One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War

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One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War. By Dean B. Mahin. (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, c. 1999. Pp. x, 343. $27.95, ISBN 1-57488-209-0.)

Dean B. Mahin, who has an undergraduate major in history, a graduate degree in international affairs, and forty years of service in United States international agencies, has attempted to write a "comprehensive study of the foreign relations of the United States during the Civil War" (p. viii). To do it, he has utilized an impressive array of printed primary sources and has "checked" some archival and manuscript sources (p. x). Mahin asserts that President Abraham Lincoln's "role in U.S. foreign relations was much more substantial and important than has been assumed by historians and biographers" (p. ix). While overstating the extent to which previous historians have credited William H. Seward with devising American foreign policy during the Civil War, Mahin has laid out the skeleton of a case for a more systematic consideration, to be based on archival research, of Lincoln's understanding of foreign affairs and his role in the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy.

This work has serious errors of fact and does not provide citations for much of the text. Mahin overlooks the important themes of Warren Spencer's The Confederate Navy in Europe (University: University of Alabama Press, 1983), that mid-nineteenth-century international law required neutrals to prevent one belligerent from utilizing a neutral state as a base for making war on another belligerent, whether or not their domestic laws were sufficient to achieve that goal, and that the British government in early 1863 shifted from relying on the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1819--which was insufficient to meet these international obligations--to a policy of preventing Confederate warships built in England from leaving England, even though the government had no basis in domestic law for doing so. …