Nearly 150 years after the Civil War, many Americans still fail to realize that the conflict not only threatened the United States from within but also made the republic vulnerable to outside predatory interests that could have adversely affected its later rise to global power. Surprisingly few scholars discuss the international dimension of the Civil War. Well-deserved is their focus on battles, generals and political leaders in explaining the war’s course and outcome, but rarely do they highlight the critical role of Union and Confederate diplomacy. Had Great Britain and France extended diplomatic recognition to the South, it could have changed the course of America’s history by legitimating its division into two republics, one slave and one free—and thereby weakened the country so badly that it could never have assumed a leadership role in the world. Alas, Americans remain an oddly insular and self-absorbed folk, quick to see international ramifications in other peoples’ civil conflicts—whether in Colombia, Korea, Vietnam, or now Afghanistan—but not in their own.
In the fall of 1862, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, William E. Gladstone, declared that “civilized Europe” must stop the “horrible war” raging in America. Lord John Russell, British Foreign Secretary, expressed the same sentiment, complaining to his Ambassador in Paris, Lord Cowley, that the Union sought to “wear out the South by mutual slaughter. Was there ever any war so horrible?”1 The extraordinarily high casualty figures had stunned the world: 23,000 men died in two days at Shiloh, and 20,000 in a single day at Antietam. Photographer Mathew Brady captured the horror in grisly images of several battlefields, once lush and green but now littered with bodies and untold numbers of horse and mule carcasses haphazardly strewn among shell-ridden trees and landscape. Victorian England, Gladstone and Russell insisted, must take the lead in stopping this atrocity.
As the dominant power in Europe, Britain largely shaped the reaction of other nations to the American Civil War, led by the great triumvirate of power in London: Lord Palmerston as Prime Minister, along with Russell and Gladstone. Palmerston was a hard-core realist. Even before the war started, he thought the Union was on the road to dissolution. A saber rattler and long-time critic of the United States, he had called for war over Canadian border issues during the early 1840s, and regularly dismissed Americans as frontier naifs who had foolishly experimented with democracy and emerged with anarchy. Russell concurred that the Union had fallen apart, insisting that it could not be “cobbled together again” and that the North should accept Southern secession, at least for a time. Southern independence, he argued, would isolate the new republic among opponents of slavery, who would join in due course to choke it to death. Gladstone welcomed Confederate battlefield victories as the best way to convince the Union that it could not win. England must mediate a settlement, leaving two states where once there was one.2
Gladstone, Russell and their contemporaries should not have been surprised by the massive casualties given the ferocity of the killing machines deployed: trench warfare, long-range rifled artillery, muzzle-loading cannons, breech-loading rifles, hand grenades, land mines, repeating firearms and rifled muskets. Railroads transported troops and supplies, enabling mass armies to engage in fierce hand-to-hand combat with guns, knives and sabers. Ironclad warships made the Union navy invincible and rendered obsolete the once superior British and French wooden vessels. These were only a few of the lethal features of this vicious, internecine fighting so characteristic of wars “civil” only in name.
The immense human and material destruction of the war in fact threatened the welfare of the entire Atlantic world. The Old and New Worlds were linked in an intricate and expanding network of trade and finance that by the 1860s had become the basis of a vibrant international economy. The Civil War threatened to destroy that delicate structure by disrupting the flow of its two most vital products—cotton from the South and wheat from the North—and the influx of British capital into the United States. Southern secession had opened a devastating path of ruin that could spread beyond America’s borders and endanger the lives and well-being of everyone and everything the war touched.
British and French observers assumed that slavery had caused the conflict but were baffled both by President Abraham Lincoln’s determination to preserve the Union and by his political motive for avoiding mention of the real issue, namely that taking a stand against slavery would have driven the four border slave states of Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Delaware out of the Union and possibly cost it the war. Nor did they realize that Lincoln’s Union supporters would refuse to fight on behalf of either slaves or free blacks, or that he hoped to attract the support of loyalists in the South who had remained silent during the secession winter of 1860–61.
