I am grateful to all those who helped me write this project; in
particular Professors Peter Coogan and Joe Leedom, Hollins College,
Roanoke, Virginia. They gave me inspiration, direction and clarity.
My thanks to Professor Edward Moxon-Browne, Univerity of Limerick,
for organising the exchange programme between Hollins and the
University of Limerick. This project would not have been possible
without the resources of the Fishburn Library, Hollins College,
and the libraries of the University of Limerick and Trinity College,
Dublin. This project also owes a debt of gratitude to Joe Leedom's
Senior Thesis Class, Tiffany Seymour, the Hollins girls, my family,
Mark Sandblade, The Harvest House, Bad Brother Byron and
The O'Leary Family, and Le Rendezvous, Memphis,
Tennessee for the best ribs I have ever eaten. Finally, I would
like to thank my supervisor, Dr. John Logan, University of Limerick,
for his vital assistance in finishing this project.
Chapter 1 Introduction
During the American Civil War the diplomacy of the United States reflected a better understanding of foreign affairs than that exhibited by the Confederate States. The success and failure of the diplomatic initiatives taken by the American parties depended largely on two issues. First, the caliber of the agents employed by the two sides had significant consequences for European responses to the war. Did they have diplomatic experience? Did their backgrounds suggest that they were useful as emissaries? Second, the circumstances they found themselves in also obviously shaped their activities. Were the orders they were given feasible considering the motives of the European powers? Were their circumstances beyond their control?
The Union appointed experienced and well mannered diplomats. The
South did not. Confederate diplomats supported slavery, which
was not popular in Britain or France, and they often had disagreeable
personal characteristics. However, the South could have sent the
best diplomats imaginable and possibly still not succeeded. Their
orders were to seek European recognition for the Confederacy;
first by promoting the idea that the secession of the Southern
states was not a revolution, and second, by pressing home the
serious consequences of a reduction in the supply of Southern
cotton to the European textile industry. Though the French Emperor,
Napoleon III, made it clear to the Confederacy that he would act
in their favor, he would only do so if Britain, the dominant European
power, would lead the way. But the political situation was too
fragile for Britain to recognize the new nation. The British Government
under Palmerston was a coalition with a small majority. The Tory
opposition was not putting forward a policy on the American situation
and Palmerston was not about to provoke them. Further, Britain
had over two years of cotton reserves and so could wait until
alternative sources became available. Lastly, intervention on
the side of the slave holding south would risk the support of
the working classes. On the other hand, Union diplomats often
had a difficult time keeping the peace. This was due to the actions
of the Union Secretary of State, William Seward, more than anything
else. Seward told the British that he would declare war on them
if they intervened. His diplomacy of intimidation was ultimately
successful but if others had not toned down much of what he said
then things could have turned out very differently.
Chapter 2 The diplomats
Confederate President Jefferson Davis's constitutional responsibilities included the determination of "the scope of any diplomatic function." However, he didn't care much for diplomacy. According to James L. Orr, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Confederate Congress, the Davis administration "never had a foreign policy, nor did [it] ever consent to attempt a high diplomacy with European powers." Further, the President was not well qualified to direct the foreign relations of the South. He made misjudgments in the understanding of foreign motives and in the selection of diplomatic agents to represent the South. He is described by Charles Francis Adams II as having "little personal knowledge of countries other than his own, or, indeed, of more than a section of his own country." Davis's only experience abroad was as a colonel in the Mexican War of the late 1840s. He was born in Kentucky in 1808 and grew up on a small farm. His older brother became a successful cotton planter and sent Jefferson to West Point where he graduated in 1828. He married the daughter of a wealthy planter and went into politics. Davis served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from 1845 to 1847, when he went to the Senate. On the election of President Franklin W. Pierce, Davis was invited to enter the cabinet as Secretary for War. He was an opponent of interference with slavery and believed that States had the right to leave the Federal Union. After the secession of Mississippi the provisional Confederate Congress elected him president. Davis was one of the Southern political élite who assumed the King Cotton philosophy, that the global need for cotton would oblige foreign powers to act favorably to the Confederacy. Robert Bunch, the British consul at Charleston, described Davis as a "manifest destiny" leader who believed that the Confederacy would end up despised among nations for its maintenance of slavery.
The responsibility for realising the objectives of Confederate foreign policy was delegated to the Secretary of State. This position was occupied by many different men. Of consequence were the terms of Robert A. Toombs, who occupied the position briefly, and Judah P. Benjamin. Neither had traveled abroad or had prior foreign policy experience. Toombs was from Georgia and had served in the Senate. After secession he had sought the presidency but lost it to Davis. The position of Secretary of State was poor consolation and he took it under protest. He helped to shape the permanent Confederate Constitution before resigning as a sign of contempt for the President. Davis appointed Benjamin to Secretary of State on March 24, 1862. Benjamin had been Confederate Secretary for War though he had no military training. A congressional committee reported his conduct in that office as incompetent and his administration as negligent. However, Benjamin earned a reputation as "the brains of the Confederacy." His parents were English Jews who had settled in New Orleans where he studied law. Benjamin made a successful reputation as a member of the law firm of Slidell, Benjamin & Conrad with his friend John Slidell. He spent eight years as a senator before becoming attorney-general in the provisional Confederate Government.
On March 16, 1861, Davis had Toombs appoint three diplomatic agents to represent him as 'commissioners' to the European governments: William Lowndes Yancey, Pierre A. Rost and Ambrose Dudley Mann. Yancey, though a great orator and capable politician, had never been abroad. He was a known champion of slavery, which was not supported by France or England. He was born on August 10, 1814, in Georgia. His father died when he was young and, later, his mother married a lawyer. Yancey studied law and, in 1834, was admitted to the bar in Greenville, South Carolina, where he also became editor of the Greenville Mountaineer. He then settled in Alabama where he was elected to the state house and, in 1841, the state Senate. Yancey believed with all his heart in the distinctive institutions of the South. As a retired Congressman, he wrote his "Scarlet Letter" of June 15, 1858, in which he urged preparation for "prompt resistance to the next aggression ... throughout the cotton states." Yancey was the chief manager of the Charleston Democratic convention of April, 1860, and "one of its most brilliant and persuasive speakers." In his attempt to make that party accept the demands of the South he accused the anti-secessionist Northern members of "admitting slavery to be wrong, and thus surrendering the very citadel of their argument." However, useful as he was for the Southern cause, the idea of sending a supporter of slavery to Europe was not judicious. For this reason Yancey's brother, B.C., who had been on a diplomatic mission in South America, was inclined to have William turn the offer down. He advised that unless the Confederacy was prepared to liberalize trade tariffs so as to "outweigh all other considerations, no British government ... would in the end venture to run counter the anti-slavery feeling." Pierre Adolphe Rost was of French origin. He received his education at the École Polytechnique, Paris, where men were recruited into the civil service or military. As an artilleryman he was credited for brave conduct in the defense of Paris on March 30, 1814. Rost applied for a commission in Napoleon's army after the Emperor's escape from Elba but was too late for Waterloo. Escaping from what he thought to be an oppressive régime, he then emigrated to the United States. He became a teacher in Natchez, Mississippi, and studied law under Joseph Emory Davis, brother of Jefferson Davis. In 1822 he was elected to the state senate before going on to become one of the judges of the supreme court of Louisiana in 1846. Frank L. Owsley describes him as having no real diplomatic assets other than a poor knowledge of the French language. Ambrose Dudley Mann was a Virginian, born on April 26, 1801. He studied law in Greeney's County where he became involved in politics. He was appointed U.S. consul to Bremen, Germany, in 1842, and U.S. minister to Switzerland in 1850. From 1854 to 1856 he was the assistant secretary of state. Though Mann was the only member of the commission who had diplomatic experience, his usefulness was hindered by his arrogance. Consul Bunch wrote that his personal character was "not good". He is described by Owsley as "credulous" and having a "great vanity".
Davis was not alone in lack of diplomatic savvy. Lincoln was hard pressed to show even the slightest interest in foreign affairs and Secretary of State Seward had views on foreign policy that were dangerously naive. On the day of his appointment as Union Minister to Britain, Charles Francis Adams was quite shocked by Lincoln's casual attitude to foreign affairs. Lincoln's attention was clearly on the other appointments of the day. The President informed Adams that he was Seward's choice and not the President's preferred man for the job. Lincoln's indifference and issues such as the procrastination over withdrawal from Fort Sumter, the first engagement of the war, added to an impression already held by Adams that the President lacked judgment. In fact, it was generally assumed that Seward would prove to be the virtual head of government. Lincoln was not yet popularly recognized as a great man. Adams II writes that at first Lincoln "filled with dismay those brought in contact with him." Further, Charles Francis sensed from him "an utter absence of lead in presence of a danger at once great and imminent." However, it was Lincoln who made the most important diplomatic move of the war.
Seward had a reputation for hostility to England and The Duke of Argyle described him as "the very impersonation of all that is most violent and arrogant in the American character." The British Minister to the United States, Lyons, had written that Seward was "a dangerous foreign minister" who would even start a war with Europe if it would maintain the Union. Evidence was sufficient for Lyons to write that the temptation for the North would be "to endeavor to divert the public excitement to a foreign quarrel." However Seward was very well qualified for his position and with the exception of his temporary obsession with the idea of a foreign war he did a very good job. He was from New York and of Welsh and Irish ancestry. He graduated from Union College in 1820 and was admitted to the bar in 1822. In 1828 he presided over the Utica convention, which favored the election of John Quincy Adams to the presidency. He disliked secrecy in politics and joined the anti-Masonic party in the same year. In 1830 he was elected a senator. In 1833 he spent the summer in Europe and sent home more than eighty letters from different points which were published in a newspaper. He was elected governor of New York in 1838 where his actions provoked controversy and directed the course of his country's history. As governor he demonstrated his contempt for slavery in passing an act giving fugitive slaves a trial by jury and a defense paid for by the state. He was deservedly considered a brilliant speaker. He delivered an oration on Daniel O'Connell and a eulogy on the late John Quincy Adams. For Seward, slavery was wrong according to a 'higher law'. In one of his great speeches he declared that "Congress has no power to inhibit any duty commanded by God on Mount Sinai, or by His son on the Mount of Olives." Outside his active political life Seward enjoyed travel. In 1857 he traveled through Canada and took a trip on a fishing smack to Labrador, an account of which he published. In 1859 he visited Europe again and went as far as Palestine and Egypt.
Lyons telegraphed Russell regarding Adams's appointment, calling it "very good." Adams was the son of John Quincy Adams, fifth President of the United States, and was the grandson of John Adams, the second President. J.Q. had been a diplomat when Charles was young. He served as Minister to Russia, negotiator of the treaty of Ghent, and Minister to Great Britain. Therefore the young Adams was well traveled. He was also fluent in French from an early age. Adams attended Harvard, studied law in Washington and in 1828 he was admitted to the bar. At the peak of his political career he presided at the first convention of a Whig splinter party called the Free Soil Party. The party was an anti-slavery alternative and, with Adams as vice-presidential nominee, it did surprisingly well for a new organization in the 1848 election. In 1854 the Free Soil Party was crippled by the surge in support for a new Native American, or "Know-nothing" Party. However, by this time Adams left the political arena and dedicated two years to writing a biography of his grandfather. In 1858 Adams became involved again in the Free Soil Party, now known as the Republican party. He became a member of congress in the same year on an anti-slavery ticket. The Secretary of State was an old friend of the Adams family. Seward had originally thought Charles Francis suitable for the cabinet. After all, he was a capable politician having had an international education. Adams, in turn, had thought Seward was the most capable of all the candidates for executive office.
The Confederacy replaced two of their commissioners after a year. The new men were John Slidell and James Murray Mason, the new chief. Both were experienced in foreign relations but their personal characteristics made them incompatible with the tasks to which they were assigned. Slidell's family background was insurance and banking. He studied law at Colombia College in 1810 and was admitted to the New York bar. In New York he worked in the mercantile business in New York until the embargo of the war of 1812. Following a duel he was forced to move to New Orleans in 1819, where he ran a successful commercial law practice with Judah P. Benjamin. As a democrat he served in the Louisiana House from 1829 - 1833 and failed in three attempts for the U.S. Senate. He served as a states' rights Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1843 to 1845 and in the Senate from 1853 until his resignation in 1861. He had some experience in diplomatic affairs and had expertise in the workings of foreign markets. He was appointed U.S. minister to Mexico in 1845 by President Polk but that republic would not entertain any American representatives at that time. In 1853 he sold bonds for railroads in London and was offered a mission to Central America before his nomination to the Senate. Slidell was rumored to be a drunkard, however, and would come to be hated by practically all the Confederate agents in Europe.
James Mason was the son of George Mason, a famous Virginian patriot and friend of George Washington. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1818, and studied law at William and Mary College, Virginia. After he was admitted to the bar in Virginia he was repeatedly elected to the state legislature until 1831. From 1837 until 1839 he served as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a U.S. Senator from 1847 to 1861, he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee for ten years and drafted the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Mason also served as the United States Minister to France. His fourteen years as a Senator earned him his reputation as a hard working, pro-slavery activist. However, in England he did much to undermine the British stereotype of the South as populated by dignified, chivalrous gentlemen such as General Robert E. Lee or those found in Sir Walter Scott novels. Historian Howard Jones describes him as "rude and obnoxious". He recalls how Mason chewed tobacco, which was anathema to the British. Moreover, he spat the tobacco in Parliament and, more often than not, missed the spittoon and left it in a heap on the red carpet.
However the Confederacy had many other operatives working in Europe. Of note were those involved in the education of public opinion and the buying of Naval vessels. Some of these men displayed amazing ability in their field despite poor resources. One example was the journalist Henry Hotze, who is described as one of the most able agents who went abroad during the Civil War. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, he was familiar with European attitudes and politics. Hotze's father had been a captain in the French Royal Service. Henry had been educated in a Jesuit college before moving to Alabama in 1855. There he joined the editorial staff of the Mobile Register. He was secretary of the U.S. diplomatic legation to Brussels in 1858 - 1859 before becoming secretary for the Board of Harbor Commissioners in Mobile. In April, 1861 Hotze entered the Confederate Army. In August of that year he was sent to Europe to purchase supplies. Then, in November he became a Confederate commercial agent, instructed to educate the British public about the Confederacy. On a small allowance he quickly got to work, establishing a pro-Confederacy newspaper called Index in May 1862. Another agent, James Dunwody Bulloch, arrived in Britain the same time as the Yancey, Rost, and Mann Commission. Bulloch, who was to become a controversially important figure in the diplomatic war, proved a useful ally to the South. He was a man of wide experience in naval affairs, merchant shipping, shipbuilding, and naval armament. He was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1823. At sixteen he was a midshipman in the United States Navy and spent ten years there, slowly working his way up. He resigned in 1853 to go into private shipping interests in New York. He gained such a reputation for fair dealing in business that when war came, the Confederate government trusted him with millions of dollars to buy ships and arm them. The vessels which he put to sea were so effective that the United States merchant marine lost millions of dollars worth of cargo and contracts. The efforts he made provoked incidents which brought England to the brink of recognition of the South and war with the North.
The North had vastly superior diplomats. They were superior even if only for the fact that those of the South were mostly unsuitable for the positions to which they were assigned. The Southern diplomats were not as experienced as those of the Union. Further, their known support for slavery made them unsuitable in seeking recognition from countries that were firmly anti-slavery. However, the Confederacy did have an arsenal of qualified, intelligent agents working in its interests. Though Southern diplomacy failed, these agents were quite successful in helping the Southern cause.
Chapter 3 The diplomacy of the first years of the conflict
The first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter by the Confederacy at 04:30 on April 12, 1861. The Times wrote that by this action " the seceding states have now constituted themselves a nation." However the British Government did not recognize this. On May 2, in response to questions in the House of Commons, Lord Russell announced the government's intention to "avoid taking any part in the lamentable contest now raging in the American States we have not been involved in any way in that contest by any act or giving any advice in the matter, and, for God's sake, let us if possible keep out of it." British public opinion was confused by the signals coming from America regarding the purpose of the war. Slavery prevented the British public from immediately embracing the new nation. Public opinion was sensitive to the harrowing descriptions of slavery made by the Times foreign correspondent, W.H. Russell. However, in his inaugural address, March 4, 1861, Lincoln had announced:
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
Therefore it seemed that the war was not about slavery and this offered an easy excuse for those who were inclined to support the South. However, recognition was not forthcoming. The political situation was too fragile for Britain to recognize the new nation. The British Government under Palmerston was a coalition with a small majority. Most attention of the day was on events in Europe. The opposition was not putting forward a policy on the American situation and Lord Russell was not about to provoke them. Russell also wished to avoid conflict with Seward, one of the only known figures in the American cabinet. In 1860, Seward is alleged to have joked to the Duke of Newcastle that in case he became Secretary of State it would then "become my duty to insult England, and I mean to do so." There was a strategic advantage for England in staying out of the war. On January 1, 1861, Baron de Brunow, the Russian Ambassador to London, observed to St. Petersburg that, "the English Government, at the bottom of his heart, desires the separation of North America into two separate republics, which will watch each other jealously and counterbalance one the other." However, the correspondence of the British diplomats does not reveal any proof of animus towards the American States. Russell's instructions to Lyons and the British consuls were not "to seem to favor one party rather than the other" but only to advise against action which might lead to civil war.
The Confederate commissioners arrived on April 15 and 29, they were met by William H. Gregory M.P., for Galway, who quickly arranged an informal meeting with the head of the English foreign office, Lord John Russell. Russell kept the meeting unofficial so as not to provoke Seward. Russell wrote to Lyons that "if it could possibly be helped Mr. Seward must not be allowed to get us into a quarrel. I shall see the Southern Commissioners when they come but not officially, and keep them at a proper distance." The Confederates were instructed to promote the idea that the secession of the Southern states was not a revolution but, as Toombs put it, the "resumption of power delegated to the federal government." This was legal justification to which Toombs added that confederate states had been made subject to unfair tariffs, like the Morrill Tariff Act of 1861, which made European products more expensive and "extorted millions ... from our people to foster Northern monopolies." Secession was, as he put it, "separation from associates who recognize no law but self-interests (sic) and the power of numerical superiority." Second, there was the cotton bait. The commissioners' instructions read "there is no extravagance in the assertion that the gross amount of the annual yield of the manufacturies of Great Britain from the cotton of the Confederate States reaches $600,000,000. The British ministry will comprehend fully the condition to which the British realm would be reduced if the supply ... should fail or be diminished."
The meeting with Russell took place on May 3. He advised the commissioners in advance that though "it would give pleasure to hear what we had to communicate", he should, "under present circumstances, have little to say." The diplomats stated their arguments and concluded in expressing their hope that Great Britain would find it beneficial to recognize the Confederacy. Mann reported home that though England was hostile to slavery it was not hostile to the disintegration of the Union. Therefore commissioners recognized that slavery was an issue. They believed, however, that recognition would come as soon as the South could gain a decisive military victory to prove itself.
On May 11 news arrived of Lincoln's proclamation of a blockade on all southern ports. That same week Russell issued a 'Proclamation of Neutrality' which acknowledged the Confederates' belligerent status without recognizing their independence. This move in favor of the Confederacy owed nothing to the commissioners. Russell was acting purely in Britain's interest. Neutrality would ensure that Britain was not drawn into the war. Meanwhile trade could continue with both the North and, assuming the blockade was compromisable, the South. Jefferson Davis' response was to issue letters of marque for privateering. He did this in an effort to bolster the Southern Navy which was heavily outgunned by the Union. Lincoln, in turn, announced that he intended to treat southern privateers as pirates and expected all other countries to do the same as agreed by international law. But the Union never previously subscribed to that law and this put the Russell in a dilemma, for to treat the privateers as pirates now would be the same as taking a side in the conflict. Russell asked for legal advice and decided to grant neutrality. This included a right for the belligerent parties to contract with privateers. The proclamation was also justified by the argument that the Northern blockade was exercising a right of 'war' in also searching ships sailing under a neutral flag. This implied the existence of two belligerent parties. Further, it directly effected British trade. As early as March 20 Lyons had informed Seward that the British Government would use all the means in its power to keep the southern ports open if there was a blockade. Lyons told Seward that the most likely course of action would be to recognize the Southern Confederacy. However the proclamation was a preferable alternative to such a direct challenge.
The Union's newly appointed Minister to England, Charles Francis Adams, arrived with his family in Liverpool on May 13, 1861. He was given a good welcome by Russell who, despite pressing personal problems, quickly arranged an interview between the two and a formal presentation to Queen Victoria. Adams wrote that Britain was "unfriendly to the Union." In his first report back to Seward on May 14 he claimed that he was politically "ready for business" but that public opinion was "not exactly what we would wish for." For the Northern position horrified some and encouraged support for the Confederacy. Henry Adams, Adams' son and secretary for the mission, later wrote of that time in England noting that "even the friends of America shrank for a moment from the realization that a million lives might have to pay the price of Union." On May 9 the Times ran an editorial stating the proclamation was a reflection of the fact that Great Britain was now coming to see the conflict in a new light - as a conflict where there were in fact no such ideals involved as had been earlier attributed to it. Southern rights were now clearly understood, and now that war was at hand, it was England's business to keep out of it. Before departure Adams had received scant orders from Secretary of State Seward in Washington. Essentially he was to consider any recognition of the "rebels" an unfriendly act to be countered by an immediate break in diplomatic communication between the two countries. It was well known that Seward had a theory that the fighting would end if a foreign power were to be engaged in a war with the Union. However, Adams wrote in his diary "My duty here is, so far as I can do it honestly, to prevent the mutual irritation from coming to a downright quarrel. It seems to me like throwing the game into the hands of the enemy ... If a conflict with a handful of slaveholding States is to bring us to [our present pass] what are we to do when we throw down the glove to Europe?"
On May 18 Adams had his appointment with Russell and he explained his disappointment with the recent proclamation of belligerency. He asked whether Russell was planning to "adopt a policy which would have the effect to widen, if not make irreparable, a breach [between North and South] which we believed yet to be entirely manageable by ourselves." To this Russell replied that the recognition of Confederate independence was not an issue at the moment. Adams protested the basis of the proclamation. First, the South was had not "shown their capacity to maintain any kind of warfare whatever." Second, the proclamation considered the South a maritime power even though the South had no navy. Should not England have considered that the privateers which they were recognizing would probably be pirates as Lincoln suggested? Furthermore, so far the South had not produced a single privateer on the water. If England was acting before the facts were clear then the North must presume a point of predisposition to the South.
Adams suspected that his time in England would not last very long and he decided to rent his house by the month. Henry wrote that during the year 1861 the London legation "stood in an attitude of anxiety not easy to realize." Yet the Minister was not convinced that the Queen's proclamation or Russell's talk should be taken as a sign of English support for the Confederacy. His meeting with the Queen went well. Russell publicly criticized those in parliament who spoke out against the United States, and W.H. Gregory's motion to recognize the Confederacy was postponed. He wrote to Washington that he believed that the government was not "animated by a desire to favor the rebellion" but suffered a "division of opinion, consequent upon the pressure of the commercial classes." The Minister was also making a favorable personal impression to the British. The London government seemed to openly welcome Adams and in the three weeks following his arrival five cabinet members invited him to dinner. In October Russell wrote in a letter to Lyons that there was "every reason to be satisfied with the language and conduct of Mr. Adams since he arrived in this country." Yancey, Rost and Mann meanwhile worked to increase the support for the Confederacy, gaining aid from such people as William S. Lindsay, a radical member of Parliament and largest shipowner in England. Mann's Reuters News Agency connections promised to broadcast all the news he supplied them throughout Europe. According to secret agent William M. Walker, U.S.N., Confederate agents and "southern gentlemen" were swarming through the impressionable upper echelons of English and French society. The commissioners reported that the Northern representatives were ruining their own cause with too much obstreperousness and that the anti-slavery element was becoming less active. They knew the United States was strongly supported by the anti-slavery movement in England but, as reunion became the clear objective of the war and not emancipation of the slaves, the South's support from those who supported free trade increased. Adams observed this too. "Tragically few" of the English, he wrote, understood that the preservation of the Union was necessary for the progress of free institutions all over the world.
During the summer of 1861, Secretary Seward was angry at foreign interference in American affairs and was still keen to provoke a foreign war. A dispatch bearer bound for the British Consulate in Charleston was arrested by Union agents. This prompted Seward to issue an aggressive complaint at yet another example of British meddling. Palmerston replied by recommending the sending of troops to Canada. The American politician was "so wild", he said, "that any act of intemperance may be expected." Then, in May, he declared in a dinner table talk that "the Southern Commissioners could not be received by any power, officially or otherwise." On May 21, Seward's dispatch No.10 to Adams arrived. It was made private and confidential by a shrewd Lincoln. The dispatch informed Adams that any further diplomatic contact between England and the South would have to be countered by a break in the diplomatic relations between England and the North. It contained language that would be offensive to the British government. It threatened war "not unlike ... at the close of the last century." Of the dispatch Adams wrote "the government seems ready to declare war with all the powers of Europe ... I scarcely know how to understand Mr. Seward. The rest of the government may be demented for all that I know but surely he is calm and wise." Adams decided to resolve his dilemma by relating only a general idea of the dispatch to Russell. He explained that any further contact with the commissioners "could scarcely fail to be viewed by us as hostile in spirit, and to require some corresponding action accordingly." Seward had earlier explained his motives for these actions in a confidential paper to Lincoln entitled "Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration" he urged Lincoln to "change the question before the [American] public from one upon slavery ... for a question upon union or disunion." To this end he recommended engineering a war against Spain or France or Great Britain. The previous December Seward had explained his idea at the dinner of the New England Society in New York. In the event of a foreign attack on New York, he said, "all the hills of South Carolina would pour fourth their population to the rescue."
A change in public and government sympathy towards the South occurred that summer as the Times and others started to write in favor of the Rebels. This was precipitated by a Confederate victory at Bull Run on the July 21. Yancey, Rost and Mann wrote to the temporary Confederate Secretary of State, R.M.T. Hunter, on June 10. They told him that the only thing hindering recognition was the lack of a major military victory. They had also reported that relations between Adams and the British government were "not entirely amicable and satisfactory to either." The commissioners had been snubbed in the past by the London foreign office in obtaining official meetings and now, on the heels of Bull Run, they expected a formal interview. However, they did not interpret the situation in correctly. Russell would only take communication in writing. This is an indication that he took Adams' warning seriously. The commission wrote and reviewed the arguments presented previously. They added that there were now four more states in the confederacy. They argued that the war was not about slavery but only waged in order to preserve the Union. However, Russell would not pass judgment on the issue. Britain would maintain neutrality and wait. This frustrated Yancey to the extent that he submitted his resignation.
That summer Seward ordered Adams to represent America in the conclusion of the Declaration of Paris, a definition of the practices of maritime war. In April 1856, after the Crimean War, Great Britain, France, Prussia, Austria, Russia, and Turkey agreed to respect neutral commerce, whether under its own flag or under the flag of an enemy. In April 1856, four articles were adopted at the Congress of Paris:
1. Privateering is, and remains, abolished.
2. The neutral flag covers enemy's goods, with the exception of contraband of war.
3. Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under the enemy's flag.
4. Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient really to prevent access to the coast of the enemy.
The signatories pledged to invite all states not represented at the congress to accede to it. In 1856 the U.S. Secretary Marcy notified the French government that he could not give up his right to use privateers unless there was an assurance of the protection of all noncontraband private property. Negotiations on this issue were never completed. However, on April 24, 1861, Seward issued a circular to his ministers overseas to the effect that they should "enter into negotiations for the accession of the government of the United States to the Declaration of Paris." Adams was to accede to the declaration with the understanding that the Marcy amendment was unacceptable. Russell delayed in accepting the application replying eventually that Her Majesty did not intend to interfere with internal U.S. issues. For the policy was not to be reversed regarding the proclamation which made Confederate privateers safe in English harbors. Russell wrote to Adams that any "European power signing a convention with the United States declaring that privateering was and remains abolished, would be bound to treat the privateers of the so-called Confederate States as pirates." Frustrated, Adams then closed the negotiation. He wrote of it in his diary that it was "difficult to suppress indignation at the shuffling practiced throughout." He argued that with Russell's amendment Articles 2 and 3 were very beneficial to the English merchant marine and would lead to the destruction of the U.S. merchant marine, their primary competitors. The Confederate ships carried no cargo and, under these conditions, U.S. cargo would have to be carried under a neutral, quite likely British, flag. Adams had made an assumption of the friendliness of Earl Russell to the United States. He now believed that he could not rely on the Palmerston-Russell government.
Unease continued that autumn as British blockade runners continued to compromise the validity of the U.S. blockade. The English were angry at the ease at which ships could slip through the net and at the 'paper obstruction' which it presented to the hungry cotton mills. There was distress in the cotton districts as the U.S. consul in Manchester, Henry Lord, observed in a letter to Seward that September. Public opinion in that town, he said, was "almost unanimously adverse" to the North. On October 5 the commission wrote Hunter that prospects for recognition were the best ever. But they were wrong. When the French ambassador to the Court of St. James, Charles de Flahault, and the French minister to the United States, Henri Mercier, approached Russell, suggesting action, they were told that the situation did not warrant war. This opinion was widely held in cabinet and Palmerston wrote Russell on October 18 that it would not do to intervene just to obtain cotton. Parts of the press also seemed to support Russell. On October 30 the Times argued that the South had not yet proved itself capable of maintaining independence. The labor press was opposed though. One editorial commented that if the North was not fighting to free the slaves then England was "relieved from any moral consideration in their favor".
In November the two replacement Confederate diplomats, Mason and Slidell, were removed by the commander of the U.S.S. San Jacinto from a British ship called the Trent which was carrying them to England. The commander of the San Jacinto, Charles Wilkes, was a famous naval scientist and explorer. He learned that Mason and Slidell were abroad and determined, without waiting for orders, to legally seize them as "the embodiment of despatches (sic)" or political contraband. This he did on November 8, off the coast of Cuba. Wilkes's arrest of the two men was celebrated as a major victory in New York. But when news arrived in Britain, Palmerston exclaimed to the cabinet, "You may stand for this but damned if I will." He already knew that the Commissioners were abroad and predicted that an event like Trent could happen. On the basis of British precedent, dispatches could be contraband. The attorney-general advised Palmerston on November 12 that the ship "and all and everything in her" could be seized and brought to a prize court. However, based on the American practice with regard to right of search and impressment, the actual removal of the diplomats was illegal. Illegal or not, though, on November 11 Palmerston advised Adams that it would be unwise to "create irritations in this country merely for the sake of preventing the landing of Mr. Slidell, whose presence here would have no more effect on the policy of [her] Majesty with regard to America than the presence of the three other Southern deputies who have been here many months." Further, he warned, British public opinion could not but be offended.
Of all the ministers in Lincoln's cabinet, only the Postmaster-General, Montgomery Blair, denounced Wilkes' act. Seward was noncommittal. He believed that England would not go to war over a "couple of slave envoys." He kept Adams in the dark for weeks while the Government decided how to handle the affair. As he delayed it seemed a war was inevitable. At a cabinet meeting on November 29 Palmerston spoke of an arms embargo and moving the fleet to American waters. The government demanded the prisoners back with an apology and the defenses of Canada were augmented. However war was not a practical option for Britain at that time. Reinforcing Canada during the late winter months created logistical difficulties due to frozen waterways and Union naval technology put the British fleet at risk. Similarly, the Union made no arrangements for a war with England. Lincoln explained to the Canadian financial minister, Galt, that the token preparations arranged along the Canadian border were merely to "satisfy the people." If England issued an ultimatum, the Union did not seem to have secured an alternative to capitulation. On December 16 news arrived from Seward that the removal of Slidell and Mason had not been policy. Adams let Russell know this immediately. Lincoln's cabinet moved to surrender the prisoners on Christmas Day. It was, as Lincoln recalled "the bitterest pill."
Though the Trent affair had been resolved peacefully, it damaged
the Union reputation. Richard Cobden, a supporter of the Union,
wrote that "three fourths of the House [of commons] will
be glad to find an excuse for voting for the dismemberment of
the Great Republic." Northern policy was full of irony. Justification
of policy during the Trent affair relied upon a wartime
right of search, yet it denied the basis upon which that right
rested. Similar ironies were present in the fact that the blockade
was only legal in a time of war and that the North expected the
full application of the principles of the Paris agreement to apply
to what was argued to be a nonexistent entity. The British public
learned that the war was not about slavery, as was previously
assumed, and the Union Secretary of State seemed eager for a war
with England. After the contents of Seward's dispatches became
public at the end of the year, the New York Times observed
that "the London journals persist in ascribing to the administration
of President Lincoln
[a] wanton craving for a foreign war".
Seward figured in the British mind as "a Giant Blunderbore,
thirsting day and night for the blood of Englishmen."
In early spring Lord Lyons wrote to Russell predicting that a dangerous stalemate was developing. If North could not achieve a great victory before this 'sickly season' set in then popular discontent with the war would force the North to concede. This posed a problem for Britain. Republican moderate elements, he observed, would combine with the already hostile radicals to provoke a war with Britain. The former to restore the Union, the later to remain in power. He suggested that, as the Union elections were looming, intervention would strengthen the Republican peace elements and help end the war. In Britain, prices were up on the surplus cotton stocks, and there was a hope that finally the monopoly of U.S. cotton was broken. This led Adams to try to promote a retraction of recognition of belligerency. In conversation with Union Minister to France, William L. Dayton, Adams learned that Napoleon III was pro-retraction if only the English would agree. Russell gave his regrets but declined. Also, a ship of war, The Alabama, manufactured in Liverpool, received arms and crew from Britain while at sea. Neutral obligations in this respect had been defined in the Foreign Enlistment act of 1819, which stated that "No British subject ... could engage in equipping any ship or vessel, with intent or in order that such ship or vessel shall be employed in the service of a belligerent." It was, however, too difficult for Adams to prove who the intended owners were and so it escaped.
The subject of mediation arose several times in parliament during the summer of 1862. On March 7, to the approval of many, William Gregory demonstrated in the Commons that the blockade was ineffective. The Cabinet did not support him however. But by June there was more interest in recognition. Though Russell warned in Parliament that "the present time would be most inopportune for such an attempt at mediation", on June 20 another motion for recognition was presented to the Commons. It was unsuccessful and on June 30 Palmerston stated that the Cabinet would act only when it appeared "that such a step would be attended with success". When passion cooled on either side "and a fair opening appear[ed] for any step which might be likely to meet with the acquiescence of the two parties", the Cabinet would act. On July 1 William Stuart, British chargé d'affairs in Washington, wrote that the Union general, McClellan, was now retreating from Richmond. He wrote that the continuing poor military performance would lower northern confidence and that French minister Mercier believed that by October northern public opinion would welcome mediation.
During the autumn of 1862 Great Britain seriously considered intervening in the American Civil War. In September General Lee's troops invaded Maryland after Stonewall Jackson repelled the Union army at the second battle of Bull Run. While the Europeans did not believe the South had the ability to conquer the North, French Foreign Minister Thouvenel observed that no leader on the continent thought that the Union could win. A stalemate had been reached. Russell and Palmerston now believed the time to act was almost at hand. Public opinion leaned towards action of some sort. The Morning Herald pleaded "Let us do something ... arbitration, intervention, diplomatic action, recognition ... let us do something to stop this carnage." Secretly the British Cabinet was discussing some form of urgent intervention. On September 13 Russell ordered Lord Cowley, ambassador to France, to sound out informally Édouard Thouvenel, the French foreign minister, regarding a joint recommendation of armistice accompanied by a threat that the Confederacy "might" be recognized. There were clear ideas about how the conflict could be settled. On September 14 Palmerston wrote Russell that "The federals ... got a very complete thrashing". "Would it not be time for us to consider," he asked, "[to] address the contending parties and recommend an arrangement upon the basis of separation?" Russell agreed and suggested "One Republic to be constituted on the principle of freedom and personal liberty - the other on the principle of slavery and the mutual surrender of fugitives." Further, he noted that "whether the Federal Army is destroyed or not it is clear that it is driven back to Washington, and has made no progress in subduing the Insurgent States." Many urged caution however. Lyons, who was now in England, protested that the time was not yet right for an intervention. On September 22 Palmerston advised Russell that Britain should await the outcome of the coming battle before making any decisions. He argued that "if the Federals sustain a great Defeat they may be once ready for Mediation and the Iron should be struck while it is hot. If, on the other hand, they should have the best of it we may wait awhile and see what may follow." Palmerston concluded that "whichever way Victory now inclines, I cannot think the South can now be conquered." Russell agreed that in such a case the Union might realize the futility of the war and he suggested a Cabinet meeting for October to discuss the whole matter. The Confederate commissioners got news of these developments and believed that recognition would come soon. On September 23, the son-in-law of Lady Palmerston, the Earl of Shaftesbury, visited Paris. He was widely known as an associate of the prime minister and was described by Adams as a "good key" to understanding British policy. In Paris he assured Slidell that British recognition was no more than a few weeks away. Palmerston wrote Gladstone on September 24 that if the Federals lost the battle for Maryland their cause would become "manifestly hopeless."
On September 30 news arrived in England that Lee had been defeated at Antietam. Palmerston wrote Russell that the situation was now confused; the North would not consider mediation until it had "had a good deal more pummelling (sic) from the South." Owsley describes this event as the death-blow of Confederate hopes for recognition. However, it rather reinforced the idea that neither side would win. On September 30, Shaftesbury assured Slidell that the British attitude with regard to intervention had not changed. He was right. The truth is that these events actually heightened British interest in intervention. 24, 000 men had been wounded or killed at Antietam. Within a week of the battle, Stuart sent a dispatch explaining that Lyons and Mercier wanted to jointly declare their desire for an armistice to end the terrible war. But Cowley reported to Russell on October 4 that Napoleon III favored recognition of the Confederacy. This encouraged Russell who then proposed to Palmerston that Britain immediately adopt a joint mediation plan based upon achieving separation. He recommended, as per Mercier's suggestion, that Lyons should return to America immediately with a suggestion of an armistice and a joint offer of "good offices."
The news of Antietam was followed on September 22 by Lincoln's proclamation that on January 1 all the slaves in all the rebelling states would be free. The motivation was clear. Lincoln had recently told an anti-slavery group in Washington that no other step "would be so potent to prevent foreign intervention." The Chicago Tribune agreed, describing the proclamation as "a practical war measure ... to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion." Most British observers did not believe that the proclamation was a moral or humanitarian measure. It was more an attempt to bring down King Cotton from within. Russell and Gladstone feared that emancipation would incite a slave revolution which would grow into a race war. In January of 1862 Lyons had alerted Russell that the war was "rapidly tending towards the issue either of peace and a recognition of the separation or a Proclamation of Emancipation and the raising of a servile insurrection." Russell knew then that Lincoln might promote a revolution of the slaves if the Union could not be restored by other means. Stuart wrote that the proclamation demonstrated no "pretext of humanity" and offered "direct encouragement to servile reactions." The British government feared that a terrible slave revolution would ensue. This would upset the entire commercial relationship with the American States and, as a result, it would pull England into the conflict too. Russell asked the chargé in Washington to make the point to Seward that a race war would "only make other nations more desirous to see an end to this desolating and destructive conflict."
Seward was infuriated with the British reaction. He said Union victory "does not satisfy our enemies abroad. Defeats in their eyes prove our national incapacity". "At first," said he, "the [Union] government was considered as unfaithful to humanity in not proclaiming the emancipation, and when it appeared that slavery, by being thus forced into the contest, must suffer, and perhaps perish in the conflict, then the war had become an intolerable propagandism of emancipation by the sword." Seward promised that British intervention would turn the conflict into "a war of the world." His threat posed an obstacle which was not fully evident until October, when a cabinet meeting was to discuss the issue of intervention. Attention was drawn to it inadvertently by Gladstone. On October 7, he had made a speech at Newcastle saying "Davis was making a nation". He left the impression that the ministry was on the verge of recognizing the South. This proved embarrassing and was promptly disavowed in the Evening Globe and by Russell in a meeting with Adams.
Russell believed the war had to stop. Emancipation, he argued, had authorized the Union armies to commit acts of revenge which would tear America apart. But how could Britain step between the antagonists without recognition? There was little support for Russell's proposal from cabinet members. The Duke of Newcastle, secretary for the colonies, thought that the proposal was premature and would obstruct a tendency towards peace already present in the Republican party. There were elections in November; perhaps the balance of power would shift away from the radical elements. Lord Clarendon wrote Palmerston that Lord Derby, the Tory leader, also opposed intervention. Unwilling to compromise the delicate balance of power, Palmerston stated that "we must continue merely to be lookers-on til the war shall have taken a more decided turn". Talking peace to the Americans, he wrote, would be as useless as "asking the winds to let the waters remain calm." Secretary for War, George Cornwall Lewis, insisted that intervention meant war. Further, England had no terms to offer. If any terms sanctioned slavery then the British government would alienate the Union and much of its own public. If the terms suggested abolition the South would reject them. In the cabinet Lewis's ideas were popular. By October 20 Russell postponed the Cabinet meeting. He learned that Russia was not prepared to support the Anglo-French scheme. "Less than the whole five [of the major powers]," he wrote, "would not do."
Then, in France, Thouvenel was replaced by Édouard Drouyn
de Lhuys. He informed Cowley that the Emperor desired an Anglo-French-Russian
mediated six-month truce and a suspension of the blockade. Secretly,
Napoleon III was hoping to create a diversion which would allow
him to operate freely in his Mexican ventures. The Emperor suggested
that if Lincoln were to reject the offer then peaceful elements
in the North would be strengthened and would overthrow the Lincoln
government. In America the evidence seemed clear of a swelling
tide of disgust with Republican mismanagement of the war. Napoleon
III contended that foreign interposition would accelerate this
and force a compromise between the two parties. The Emperor told
Slidell, on the other hand, that rejection of his proposal by
the Union would provide "good reason for recognition and
perhaps more active intervention." The French proposal gave
Russell new hope and he decided to present the proposal to the
Cabinet on November 11. However, the Cabinet clearly feared the
opposite to Napoleon's idea. Interference would unite the States
and prove Seward's foreign war theory. Lewis took up a campaign
against this proposal in the newspapers. Under the pseudonym "Historicus"
he repeated his arguments. He admitted that international law
made provision for the armed intervention of neutral nations but
this was not rational in this case. How were they to transport
their armies across the Atlantic? How were their wooden warships
to engage the Union ironclads? Finally, even if the parties could
be brought to the table, the distance involved was too great for
European powers to coordinate any mediation effectively. Lewis
also wrote a 15,000 word memorandum to the cabinet explaining
his ideas in detail. On November 11 -12, the cabinet met. The
proposal was supported by Gladstone, Russell, and Palmerston.
However, when Russell revealed that Russia was no longer a willing
party to mediation the Cabinet overwhelmingly rejected Napoleon's
offer. The Times approved; it commented that history would
judge any "untimely meddling" as having "forced
the nation once more under the power of a faction which must have
fallen without our aid."
The confederate agents in Europe looked upon their recent failure as a 'trifling' incident and expected better luck in the coming year. On December 11, 1862, Mason wrote to Benjamin that "... events are coming to pass which must lead to some change in the attitude of England." Though postponed by private contribution, the commissioners believed that soon there would be starvation in the districts hit by the cotton famine. The Parliament was due to meet in February and some form of government action was anticipated. However, the Confederates could not seek intervention again without some solid military victory to back up their arguments.
Were the confederate agent's views naive? Certainly they were painting a rosier picture than events suggested. There had been some cynical reaction to the emancipation proclamation from those who were hostile to the Union, as it seemed like an attempt to gain foreign sympathy. But generally it was welcomed. Speeches by Lord Russell at the opening of Parliament indicated that the cabinet still seemed to have no plans for recognition. The British lower and middle classes were delighted with the proclamation as the attendance at a mass emancipation meeting in Exeter Hall on 29 January proved. It was so crowded that traffic outside was held up for two hours. Adams was besieged with letters, petitions, and resolutions from worker's groups and emancipation societies, all supporting the proclamation. Also, as the demand for manufactured goods from the Lancashire textile manufactories was high, the conditions and temperaments of the workers hit by the cotton famine were improving. Further, Lyons had now returned to Washington and reported that after the American election radical elements in both Republican and Democratic parties were now more powerful and still committed to the conflict. Therefore mediation was impossible.
News arrived that the Confederates had won the battle of Fredricksburg and had been advancing northwards ever since. This prompted more requests to Napoleon III from Southern sympathizers to take action. France was suffering from the reduced supply of cotton and Napoleon publicly condemned the war which had exhausted "one of the most fruitful of [French] industries." Mercier was instructed to approach Seward to arrange some form of mediation to resolve the conflict. But Seward was in no mood to entertain a stalemate in the war, and refused Mercier's request. By then it seems that Russell had given up entirely on the idea of a mediation and wrote on February 14th that there was no point in further action until "both parties are heartily sick and tired of the business." However, some believed that the Union would never be sick and tired of the business and that reunion was impossible. Sympathizers on both sides saw separation as the only solution. "The North and the South are virtually separated," commented the pro-Northern novelist Anthony Trollope, "and the day will come in which the west also will secede". The historian E. Freeman concurred with Trollope in his History of Federal Government, published in 1863. If this was the fate of the United States then why not act to end the conflict as soon as possible? With this idea popular and being published, the Confederates hoped that there was still a chance for recognition. The problem was that the Whig ministry seemed unshakable. Mason's friend, Spence, suggested that as the Tories should be approached. This idea was not popular as it was seen that the Tories were not pro-Confederacy but it would resurface later.
Meanwhile Union patience was running out with Britain since, despite her words, Britain's continuing dereliction of neutral responsibilities implied favor to the South. English vessels continued to compromise the blockade and confederate warships were being built in England. Yet, the British government made no moves to condemn these actions on the part of her subjects. Neutral obligations with respect to the warships had been defined in the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1819. This stated that "No British subject ... could engage in equipping any ship or vessel, with intent or in order that such ship or vessel shall be employed in the service of a belligerent." As early as November 1862 Adams had asked for redress from Russell for damages from these ships. Now he wrote to Seward that the issue, for fear of ill-will, should not be pursued as a matter of critical importance. He was mistaken. In spring it came to light that two more ships, the Laird rams, were under construction. Adams looked for legal means to prevent their launch but it was left up to the United States to prove the malicious intent of the vessels. However, evidence of this would only be interpreted as such after the offense. The South had already received legal advice that the Act would continue to be interpreted this way as long as the ships were not armed and equipped inside the country. When news of the vessels reached the Union in late February it was met by a "Privateering Bill", engineered by Seward, for the issuance of letters of marque to hunt down the Alabama and others like her. This caused immediate reaction in Britain and, the day after Adams informed Russell of the Bill, a debate on neutral policy took place in Commons. During this debate, though Russell privately advised action to the contrary, both Palmerston and Laird defended British conduct in the matter. This prompted Adams to comment that Palmerston was a "rancorous hater of America and bent on depressing it." Regardless, on 5 April, with the Prime Minister's approval, Russell gave orders for the seizure of another vessel, the Alexandra.
No decision could be expected from the Alexandra proceedings until June. In the meantime Adams provoked a controversy. A vessel carrying goods to the Confederacy, The Peterhoff, en route to the Mexican port of Matamoras, was intercepted by the blockade. Although the British argued that the seizure was illegal as goods were bound for Mexico when on the ship, the incident resulted in a decision by Lloyd's of London to stop underwriting such trips. Then, in April, Adams was approached by two Americans who smuggled guns to Mexico. They could not get insurance for their next venture because Lloyd's needed evidence that the guns were not intended for the South. So, Adams gave them an affidavit stating that they could be insured without fear of trouble from the blockade. He also gave them a letter for Admiral Dupont of the blockade so that he would let them pass. In the body of this note Adams referred to a "multitude of fraudulent and dishonest enterprises" which had come from Britain putting honest trade "under suspicion". An underwriter at Lloyd's leaked this information to the Times and the next day Adams was universally denounced. Newspapers condemned his attempt to "constitute himself an authority for 'licensing' certain ships as opposed to others." Adams immediately tried to apologize for any misunderstanding as he had not intended to interfere in British trade. The incident was formally protested in Parliament and in letters to Washington. In the end Seward officially disavowed the letter.
The previous year it had become difficult to raise funds for Confederate operatives in Europe. The absence of confidence in southern currency meant that the Confederacy had to experiment with various alternative ways of obtaining money. Cotton liabilities, for example, were issued by an agency belonging to Mason's friend, Spence, raising a million dollars in December 1862. Following this, a 'cotton loan' was floated by the Emile Erlanger & Company of Paris for £3,000,000 ($15,000,000). This was not so much for profit as for the "strong influences" that would accompany the loan, as Slidell wrote "it is a financial recognition of our independence." Erlanger issued bonds against this loan at 90 percent face value on March 15th. The bonds were measured in sterling, bore an annual interest of 7 percent, and were convertible into certificates representing cotton at a price of six pence per pound. Investors would pay for bonds over a period of seven months and Erlanger & Co. would pay the proceeds of the loan to the Confederate government after taking a commission. The discount rose by up to 5 percent in the first five days then, on March 23, it dropped below par. At this stage only 15 percent had been paid in by investors so Erlanger feared that they would have forfeited their payment rather than throw good money after bad. Apart from being a financial loss for the Confederacy, it would have been a demonstration of a lack of faith in the South. The intermediary had to intervene but by April 5 they could afford this no more. On April 4 Russell ordered the detonation of the Alexandria in her dock. Confidence trembled and the bonds fell to 87. The Southern agents then agreed to allow the use of Confederate loan money from the 15 percent already paid to further support the price. This improved the position of the loan and the next settlement date, May 1, passed without any problems. Then, on June 13, the intermediary agreed to accept the whole issue in exchange for bonds worth 13 percent of the face value. From then the bonds fluctuated freely.
Professor Judith Gentry has argued that the loan was quite successful. By the end of the war, after payment of debts and disposal of as many bonds as they could (nearly two-thirds), the Confederacy received £1,760,989 or $8,535,486 from the loan. Considering Erlanger's commission, the maximum net income possible of 90 percent of the loan was £2,153,629. Gentry argues that next to this the net income sum does not seem "quite so small." Gentry further argues that the Erlanger loan could not have performed any better. A comparison with the terms of other proposals made to Confederacy showed no significant differences. This was the best contract available to the Confederate agents as any risk adverse intermediary needed a high commission. In comparison with domestic Union bond sales (which were paid for in depreciated currency), the Erlanger loan was almost as successful in terms 'productive purchasing power'. Ultimately, it produced £1,759,894 for use in Europe when Confederate needs were great. More importantly, however, the Confederates achieved their goal of 'financial recognition'. They established good credit and prevented the failure of their loan at a critical time when they still had hope for an intermediation. Thus the loan was a success.
That May news of a break in the Vicksburg campaign was accompanied by news of a greater victory by Lee at Chancellorsville in Virginia. If Lee could capitalize on this he could invade the North. With all the newspapers excited by this, William Roebuck M.P. proposed a motion to recognize the Confederacy. Russell reacted skeptically, "Lord Derby nor Cobden will support it, and I should think no great number of the liberal party." But Confederate recognition was now clearly against Whig policy. A victory for this motion would dislodge the government and replace them with a Tory government. Since January Hotze's newspaper, Index, ran highly critical articles of the Palmerston administration to attract Tory support. There was an excellent chance for recognition. However, the motion was withdrawn due to a ridiculous controversy. Roebuck communicated with Napoleon III to determine if he was still willing to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy. This was beyond his jurisdiction. He was accused of misrepresenting parliament and of dealing in an official capacity with a foreign power. The parliament did not even have an opportunity to discuss recognition.
On July 16 news arrived of Lee's defeat at Gettysburg. This, combined with Grant's victories in the West, enabled the Union to commence planning offensively. The Confederacy was never again able to mount a full-scale invasion of the North. Observers at Gettysburg noted that much of the equipment left on the battlefield was homemade or makeshift. Thereafter the South's material resources declined further. The news of the battle undermined public confidence in the ability of the Confederacy. It ensured that neither recognition or mediation was ever again proposed in Parliament. The diplomatic tide turned and the Union now confidently pursued its objectives. On September 5 Adams resolved the last serious contentious issue between Britain and the Union; the Laird rams. In reference to the impending launch of the ships he gave Russell an ultimatum and explained clearly that if they put to sea: "It is superfluous to point out to your Lordship that this is war".
Chapter 4 Conclusion
The priority of the Confederate diplomats was British recognition and intervention. However, at the start of the war, this was not in Britain's interest. First, the delicate coalition of the Palmerston administration could not survive in controversy and slavery was a controversial issue. Second, Britain had two years worth of cotton reserves. The reduced supply of cotton from the Confederacy had pushed prices up so British industry was thriving. It hoped that finally the American monopoly on cotton production was broken. Third, the Union Secretary of State, William Seward, made it clear that there would be violent consequences in the event of Southern recognition. In fact it seems probable that war could have started over far less. Charles Francis Adams had to tone down Seward's threatening rhetoric when he spoke to Russell. However, Britain's actions were not entirely impartial to the South. The consequences of the Proclamation of Neutrality seemed to indicate a bias. The Confederacy did not yet have any privateers. Therefore England was acting before the facts were clear and so the North justifiably presumed favor to the South.
The Union diplomats' priority was to avert Britain from intervening on behalf of the Confederacy. This posed a problem. Southern rights were clearly understood after Lincoln let it be known that the war was not about slavery. The Confederate agents believed that their cause was more popular and that military success would prove that the South had truly established itself. However, even after news of Bull Run arrived there was no sign that recognition was forthcoming. The poorly qualified Southern agents were frustrated by this; Yancey resigned thinking his mission impossible. However, the British government in no way excluded itself from future recognition. Seward's dispatch No. 10 only effectively averted Russell from dealing with the Confederacy in an official capacity. The following imply that, despite Seward's strong words, British policy was not greatly altered by Union efforts. First, Adams negotiations regarding the Declaration of Paris failed as Russell was still not prepared to reconsider the South's belligerent status. Second, at the time when Britain and the Union were closest to war, during the Trent affair, the British government made no serious efforts to back up their ultimatum for the return of Mason and Slidell. Third, Adams was still unable to obtain a retraction of the Proclamation of Neutrality. Fourth, Russell did nothing to prevent the launch of the Alabama.
The British government's tendency towards recognition was most evident during the autumn of 1862. The American Civil War seemed to have reached an impasse and appalled British public opinion. Within a week of the arrival of the news of bloody Battle of Antietam, Russell was willing to make an offer of 'good offices' to both parties. At this time Lincoln made the most important diplomatic move of the war. The Proclamation of Emancipation was, by his own words, a practical measure to avoid the Confederacy of foreign recognition. Russell feared, however, that the proclamation was an effort to revolt the slaves. He believed this would tear America apart and force Britain to intervene in defense of economic interests. Regardless, the proclamation found massive support from the British working classes and the Tories now had definite policy against intervention. Further, due to Lewis's campaign and the strengthening of radical Republican elements in the Union election, the Cabinet now seemed to believe that intervention would make Seward's theory a reality, as the prompt disavowal of Gladstone's Newcastle speech proved. The new Confederate agents naively did not appreciate these facts. Nevertheless, there was more than enough reason for the Southern commissioners to remain hopeful. Books were published suggesting an American tendency towards disintegration, the Erlanger loan proved that the British commercial classes supported their cause, and it was generally agreed that the Union would not reunify with the rebel states by force. There remained then a strong reason for mediation. However, the opportunity presented by this was lost. Then news of General Lee's terrible defeat at Gettysburg undermined confidence in the ability of the Confederacy. The Southern agents had blundered and it only remained for Adams to make his ultimatum.
In the end, it was the poor management of the Confederate diplomatic effort which created the controversy surrounding Roebuck's motion. The last opportunity of the Confederacy was lost leaving the commissioners with a poor record. The only Confederate diplomatic success was in the field where Slidell was best qualified; foreign markets. Adams, on the other hand, made only one mistake; the phrasing of the affidavit he gave to the gun smugglers. The Union Minister was maverick but this was good. There would have been a war if Adams had followed the letter of his orders. Seward's toned down threats did not cause the war that was intended, instead they ensured that the Southern commissioners were never acknowledged by the British government. This, followed by Lincoln's proclamation, made the Confederate mission quite difficult. So, there were circumstances beyond the control of the Southern agents. However, their ultimate failure can not be attributed to these. Their orders were feasible.
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