Cotton Diplomacy In The Civil War

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#1
Almost unanimously, Southerners believed they could use cotton to lure England and France into recognizing the Confederacy. Since the administration of Jefferson Davis wanted to avoid any appearance of international "blackmail," the Confederate Congress never formally approved an embargo, but state governments and private citizens voluntarily withheld the crop from the market in hopes of causing a "cotton famine" overseas. Theoretically, widespread shortages would shut down European mills, forcing governments to recognize and perhaps come to the military aid of the Confederacy, or to declare the Union blockade ineffective and disregard or break it in order to reopen Southern ports.

The "King Cotton" mentality was seriously flawed, not the least in overestimating the value of "white gold." First, a bumper crop in 1860 had glutted the marketplace, lowering prices and allowing mill owners to stockpile. Cotton prices did rise sharply late in 1861, but workers, not owners, suffered from the effects of unemployment. Producers, drawing from their reserves, did not feel the pinch until late in 1862, and within a year imports from India, Egypt, and Brazil sufficiently replaced Southern cotton. Second, Davis, never an astute diplomat, failed to recognize how much Europe feared the possibility of war with the U.S. Private European citizens and industrialists invested in speculative ventures tenuously backed by Southern cotton securities, but their governments would not antagonize the North by recognizing the Confederacy for the sake of guaranteeing those investments or increasing supplies of the staple. Further, Southern society tied cotton inseparably to slavery, and England, the example Napoleon Ill would follow, led the abolitionist movement in the world community.

Europe's wait-and-see attitude hardened into unassailable neutrality after the Southern armies suffered reverses beginning at Gettysburg, and Davis and his supporters realized the cotton strategy had failed as a diplomatic tool. They had unwisely hoarded their one great asset and undermined their best chance of financing the war.
Source: "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War" edited by Patricia L. Faust
 

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Mark F. Jenkins

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#2
To be fair, the "King Cotton" mentality was not universally subscribed to in the South. The unofficial embargo was seen as a mistake by some at the time, and not just in retrospect... firms like George Trenholm's export business were directly confronted with the risk of failing to raise capital abroad (not to mention risking their businesses' livelihood). (And nobody can doubt Trenholm's devotion to the Confederate cause.)
 

OpnCoronet

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Was it not during the Trent Affair, that Sec'y Seward(presumeably vetted by Lincoln) in his reply to the British Foreign Sec'y, that the United States would not tolerate foreign intervention, in what, in its own view, was an internal affair(rebellion) and that if war spread outside the confines of the borders of the United States, the war would become a Revolutionary War, and that in such a war, for the principles involved, he did not think the Union would have as much to fear as the autocratic rulers of Europe. It was, of course, diplomatically phrased and embedded in a longer message, that was meant to be concilliatory; but it was there, and was most probably well understood in the foreign chancellaries of Europe.
 
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I don't have a ready source for this, and I am not of a mind to do a lot searching right now. But I recall that while the Confederate states were withholding their cotton crop from Europe, the Union states achieved some success as the war went on by selling excess foodstuffs to Britain and perhaps other parts of Europe which were experiencing some food shortages.

So, while the cotton embargo policy "pushed" Europe away from the CSA, the USA's crop sales "pulled" Britain to the USA - at least to the extent that Britain would stay neutral throughout the war.

- Alan
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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It'd be an error to reduce Britain's motivations to a calculation of how much cotton they were getting, versus how much wheat... there were lots of other influences involved, from the emotional (which tended to favor the South) to the pragmatic (which tended to favor the North). Whether the Canadian and Maritime provinces would be at risk, how vulnerable would the British carrying trade be to theoretical Yankee commerce raiders, overseas links to the rest of the empire, concurrent difficulties on the Continent, etc. The Foreign Office had its hands full, that's for sure.
 
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It'd be an error to reduce Britain's motivations to a calculation of how much cotton they were getting, versus how much wheat... there were lots of other influences involved, from the emotional (which tended to favor the South) to the pragmatic (which tended to favor the North). Whether the Canadian and Maritime provinces would be at risk, how vulnerable would the British carrying trade be to theoretical Yankee commerce raiders, overseas links to the rest of the empire, concurrent difficulties on the Continent, etc. The Foreign Office had its hands full, that's for sure.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Britain's actions were based solely, or even in large part, by its trade with the CSA and USA. I am suggesting that in terms of agricultural trade, there was an incentive for Britain to stay neutral, and a policy of neutrality worked to the advantage of the USA.

- Alan
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Britain's actions were based solely, or even in large part, by its trade with the CSA and USA. I am suggesting that in terms of agricultural trade, there was an incentive for Britain to stay neutral, and a policy of neutrality worked to the advantage of the USA.

- Alan
Oh, stipulated... I was adding to, rather than challenging, your post. :thumbsup: The grain trade does often get pushed to the back when "King Cotton Diplomacy" is discussed.
 

OpnCoronet

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There were many factor's to be considered by Great Britain(and Europe), only one of which was Cotton. Cotton May have been King in the South, but it did not, in the end, outweigh all the other factors in the wider world of European(or World)politics.
 