They also did not grasp Jefferson Davis’s equally compelling reason for dodging the slavery issue: He hoped to avoid alienating anti-slavery groups in England and France, the better to gain recognition and the right to negotiate military and commercial alliances. Southern officials tried to downplay slavery at every turn. The South’s fire-eaters had wanted to reopen the African slave trade and build an empire based on slavery. James DeBow of Louisiana, the publisher of the widely read DeBow’s Review, argued that those Southerners who opposed “the transfer of the rude, benighted, degraded native African to the soil of Louisiana on the score of humanity” actually took “the side of our Abolition enemies of the North.”3 Confederate diplomats insisted that European nations would not recognize the Confederacy if it supported these objectives. They had a point. To cultivate the crown’s goodwill, the Lincoln Administration reversed a long-standing policy by approving British search of American ships in African waters suspected of engaging in the slave trade. Confederate moderates blocked a revival of the Atlantic slave trade, but they could not counter the favorable impact of the Union’s cooperation with Britain in ending the business. Lincoln also had his minister in London, Charles Francis Adams, assure Russell that New York would no longer allow manufacturers to fit out ships designed for slave trafficking. It helped, too, that Adams was regarded in England as more British in demeanor than American.
With slavery off the table diplomatically if not actually, both the British and the French regarded the conflict as illogical. How could the North reject its own cherished principle of self-determination and go to war over some mystical concept of Union, particularly when Southern independence was a fait accompli? Surely the Lincoln Administration did not expect to subjugate a rebellious people numbering in the millions and in control of a vast territory encompassing eleven states. The futility of such an effort seemingly became evident after Confederate forces routed the Union at Bull Run in July 1861. From Europe’s perspective, the long-ridiculed republican experiment had finally imploded, threatening to set off a war of extermination that would leave behind chaos, mob rule and multiplying death. Let the erring sisters go, declared numerous Europeans in echoing New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley.4
Neither the British (and the French) nor the Union understood the other’s position on the war. London and Paris could not comprehend the concept of “Union” and Lincoln’s eventual argument that ending slavery was integral to victory and Union alike. The conflict, the President asserted, centers on “whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy . . . can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity.” The Union was perpetual, making secession the “essence of anarchy” and the Union’s stand for freedom the “last best hope of earth.” Unmoved, the British and the French criticized the fighting as a waste of manpower and resources. Union successes, they insisted, furnished false hope and escalating atrocities, while Confederate victories assured independence and a quicker end to the war. Union leaders did not understand how their European counterparts could argue that the outcome of the war was clear and that continued fighting would only ratchet up the death toll on both sides. There was no room for compromise: Lincoln insisted on union, Davis on disunion. “It was the failure to comprehend this truth”, Adams wrote in his diary, “that clouded every European judgment of our affairs.”5 The imperial realists of Europe, it seemed, simply could not comprehend a war fought between equally committed idealists.
Civil War in a Global Context
Lincoln could not have known that the war in America had become global the moment the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Its most immediate impact lay in the Atlantic world, but the struggle long afterward raised the hopes and aspirations of secessionists all over the world.6 But Lincoln did fear interference from England and France and so immediately declared the sectional quarrel a domestic matter, warning all nations not to meddle in American affairs. His mercurial Secretary of State, William H. Seward, agreed from the beginning of the conflict that their greatest threat in foreign relations lay in the South’s winning diplomatic recognition.
Lincoln soon realized, too, that the American contest had an international military dimension when he announced a blockade of the Southern coast. To keep other nations out of the fight, he imposed a naval blockade that stretched 3,500 miles from Virginia to the Rio Grande. It was a paper blockade and a clear violation of international law in that the Union could not enforce this action. It had fewer than one hundred vessels, only 42 of them seaworthy and a mere eight of these in American waters. Nor could Lincoln escape the chief consequence of his action: His use of the term “blockade” brought the language of war to what he vainly argued was an internal affair. As Richard B. Lyons, the British minister to Washington, observed, a blockade “applies only to two nations at war.”7
The British government (soon followed by others in Europe) adhered to international law protocol for war, answering Lincoln’s blockade announcement with a proclamation of neutrality intended to prevent its subjects from becoming involved. The Palmerston ministry then implemented the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1819, which forbade its citizens from enlisting in either army or building warships for either navy. British neutrality infuriated the Lincoln Administration because the policy automatically granted the South a status as a belligerent that was only one step short of diplomatic recognition. As a belligerent, the South could license privateers, search ships and seize contraband, enter foreign ports with prizes or for repairs, borrow money, purchase arms and other supplies, and contract the building of commerce destroyers as long as they departed England unarmed. Union supporters accused the British of supporting the Confederacy; the Palmerston ministry indignantly denied this allegation, insisting that neutrality constituted an effort to stay out of the war, not get into it.
The South, meanwhile, had also angered the British (and the French) by adopting King Cotton Diplomacy, an attempt to win recognition through a heavy-handed threat of extortion. A chorus of voices affirmed the policy: In the memorable words of South Carolina Senator James H. Hammond, if the South withheld cotton,
England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her, save the South. No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is King!
Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall boasted before his peers, “I say that cotton is King, and that he waves his scepter not only over these thirty-three States, but over the island of Great Britain and over continental Europe.” S.R. Cockerill, a prominent Southerner and army general, asserted that cotton was “the king who can shake the jewels in the crown of Queen Victoria.” The Richmond Whig proudly declared that the Confederacy had “its hand on the mane of the British lion, and that beast, so formidable to all the rest of the world, must crouch at her bidding.” According to the Charleston Mercury, “the cards are in our hands, and we intend to play them out to the bankruptcy of every cotton factory in Great Britain and France, or the acknowledgment of our independence.”8
But Southerners were deluded about cotton’s importance to Britain and France in 1861. Confederate leaders were so certain that King Cotton Diplomacy would work, according to Davis’s wife, that they considered recognition “an assured fact.”9 Thus Davis failed to ponder either cotton’s importance as collateral for securing loans, or the national interest that determined British and French policies. The governments in London and Paris, he thought, would extend recognition to affirm the South’s moral cause of self-determination. In reality, though Britain and France had long relied on Southern cotton, the South had become a victim of its own good fortune. By 1861 both countries’ warehouses were stuffed with more than a year’s surplus of Southern cotton, thanks to bumper crops in each of the two years preceding the war. At war’s outset and well into the following summer, cotton brought the South little leverage.
Yet King Cotton Diplomacy had an unexpected global impact. The South’s tough talk about an embargo encouraged British merchants to find alternative sources of supply in Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Morocco and Turkey. By spring 1861, upwards of 20 million people around the world were dependent on cotton; in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, 4 million of 21 million people lived off the industry. Indeed, 85 percent of Britain’s white gold had come from the South and held up the empire, and cotton also provided the primary basis for mill towns as close as France and as far away as Moscow.
The British search for non-Southern cotton was vindicated when the glut almost disappeared a scant year into the war as the Union’s tightened blockade drastically reduced the flow of cotton across the Atlantic. The growing cotton shortage brought layoffs and short time that by autumn 1862 affected 75 percent of the work force. In response, the Palmerston government instituted public relief programs, but faced mounting pressure to intercede in the American war before violence broke out at home. In his characteristic meliorist way, Gladstone asserted that the ministry must mediate a stop to this savage war as “an act of charity” on behalf of suffering British workers.10
The growing need for cotton also had international ramifications for slavery. Diminishing cotton supplies forced England to return to the more expensive though inferior brand produced in India that it had purchased before Southern cotton emerged as the international favorite in the 1790s. But as Britain increased its cotton draw, Indian planters shifted from food crops to cotton, resulting in food shortages and widespread unrest throughout the Raj. Consequently, India became a risky as well as costly investment, sending British buyers to Brazil. There wealthy planters increased their cotton yield by purchasing enslaved Africans working on coffee plantations and relocating them to the expanded and more lucrative cotton fields. Ironically, just as Lincoln in autumn 1862 made emancipation the purpose of the war, his blockade of the Confederacy inadvertently enhanced the value of slavery in Brazil.11
But rising demand for Brazilian cotton soon drove up its purchase costs, causing a British return to Egypt for the cheaper product initially imported from that country in the early 1830s. Sellers in Brazil had raised cotton prices to cover the costs imposed by legislation protecting the domestic textile business through higher tariffs and government subsidies to factory owners. Britain’s decision to focus on Egypt led to a fivefold increase in that country’s cotton production, which there too had negative consequences. The influx of gold (much of it from California) as a medium of exchange, along with the arrival of large numbers of European immigrants, sparked nationalist feeling in Egypt that resulted in its winning autonomy within the Ottoman Empire in 1867.12 Ironically, Egypt’s growing cotton production led to a British occupation in 1882; the subsequent expansion of the crown’s interests in Africa ultimately resulted in fierce international rivalries that helped lead to the Great War.
The Threat of Intervention
Meanwhile, growing British interest in intervention centered on ending the atrocities of the American war, so amply demonstrated at Shiloh. Despite this Union victory, England and France continued to believe in what the New York Times called the “irrepressibility of the South.” McClellan’s defeat by General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces in the battle of the Seven Days led to the Union’s retreat from Richmond the following month, which reaffirmed the Anglo-French faith in the surety of Southern independence.
