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James Mason, the "Confederate Lobby" and the Blockade Debate of March 1862 Charles M. Hubbard The Civil War was from the beginning an international event affecting the views and attitudes of nations around the world. Some governments supplied arms and munitions to both combatants. The disruption ofcommercial shipping threatened the economies ofGreat Britain, France, Belgium, and Spain; and the manufacturing areas of Europe lost access to raw materials, particularly cotton, from the South. Europe's merchants were confronted with closed and blockaded ports. The higher tariffs and increased insurance costs cut deeply into profit margins. The war required governments to reassess their interests and adjust foreign policy to accommodate the changing international environment. The Confederate States ofAmerica sought international recognition and legitimacy and sent representatives to Europe to pursue those objectives. The initial Confederate mission, led by William Yancey, met with little success; and he was recalled in the fall of 1 86 1.1 On January 26, 1 862, a new representative, James Murray Mason, arrived in London. The day after his arrival, he penned a note to Confederate secretary of state Robert M. T. Hunter, expressing an overly optimistic view of the diplomatic potential in Great Britain; "my impressions decidedly are that, although the ministry may hang back in regard to the blockade and recognition through the Queen's speech at the opening of Parliament next week, the popular voice through the House of Commons will demand both."2Also identified in Mason's I would like to thank the Mellon Foundation and the Appalachian Colleges Association for the grant that enabled me to research and write this essay. 1 Emory Thomas, The Confederate Nation (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 82-85; Charles M. Hubbard, The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998), 65-71; Brian Holden Reid, The Origins of the American Civil War (New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1996), 385-87. 2 James Mason to R. M. T. Hunter, London, Jan. 30, 1862, U.S. Department ofthe Navy, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 30 vols. (Washington, D.C: GPO, 1 894-1 927), ser. 2, vol. 1 :752-53 (hereafter cited as ORN). Civil War History, Vol. xlv No. 3 © 1999 by The Kent State University Press 224CIVIL WAR HISTORY message is the subtle, but important, shift away from a diplomatic strategy relying completely on "King Cotton," in favor of a campaign to have the British declare the naval blockade of Southern ports illegal under international law. The failure of the Confederacy's initial strategy demonstrated to the Richmond government the need for a more indirect approach. Southerners believed, not without some justification, that recognition was inevitable if cotton was withheld from the textile manufacturers of England.3 If the shift in strategy obtained a denunciation of the blockade, events and confrontations similar to the Trent affair might produce intervention. The new strategy did not abandon King Cotton but was more subtle in that it blamed the Union blockade, not the Confederacy, for economic depression in the textile regions. In fact, Mason and his friends failed to appreciate completely the opportunity presented in this transfer of responsibility to the Union. Regardless of the side that caused the shortage, the Confederates believed that international recognition would necessarily follow the loss of manufacturing profits. The parliamentary debate in March 1 862 over the blockade was a direct result of the cooperative effort of the Southern agents and their British supporters. Members of Parliament sympathetic to the Southern cause saw the blockade issue as an opportunity to restore some military advantage to the Confederacy. The overriding goal of Confederate diplomatic initiatives in Europe was to obtain international recognition. In fact, recognition possibly accompanied by intervention was the only diplomatic goal that could have affected the outcome of the war.4 The so-called Confederate Lobby emerged from the blockade debate as a relatively cohesive group. From the Confederate perspective, it was vital for the British to declare the Federal blockade illegal. From the British point of view, the outcome would not only affect the policy of the Palmerston government, it was also likely to set a precedent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 223-237
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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