Friday, February 19, 2010

Howard Jones' "Blue and Gray Diplomacy"

Howard Jones is University Research Professor of History at the University of Alabama. His books include Mutiny on the Amistad, Death of a Generation, and The Bay of Pigs.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations, and reported the following:
Page 99:
The Palmerston ministry clung to neutrality in the face of a growing popular clamor for war. [British foreign secretary Lord John] Russell responded to the three southern commissioners' call for recognition with another affirmation of British neutrality, but his stand did not diminish their expectations. The Bee-Hive of London, whose editors supported the Confederacy because of the Union's restrictive commercial policies, urged the government to break the blockade to secure cotton and ally with France in a war against the Union. Slavery should pose no obstacle. An independent South, the journal argued, would have to accept emancipation once encased by free territory. William S. Lindsay, a shipping magnate and perhaps the Confederacy's strongest supporter in Parliament, called for an offensive and defensive treaty with the Confederacy before England and the Union went to war.

Meanwhile, the French stridently condemned the Union's seizure of [James] Mason and [John] Slidell. Nothing, [Union minister to France William L.] Dayton declared with concern, had matched the 'outburst' of anger in his host country. If the United States did not renounce that action, 'the almost universal impression here is that war will follow.' Dayton had thought the French would stay back and let the British and Union 'fight it out!' But France needed cotton, and the nation's industrial interests might push its government to intervene. Some of the French press wanted the emperor to act with England on the issue. The French joined other Europeans in believing the Union had no respect for international law and had tried 'to pick a quarrel' with England.
The passage above relates to the Trent crisis of November 1861 between England and the Union, in which US Navy Captain Charles Wilkes seized two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, from the British mail packet above Cuba and raised angry cries in England for war. An Anglo-American war would doubtless have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and near certain independence. Fortunately for the Union—not so for the Confederacy—the Palmerston ministry and the Lincoln administration managed to avert war.

The Trent affair highlighted the central importance of foreign recognition in Union and Confederate diplomacy during the Civil War. If one or more European nations had recognized the South as a nation—particularly in the crucial first eighteen months of the war—they would have virtually assured its independence by permitting Richmond's leaders to negotiate military and economic alliances vital to winning the war. Strategists in London, Paris, and other European capitals knew the danger in a premature recognition—that there was a narrow line between the Confederacy's status as a traitor and as an independent nation and that extending recognition before the South had won independence was tantamount to allying with a people rebelling against their duly authorized government. The Union considered the matter so critical that it warned of war with any nation that recognized the South.

Why didn’t the Confederacy win diplomatic recognition? Primarily because it did not possess anything vital to either British or French interests that made intervention worth the risk of going to war with the Union. The Palmerston ministry came close to a mediation offer based on recognition but had no solution to the war and did not want to alienate the Union; Napoleon came even closer with his Machiavellian scheme to restore French power in the New World with the help of a Confederate buffer state, but, like the British, he shied away from fighting a war against either the Union or a reunited American nation. In one of those rare instances in history, nations with histories of acquisitive instincts realistically assessed the dangers of intervention and resisted the temptation.

Thus the Confederacy never resolved its greatest dilemma: To achieve recognition, it had to win a decisive battle; yet to win that decisive battle, it had to have the foreign military and economic assistance that could come only from recognition. In more ways than one, the South had fought a lost cause.
Read more about Blue and Gray Diplomacy at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue