Intro The Confederates actively sought European support throughout the war. Many Southerners believed that foreign dependence on cotton imports would force world leaders to join the fight against the North. Union leaders wanted to avoid foreign intervention and attempted to make the southern government appear illegitimate. Under General Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan, the Union formed a naval blockade in 1861 in an attempt to deplete Confederate resources, block the importation of weapons, and prevent cotton from leaving southern ports.
The people of the South saw the blockade as an opportunity for Europeans to officially declare their loyalty in order to maintain trade connections. Because of Confederate military failures and the South’s connection to slavery, European powers never recognized the legitimacy of the Confederacy. Blockade The Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, suggested creating an undeclared blockade. This would ensure that other nations could not grant the South “belligerent status. Instead of following this course of action, President Lincoln followed the advice of Secretary of State William Seward and formally declared the establishment of a blockade on April 19, 1861. By July, the blockade was in place, loosely guarding all large southern ports. As a result of Lincoln’s declaration, world powers granted “belligerent status” to the Confederacy, as Secretary Welles had forewarned. Great Britain granted status on May 13, 1861, Spain on June 17, and Brazil on August 1. Belligerent status was granted by established governments to entities that they believed were capable of becoming independent, self-governing nations.
Governments that assigned this status enjoyed the privilege of neutral shipping rights with belligerent nations. The Union was upset about the awarding of belligerent status to the Confederacy and feared it would lead to diplomatic recognition. Secretary Seward warned the British to stay away from the South and threatened war. Foreign governments were upset by the Union Navy’s practice of searching European ships once they reached international waters. Technically, any ship was subject to searches in international territory, but the British believed that this interpretation of neutrality was too exact.
Ambassador Richard Lyons expressed British concerns to Secretary Seward and President Lincoln. By promising British respect for the Union’s blockade, Lyons got Lincoln to agree to follow British neutrality laws. Countries that were dependent on Southern cotton for manufacturing suffered from high unemployment rates as a result of the blockade. Despite the negative effects and their leaders’ Confederate sympathies, Britain and France remained neutral. Great Britain The British upper class sympathized with Southern values and saw the North as a region of rude citizens and commercial competition.
They did not sympathize with the ideals of democracy. In contrast, Britain’s lower classes and radicals supported Union values. They supported democracy and were inspired by Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Emancipation Proclamation. A meeting of cotton laborers took place in Manchester’s Freed Trade Hall. The workers declared their support for emancipation and the blockade despite the negative effects on their lives. Lincoln was touched by this gesture and thanked the men for their personal sacrifice. Overall, British leaders wanted to stay out of war while guarding their Canadian, Caribbean, and Central American territories.
The Emancipation Proclamation, which tied the American Civil War to slavery, was instrumental in making Britain’s upper class turn away from the South. The Trent Affair The discovery of two Confederate diplomats aboard a British mail carrying ship sparked a controversy between the Union and Great Britain. The tense time following the incident nearly caused a second war. Unsatisfied with the South being recognized as belligerent, Jefferson Davis sought full recognition as a sovereign nation. This would allow for more profitable trade with international merchants and make the Confederacy seem legitimately independent.
To achieve his goal, Davis sent James Mason and John Slidell to negotiate with European leaders. Davis believed that the emissaries would be successful due to recent Union losses. The Southern diplomats departed from Cuba and hid aboard the British mail ship, the Trent. Captain Charles Wilkes of the Union stopped the ship before it could reach port and apprehended Mason and Slidell without permission from the President or Secretary Seward. Wilkes released the crew of the Trent and allowed them to sail on to England.
Northerners celebrated Wilkes’ actions, but the British were outraged and believed that Wilkes had violated the rules of neutrality. English officials requested a formal apology and the release of Mason and Slidell while simultaneously positioning their troops in Canada. Information regarding the officials’ desires and actions was delayed for a month due to a communication malfunction. This allowed Union and British leaders time to cool down and assess the situation. Lincoln understood the implications of provoking the British into starting a war and took peace making measures.
The American ambassador to Great Britain relayed a message that the Union would consider British demands. In December of 1861, Secretary Seward sent a message to the British ambassador to the Americas. In his message, Seward said Wilkes’ decision to seize the diplomats was justified, but admitted Wilkes had been wrong to act without authorization. He promised to release the men that had been captured. The British accepted this explanation and the threat of war was averted. The Alabama Claims Conflict arose after British shipbuilders were commissioned to uild Confederate warships such as the Florida, Georgia, Rappahannock, and Shenandoah. The most destructive of all the warships was the Alabama. It single handedly sank 58 of the roughly 150 ships attacked by the Confederacy. The damage inflicted by the British made vessels hurt Union shipping. The Union blamed the British for violating neutrality laws and demanded compensation for the damage. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Charles Sumner, estimated that the British ships had contributed to over two billion dollars’ worth in damages.
Some Americans wanted the Great Britain to concede its Canadian territories as payment. The issue would be formally resolved seven years after the end of the war. Under the Treaty of Washington, a committee designated $15,500,000 as the amount due to the US in reparations. The events surrounding the Alabama Claims laid the groundwork for future diplomatic relations between the United States and Great Britain. France Due to its lack of power and unsympathetic citizenry, France followed the British and declared neutrality early in the war.
French President Napoleon III sympathized with Southerners because their aristocratic societal structure was similar to that of his own country. In an effort to influence the war peacefully, he attempted to facilitate the negotiation of an armistice with representatives from England, Russia, and the Confederacy. This plan did not succeed due to the lack of support from the Union and other European governments. Going against its policy of not directly interfering with the war, France took control of the Mexico in 1864.
Under Emperor Maximillian, they attempted to create a government that could aid the Confederacy. In return, the French hoped to gain some of its former American territories. This plan was ruined when Maximillian was captured in 1866 and the Union army defeated the remaining French occupants of Mexico. Russia In 1863, the Russians were in a struggle with the Poles, who were receiving aid from Britain and France. During this time, the Union was also dealing with French and British threats. The existence of a common enemy caused Tsar Alexander II and President Lincoln to reach an agreement for joint action.
Alexander agreed to send the Russian fleet to guard the coasts of New York and San Francisco. Historians believe that the tsar was motivated by his own interests. They speculate that he wanted to have his ships nearby in the event that Poland initiated a large scale war. Even if their motives were not what they seemed to be, the Russians were willing to actively combat the Confederates and proved themselves to be instrumental to Union success. When San Francisco was threatened by Southern war ships, the Russian fleet defended the city on their own without the help of Union forces.
The mere presence of the Russian fleet persuaded the British that the cost of getting involved in the war would be too high. It convinced them to cease the construction of ironclads for the Confederacy and discouraged them from showing any support to either side. Conclusion The Union victory at the end of the war sent a message to the world that the United States’ government was strong enough to overcome adversity. Once, the Union had regained its full strength, world powers were directly affected. Emperor Napoleon III was forced to end his plan to conquer Mexico.
The threat of the US trying to expand to the North pushed the Canadian provinces to form a united front and formally become one nation. Also, due to the reputation of the Union during the war, Secretary Seward was able to purchase Alaska from the Russian government. Lastly, the defeat of the South inspired a wave of international abolition. The Dutch, Spanish, and Brazilian governments took steps to abolish slavery in their territories. Ultimately, Union interactions with foreign powers during the Civil War set a precedent for all future diplomatic relations between the United States and the rest of the world.