreign nations, famously annunciated in President George Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 and reinforced, according to Bonner, by the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.  The editor argued that changes over the ensuing decades—particularly greater economic ties and increased speed of transportation and communication between Europe and America—had undermined the ideal and reality of American isolation.  Therefore, Bonner argued, “nothing which happens any where [in the world] is now indifferent to us, and our transactions interest all the rest of the world.” 

Warning that British and French diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy would be antagonistic to the interests of the Union, the editor asked pointedly, “Would it not be wise to meet the hostile alliance of the Western Powers of Europe by an alliance with Russia?”  He characterized both Russia and the United States as young nations, which were just developing their capabilities and, thus, represented the future.  Both were undergoing difficult transitions with the emancipation of serfs in Russia and of slaves in the United States.  He envisioned that the Russian-American alliance at “the least … could keep the peace of the world, and prevent the ambition of despots [France’s Napoleon III] or the knavery of shopkeepers [Britain] from embroiling nations in useless wars.”  Bonner also compared the Lincoln administration’s use of arms to put down the Confederate insurrection with the Czar’s suppression of the Polish Rebellion, and how both had “been thwarted and annoyed by the interference of France and England.”

The news report in the October 17 Harper’s Weekly of the reception of the Russian fleet in New York Harbor emphasized its “political significance.”  While ignoring British and French admirals, American citizens responded “with gratitude for the friendly manner in which Russia has stood by us in our present struggle, while the Western Powers have done not a little to work our ruin.”  The text gave a detailed account of fleet specifications, corresponding to an illustration.  The article then quoted from the New York Herald’s account of the ceremonies in the bay.  On the Harper’s Weekly cover, the accompanying illustration showed the city’s Common Council official welcoming Admiral Stepan Lesovsky (“Lisovski”).  A few pages forward was a full-page illustration of the Russian naval delegation’s parade on Broadway.  A picture of the Russian Pacific fleet appeared without commentary in the January 23, 1864 issue.

Harper's Weekly References

1)  October 17, 1863, p. 658, c. 1-3
editorial, “A Russian Alliance”

2)  October 17, 1863, pp. 661-662
article, “Our Russian Visitors”

3)  October 17, 1863, pp. 664-665
illustration, “The Russian Fleet”

4)  October 17, 1863, p. 657
illustration, reception of the Russian fleet

5)  October 17, 1863, p. 660
illustration, parade of Russian delegation

6)  January 23, 1864, p. 60
illustration, “Russian Pacific Fleet”

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