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Colony to Superpower: 6.2

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Erik writes a bit more about the utility of including the Civil War among the 19th century wars of national unification:

Herring argues that the Civil War was part of the nation-building conflicts around the world during the mid-19th century. It’s an interesting idea, though I’m not sure that I agree exactly. Had the North actively tried to limit slavery during the 1840s and 1850s, I think this would be a stronger argument. But the South wasn’t responding to increasingly northern pressure on their peculiar institution. Rather, the North caved on nearly every issue in the 1850s and yet the South still wasn’t satisfied.

However, the result of the Civil War was a much stronger and more centralized United States. Increased control over the west, a more centralized currency system, and a much greater industrial capacity all resulted from the war, and the United States certainly left the war much stronger than it began it. The late nineteenth century is a story of amazing growth in the nation. While this is a story mostly for next week’s discussion of the Gilded Age, there’s no question that the Civil War spurred this amazing period.

I think that this is right. I’m reluctant to concede American exceptionalism, but while the outcome of the Civil War bears some resemblance to the other wars of unification, its cause really didn’t stem from differences of opinion about the strength of central institutions. The South was happy to strengthen the central government, when it believed that a more powerful center was to its advantage. Also, while geographic differences were more pronounced then than today, similarity in language, culture, and institutions was greater in the case of the United States than in Italy or Germany.

Paul goes into a bit more depth on the inadequacy of Confederate diplomacy:

The most striking part of this, for me, is the sketch of the boorish incompetence of the Confederate diplomatic mission. Granted they had a difficult mission (it was an offense to the United States for responsible ministers even to talk to Confederate emissaries), but their greatest success was not even of their doing: Capt. Wilkes, USN, took two of them off the British steamer Trent without any of the appropriate formalities; the British dusted off the American objections to this sort of high-handedness from the War of 1812, and the resulting quarrel might actually have led to British recognition of the Confederacy.

But when Mason was released, and got to Britain, his speeches in favor of slavery and his bad aim with tobacco juice got him nowhere; Slidell did not understand how the French Government operated, or what the ministers wanted; the Confederate emissary to Saint Petersburgh never got there; and the star of the show, John Pickett of Kentucky, sent to Juarez in Mexico, managed to get arrested for brawling on the streets of Mexico City, offended and insulted the Mexican ministers, and eventually had Juarez intercepting his messages home and passing them on to Washington.

Herring describes this as provincialism and extreme cultural insensitivity…

Herring notes, but doesn’t really develop, the idea that because the professional diplomatic corps was tiny, the real diplomatic expertise lay in the backbench of the national political parties. The US had no ambassadors, and chief representatives were invariably political appointees, meaning that most foreign diplomatic representation revolved as the Presidency changed hands between parties. The Republicans largely inherited the Whig diplomatic corps, but apparently the Democratic corps was concentrated among Northern Democrats, who largely remained loyal to the Union. Thus, the Confederacy was forced to learn diplomacy very quickly, and the technological limitations of the time (slow communications, no wikipedia) made getting up to speed very difficult. Thus, I’m willing to excuse just a bit of the Confederate provincialism, although Paul also notes that Cassius Clay had little diplomatic experience but performed fabulously in Russia.

Tomorrow to chapter seven…

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