Tag Archives: France

The Confederacy Looks to France

September 5, 1863 – Confederate Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith urged foreign envoy John Slidell to get France to intervene on the Confederacy’s behalf so that the French puppet regime in Mexico would have a friendly neighbor to the north.

By this month, French forces had invaded Mexico due to non-payment of debts owed to France. French Emperor Napoleon III installed Maximilian I of Austria as the new Mexican emperor under a French protectorate. The Lincoln administration opposed this move because European powers interfering in the affairs of Western Hemisphere nations violated the Monroe Doctrine. But with war raging against the Confederacy, there was little the administration could do about it.

Napoleon had hinted at recognizing Confederate independence in the past, and as such, the Confederacy tried cultivating friendly relations with France. The Confederates also hoped that a French-controlled Mexico would facilitate the passage of much-needed imports into Texas.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Smith, who commanded the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department that included Texas, hoped to offset the loss of the Mississippi River (and thus his access to goods from the east) by negotiating an arrangement with the French. He wrote Slidell, the former French envoy:

“The action of the French in Mexico and the erection of an empire under their auspices makes the establishment of the Confederacy the policy of the French Government. The condition of the States west of the Mississippi, separated from the General Government, at Richmond; the exhausted state of the country, with its fighting population in the armies east of the Mississippi; the vast preparations making by the enemy to complete the occupation and subjugation of this whole Western Department, are all matters which, if properly brought before the French Emperor, should influence him in hastening the intervention of his good services in our behalf. This succor must come speedily, or it will be too late. Without assistance from abroad or an extraordinary interposition of Providence, less than twelve months will see this fair country irretrievably lost, and the French protectorate in Mexico will find a hostile power established on their frontier, of exhaustless resources and great military strength, impelled by revenge and the traditional policy of its Government to overthrow all foreign influences on the American continent.”

According to Smith, if the French were going to colonize Mexico, it would be in their best interests to have the Confederacy neighboring them to the north because the U.S. would be hostile toward their intentions. Therefore, it only stood to reason that Napoleon should recognize Confederate independence and aid the Davis administration in its war against the U.S.

Smith stressed that France had to act quickly, because his department had only “the aged, the infirm, and the lukewarm” left to stop the growing number of Federal forces. He warned that without France’s help, the Federals would control the Mississippi “with their southern and western frontier open for extension toward Mexico and the Pacific.”

Smith declared that “the forced impressment of our slaves into their army, to wage a ruthless war against their masters, all in the name of humanity call for the interposition of those powers who really hold the destiny of our country in their hands.” He concluded:

“The intervention of the French Government can alone save Mexico from having on its border a grasping, haughty, and imperious neighbor. If the policy of the Emperor looks to an intervention in our affairs, he should take immediate military possession of the east bank of the Rio Grande, and open to us the only channel by which supplies and munitions of war can be introduced into the department. The whole cotton trade west of the Mississippi will thus be secured to the French market, and the enemy will be anticipated in making a lodgment on the Rio Grande, from which he could not be driven without great difficulty.”

Smith then wrote President Jefferson Davis explaining that he had called on Slidell to negotiate with Napoleon on his department’s behalf. Smith conceded that he cast the department “in a gloomy light,” but it “wasn’t a too exaggerated picture of what may occur.” Federals were expanding their control over Louisiana and beginning to threaten the Texas coast. They were also threatening Fort Smith and Little Rock, two of the most important points in Arkansas.

Smith had only 30,000 effectives in his department, but he told Davis that more might be encouraged to enlist if he had weapons to give them. He wrote, “Sixty thousand rifles could, I believe, this moment be well disposed of throughout this department.”

But Davis had no such arms to send Smith, and Napoleon ultimately refused to recognize the Confederacy.

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References

Kerby, Robert L., Kirby Smith’s Confederacy; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (Series 1, Volume 22, Part 2), p. 993-95

The Erlanger Loan

March 18, 1863 – Confederate commissioner John Slidell and representatives of Emile Erlanger, head of France’s most influential bank, negotiated a loan to the Confederacy for $15 million to help finance the war.

Confederate envoy John Slidell | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The loan was to be secured by the Confederate sale of 20-year war bonds that could be exchanged for cotton, the South’s most lucrative commodity. The cotton was to be sold to bondholders at 12 cents per pound while the market rate was 21 cents per pound, making the potential margin for profit enormous.

