Civil War diplomacy

Lynn M. Case & Warren F. Spencer, The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970. (part one)

The late co-authors of this work make clear from the preface that their interest in pursuing the topic of Franco-American relations in the Civil War era is a labor of love driven partially by the fact that not a lot of recent work had been done on the subject by the late 1960s.  Chiefly, the authors believed that other historians had mined the diplomacy with England and even Germany effectively, but France promised “undiscovered” diplomatic history.

Case and Spencer divided the labor on the text.  The authors had previously pursued studies of the French foreign ministers who served during the Civil War (Edouard Thouvenal and Drouyn de Lhuys respectively).  Case worked through the first nine chapters, while Spencer wrote chapters ten through sixteen.  Together, the two men wrote the preface, introduction and seventeenth chapter.  As I have written before, co-authored books always intrigue me because of the compromises that must be made as well as the practical problems authors may face in putting together a book at a distance from one another (Case worked in Pennsylvania, Spencer in Georgia).

The book is a long piece at some 608 pages of regular text followed by extensive notes and bibliographic commentary.  As a result, I have been slowly working my way through the wording, not helped out by the general style which, while readable, is very formal in sentence structure and wording.  A little over twenty years ago I used the book as a source for an independent paper project I was completing along with two other students.  At the time, I was looking for only certain points related to diplomacy in 1863 and early 1864, so it was very much an index and skim search.

Despite its very formal nature, the book remains clear.  Readers identify quickly the main intent of the authors and the citations demonstrate the depth of their research.  Case and Spencer attest that the diplomatic impact of the American Civil War was extensive, particularly in the Western Hemisphere.  They tie the event to a number of others that relate to nationalist conflicts in Italy, the Prussian and Austrian territories, etc.  Case and Spencer also emphasize that the war period was almost a proving ground of sorts for international law with examples of how to deal with recognizing new nations, defining neutral rights, protecting foreign people and property in wartime, and more.  The authors make interesting points about the war’s impact on employment and poverty in Europe, the historiography of foreign affairs in the period is explored, and revelations about previously unknown resources and papers are made  (particularly documents from Edouard Thouvenel that later amounted to some 25 microfilm rolls after legal reproduction issues were cleared).


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