Seeking Friendship, Commerce and Navigation

One of the top priorities for new President Jefferson Davis was to obtain foreign recognition for the Confederacy. The Provisional Congress had authorized him to name and send three commissioners to Europe for that purpose, and Davis chose William L. Yancey of Alabama, Pierre A. Rost of Louisiana, and A. Dudley Mann of Virginia. Yancey had been a leader of the secession movement; Rost was a lawyer, judge, and plantation owner; Mann had been U.S. assistant secretary of state, and the only one of the three men with diplomatic experience.

The commissioners were to go first to Great Britain, and then on to the other European powers. Secretary of State Robert Toombs wrote a letter of instructions that became the template for Confederate diplomatic relations. In it, Toombs asserted that the southern secession was both legal and final, and he argued that if the British recognized the rights of Neapolitans and Sicilians to break from the other Italians in Italy, then surely they would recognize the right of the southern states to break from the North.

Anticipating that the growing number of abolitionists in Britain might oppose an alliance with a slaveholding nation, Toombs avoided directly mentioning slavery in laying out the reasons why the South seceded. He wrote that the main reason was because the Federal government had tried “to overthrow the constitutional barriers by which our prosperity, our social system, and our right to control our own institutions were protected.”

Once Britain recognized the Confederacy, the diplomats were to negotiate a treaty of “friendship, commerce, and navigation.” They were to point out that the British could greatly benefit from such a treaty because they could obtain cotton at nearly duty-free rates. At the time, southern cotton was used in 80 percent of British textile mills. If the U.S. tried to prevent secession by blockading southern ports, it would cause severe financial strain in Britain. Toombs wrote: “A delicate allusion to the probability of such an occurrence might not be unkindly received by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”

Toombs wrote that the Confederacy was willing to honor all treaties currently in force between Britain and the U.S., except for the agreement to work with the British to stop the African slave trade. Toombs explained that this was because the Confederacy had no navy to provide such aid. He also noted that the new Confederate Constitution outlawed foreign slave trading. Yancey, Rost, and Mann set sail for Europe on the last day of the month, and they would reach London by late April. From there, they were to go on to France.

In other foreign relations, President Davis appointed Brigadier General Albert Pike as special commissioner for treaty negotiations between the various tribes in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and the Confederacy. Pike had experience working with Native Americans, and he predicted that he could recruit as many as 5,000 of them to serve in the Confederate Army.

The adjutant general of the U.S. Army, Samuel Cooper, resigned his commission and joined the Confederate service. He would eventually become one of the highest-ranking officers in the Confederate Army. Braxton Bragg also resigned and was appointed Confederate brigadier-general. He was placed in command of forces in Florida. Colonel William W. Loring was named commander of the new Department of New Mexico, and Colonel Earl Van Dorn was placed in command of Confederates in Texas.

In mid-month, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived in Washington, having been summoned from Texas. He was promoted to full colonel and placed in command of the 1st U.S. Cavalry. Lee was considered by many, including Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, to be the finest military officer in the U.S. Confederate Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker wrote to Lee, offering him the rank of brigadier-general in the Confederate Army. Lee, a loyal Virginian whose state had not yet seceded, did not respond to the offer.


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  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Kindle Edition 2008, 1889.
  • Faust, Patricia L. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
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