French Newspaper Opinion on the American Civil War

French Newspaper Opinion on the American Civil War

French Newspaper Opinion on the American Civil War

French Newspaper Opinion on the American Civil War


During the American Civil War, political ideology was the most important determinant of French journalistic attitudes. Conservatives usually supported the South while Liberals usually supported the North. Provincial newspapers, however, less consistently followed ideological patterns than their Parisian and big-city colleagues. Slavery was not a determinant of French attitudes, since all French were opposed to slavery; rather, both Conservatives and Liberals used the issue of slavery as a device to garner support. While Conservatives remained firm in believing that the South would prevail until the very end, Liberal journalists sometimes despaired of a Union triumph in the face of Northern military defeats.


The South is right [in asserting] that the North has violated the Constitution. It is the North which is revolutionary, but in the best sense of word; the North has continued the revolution as the founders of the Republic intended, while the South has turned its back against the Revolution and deceived the hopes of 1776.

Martin, Constitutionnel, January 24, 1861

The first acts of Lincoln are as indecisive as his words.... The majority of independent American newspapers have levied judgments on Lincoln more severe than ours.

Gaillardet, Presse, March 18, 1861

From the summer of 1860 until the end that year, the period from the political conventions until after the presidential election in November, French newspapers agreed that the major issue which divided the North and the South was the issue of slavery; likewise, Frenchmen concurred in hoping--and expecting--that Americans could successfully resolve their internal differences. With the secession of Southern states in the early months of 1861, Lincoln's inauguration in March, and the actual outbreak of hostilities soon after, French journalistic opinion became sharply divided. Liberal and Orleanist journals continued to express sympathy for the North, while Governmental and Legitimist journals now expressed sympathy for the South. Almost all did agree in the summer and fall of 1861, however, that the American Union was irreversibly sundered.

Devoting much less space to United States than to Europe, French newspapers nevertheless provided modest coverage of the American scene during the summer of 1860. This coverage prominently featured differences among Americans. Those from the North, explained a Liberal journalist, were descended . . .

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