, Research Paper
The Civil War caused both the North and the South to try to get help from England and France. These powerful countries could definitely help one side defeat the other. Both sides worked very hard to get the other one to join them. They caused a great deal of hardship to both sides and at the same time helped them in many ways. This will show how foreign diplomacy will effect the civil war in numerous occasions.
In 1860 and 1861 American and Britain relations were the best they had been in 60 years. The Prince of Wales made a 29-day tour of the U.S. as a mark of friendship.
England would be the focal point of the U.S. Lincoln wanted to keep England neutral because if they joined the confederacy British ironclads would have broken the blockade and fired at northern cities. They couldn’t take the chance of the British joining the south so they kept them neutral.
England thought the war was over slavery, which England had long been against. Newspapers in Britain favored the North. Lincoln feared saying the war was totally about slavery because if he did the crucial border states of Maryland. Kentucky, and Missouri would join the Confederacy, because they all had slavery and depended on it. He was then forced to say he was fighting to preserve the Union. To England and outsiders the cause of the South was to free itself from the domination of the North. A number of British liberals, not seeing Lincoln’s hands tied on slavery, thought his efforts to force one section to do one thing using bayonets as immoral. The London times wrote:
The contest is really for empire on the side of the North, and independence on that of the South.
The majority of English journalists were therefore unfriendly to the North because they saw it as the South wanting to be free. The London Punch called Lincoln a boor, braggart, and even the devil. The New York Herald replied back saying bad things about England. The North was angered by them saying these things because England was supposed to be with them because they were against slavery.
British unfriendliness was concentrated in England’s upper class because they could relate to the “gentleman” southerner more than the noisy and “vulgar” northerner. The British aristocrats had long hated the “demon democracy” and had long expected and been waiting for an end to a “detestable” democratic experiment.
The U.S. also was a growing commercial competitor and a menace to Canada and other British land’s in the western hemisphere. If the U.S. split into two the South would have no tariff and sell it’s cotton cheap to England and France, which had a huge textile industry. Senator Hammond of South Carolina said in 1858, “No, sir, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is king.” The Civil War also presented Europe with the best chance ever to take land in North America. If the U.S. was spilt into two countries they would fight with each other and be less inclined to fight with distant nations.
England grew 50 percent of its cotton from the South and would very much like a free- trade with the South. Prime minister Palmerston put it best by saying “We do not like slavery, but we want cotton, and we dislike very much your high tariff.” Many powerful liberals thought the war was over slavery and democracy and that Britain should stay out of the war.
Britain also did not want to get involved because of the fear of Yankee Privateers. Britain could also reep huge profits from selling goods to the North. The most potent force was probably the working English class. They had read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and thought the war was over slavery and the preservance of democracy.
Britain did somewhat secretly help the south. Large shipments of guns and other supplies of war were shipped to little English islands in the Bahamas and the Mexican city of Matamoras. From Matamoras supplies would go over land. From the Bahamas they would try to break the blockade.
On May 4, 1861, unofficial news reached London that Lincoln had issued a blockade proclamation. A few days later London issued a proclamation of neutrality. They did this so Yankee privateers’ would not seize English ships. The south liked the proclamation because they could still send privateers to British ports.
It was more to the advantage of the North though, it strengthened the blockade and did not fully recognize the independence of the South. British officials were astonished by the bitterness of the North. England thought it would help the North would see it as helpful to them, but they only saw it as helping the South.
On June 1, 1861, London issued a proclamation forbidding armed ships on both sides to bring their prizes to British ports. It meant almost nothing to the Union because the South had no merchant marine they could take. It was a huge blow to the South who heavily relied on bringing their prizes to British ports.
In 1861 England felt rather neutral to the Union until they captured the Trent. In late 1861, the Confederates sent two of their best statesman, James M. Mason and John Slidell, to England and France to get help for the South. They got past the blockade and reached Havana where they boarded the mailsteamer Trent. Captain Wilkes of the warship San Jacinto, acting without orders from Washington, was waiting north of Cuba for them. When the Trent met the San Jacinto shot two shots across the Trent’s bow, signaling it to stop. Mason, Slidell, and two other secretaries were removed and the Trent was allowed to continue to England. The whole thing reminded Britain of the War of 1812 days when they would just take men from American merchant ships.