A pivotal point in the war came late August, when Lee defeated Union forces at Second Bull Run and launched a raid on the North. Expecting huge casualties on both sides, the Times and the Morning Post of London appealed to the Palmerston ministry to intervene and stop the war. The Morning Herald expressed the popular sentiment: “Let us do something, as we are Christian men.” Whether “arbitration, intervention, diplomatic action, recognition of the South, remonstrance with the North, friendly interference or forcible pressure of some sort . . . let us do something to stop this carnage.”13 The ministry could no longer avoid a decision. British textile mills were running out of cotton, pushing unemployed workers in Lancashire to the edge of violence.
In London, Palmerston thought Lee’s victory provided the right moment to propose a joint mediation plan with France to end the war on the basis of Southern separation. Palmerston feared that such a suggestion would find no interest until both North and South acknowledged the meaninglessness of the war. He now hoped that Lee’s success had demonstrated this reality to the Union. To win Confederate acquiescence to mediation, the Prime Minister was prepared to extend recognition to the South. Russell concurred with this bold step, and recommended a cabinet meeting in late October.14 He added a further justification for intervention: The 18th-century Swiss legal theorist on international law, Emmerich de Vattel, had condoned intervention in wars that inflicted collateral damage onto neutral powers.15
Palmerston, however, delayed action on learning that Lee intended to raid Maryland; an expected string of Confederate victories, he thought, would further demonstrate to the Union that it could not win the war. Russell again agreed. Palmerston soon reported news of a major conflict taking place northwest of Washington that would ensure the success of mediation.16
It was not to be. Crushing news soon arrived in England: McClellan’s Union forces had narrowly defeated Lee’s army at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17. In a single day’s fighting the two armies had sustained a staggering number of casualties—more than the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War combined. Furthermore, Lee had ordered a return to Virginia on the following day, leaving McClellan to claim victory by virtue of his army’s standing alone on the battlefield. Antietam had combined with Shiloh to confirm Britain’s worst fears: The war had risen to new levels of atrocity, with its end nowhere in sight.
Britain and France believed the war had mired into a stalemate and stepped up their interventionist efforts. Antietam had proved Gladstone and Russell correct in calling this a horrible war. Engravings based on Mathew Brady’s photographs appeared in Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, recording its horrors for contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic. An October 1862 exhibition of photographs in Brady’s Broadway gallery in New York—the little placard at the entry door reading “The Dead of Antietam”—shocked Americans into silence as they gazed at graphic images of wartime corpses. Some onlookers peered through a magnifying glass, attempting to identify family members. In a story Stuart must have read and forwarded to his superiors in London, the New York Times remarked that if Brady “has not brought bodies and laid them in our door yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”17
Lincoln could not have been aware of how close the British were to intervention, but less than a week after Antietam, on September 23, he merged military and diplomatic objectives into his preliminary proclamation of emancipation. On January 1, 1863, he told his cabinet, all slaves in states still in rebellion would be free. As commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces, he had determined to use his war powers to “strike at the heart of the rebellion” by emancipating the slaves as “a military necessity, absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union.” His decision rested on political considerations in that it did not affect slaves in either the border states or Southern areas now occupied by the Union army. He had also kept his action constitutional and legal by refusing to violate the property rights of slave-owners. Finally, though it was not his principal purpose in proposing emancipation, Lincoln hoped his stand against slavery would undermine British and French interest in intervention. Most important was that he had come to believe that only the death of slavery could bring about a new birth of freedom as the basis for a “more perfect Union.”18
Seward had warned Lincoln that if he did not issue the proclamation following a Union victory on the battlefield, he would come under severe attack throughout Europe for instigating a slave insurrection in an effort to avert defeat in the war. The Secretary was correct about foreign criticism but wrong to think a battlefield victory could negate that criticism. Lincoln infuriated many foreign (and domestic) observers because his emancipation plan lacked a moral base mandating freedom for all slaves. Britain and France angrily denounced the proclamation as Seward had anticipated: as a desperate attempt to salvage victory by stirring up slave insurrections that could swell into a race war capable of consuming the North American continent. With Lyons in London, Stuart blasted Lincoln in a note to his superiors, accusing him of trying to block foreign intervention with a cheap measure that demonstrated no “pretext of humanity” and was “cold, vindictive, and entirely political.”19
The British and the French press concurred with this blistering assessment, with British writers leading a venomous assault on the President. The Times of London attacked Lincoln for fancying himself a “moral American Pope” who wanted to incite an insurrection by encouraging slaves to “murder the families of their masters” while they were away at war. A Times editorial asked whether
the reign of the last PRESIDENT [was] to go out amid horrible massacres of white women and children, to be followed by the extermination of the black race in the South? Is LINCOLN yet a name not known to us as it will be known to posterity, and is it ultimately to be classed among that catalogue of monsters, the wholesale assassins and butchers of their kind?