Confederate officials complained about Erlanger’s insistence on high interest rates and a five percent commission; some even accused him of extortion. Nevertheless, they approved the loan in the hope that France would recognize Confederate independence.

The Confederates were desperate to raise money, and with depleted specie reserves, the government had turned to bond sales. When these sales further drained the specie out of the South, the government printed paper money that quickly depreciated and caused prices to soar. It was hoped that this loan would not only finance the war but help stabilize the southern economy.

The first bond issue took place on March 19 in London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Frankfurt. By day’s end, the bonds were heavily oversubscribed at 90. The enthusiasm caused by this issue quickly raised the bond price 95.5 percent. This allowed agents to purchase some badly needed supplies for the war effort.

However, Federal agents in Europe began spreading rumors that Confederate securities were a poor risk and bid up the cost of war supplies so high (using gold the Confederacy did not have) that the Confederates could no longer afford to buy them. They also played on investors’ fears by alleging that President Jefferson Davis had supported bond repudiation in his home state of Mississippi before the war.

The bond price soon plummeted due to fears that the Confederacy would repudiate its debts if it won the war; military defeats this summer also worked to drive the prices down. Many investors lost fortunes, but Erlanger cleared $6 million in interest and commissions, leaving the Confederacy with $9 million in European currency to pay for the war. This was about the best deal the credit-starved Confederacy could hope for.

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References

Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 246; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 156; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 329-30; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 259; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122-24

Foreign Affairs: Seward Rejects Mediation

February 6, 1863 – Secretary of State William H. Seward unilaterally declined an offer by French Emperor Napoleon III to mediate the conflict between the U.S. and the Confederacy.

Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, had been publishing editorials in his newspaper calling for an armistice to negotiate a peace that would restore “the Union as it was.” William C. “Colorado” Jewett, a mining speculator with a questionable reputation, informed Greeley after returning from France that Napoleon had offered to mediate a peace between the warring factions.

Greeley responded by going to Washington to try getting the French minister to the U.S., Henri Mercier, to mediate on Napoleon’s behalf. Mercier offered his services on February 3, proposing that officials of the U.S. and the Confederacy come together in a neutral country to discuss a possible peace, and that Mercier would “chair” the meeting.

President Abraham Lincoln neither accepted nor declined the offer. Senator Charles Sumner, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wanted to continue the war until the Federals achieved total victory. Seward considered arresting Greeley for violating the Logan Act, which barred American citizens from negotiating with a foreign nation on behalf of the U.S. government.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Three days later, Seward officially turned down Mercier’s request, explaining that the Lincoln administration would not under any circumstances abandon the effort to preserve the Union, and would also not relinquish any authority to France as the proposal seemed to have implied. Lincoln endorsed Seward’s rejection. Seward took offense to “interference by a foreign power in a family dispute.” Many Republicans in Congress also expressed anger toward the French trying to involve themselves in what they considered to be a domestic insurrection.

Great Britain would not go so far as to offer mediation services. In an address to the British Parliament, Queen Victoria declared that Britain had not tried to “induce a cessation of the conflict between the contending parties in the North American States, because it has not yet seemed to Her Majesty that any such overtures could be attended with a probability of success.”

James Mason, the Confederate envoy in Britain, continued working to gain Confederate recognition. This included delivering a prominent speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London calling for the British to recognize Confederate independence. However, Commander James H. North of the Confederate navy wrote to Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory from Glasgow, Scotland:

“I can see no prospect of recognition from this country… If they will let us get our ships out when they are ready, we shall feel ourselves most fortunate. It is now almost impossible to make the slightest move or do the smallest thing, that the Lincoln spies do not know of it.”

Part of the reason the British government was so reluctant to recognize Confederate independence was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which proved very popular among the British people. Mass meetings took place on the 19th at Liverpool and Carlisle in support of Lincoln’s decree. Therefore, recognizing the Confederacy would defy the will of many British subjects.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 253; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259, 261-62; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8767-78; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 157; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 261-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-20, 322

Foreign Recognition or Mediation

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.

Lord Palmerston | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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.

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References

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

Cotton Exportation and the Federal Blockade

July 28, 1862 – Confederates tried currying favor with France, and Great Britain suffered a severe economic downturn due to the lack of southern cotton.