News of the Trent caused rejoicing in the North. The North had been waiting for some victory and only got reports’ of defeat. They saw it as the first Union success of the war. Not many men were more hated in the North than Mason and Slidell. They feared if they reached Europe the Europeans would help break the blockade. They also saw this as payback for them taking men in the War of 1812
The governor of Massachuset publicly expressed his satisfaction of what Captain Wilkes did. Wilkes was promoted. The secretary of the navy wrote him a letter telling him he did a good job, and the House of Representatives passed a vote of thanks to him. Lincoln was concerned about having to fight two people at once.
When news reached England they were furious. They thought Seward was trying to provoke foreign war. England began building more warships and sent 11,000 soldiers to Canada. Britain was ready to fight if they had to.
Three days after England received the news they gave the U.S. and ultimatum, demanding the release of the prisoners and an apology. Several days later word reached Britain of the rejoicing and London got even madder. Due to a bad newly laid American cable the U.S. did not receive the ultimatum until a month after England sent it.
During this month enthusiasm about the Trent had cooled down and Lincoln was left with a tough decision. If he let the prisoners go people would think less of the government and Lincoln. If he didn’t, England would surely join up with the South to fight the Union. After a long debate Lincoln’s cabinet decided to release the prisoners. Seward was given the job of writing a lengthy note of apology. He said Wilkes made a grave error in capturing the Trent and the U.S. accepted the principles they had fought for in the War of 1812.
After the Trent incident many Americans thought England overreacted about a thing shed had done long before. Representative Lovejoy of Illinois Said this in Congress:
….I hate the British government. I have never shared traditional hostility of my countrymen against England. But I now here publicly avow and record my inextinguishable hatred of that government. I mean to cherish it while I live, and to bequeath it as a legacy to my children when I die. And if I am alive when war with England comes, as sooner or later it must, for we shall never forget this humiliation, and if I can carry a musket in that war I will carry it.
The British were relieved over a peaceful outcome. They realized that if they fought the North an overseas war would be difficult, Canada would be vulnerable to northern armies, British merchant marines would be hurt by privateers, and the English middle class did not want to fight alongside the South because they had read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The Trent probably caused feelings to be better because it let them get their emotions out and the U.S. had an opportunity to fight and they didn’t.
During the Civil War one fifth of England earned their living directly or indirectly from the manufacturing of cotton. The South thought if they stopped delivering cotton because of the war many Englishmen would be out of jobs and angry mobs would force England to help the South. The Charleston Mercury wrote: “The cards are in our hands and we intend to play them out to the bankruptcy of every cotton factory in Great Britain and France or the acknowledgment of our independence.” The southerners restricted cotton production and burned some 2,500,000 bales to cause a bigger shortage.
The plan seemed flawless to the South. Why did it fail then? The answer is a 50 percent over supply of cotton in England because the south had just shipped its bumper crop of 1860. With too much cotton factories were open only part time because prices were so low. With the blockade prices of cotton rose anywhere from two to six times there usual worth. Manufactured cotton rose three to four times its usual worth. The factories saw it as a gift from god. During the war around 1,500,000 bales of cotton were run through the blockade, about 3/4 of their normal shipment to England and new sources of cotton were found in India and Egypt. When the South noticed their mistake in 1863, the war was already an antislavery crusade.
During the Civil War Great Britain had a crop shortage and was forced to look elsewhere for grain. They found a solution in the North. If England fought on the side of cotton, which you can’t eat, she would have little grain, which hundreds of people depended on to survive. Another thing keeping England neutral was their booming industries because of the Civil War. The shipbuilding, iron, and munitions were doing great. Even with people out of jobs because of the loss of cotton the need for people to build war supplies kept the unemployment in England about the same.
Despite all the cotton still being shipped some 400,000 people were out of jobs in the British Isles. The lower class had little to no say and thought they were suffering for democracy and for the freedom of slaves. They also had help from the northern charities aware of their suffering. They sent several shiploads of food to them and local authorities also helped.
England almost tried to get involved in the war after the 2nd battle of bull run. Englishmen saw this as a bloody senseless battle. Prime minister Palmerston proposed that both Britain and France join together to help get an arrangement for the separation of the North and South. The argument over getting involved quickly ended and England decided to do nothing.
The French approached London with plans of mediation but London declined. Napoleon was scheming to break the growing might of the U.S. and helping the South free would hopefully get him a reward of help in Mexico. Napoleon III had backing for his plan to help the south because the French were also suffering from the loss of cotton.
In late October 1862 Napoleon proposed a three-power intervention between France, England, and Russia. England rejected and Russia was unsure. France wasn’t going alone, even with their strong navy. That ended the idea of joint intervention. Shortly after Vicksburg, Napoleon offered mediation directly to Washington. Seward declined and soon after Congress passed a resolution which declared mediation an unfriendly act. Napoleon III continued to try to mediate, but that was his last big attempt.
