October 22, 1862 – The leaders of Great Britain expressed new reluctance to recognize Confederate independence, and Emperor Napoleon III of France proposed foreign mediation between the two warring factions.
When British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston learned of Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Antietam and return to Virginia, he wrote to Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell, “These last battles in Maryland have rather set the North up again. The whole matter is full of difficulty, and can only be cleared up by some more decided events between the contending armies.”
Many British officials had been leaning toward recognizing the Confederacy, but the recent defeats in Maryland, Mississippi, and Kentucky made them reconsider. Also, the Emancipation Proclamation was highly popular among the British subjects, which made the government even more hesitant.
But some British leaders still strongly supported the Confederacy. On the 7th, British Chancellor of the Exchequer William E. Gladstone delivered a speech at Newcastle, in which he initially praised northerners: “They are our kin. They were… our customers, and we hope they will be our customers again.” He claimed that Britain did not have “any interest in the disruption of the Union.”
But then Gladstone declared:
“We may have our own opinions about slavery; we may be for or against the (Confederacy). But there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army. They are making, it appears, a navy. And they have made what is more than either; they have made a nation.”
Amid loud applause, Gladstone said, “We may anticipate with certainty the success of the Southern States so far as regards their separation from the North is concerned.”
The Newcastle speech held significant merit because Gladstone was the third ranking member of the British government. An editorial in the British Economist contended that the speech “echoes the general sentiment of the country, and probably the real opinion of most members of the (British) Government.” However, it also defied Britain’s declaration of neutrality, and as such it prompted Gladstone to later declare that it was his greatest political blunder.
After Gladstone’s speech, cotton prices fell and U.S. support rose in Britain. Palmerston discussed the matter at a cabinet meeting on the 22nd and then wrote to Russell, “We must continue to be mere lookers-on till the war shall have taken a more decided turn.”
The topic came up at another meeting a week later, with Russell and Gladstone both urging reconsideration of Confederate recognition. But Palmerston maintained the situation had changed since last month, “when the Confederates seemed to be carrying all before them… I am very much come back to our original view that we must continue merely to be lookers-on…” The cabinet rejected Russell’s and Gladstone’s request.
Meanwhile, Pope Pius IX wrote a letter to the Cardinals of New York and New Orleans that was published in the Catholic press, asking them to try helping to bring peace; the Pope supported Confederate independence. Less than a week later, Napoleon III of France met with Confederate envoy John Slidell at St. Cloud, where Napoleon suggested forming a joint council of France, Britain, and Russia to mediate a peace between the U.S. and the Confederacy. Napoleon said:
“My own preference is for a proposition of an armistice of six months. This would put a stop to the effusion of blood, and hostilities would probably never be resumed. We can urge it on the high grounds of humanity and the interest of the whole civilized world. If it be refused by the North, it will afford good reason for recognition, and perhaps for more active intervention.”
Napoleon directed Drouyn de l’huys, his Minister of Affairs, to write the French ambassadors at London and St. Petersburg. Since the lack of southern cotton imports was devastating the European economy, it was proposed that the ambassadors work with the Queen of England and Emperor of Russia to “exert their influence at Washington, as well as with the Confederates, to obtain an armistice.”
The governments of Britain and Russia considered the matter. Russia, which favored the U.S., refused to participate because the proposal seemed too much in favor of the Confederacy. Britain also declined, maintaining the neutrality policy. France, which had been inclined to recognize the Confederacy, followed Britain’s lead in continuing its neutrality until the military situation changed.
Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 253; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18052-60; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 791-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218-19, 226; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 123; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 282; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 552, 556; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 581; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-26; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462