Confederate envoy John Slidell | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On July 16, Confederate envoy John Slidell met with Emperor Napoleon III of France for 70 minutes. Slidell requested that France recognize Confederate independence and use warships to help break the Federal blockade. In exchange, Slidell pledged several hundred thousand bales of badly needed cotton and an alliance with France against Benito Juarez’s regime in Mexico.

Slidell understood that Napoleon favored the Confederacy. However, the emperor was reluctant to provoke the U.S. (which supported Juarez) without Britain taking the lead. Napoleon told Slidell that he would consider the matter. Slidell wrote to Richmond, “I am more hopeful than I have been at any moment since my arrival in Europe.”

By this month, the lack of southern cotton was crippling Britain. The cotton supply was one-third its normal level, and nearly 75 percent of cotton-mill workers were unemployed or underemployed. Poverty spread throughout the working-class sections of the country as it starved for cotton, and this only helped the Confederacy. Thomas Dudley, the U.S. consul in Liverpool, wrote to Secretary of State William H. Seward:

“The current is against us and strong; and threatens to carry everything with it… They are all against us and would rejoice in our downfall… I think at this time we are more in danger of intervention than we have been at any previous period… if we are not successful in some decisive battle within a short period this government will be forced to acknowledge the Confederacy or else be driven from power.”

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Credit: Wikispaces.com

Seward sought to help alleviate the cotton shortage by writing to Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Britain at London:

“We shall speedily open all the channels of commerce, and free them from military embarrassments; and cotton, so much desired by all nations, will flow forth as freely as before… The President has given respectful consideration to the desire informally expressed to me by the Governments of Great Britain and France for some further relaxation of the blockade in favor of that trade. They are not rejected, but are yet held under consideration, with a view to ascertain more satisfactorily whether they are really necessary, and whether they can be adopted without such serious detriment to our military operations as would render them injurious rather than beneficial to the interests of all concerned.”

Confederate officials hoped the cotton shortage would compel Britain and France to declare that the Federal blockade was “ineffective,” and thus subject to being broken by foreign powers under international law. But instead, Britain and France asked the Federal government to send them more cotton through northern channels, after it had been seized by Federal forces in areas under military occupation. This not only dimmed Confederate hopes for foreign recognition, but it encouraged Federal forces to seize as much cotton as possible as they advanced into the South.

Meanwhile, a pro-secessionist mob attacked and destroyed the offices of the St. Croix Herald, a newspaper published in St. Stephen, New Brunswick (British Canada), just across the border from Maine. The Herald had consistently supported the U.S., and had been attacked in December as well. This was a rare instance of secessionists destroying a Unionist newspaper, and not the other way around. With the printing press thrown into the St. Croix River, publication was suspended for several months.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17522-38; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 194; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 182; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 240; 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. 548, 553; 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), Q362

The Trent Affair: British Outrage

November 27, 1861 – News of the U.S. seizure of Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell aboard the British steamer Trent officially reached Great Britain, where it was met with immediate outrage.

James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

James M. Mason and John Slidell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Commander Richard Williams of the Royal Navy, who had been aboard the R.M.S. Trent, submitted a report on the envoys’ seizure to British officials at London. He wrote:

“The commander of the Trent and myself at the same time protested against, this illegal act, this act of piracy carried out by brute force, as we had no means of resisting the aggression the San Jacinto being at the time on our port beam about 200 yards off, her ship’s company at quarters, ports open and tompions out.”

While northerners hailed Captain Charles Wilkes of the U.S.S. San Jacinto for preventing the envoys from reaching Europe, British officials viewed the boarding of one of their vessels as an invasion of Britain itself. As news of the incident spread, signs in city streets called the seizure of Mason and Slidell an “Outrage on the British Flag.”

Newspaper editorials condemned the U.S., with many blaming Secretary of State William H. Seward for trying “to provoke a war with England for the purpose of getting Canada.” An article in the London Chronicle went even further:

“Abraham Lincoln… has proved himself a feeble, confused and little-minded mediocrity. Mr. Seward, the firebrand at his elbow, is exerting himself to provoke a quarrel with all Europe, in that spirit of senseless egotism which induces the Americans, with their dwarf fleet and shapeless mass of incoherent squads which they call an army, to fancy themselves the equal of France by land and Great Britain by sea.”

