The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War by Don H. Doyle (review)
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The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. By Don H. Doyle. (New York: Basic Books, 2015. Pp. xviii, 382. $29.99 cloth)

Don H. Doyle’s gracefully written study subsumes the diplomacy of the U.S. Civil War within its impact on foreign countries—thus, “The Cause of All Nations.” From perspectives wrought in the eighteenth century’s American and French revolutions, monarchs and conservatives hoped the Confederacy would win its bid for independence; beleaguered liberals and republicans, rebounding from failed revolutions in 1848, leaned towards the Union. Initially, Confederate leaders obscured their commitment to slavery by emphasizing principles of self-determination, refraining from releasing an explanatory Declaration of Independence, and noting the Union’s initial refusal to embrace abolition. As their situation became dire, however, Confederates increasingly sought “antidemocratic alliances” (p. 9) with European autocrats while Lincoln’s Union government “began maneuvering to the left” (p. 185) on emancipation. By war’s end, ideological binaries were stark. For good reason, Adolph Hitler in 1933 wistfully mused how Confederate victory might have destroyed “falsities of liberty and equality” (p. 10). Such an outcome, [End Page 86] Doyle reminds us, had been possible. Slavery “had never disqualified a nation from acceptance in the family of nations” (p. 4).

A vignette sets Doyle’s tone—a Yankee diplomatic effort early in the war to confer a generalship upon Giuseppe Garibaldi and the liberal underpinnings of Garibaldi’s declination. Using this incident as his springboard, Doyle moves to the crucial recognition question, noting that Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens nearly negated Confederate attempts to obscure slavery’s essentiality with his famous “cornerstone” speech—a “classic political gaffe: a politician telling the truth” (p. 36)! Doyle then addresses the usual milestones in Civil War foreign relations including the Trent Affair, the Pickett mission, European challenges to the Monroe Doctrine, cotton diplomacy, the Kenner mission, and the Hampton Roads negotiation of 1865. A chapter on the impact abroad of Union victory ends the book. Within a roughly chronological framework, however, Doyle includes much thematically organized material, including a chapter about immigrant Union soldiers. A high percentage fought for what they considered the universal principles of democracy, liberty, and equality at stake in the North American fighting: “many immigrant soldiers saw themselves fighting a war in America but not just about America” (p. 160).

Doyle’s findings greatly enrich our understanding of the Civil War’s international history, although he steers clear of historiographical engagement. I found particularly enlightening his evidence that southerners lurking in the U.S. diplomatic establishment when the war began tried to sabotage Yankee diplomacy. Most especially, Doyle’s public opinion–centric insistence (he repeatedly applies the World War I–era term “public diplomacy”) sets his work apart from most prior scholarship. Doyle elucidates how wartime diplomacy played out in books, pamphlets, newspapers, and the oratory of “meeting halls, pubs, lodges, union halls, and parliaments” (p. 3). To Doyle, figures like French intellectual Count Agénor de Gasparin, Karl Marx (who covered British reactions to the war for the New York Daily Tribune), and the multilingual German exile Ottilie Assing are nearly as crucial as James M. Mason and John Slidell, William H. Seward and Charles [End Page 87] Francis Adams. Union diplomats and agents excelled in this realm more than Confederates, recognizing earlier that propaganda best resonated when filtered through native opinion makers. This adeptness, Doyle suggests counterintuitively, derived partly from patronage appointments. Politically savvy Union diplomats like Minister to Spain Carl Schurz nudged Washington toward realizing inaction on slavery squandered the Union’s “most appealing moral assets” abroad (p. 69). Throughout, Doyle provides superb contextualization for his narrative, taking, for example, an extended detour into the history of modern republicanism when addressing the recognition question.

My main reservations are that Doyle goes lighter on Russian reactions to the war than I would have liked and completely overlooks Lincoln’s black colonization plans for the Caribbean basin—certainly a “cause” involving many, if not “all,” European and Latin American countries and colonies. I would also underscore that Doyle never resolves whether Seward would have made good on his threat...