Lincoln became tired of balancing the smiting of the slave South and the keeping of slavery in the border states. In July 1862, he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation with the help of his cabinet. Everyone in the cabinet liked it except Seward. The North needed something to lift their spirits after they had suffered a series of defeats.
Lincoln announced that on January 1, 1863, all slaves would be “forever free.” Blacks in the border states and certain reconquered areas would not be affected.
The immediate response was disappointing. The South saw it as a cheap way to stir up support, the abolitionists wanted more drastic measure, the border states worried about the loss of their valuable slave property, and it showed at the polls where they suffered heavy losses in the Congressional elections of 1862.
The Proclamation did little to help the north in Europe in the beginning. They declared that the Proclamation was an attempt to conquer the South by a stroke of the pen since they cannot beat them on the battlefield. Despite the reaction Lincoln went through with his proclamation. The Proclamation was basically a war measure. The slaves in the border states he refused to let go and all he did was pressure the south to free their slaves.
In England anti-Union critics applauded Lincoln for going through with his plan. The popular English clergyman C.H. Spurgeon said at a congregation of thousands: “God bless and strengthen the North! Give victory to their arms . . . ” The Emancipation Proclamation caused the South to lose much of its moral cause and the Union cause was a holy crusade. Henry Adams reported from London”: The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us here than all our former victories and all our diplomacy. It is creating an almost convulsive reaction in our favor all over this country.”
The Union’s next big crisis came with the Confederate commerce destroyers. Privateers could not turn up a profit but government owned commerce destroyers could.
The Confederacy had no real shipbuilding factories so they turned to England. The British Foreign Enlistment act of 1819 prevented the construction of warships for countries at war. This act could be gotten around by building ships, just not arming them in England. They did this `on the Florida and Alabama, because as far as the law goes their ships were not warships. The Union hated this because it was no true neutrality.
These ships sank, burned, or incapacitated more than 250 union ships. The most famous were the Florida, Alabama, and the Shenandoah, which had alone more than 60 victims.
The Alabama was made near Liverpool in 1862. Everyone knew it was going to the Confederacy and its sides were pierced for cannons. The government could not stop the building and selling it to the Confederacy because it was perfectly legal.
The Alabama went for a trial run on July 29, 1862. When they reached the sea, they headed to the Portugese Azores and received crew and equipment. She then attacked Union merchant ships form Europe to the far east.
The Alabama left at just the right time. The Union retrieved the documents from London and ordered the Alabama to come back but it was to late.
After this Charles Adams, an American diplomat, harassed London with a list of sinkings and burnings, with a bill for damage.
The U.S. could never fully stop the building of warships for the South but they tried as hard as they could to contain them.
A hint of the Unions anger came in March 1863, when Congress passed a bill authorizing the President to commission privateers. Since the South had no merchant marine, you can come to the conclusion that it was meant toward Great Britain.
The next ship building crisis came with the Laird rams. These powerful ironclad steam warships were built with wrought iron “piercers” or rams. They could crush the wooden ships of the Union blockade. They could then wreak havoc upon northern cities with their nine-inch rifled guns. If the ships reached the South they may have won their independence, and the North, already mad about the Alabama, would have gone to war with Great Britain.
England was troubled by the rams. The paper work showed they were for private purchasers, but everyone knew they were going to the Confederacy. If England tried to seize them, they could be sued. If they let them sail, the U.S. would go to war with them. England decided to solve the problem by buying the ships for the Royal Navy.
The last hopes for the Confederates to break the blockade was with Napoleon III. In April and June 1863, the French secretly made plans to sell four Alabama type ships to the Confederates. The secret leaked out in June 1864. The builders were given orders to provide proof of transaction. One of the ships did eventually make it to the South but it was too late for it to do anything.
The South was without hope in late 1863. Europe had no time to help the South because they had problems of their own. England and France were almost ready to fight Russia and Austria and Prussia were preparing to fight Denmark. Henry Adams wrote happily in November 1863:
…Nothing has caused us more gentle slumbers since the seizure of the iron-clads than the delicious state of tangle Europe had now arrived at. Nothing but panic in any direction and the strongest combination of cross- purposes you can conceive. The king of Denmark has just died with a clearly perverse purpose of increasing the confusion, and any day may see a Danish war. Russia expects war and France acts as though it were unavoidable. Meanwhile England hulks about and makes faces at all the other nations. Our affairs are quite in the back-ground, thank the lord.