Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War

By Howard Jones | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
The Final Impact of Slavery on Intervention: Napoleon's Grand Design for the Americas

The abolishment of slavery [marked a] great moral victory. . . [for] the country and the whole world. President Abraham Lincoln, February 1, 1865

The Emancipation Proclamation had had the unforeseen effect of encouraging France to explore other interventionist schemes. With slavery no longer an international concern, Napoleon felt free from any moral or political restraints to pursue his imperialist aims in the Western Hemisphere. His interest in the Mexican venture and in alleviating economic problems at home remained constant into the summer of 1863 as he became involved in a highly unconventional attempt by two members of the British House of Commons to extend recognition to the Confederacy. William Lindsay and John Roebuck, strong supporters of the Confederacy, arrived in Paris to discuss the matter unofficially, with the emperor during the late spring of that year and returned home fully confident that he was prepared to intervene in the war.

Further, the chances for British compliance with such an intervention seemed to experience a revival in light of recent public criticism of the ministry for appearing to capitulate to the Union on two important maritime cases. A Union cruiser in February 1863 had captured the British steamship Peterhoff near the Danish West Indies for carrying contraband to the Confederacy via Matamoros, Mexico. That same year, coming in the midst of a long and heated controversy over the building in Liverpool of a commerce raider christened the Alabama, British authorities relented to Union pressure and seized the warship Alexandra, then also under construction for the Confederacy. Battlefield events then combined with British frustration over the war to renew talk of intervention. Lee's army had just routed the Union forces at Chancellorsville, perhaps finally convincing the Lincoln administration that it could not win.

Thus the ironies continued to appear in Civil War diplomacy. The imminent demise of slavery in the United States had provided the final considera-

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