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine called the proclamation “monstrous, reckless, devilish.” To win the war, the Union “would league itself with Beelzebub, and seek to make a hell out of half a continent.” Both the Conservative (government-supported) and Liberal press in France concurred in almost every detail. Lincoln, snidely charged one writer, “wishes to abolish slavery where he is not able to achieve it and to save it where he would be able to abolish it.” Lincoln had played “his last card”, according to the Times of London. “He will appeal to the black blood of the African; he will whisper of the pleasures of spoil and of the gratification of yet fiercer instincts; and when blood begins to flow and shrieks come piercing through the darkness, Mr. LINCOLN will wait till the rising flames tell that all is consummated, and then he will rub his hands and think that revenge is sweet.”20
Contrary to traditional accounts, Antietam did not combine with the Emancipation Proclamation to block foreign intervention; rather, the two events worked together to encourage it. The battle’s appalling casualty figures combined with the fear of slave uprisings provoked by emancipation to heighten the demand for intervention. British action seemed certain when in early October 1862 Gladstone all but pronounced the South a nation in a rousing speech before a large and boisterous crowd in Newcastle. So alarmed was Adams in London that he penned these words in his diary: “We are now passing through the very crisis of our fate.”21
Gladstone’s virtual recognition of the South as a nation, soon followed by a French initiative recommending military force and pushed by Emperor Napoleon III, led to a two-day meeting of the Palmerston cabinet in November to consider intervention. Before the conclave, however, Secretary for War George Cornewall Lewis wrote a long memorandum to his colleagues warning that premature intervention in the American war would make Britain an ally of the Confederacy and assure war with the Union. The South had not proved its claim to independence in the only venue that mattered—on the battlefield. Lewis agreed with Russell that the British had legitimate humanitarian and economic concerns, but they had no solution to the war, except to join other nations in an armed intervention based on nothing but brute force. Britain, he argued, must remain neutral.22 On the second day of the meeting, the British cabinet overwhelmingly voted against intervening in the war. Palmerston had been persuaded by Lewis to oppose intervention; Russell and Gladstone were among the few who supported it. The issue was all but dead in England.
As this American experience demonstrates, domestic turmoil—in particular a civil war—makes a divided nation susceptible to outside interference, sometimes for humanitarian reasons, but at other times for opportunistic ones. The threat of British intervention in the American war did not exemplify a unique instance of pristine altruism. In the immediate aftermath of South Carolina’s announcement of secession, Palmerston had privately expressed satisfaction with the troubles facing the “disunited States of America”, and as late as autumn 1862, the Prime Minister, according to Gladstone, “desired the severance as a diminution of a dangerous power.” Others shared these sentiments, some celebrating the impending breakup of the Union as a chilling example for those promoting political reform in England. Humanitarian considerations may have guided more than a few British interventionists, but in not opposing the Union Palmerston and other stone cold realists recognized the opportunity to solidify the security of their North American holdings, and to contain further U.S. expansion into the markets of Latin America.23
There was no mixture of motives in Napoleon’s imperial program. He intended to restore the French empire in North America that the British had dismantled by the Treaty of Paris ending the French and Indian War in 1763, and then to expand its boundaries to include vast territories west of the Mississippi River to California, along with a greatly enlarged Mexico and much of South America.
The French Emperor’s “Grand Design for the Americas” put the entire American republic in peril. His first step was to establish ties with Austria by installing Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph on Mexico’s throne while that country was in the throes of its own civil war, and then to use this new monarchy to quash republicanism throughout Latin America. In collaboration with his equally ambitious cousin, the Emperor of Brazil Dom Pedro II, they would build a new French empire stretching north to the Canadian border, south to include much of South America, and west 2,000 miles from the mouth of the Rio Grande to the Baja in lower California—in the process incorporating Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico. A canal cut through Central America would connect Atlantic and Pacific trade, making Mexico an international mecca of agriculture and industry and the crown jewel of the new hemispheric empire.