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Foreign Diplomacy was one of the great failures of the CSA... and King Cotton diplomacy failed completely. I do not know why embargoing cotton from the world would endear to other nations. What they should have done was let the Blockade cause the famine in cotton...

Historian Charles Hubbard writes:
"Davis left foreign policy to others in government and, rather than developing an aggressive diplomatic effort, tended to expect events to accomplish diplomatic objectives. The new president was committed to the notion that cotton would secure recognition and legitimacy from the powers of Europe. The men Davis selected as secretary of state and emissaries to Europe were chosen for political and personal reasons – not for their diplomatic potential. This was due, in part, to the belief that cotton could accomplish the Confederate objectives with little help from Confederate diplomats."[7]


I can not believe the CSA was not offering Cotton to other nations at bargain basement prices if they offered official recognition. I know they could have brided many small nations with free or dirt cheap cotton to get recognition... They should have had diplomats from Europe to China using cotton to make friends...

The King Cotton strategy was resisted by the Europeans. Secretary of War Judah Benjamin and Secretary of the Treasury Christopher Memminger warned that cotton should be immediately exported to build up foreign credits.[8]

There two confederate cabinet members understood the need to use cotton as a tool of diplomacy...
 
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Free markets will always find a way...

In fact, although less American cotton was reaching Britain, British manufacturers, unlike their workers, were not in dire straits. In 1859 and 1860 the South had produced bumper crops that had glutted the market and driven down world prices. British warehouses were thus filled with huge stocks of cheap cotton fiber, and manufacturers were producing cloth at unprecedented levels, which also depressed textile prices. The Union blockade and Southern embargo were a blessing for these manufacturers as well as financiers dealing in cotton securities and futures. The prospect of a shortage of fiber and cloth immediately caused the value of both raw and finished cotton to rise dramatically. Merchants and manufacturers hoarded their goods, reduced their output, and made fortunes in the process. Those who had been promoting the development of alternate sources in Egypt and India appeared vindicated as planters in those regions also reaped huge profits. Only the workers suffered.


Markets trend to find winners...

Outside of the cotton districts, other British industries prospered from the war. Both the Union and the Confederacy purchased war materials in increasing quantities, and producers of woolen cloth benefited from the reduced production of cotton cloth and inflated textile prices. Finally, Confederate raiders had enormous success in attacking Northern commercial vessels. American merchantmen were driven from the seas or forced to pay enormous premiums for maritime insurance. British merchants replaced American merchants in direct trade and strengthened their domination of other markets.

In the end it failed...

news arrived that the Battle of Antietam had ended without a clear victory by either side. Palmerston decided to continue waiting until the war took "a more decided turn." Napoléon then proposed offering the Americans a six-month armistice if both Britain and Russia agreed to act jointly with him. Russia declined first, and on 13 November the British also declined. Confederate confidence in King Cotton was shaken, and the Confederate government sought support from Europe along with other avenues.

Davis was too late following other avenues... wrong people to do it as well...

Read more: http://www.americanforeignrelations.com/A-D/Civil-War-Diplomacy-Cotton-diplomacy.html#ixzz5I2NBMVh4


 
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#12
Foreign Diplomacy was one of the great failures of the CSA... and King Cotton diplomacy failed completely. I do not know why embargoing cotton from the world would endear to other nations. What they should have done was let the Blockade cause the famine in cotton...

Historian Charles Hubbard writes:
"Davis left foreign policy to others in government and, rather than developing an aggressive diplomatic effort, tended to expect events to accomplish diplomatic objectives. The new president was committed to the notion that cotton would secure recognition and legitimacy from the powers of Europe. The men Davis selected as secretary of state and emissaries to Europe were chosen for political and personal reasons – not for their diplomatic potential. This was due, in part, to the belief that cotton could accomplish the Confederate objectives with little help from Confederate diplomats."[7]


I can not believe the CSA was not offering Cotton to other nations at bargain basement prices if they offered official recognition. I know they could have brided many small nations with free or dirt cheap cotton to get recognition... They should have had diplomats from Europe to China using cotton to make friends...

The King Cotton strategy was resisted by the Europeans. Secretary of War Judah Benjamin and Secretary of the Treasury Christopher Memminger warned that cotton should be immediately exported to build up foreign credits.[8]

There two confederate cabinet members understood the need to use cotton as a tool of diplomacy...
I have a thread where I argue it was not Slidell and Mason's fault for the failure of Confederate diplomacy to achieve diplomatic recognition.
For a nation to recognize a secessionist movement it needs a practical rational for doing so. It requires a cost to risk benefit analysis.
At no time was any foreign nation convinced recognising the Confederacy was worth the risk of antagonistic relations with the U.S..
Leftyhunter
 

jgoodguy

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#13
I have a thread where I argue it was not Slidell and Mason's fault for the failure of Confederate diplomacy to achieve diplomatic recognition.
For a nation to recognize a secessionist movement it needs a practical rational for doing so. It requires a cost to risk benefit analysis.
At no time was any foreign nation convinced recognising the Confederacy was worth the risk of antagonistic relations with the U.S..
Leftyhunter
Or someone taking advantage of the distraction that a War with the US would bring.
 



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