Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lincoln and the Politics of Foreign Policy

The establishment of blockades was Lincolns first Civil War test of foreign relations. To beat the South, he had to cut them off from the rest of the world. A world that, in part had become very accustomed to the agricultural products of the South. Luckily, Britain recognized the belligerent status of the Confederacy and considered the blockade as the act of a nation at war—not an act of war against itself.
In the Trent affair, two Confederate civilians were apprehended as they attempted to make passage in neutral waters to Britain on a British mail steamer “The Trent”.  The Europeans called the act illegal, and demanded their release. Britain was outraged, and Lincoln’s hope for British neutrality was threatened. Cooler heads prevailed as Britain considered the vulnerability of Canada, and potential attacks on their vessels by Union ships.  Britain still wanted the Confederates freed however, and Lincoln, citing the legal process of impressments and seizure on the high seas without tribunal, set the two free—congratulating the British on the shift of views about impressments.
Lincoln remained concerned with European neutrality. Knowing Britain’s dislike of slavery, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation shortly after the Union “victory” at Antietam. This, combined with the military tide beginning to shift back towards the Union caused Britain to take a “wait and see” posture. They would maintain this neutrality for the remainder of the war.
In the meantime, the French were preoccupied with Mexico. The French under Napoleon III were attempting to march across Mexico, and capture Mexico City. Because this did not go as smoothly as they had hoped, their focused remained on this venture and not on the requests of the South for recognition. By the time this was settled, the tide had turned in the Civil War. Recognition of a losing cause by then would have been a foolish move.
Ultimately the best thing Lincoln did to work foreign relations in his favor with those abroad was to begin winning battles at home. Diplomatically, the European countries were stalled enough that by the time recognition of the South could have been given it would have been given to a losing cause.