Civil War Diplomacy...

Mark F. Jenkins

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#1
... or, "It's more complicated than you think."

Currently reading The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy by Lynn M. Case and Warren F. Spencer... I'm fairly familiar with the course of US/British relations during the war, but this is a viewpoint I hadn't experienced before. It's a mistake to think of France just sort of following in Britain's wake, with the addition of the Mexican 'adventure.' France and Britain were playing something of a complex chess game partly against each other as well-- their ultimate goals and strategic priorities were not aligned. Absent exterior pressures and situations, they would have been in the 19th Century equivalent of the Cold War.

But they had a common motivation during the Civil War, at least at the beginning (I'm only a quarter of the way through, so it's all I can speak to yet)-- both suspected that Seward was trying to divide them and play them against each other, and to see if he could get at least one of them to more actively support the Union.

The widely-held opinion seems to be that France preferred a divided America in order to help safeguard the Mexican affair, but that doesn't seem to be right at all. Napoleon III's France was most of all opportunistic, and would try to gain an advantage from any outcome, but the basic feeling in the French government was that they wanted a united America to play off against the British Lion (to France's benefit, naturally).

Complicating things more was that France's press was somewhat less than completely free. Certain papers were organs of the government, and others while nominally independent had their editorial policies regulated. It is thought that some of the commentary on the American Civil War that appeared in the non-government papers might at times actually have been disguised or coded criticism of the French government... so French statements about the war must always be checked for the possibility that they might really not be about the war. Curiouser and curiouser.

The political football that was the 1856 Declaration of Paris (that outlawed privateering and regulated blockading, among other things) takes some interesting bounces. Conventional opinion is that the Union tried to sign up belatedly in order to gain legitimacy for the blockade, but it seems that the blockade provisions were among the least controversial parts of the treaty from the French (and British) perspective. The element that they were most concerned about was Article I, the outlawing of privateering. Read literally, if the United States had been a signatory then France and Britain would have been required by international law to treat Southern privateers as pirates, and they suspected that Seward was trying to trick them into this... so they offered basically to let the U.S. in on just Articles II through IV.

Seward appears as an enigma, alternately intelligent and capricious, principled and devious. One is not sure if he's masterfully keeping the British and French on their toes, or if he's really unsure of what he's doing. The record suggests a combination of both... while he conducted relations with the French and British envoys in the United States like a virtuoso, his conflicting and confused directions to the American ambassadors abroad make his performance seem more lucky than clever. Still, his policy of politely ignoring certain inconvenient facts (which Case and Spencer refer to as his policy of "the averted glance") seems to have been a very intelligent solution to the basic problem: how do you deal with a Southern government whose existence you officially deny? If it's in the U.S. interest to get the "self-styled" Confederate government to agree to articles of the Treaty of Paris, how do you do that without admitting that government to exist? Interesting solutions (and attempts at solutions) to a basically insoluble problem.
 

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Dave Wilma

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#3
Don't forget that France was a monarchy with different forces in play than in Britain. Indeed, the Confederate agents, include Rose Greenhow wooed Napoleon III. Rose was a hit with the emperor, but not to any great effect.
 
Joined
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#4
Seward appears as an enigma, alternately intelligent and capricious, principled and devious. One is not sure if he's masterfully keeping the British and French on their toes, or if he's really unsure of what he's doing. The record suggests a combination of both... while he conducted relations with the French and British envoys in the United States like a virtuoso, his conflicting and confused directions to the American ambassadors abroad make his performance seem more lucky than clever.
In A World on Fire, Amanda Foreman discusses how Seward bumbled and fumbled his way through the first weeks of the Lincoln administration, especially with the British ambassador, Lord Lyons, over the question of a blockade of Southern ports. He was a shrewd and smart man, but very out of his depth early on. "More lucky than clever" sounds about right.
 

CSA Today

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Laurinburg NC
#6
... or, "It's more complicated than you think."

Currently reading The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy by Lynn M. Case and Warren F. Spencer... I'm fairly familiar with the course of US/British relations during the war, but this is a viewpoint I hadn't experienced before. It's a mistake to think of France just sort of following in Britain's wake, with the addition of the Mexican 'adventure.' France and Britain were playing something of a complex chess game partly against each other as well-- their ultimate goals and strategic priorities were not aligned. Absent exterior pressures and situations, they would have been in the 19th Century equivalent of the Cold War.

But they had a common motivation during the Civil War, at least at the beginning (I'm only a quarter of the way through, so it's all I can speak to yet)-- both suspected that Seward was trying to divide them and play them against each other, and to see if he could get at least one of them to more actively support the Union.

The widely-held opinion seems to be that France preferred a divided America in order to help safeguard the Mexican affair, but that doesn't seem to be right at all. Napoleon III's France was most of all opportunistic, and would try to gain an advantage from any outcome, but the basic feeling in the French government was that they wanted a united America to play off against the British Lion (to France's benefit, naturally).

Complicating things more was that France's press was somewhat less than completely free. Certain papers were organs of the government, and others while nominally independent had their editorial policies regulated. It is thought that some of the commentary on the American Civil War that appeared in the non-government papers might at times actually have been disguised or coded criticism of the French government... so French statements about the war must always be checked for the possibility that they might really not be about the war. Curiouser and curiouser.

The political football that was the 1856 Declaration of Paris (that outlawed privateering and regulated blockading, among other things) takes some interesting bounces. Conventional opinion is that the Union tried to sign up belatedly in order to gain legitimacy for the blockade, but it seems that the blockade provisions were among the least controversial parts of the treaty from the French (and British) perspective. The element that they were most concerned about was Article I, the outlawing of privateering. Read literally, if the United States had been a signatory then France and Britain would have been required by international law to treat Southern privateers as pirates, and they suspected that Seward was trying to trick them into this... so they offered basically to let the U.S. in on just Articles II through IV.

Seward appears as an enigma, alternately intelligent and capricious, principled and devious. One is not sure if he's masterfully keeping the British and French on their toes, or if he's really unsure of what he's doing. The record suggests a combination of both... while he conducted relations with the French and British envoys in the United States like a virtuoso, his conflicting and confused directions to the American ambassadors abroad make his performance seem more lucky than clever. Still, his policy of politely ignoring certain inconvenient facts (which Case and Spencer refer to as his policy of "the averted glance") seems to have been a very intelligent solution to the basic problem: how do you deal with a Southern government whose existence you officially deny? If it's in the U.S. interest to get the "self-styled" Confederate government to agree to articles of the Treaty of Paris, how do you do that without admitting that government to exist? Interesting solutions (and attempts at solutions) to a basically insoluble problem.
Another excellent source would be Thomas A. Bailey’s A Diplomatic History of the American people, chapters 22 [The Early Crises of the Civil War], Chapter 23 [The Collapse of Cotton Diplomacy] and chapter 24 [Napoleon III and Mexico]
 



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