The struggle for recognition by the Confederate States of America

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1955

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Abstract

Purpose From 1861 until 1865 the South staged a dramatic struggle for its independence. The military side of that struggle has received much attention from the historians, but the diplomatic aspect has not received an equal share of attention. There is a close relationship between the military and diplomatic efforts of the South. In the final analysis it would have taken a military victory to have guaranteed the acceptance of the Confederacy as a member of the family of nations, but had the diplomacy of the South been successful in securing recognition for itself as a nation the chance for military victory would have been much greater. The reasoning behind this idea is that recognition by the leading European powers would have brought on war with the United States and thus have kept the North from defeating the South on the battlefield. The purpose of this thesis is to tell the story of the diplomatic efforts of the Confederate States of America to gain recognition as a member of the family of nations. Methods To develop this story there has been considerable reliance on secondary materials with use of the sources where they were available. The secondary materials used in preparation of this thesis were for the most part found in the library at Sam Houston State Teachers College. In addition, the library afforded such sources as the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, and two fine compilations by J. D. Richardson: A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, and A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the confederacy Including Diplomatic Correspondence, 1861-1865. The University of Texas library afforded two sources of invaluable material: The Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, and an incomplete microfilm file of the London Times for the war period. Two indispensable secondary sources, King Cotton Diplomacy by F. L. Owsley, and Great Britain and the American Civil War by E. D. Adams, were secured from the State Loan Library at Austin. Findings The first efforts of the South after secession were directed toward negotiating with the United States a peaceful settlement of its move toward independence. This move was wholly unsuccessful because Lincoln and Seward refused to receive the commissioners of the South on any basis as representatives of a nation. After the firing on Fort Sumter the South’s struggle for independence was directed toward winning a military victory over the Union and gaining recognition as an independent state by the leading powers of Europe—particularly Great Britain and France. The hope of the Confederacy, as it saw the matter, for diplomatic victory lay in the dependence of Great Britain and France on the South for cotton to supply their mills. Cotton never became the factor in the struggle that the South had thought it would. The failure of “King Cotton” diplomacy was due to the two years supply of cotton existing at the outbreak of hostilities and to the new source of supply that became available by the time the original source had disappeared. The hope for recognition also faded as the South failed to produce the military victories which would have been evidence of her ability to win independence and maintain it. One of the most spectacular events during the Civil War bearing on the recognition of the South was the “Trent Affair.” The Confederacy’s part in this affair was quite indirect and unintentional as the Confederate government certainly had not planned to have its two commissioners to Great Britain and France, Mason and Slidell, captured. However, as the event turned out it could have been decisive in the South’s fight for independence. The affair could have brought the United States into war with Great Britain and at that particular stage of the struggle between the Union and the South would possibly have meant a military victory for the Confederacy which would then have brought recognition of the Confederate States as a nation. As a final effort to win recognition from Great Britain the Confederacy indicated its willingness to abolish slavery The Kenner Commission was sent to England to offer abolition in return for recognition. By this time it was evident that the South could not hope to win on the battlefield and the British government was unwilling to discuss the matter. With this effort the South had offered every inducement at her disposal for recognition and had failed on them all. The surrender of General Lee on April 9, 1865, brought to an end her chances to make further offers.

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Keywords

History Texas, Confederate States of America, Recongnition

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