"Days of Grace": Emancipation the Prelude to Foreign Intervention?
The character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation. . . . The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.
President Abraham Lincoln, September 25, 1862
The Battle of Antietam followed by the announcement of emancipation did not close the door on foreign intervention. Europe's horror at the events rapidly unfolding in America increased with the perception that the bloodiest single day's fighting in the war had ended in a stalemate, guaranteeing prolonged and bitter combat. Civilized peoples, hitherto watching the war and hoping for its quick end, now openly favored an intervention aimed at halting the conflict in the name of humanity. Also important, the certainty of a long war meant that imminent cotton shortages would cause an international economic crisis injuring England, France, and other nations conducting business with the South. Still others in both England and France had imperial interests in mind. The combination of idealistic and realistic interests constituted a powerful force for intervention in the aftermath of Antietam and the Lincoln administration's move toward emancipation.
* * *
Driven by its deep skepticism over Lincoln's purposes in the war, the Palmerston ministry, reacted to emancipation in precisely the negative manner predicted by Russell in his letter to Everett in July 1861. The first British response was widespread indignation, though admittedly tempered by the grudging realization that the president had finally drawn the line between opponents and supporters of slavery. And yet some months would have to pass before the British assessed the new situation in a calm manner and fully grasped the ultimate impact of Lincoln's decision: the emancipation pro-