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Nathaniel Hawthorne: Consul at Liverpool

The novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote Charlotte Lindgren, found much to criticize both in Great Britain and in his own country.

When Nathaniel Hawthorne assumed office in 1853, the United States Consulate in Liverpool consisted of two dreary rooms on the first floor of the Washington Buildings on the lower corner of Brunswick Street near the old docks. Quiet and introspective, the forty-nine-year-old novelist seemed an unlikely choice for the most lucrative consulate post in England, but he did his job conscientiously for the full four-year term.

He left to history a detailed journal which served as a basis for his own later creative works, and is also a perceptive revelation of an American’s view of English society and the responsibilities of a consul in the mid-nineteenth century.

In spite of Whig opposition, the American Congress on March 26th, 1853, ratified President Franklin Pierce’s appointment of Hawthorne as Consul. Pierce and Hawthorne had been friends since their college days at Bowdoin College at Brunswick, Maine. When the former decided to run for the Presidency of the United States as Democratic candidate in support of the Compromise of 1850, Hawthorne offered to write his campaign biography, though he must have known that in doing so he would involve himself in controversy.

It was a bitter campaign, for, in spite of the uneasy peace secured by the Compromise, the country was split over the slave issue. In New England, especially, abolitionist sentiments ran high. California had been admitted to the Union as a free state, and the South wanted new slave territory added to the Union as compensation. The North was infuriated by the stringent fugitive slave laws which required that escaped slaves had to be returned to their Southern owners.

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