Review: Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations

Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (The Littlefield History of the Civil War Era)
by Howard Jones

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (December 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807833495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807833490

A different view of diplomacy

American diplomacy during the Civil War centers on preventing England from recognizing the Confederacy.  The short story is that England did/did not wish to recognize the Confederacy, depending on the person you are talking with.  America’s threat of war caused them to hold off until the Emancipation Proclamation at which time recognition was impossible.  This story, with few variations, always told from the American point of view dominates this story of diplomacy during the war.

Howard Jones refuses to follow the accepted story.  In doing so, he wrote what might be the best book available and one that is required reading for anyone interested in the subject.  The most important change is to look at the Civil War from Europe’s perspective.  Switching viewpoints produces a very different history, nuanced, complex with opportunities and dangers.  Emancipation and slavery are important as moral questions but in diplomacy, advantage outweighs morality every time.

In 1860, England had fought two wars with the United States in less than 90 years.  They are facing a republic that is on the verge of becoming an Atlantic power and a potential challenge to their supremacy.  Having the United States split into two nations, one of them a semi-client state is an advantage.  War with the United States, a possible invasion of Canada, is dangerous.  The danger is even greater as the United States Navy is going to ironclad ships and England is lagging behind.  England fought France allied with Russia, Austria and Prussia at the turn of the century.  However, the last war found England allied with France fighting Russia.  Napoleon III is untrustworthy, unskilled in diplomacy and given to adventurous pronouncements.  The alliance with France is an advantage as Prussia building the German states into a nation but it is full of perils.  The cotton famine hurts but they can manage the pain for now.

Napoleon III waits for England’s lead.  He needs to maintain their friendship while adventuring in Italy and Mexico.  Austria dragged into France’s adventures is less happy as time passes.  France would like to restore their possessions in the “New World” and sees the Confederacy as a possible path to this goal.  Even allied to England, France tries to gain the upper hand at England’s expense.  France hurt by the cotton famine is not managing as well as England.

Russia is the United States’ firm friend and objects to any European meddling in the war.  However, Russia is still smarting from the Crimean War and would like to derail the English French alliance.

The United States of America suffers a rebellion that becomes a shooting war creating a host of questions, opportunities and dangers for Europe’s powers.

England has mixed emotions about the combatants.  Most of the upper class favors the CSA.  Initially, since the war is not about slavery, the working class wants cotton so they can work   There is an underlying pro USA feeling but it isn’t going to stop the government from doing what is best for the country.  What is best for England, suffers a series of twist and turns that tax all participants and bring them close to war more than once.  The Trent Affair and the Laird Rams are the best-known examples.  English neutrality is a major question during the war that the book fully explores.  The reasons why selected, how the English sees neutrality, their obligations and expectations are the foundation of their policies.  The America reaction mystified them, as neither understands the other’s objections.

An area seldom explored is the humanitarian reasons for intervention.  International Law provided for neutrals to intervene when a war could not be won and was hurting them.  The author gives us an excellent look into this area and why England and France could consider this course of action.

Why did intervention not occur?  How close did England come?  Would France elect to go it alone and intervene?  The author’s answers to these questions challenge the accepted story but he supports these answers.

The book is fully illustrated and footnoted.  This well written very readable book is a “must read” for any student of the war looking beyond “Battles & Leaders”.  It will be a valuable addition to your library.  This is a book that you will read more than once and should be an award winner.

Editor’s Note: Jim is a Top 500 reviewer.

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2 responses to “Review: Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations

  1. Fred Ray Avatar
    Fred Ray

    Interesting, and I think you’re right that morality played a far lesser part than is generally supposed. One consideration seldom mentioned is British fear of Yankee commerce raiders. These had done a great deal of damage in the previous wars, and Empire commerce remained vulnerable. Imagine a dozen Alabamas flying the Stars and Stripes loose on the oceans.

  2. Stephen Graham Avatar
    Stephen Graham

    I still want to know how this book differs from Union in Peril and why a book that effectively ends in late 1862 really qualifies as a history of Civil War diplomacy.

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