[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-CivWar]: Fleche on Sainlaude, 'France and the American Civil War: A Diplomatic History'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Mon Jul 29 10:09:00 MDT 2019

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Andrew Stewart 
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> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
> Date: July 29, 2019 at 11:57:28 AM EDT
> To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-CivWar]:  Fleche on Sainlaude, 'France and the American Civil War: A Diplomatic History'
> Reply-To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Stève Sainlaude.  France and the American Civil War: A Diplomatic 
> History.  Trans. Jessica Edwards. Chapel Hill  University of North 
> Carolina Press, 2019.  304 pp.  $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 
> 978-1-4696-4994-8.
> Reviewed by Andre M. Fleche (Castleton University)
> Published on H-CivWar (July, 2019)
> Commissioned by G. David Schieffler
> Fleche Review of Sainlaude, _France and the American Civil War: A 
> Diplomatic History_
> The diplomatic history of the American Civil War has received uneven 
> coverage in the historiography of the conflict. Though historians 
> have paid considerable attention to the relationship between the 
> United States, the Confederacy, and Great Britain during the war 
> years, comparatively few studies venture to explore American 
> interactions with other European nations, let alone the rest of the 
> world. The history of the relationship between the Union, the 
> Confederacy, and France serves as a case in point. Although the 
> actions of the French had the potential to nearly rival those of 
> Great Britain in influencing the outcome of the Civil War, only a 
> handful of books are devoted exclusively to Franco-American diplomacy 
> during the 1860s. _France and the American Civil War_ aims to begin 
> to fill this gap in the literature by introducing the work of a 
> decorated French historian to an English-speaking audience. Stève 
> Sainlaude, associate professor of history at the University of 
> Paris-Sorbonne, published two award-wining works in French_, Le 
> Gouvernement Impérial et la Guerre de Sécession (1861-1865): 
> L'action Diplomatique_ (2011) and _La France et la Confédération 
> Sudiste: La Question de la Reconnaissance Diplomatique Pendant la 
> Guerre de Sécession_ (2011). _France and the American Civil War_ 
> represents a recapitulation of the arguments of those earlier works, 
> rewritten by Sainlaude and translated into English by Jessica 
> Edwards. 
> Sainlaude's study sets out to answer one important question that has 
> captured the interest of historians: why did French emperor Napoleon 
> III ultimately choose not to recognize the independence of the 
> Confederacy, even though he privately favored the Southern cause? 
> Sainlaude argues that the answer can be attributed to the cautious 
> diplomacy carried out by the officials in charge of the French 
> Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who concluded that intervention in the 
> American Civil War would be incongruous with national self-interest. 
> "To determine its course of action during the American Civil War," 
> Sainlaude writes, "the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs relied 
> solely on its assessment of how France could best benefit from the 
> situation created by the crisis, a judgement that it based on its 
> diplomats and consuls" (p. 185). 
> Sainlaude's line of argument runs contrary to the interpretation 
> established in previous works by W. Reed West, Serge Gavronsky, 
> George M. Blackburn, Howard Jones, and Lynn Case and Warren Spencer, 
> among others.[1] The traditional position holds that widespread 
> support for the Union from French liberals served as a check on 
> Napoleon III's pro-Confederate sympathies. Thoroughgoing antislavery 
> sentiment among the French general public in particular made action 
> on behalf of the Confederacy almost impossible to contemplate, 
> especially after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation 
> Proclamation. Sainlaude counters that French leaders routinely 
> ignored public passion regarding the conflict, if that passion even 
> existed at all. "The antidemocratic nature of the [French] regime," 
> Sainlaude concludes, "meant that decision-makers discussed external 
> affairs in the closed sphere of the Quai d'Orsay or the Tuileries 
> Palace. In any case ... contemporary accounts show that the French 
> paid only marginal attention to the conflict" (p. 184). 
> Sainlaude agrees with the traditional interpretation in one respect: 
> Napoleon III, he argues, detested the United States and would have 
> been happy to see the Union torn in two. The French emperor 
> distrusted republican forms of government, believed American culture 
> was unsophisticated and materialistic, and feared the possibility of 
> further American aggression in Mexico and Latin America. Indeed, a 
> weakened United States would allow Napoleon to much more easily 
> implement his "Grand Design" of establishing a French-backed monarchy 
> in Mexico. According to Sainlaude, however, Napoleon did not always 
> have the final say on foreign matters. The French Ministry of Foreign 
> Affairs, led during the Civil War years by two cautious and capable 
> career diplomats, Edouard Thouvenel and Edouard Drouyn de Lhuys, 
> played a key role in setting policy for the empire. Sainlaude argues 
> that Thouvenel and Drouyn de Lhuys looked with skepticism on many of 
> the emperor's more impulsive initiatives, and that they consistently 
> worked to temper Napoleon's desire to recognize Confederate 
> independence.      