Furthermore, Napoleon’s Austrian alliance would facilitate French control of the European continent while he challenged Britain’s commercial supremacy in the Atlantic. To undermine Union resistance to his New World colossus, Napoleon planned to reorganize the Union, Confederacy and Mexico into the North, South, West and Mexico. His entire effort hinged on the Confederacy, which, in exchange for French recognition of its independence, would act as a buffer state blocking Union expansion south and west.24
Only when the Union defeated the Confederacy in April 1865 did Napoleon give up his imperial dream and begin a phased troop withdrawal from Mexico. He concluded, as had the British, that his imperial ambitions were not worth the risk of war with the United States.
British and French intervention in the Civil War would have threatened the entire United States, no matter how seemingly well-intentioned their offer of help. Palmerston wished to secure his country’s interests in Canada and to make greater economic inroads into Latin America. The French Emperor sought control over the bulk of two American continents.
Lincoln and Seward recognized the dangers of outside involvement. But Davis was primarily concerned with ensuring Confederate nationhood and saw more danger in losing French recognition than in the eventual geopolitical ramifications of winning it. The Union’s victory reaffirmed the Monroe Doctrine by shutting the door on European involvement in the Western Hemisphere. The Lincoln Administration thus saved the New World from Old World political and military entanglements that could have critically impaired the postwar United States, whether one republic or two.
The British and the French were rightfully horrified by the war, but had been profoundly wrong both in calling it senseless and in declaring Southern independence a fait accompli. In St. Petersburg, the Russian Foreign Minister, Prince Alexander Gorchakov, shared the Anglo-French disgust with the fighting. Yet Gorchakov did not consider the war pointless. He strongly opposed rebellions against the established order, and he did not trust either the British or the French. Russia had recently suffered defeat in the Crimean War at the hands of these two nations, with only the United States showing any friendship in this dark time. The Union’s fragmentation would virtually eliminate Russia’s only potential ally in the high-stakes world of European diplomacy, so it comes as no surprise that it refused to join British or French calls for mediation and thereby played a crucial role in blocking recognition of Southern independence.25
The Southern struggle for independence provided an example for other dissatisfied peoples wanting to break from those in control. Contemporary Europe was heavy with separatist sentiment in diverse places such as Bohemia, Norway, Serbia, Poland, Ireland and Hungary. Most liberal nationalists supported the North because of their own battles for freedom. Others striving for national independence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East regarded the South’s reliance on the Declaration of Independence as a model for justifying a natural right to freedom. In Canada, the threat of war between the Union and England over the recognition issue hurried along a confederation movement: Canadians feared their country could become a battlefield as an appendage to the crown.26
The Union’s emancipation program, on the other hand, furnished hope to those in bondage throughout the world. The Russians opposed slavery as much as secession and made a favorable comparison between Lincoln’s emancipating the slaves and Czar Alexander’s decision to liberate the serfs. Brazilian supporters of emancipation referred to the American experience in their efforts to end slavery at home, but they much preferred a gradual approach to avoid disrupting their country’s agricultural economy and perhaps bringing on their own civil war. Brazilian slave owners awoke to the embarrassing realization that in all the Americas only Spain and its colonies in Cuba and Puerto Rico, along with Brazil, practiced slavery. After Cuba abolished slavery in 1886, Brazil stood alone in the Americas in supporting an institution condemned by the Western world. Two years later, it too abolished slavery.27
Meanwhile, leaders in Mexico considered the Union victory an impetus to democracy. They also were relieved by the collapse of a Confederacy that most likely would have sought expansion to its south and thereby threatened their country, which was vulnerable from the destruction of its own civil war.
Another country with vested interests in the outcome of the American conflict was Germany. Liberals may have supported the Union while aristocrats leaned toward the Confederacy, but more than 200,000 of Germany’s young men made their anti-Southern sentiments known by crossing the Atlantic and enlisting in the Union army, joining another 300,000 German-Americans in the Union itself who favored the Republican Party’s antislavery position. The cause of “Union”, which eluded most Europeans, so deeply appealed to diverse ethnic groups in the North that they united in the face of terrible battles to triumph in a war that England and France had insisted they could not win.28
In a final irony, while these two European nations’ raison d’etât had threatened the survival of the American republic, that republic turned out in the fullness of time to be the one force in the world capable of helping them in their darkest hours—against Germany in 1917 and once again in 1941.