The London Standard saw the capture as “but one of a series of premeditated blows aimed at this country… to involve it in a war with the Northern States.” The London Post declared, “In one month, we could sweep all the San Jacintos from the seas, blockade the Northern ports and turn to a direct and speedy issue the war.” The British demanded “reparation and apology” for this blatant violation of international law.

The British Parliament immediately approved an embargo on all shipments of saltpeter from British India to the U.S. Seward had arranged for the du Pont company to buy Indian saltpeter to use in gunpowder, so such an embargo threatened to affect the U.S. ability to wage war. Plans were also quickly drawn to build more warships in case of war with the U.S. The British military buildup soon became its largest since the Napoleonic Wars.

Charles Francis Adams | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Charles Francis Adams | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Great Britain, was in London when the news broke. He stated that “while a storm of enthusiastic approval was sweeping over the northern part of the United States in the 12 days between November 15th and November 27th, a storm of indignation of quite equal intensity swept over Great Britain between November 27th and the close of the year.”

British public opinion had already tended to favor the Confederacy because the U.S. blockade was depriving the British textile industry of precious southern cotton. Confederate support grew all the more with this U.S. insult to British honor.

News of the “Trent affair” reached France the following day, with Emperor Napoleon III meeting with his cabinet to discuss their options. Although they had not yet learned of the British response or heard from Henri Mercier, French minister to the U.S., they agreed that the Trent’s boarding was illegal and resolved to support any British demands in response. Edouard Thouvenel communicated this policy to Count Charles de Flahault in London.

An emergency cabinet meeting took place in London on the 29th. Members read dispatches from Lord Richard Lyons, British minister to the U.S., describing the wild celebrations throughout the North and reminding them that he had warned Seward may try a move such as this. Lyons recommended that Britain dispatch troops to Canada in a show of force.

Prime Minister Lord Palmerston instructed the War Office to suspend budget reductions for 1862. He then read a legal brief he had requested from the Law Office, which confirmed that Captain Wilkes’s seizure of the envoys was “illegal and unjustifiable by international law.” Palmerston exclaimed to his cabinet, “You may stand for this, but damned if I will!”

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell met with Adams, who was unaware that Seward had already notified Russell that Wilkes had acted without orders and could provide no further information. The men did not exchange official information, but Adams saw “little reason to doubt that the same steamer which bears this (letter to Washington) will carry out a demand for an apology and the restoration of the men.”

Palmerston believed that he and Adams had a verbal agreement that the U.S. would not interfere with British shipping. Palmerston informed Russell that the affair may have been planned as a “deliberate and premeditated insult” by Seward to “provoke” a war with Britain.

Scottish poet Charles MacKay wrote to Seward, “There never was within memory such a burst of feeling as has been created by the news of the boarding of the La Plata (Trent).” MacKay stated that the British were “frantic with rage, and were the country polled I fear that 999 men out of 1,000 would declare for immediate war.” Confederate sympathies, formerly “coldly expressed,” were now “warm and universal.”

MacKay wrote, “Englishmen would rather fight with any power in the world than with America, but I do assure you their blood is up and they mean mischief in this business.” This feeling was felt in all “classes of society,” even among those who normally urged peace. One such peace monger in Parliament told MacKay “that if this insult were not atoned for he saw no use for a flag; that he would recommend the British colors to be torn into shreds and sent to Washington for the use of the Presidential water-closets.”

James L. Graham, Jr., an American residing in Edinburgh, wrote that the Trent affair had “entirely monopolized the public mind.” He had never witnessed such “intense a feeling of indignation exhibited in my life. It pervades all classes and may make itself heard above the wiser theories of the cabinet officers.”

Lord Russell instructed Lord Lyons to notify Seward that Britain considered the seizure of Mason and Slidell an act of aggression. Lyons was to give Seward seven days to turn the envoys over to British authorities and apologize for the seizure, otherwise the British legation would leave Washington. Russell also directed naval forces to mobilize.

Queen Victoria of England | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Queen Victoria of England | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Before finalizing these messages, Russell sent them to Queen Victoria for review. Prince Albert, the Queen’s ailing consort, persuaded Russell to soften the demands so as to prevent the certainty of war. Under the new position, the Queen would accept Seward’s acknowledgement that Wilkes, “the U. S. naval officer who committed the aggression was not acting in compliance with any authority from his Government.”

