Most Civil War enthusiasts, including yours truly, know much too little about the international context of our civil war. It is with this in mind that I dove right into Don Doyle’s new book, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. It’s an absolutely fascinating story that includes a cast of characters that is largely unknown to me.
There are any number of reasons why you should read this book, but for now I want to point out one aspect of the story that relates to how we remember. All of us have a personal investment in the events that constitute the Civil War, including its outcome. That connection can be informed by a host of factors including ancestral ties, personal politics, and race.
I’ve said before that I believe the right side won the war. An imperfect nation that I call home was able to enforce its constitution, preserve a republican form of government and in the process end the enslavement of 4 million people.
Doyle’s book reinforces just what was at stake in our war for observers in places like England, France, Spain and Italy. For European reformers, who had experienced recent setbacks, the outcome here might determine any future hopes of political reforms in their own nations. A smaller number looked forward to the end of slavery.
It’s hard not to admit that it is somewhat comforting to have such people on your side of history.
On the other hand, those sympathetic with the Confederacy hoped that it would strengthen their attachment to monarchy and aristocracy. An independent Confederate nation would go far to proving that democracy and republican government was an unrealistic and even dangerous system of government. For the governments of France and Spain it rekindled plans to reconquer parts of the western hemisphere.
It’s interesting how history creates strange bedfellows.