The American Question Abroad in the Civil War
In European chancelleries the quarrel across the Atlantic was designated as "the American question." When the full story of the European view of this question is told it will be realized that in the 1860's the Atlantic was, as to ideas, no less a separating gulf than in the 1770's or the Napoleonic years, and yet, as to international complications, not so much an ocean of isolation as a sea highway in which international interests jostled and clashed. Such were the controversies and intrigues affecting North and South that a summary of European mores and stereotypes might be built around the story of diplomatic developments touching America. To an unstable Europe, steeped in aristocracy and fearful of revolution, there came the necessity of making adjustments in a conflict where statesmen saw differently just how democracy, revolution, and economic self-interest were involved. Sensitive to revolt, torn by feuds and predatory conquest, unhappy on its own borders, beading toward serious wars, Europe in the sixties was just emerging from the Metternichian period in which the concept of legitimate monarchy, resistance to new political ideas, and joint intervention for the suppression of popular movements were cardinal principles. It was a time when the word "intervention" came readily to the lips of European statesmen, a period when the countries of most concern to America-England and France-were under leaders (Palmerston and Napoleon III) to whom the affairs of remote and unrelated portions of the globe had become somewhat of a specialty.
The American question could not be evaded. Between neutrality and intervention a choice had to be made; yet either choice would involve a whole series of further choices., To grapple with the question was partly a problem of reading the true situation amid the demands and threats of enraged belligerents, partly of guessing the future, partly of balancing one interest against another at home. In the outcome, while neutrality was the course adopted all round, vet, as a commentary on the proverbially unhappy situation of a neutral in any quarrel, it is significant that the war drew to its close with both belligerents nursing major grievances against England and France, neither side being satisfied with the conduct of those powers.
For ease of presentation on the Internet, the remainder of this article has been broken down into the following "parts" and should be read in the order presented.
Source: "The Civil War and Reconstruction" (Chapter 20) by Randall and Donald.
This Page last updated 02/16/02