Richmond, November 18, 1861
…Feeling that such views must be taken by the neutral nations of the earth, I have caused the evidence to be collected which proves completely the utter inefficiency of the proclaimed blockade of our coast, and shall direct it to be laid before such governments as shall afford us the means of being heard. But, although we should be benefited by the enforcement for the successful prosecution of the war.
As long as hostilities continue the Confederate States will exhibit a steadily increasing capacity to furnish their troops with food, clothing, and arms. If they should be forced to forego many of the luxuries and some of the comforts of life, they will at least have the consolation of knowing that they are thus daily becoming more and more independent of the rest of the world. If in this process labor in the Confederate States should be gradually diverted from those great Southern staples which have given life to so much of the commerce of mankind into other channels, so as to make them rival producers instead of profitable customers, they will not be the only or even the chief losers by this change in the direction of their industry.
Although it is true that the cotton supply from the Southern States could only be totally cut off by the subversion of our social system, yet it is plain that a long continuance of this blockade might, by a diversion of labor and an investment of capital in other employments, so diminish the supply as to bring ruin upon all those interest of foreign countries which are depend on that staple. For every laborer who is diverted from the culture of cotton in the South, perhaps four times as many elsewhere, who have found subsistence in the various employments growing out of its use, will be forced also to change their occupation.
While the war which is waged to take from us the rights of self-government can never attain that end, it remains to be seen how fair it may work a revolution in the industrial system of the world, which may carry suffering to other lands as well as to our own. In the meantime we shall continue this struggle in humble dependence upon Providence, from whose searching scrutiny we cannot conceal the secrets of our hearts, and to whose rule we confidently submit our destinies. For the rest, we shall depend upon ourselves. Liberty is always won where there exists the unconquerable will to be free, and we have reason to know that the strength that is given by a conscious sense not only of the magnitude but of the righteousness of our cause.
Jefferson Davis, Message To The Confederate Congress; Richmond, Virginia; November 18, 1861
Part of the Confederacy’s key hope for winning the Civil War was foreign intervention…on their side, of course. They anticipated the day when England or France would support their cause.
When the Union blockade began to cut off supplies to the South, Davis and his government firmly believed that the blockade would hurt the European powers long before it significantly hindered the Confederacy. England and France manufactured cotton cloth and many of their cotton suppliers where in the American South. With European national industries depending on cotton, Davis was certain he would get support for economic reasons.
However, the European powers held aloof in 1861. Neutral. Waiting to see what would happen. This would force the Confederacy to exert greater efforts on the battlefields in the coming years.
Depending On Cotton & Industry
Davis – convinced that Europe would aid his cause for economic reasons – announced that the South would have to soldier through hardships caused by the blockade. He also saw it as a chance to build up Southern industry.
Prior the Civil War, almost all manufacturing was completed in the Northern states. The South had limited factories and industrial skills, relying on import/export from their agricultural communities. Davis hoped that the blockade might foster factories and open new opportunities. With hindsight, we now know that was wishful thinking…
Davis and other Southern leaders were convinced that cotton was key in convincing Europe and promoting Confederate industrial development. Ultimately, they depended too much on “King Cotton” as the coming months would prove.
In Davis’s speech he mentions, “it remains to be seen how fair it may work a revolution in the industrial system of the world, which may carry suffering to other lands as well as to our own.” He is envisioning a war with global effects.
The Civil War did send aftershocks around the globe, but not in the ways Davis intended. Europe found other markets willing to sell cotton. Nations watched the American conflict, but seemed generally unwilling to intervene or support one particular side.
Thus, the Civil War didn’t become a global conflict either in economic or military sense. Certainly, the world learned a few lessons and applauded emancipation (in 1863), but overall America’s strife didn’t reshape international affairs the way a true “world war” would in the coming decades.
P.S. What international incident during the Civil War is most interesting to you?
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