Published in 2016, the book Our Man in Charleston tells the story of Robert Bunch (1820-1881), the British consul in Charleston, South Carolina, who is described in the subtitle as “Britain’s Secret Agent.”Bunch was not, for the most part, a secret agent, but he did somewhat covertly keep his government informed about conditions and developments in South Carolina. In correspondence with British authorities, he offered his opinions and observations about the Palmetto State and the South at large during the developing sectional crisis in the 1850s and into the war years, until he was removed from his post in 1863. Bunch, a fervent abolitionist, was convinced that the South desired to reopen the international slave trade, and used this argument in an attempt to influence the British government against formal recognition of the Confederate States of America. Although the Confederate constitution, in Article I, Section 9, Clause 1, expressly prohibited the international slave trade, the anti-Southern Bunch believed and reported this prohibition to be “legally ephemeral” and even “unenforceable.” However, the constitution of the Confederate States of America expressly delegated this power of prohibition to the Confederate government, not the states, and the document emphasized that the Confederate Congress was required to pass laws preventing the foreign trade.
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