> Sainlaude finds that the dispatches written by French consuls in 
> America did much to shape the thinking of the foreign ministers. 
> Alfred Paul, French consul in Richmond, provided especially judicious 
> appraisals of the military situation. Paul consistently stressed the 
> numerical and material advantages enjoyed by the Union, and he 
> carefully documented the deteriorating economic conditions that the 
> Confederacy faced as the war lengthened. Throughout the conflict, 
> Paul retained a firm faith in the likelihood of Northern victory, and 
> his reports impressed on Thouvenel and Drouyn de Lhuys the dangers of 
> making a premature offer of support to the side destined to lose the 
> war. Indeed, the foreign ministers realized that a Union antagonized 
> by recognition of the Confederacy might do even more harm to French 
> interests, including the project in Mexico, than a successfully 
> reunited US might otherwise do. 
> In several analytical chapters, Sainlaude weighs in critically on a 
> number of matters that have long preoccupied historians of Civil 
> War-era diplomacy. In a chapter on trade, Sainlaude concludes that 
> neither the Union blockade nor Jefferson Davis's embargo of cotton 
> had much of an impact on the likelihood of French intervention. 
> Though cotton shortages did eventually lead to layoffs in some 
> regions of France, Sainlaude argues that "the effects of the cotton 
> crisis on workers were ... less dramatic than first expected" (p. 
> 151). Even more importantly, France carried on a significant trade 
> with the Northern states, in which Americans exchanged foodstuffs for 
> French wines, silks, and luxury goods. Few officials wished to 
> jeopardize such lucrative commerce by becoming entangled in 
> diplomatic disputes with the North. 
> Even more surprisingly, Sainlaude finds that the slavery question had 
> little impact on French official policy. Though many French citizens 
> did harbor moral objections to slavery, prior to the Emancipation 
> Proclamation, observers had trouble discerning the relationship 
> between slavery and a war against secession. After emancipation, many 
> French commentators worried that the Federal government was freeing 
> slaves too rapidly and without careful forethought. In general, 
> Sainlaude argues, "the French government treated slavery as a 
> marginal issue that could on no account steer or determine its 
> diplomatic policy" (p. 108). 
> On the other side of the coin, Sainlaude concludes that Confederate 
> emissaries enjoyed only limited success in cultivating sympathy for 
> Southern planters amidst the French upper class. Realistic dispatches 
> from diplomats on the ground in the Americas went a long way toward 
> puncturing myths about "Moonlight and Magnolias." Many French 
> observers were shocked by the execution of John Brown, angered that 
> Confederate officials insisted on enrolling foreign nationals in the 
> army, and skeptical that the aggressive and expansionist tendencies 
> shown by the Southern states during the antebellum era would subside 
> in an independent Confederacy. In the end, Sainlaude reminds us, "the 
> defense of national interests always triumphs over feelings. 
> Friendship creates a climate, not a policy" (p. 98). 
> All in all, Sainlaude's work offers a revealing glimpse into the 
> inner workings of the French state. He judiciously weighs the factors 
> that led decision makers to lean for or against intervention in the 
> American conflict. In all instances, he sensibly concludes that 
> national self-interest, not ideology, guided imperial policy. Like 
> any revisionist work of history, Sainlaude's book is certain to 
> attract its critics. Public opinion and its impact on state policy is 
> always difficult to measure, and Sainlaude himself concedes that 
> liberal French newspapers consistently favored the North and used 
> their positions on the war to undermine Napoleon's regime. Still, 
> Sainlaude astutely reminds his readers that although "democratic 
> nations cannot define their foreign policy without taking into 
> account public opinion ... no such obligation existed during the 
> Second Empire" (p. 184). If we wish to understand how diplomatic 
> policy is formed, especially in an imperial form of government, 
> Sainlaude demonstrates, it is best to start with an understanding of 
> how minsters, diplomats, and consuls viewed the world and went about 
> their work.    
> Note 
> [1]. W. Reed West, _Contemporary French Opinion on the American Civil 
> War_ (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1924), 14, 31; 
> Serge Gavronsky, _The French Liberal Opposition and the American 
> Civil War_ (New York: Humanities Press, 1968), 1-28; George M. 
> Blackburn, _French Newspaper Opinion on the American Civil War_ 
> (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), 24; Lynn M. Case and Warren F. 
> Spencer, _The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy_ 
> (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970), 2-3; and 
> Howard Jones, _Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union 
> and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War_ (Lincoln: University 
> of Nebraska Press, 1999). 
> Citation: Andre M. Fleche. Review of Sainlaude, Stève, _France and 
> the American Civil War: A Diplomatic History_. H-CivWar, H-Net 
> Reviews. July, 2019.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53705
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.

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