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