Russell expressed certainty that once “this matter shall have been brought under the consideration of the Government of the United States, that Government will of its own accord offer to the British Government such redress as alone could satisfy the British nation, namely, the liberation of the four gentlemen (Mason, Slidell, and their secretaries) and their delivery to your lordship in order that they may again be placed under British protection and a suitable apology for the aggression which has been committed.”

If Seward did not comply within seven days of receipt of this letter, Lyons would “repair immediately to London.” Russell ordered the naval forces to act only in self-defense. He warned that “the act of wanton violence and outrage which has been committed makes it not unlikely that other sudden acts of aggression may be attempted. Vice-Admiral Sir A. Milne will take care not to place his ships in positions where they may be surprised or commanded by batteries on land of a superior force.”

Unaware of the outrage the Trent affair had caused, U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles sent a complimentary letter to Wilkes:

“I congratulate you on your safe arrival, and especially do I congratulate you on the great public service you have rendered in the capture of the rebel emissaries. Messrs. Mason and Slidell have been conspicuous in the conspiracy to dissolve the Union and it is well known that when seized by you they were on a mission hostile to the Government and the country. Your conduct in seizing these public enemies was marked by intelligence, ability, decision and firmness and has the emphatic approval of this Department.”

Americans remained largely unaware of the British reaction, though many surely had a notion, until Russell’s letter reached Lyons at Washington three weeks later.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 51, 52; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 257; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 97-98; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 157; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 86; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 396-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 143-44; 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. 390; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 81; 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), Q461; Wikipedia: Trent Affair

Affairs in Europe and Mexico

October 16, 1861 – The European powers entertained the possibility of recognizing Confederate independence, while France capitalized on the war by invading Mexico.

Since Great Britain often took the lead in setting European international policy, both U.S. and Confederate officials looked to the British to see how Europe would react to the war between North and South. Britain was still split between the two sides; the London Post favored British recognition of the Confederacy, while the London Times supported the U.S.

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

However, Confederate officials were encouraged by an article in the Times on the 16th quoting a speech delivered by British Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell at Newcastle. According to the Times, Russell said that the war was not being fought over slavery or tax policy; rather, it was being fought over which political party would rule the South. Russell declared that one party fought for “empire” and the other for “independence,” and separation was “the only logical and permanent settlement of the controversy.”

This did not change the fact that the official British position remained neutrality. Two days after the Times article was published, Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston reminded Lord Russell that Great Britain’s “true policy” was “to go on as we have begun, and to keep quite clear of the conflict.”

One thing that British officials agreed upon was that the people were starving for cotton. Not only was the Federal blockade limiting southern exports, but the Confederates were withholding cotton in the hopes that countries needing the precious commodity would intervene on their behalf. Both Palmerston and Russell contended that “the cotton question may become serious by the end of the year… We cannot allow some millions of our people to perish to please the Northern States.” Discussion began among British and French diplomats about possibly joining forces to lift the Federal blockade.

Meanwhile, Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Great Britain, issued a complaint to Lord Russell that the Confederacy was importing supplies for the war effort from Nassau in the Bahamas. Russell responded by obtaining a report from Nassau authorities denying the charge. Russell forwarded the report to Adams, who stated that this sufficiently dispelled “the suspicion thrown upon the authorities by that unwarrantable act.” While British authorities resisted supplying arms to the Confederacy, they openly supplied them to the U.S.

France followed Britain’s lead, with Henri Mercier, French minister to the U.S. notifying Lord Richard Lyons, British minister to the U.S., that if Britain recognized Confederate independence, France would follow suit. But Adams used his powerful influence to prevent the British from doing so for now.

The French then took advantage of the war by landing an army at Vera Cruz, ostensibly to suppress a civil war in Mexico. This was part of Emperor Napoleon III’s plan to set up a protectorate that would expand French influence into the Western Hemisphere. The Mexicans resisted at Puebla, but the French prevailed. President Benito Juarez’s regime was replaced by a puppet government led by Napoleon’s handpicked ruler, Archduke Maximilian of Austria.

The Lincoln administration noted that the French conquest of Mexico violated the Monroe Doctrine, which had declared that the U.S. would not permit Europe to interfere in the Western Hemisphere affairs. Administration officials worried that France would extend its influence to other Western nations and ally itself with the Confederacy. Ultimately, the French did neither out of fear of U.S. reprisals.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18125; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 84; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38-39; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 124, 132; 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. 384; 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), Q461