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Caution and Cooperation

The American Civil War in British-American Relations

Phillip E. Myers

Publication Year: 2008

A provocative reinterpretation of Civil War–era diplomacy

It has long been a mainstay in historical literature that the Civil War had a deleterious effect on Anglo-American relations and that Britain came close to intervention in the conflict. Historians assert that it was only a combination of desperate diplomacy, the Confederacy’s military losses, and Lincoln’s timely issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation that kept the British on the sidelines. Phillip E. Myers seeks to revise this prevailing view by arguing instead that wartime relations between Britain and the United Staets were marked by caution rather than conflict.

Using a wide a rray of primary materials from both sides of the Atlantic, Myers traces the sources of potential Anglo-American wartime turmoil as well as the various reasons both sides had for avoiding war. And while he does note the disagreement between Washington and London, he convincingly demonstrates that transatlantic discord was ultimately minor and neither side serioiusly considered war against the other.

Myers further extends his study into the postwar period to see how that bond strengthened and grew, culminating with the Treaty of Washington in 1871. The Civil War was not, as many have believed for so long, an unpleasant interruption in British-American affairs; instead, it was an event that helped bring the two countries closer together to seal the friendship.

Soundly researched an cogently argued, Caution and Cooperation will surely prompt discussion among Civil War historians, foreign relations scholars, and readers of history.

“Phillip E. Myers’s Caution and Cooperation places Anglo-American relations during the Civil War within the broader context of the whole nineteenth century, arguing convincingly for the lack of any real chance of British intervention on the side of the Confederacy and dating the end-of-the-century Anglo-American rapprochement back about three decades. Based on extensive research in the United States and Great Britain, this major reinterpretation of the transatlantic special relationship is ‘international history’ in its truest sense.”

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Series: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series

Title Page, Copyright, Series Information, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Realism and Private Diplomacy

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pp. 1-7

The most earnest task confronting British and American statesmen when the American Civil War broke out in April 1861 was to stave off an international war. Fortunately, the two Anglo-Saxon nations had enjoyed nearly a half-century of peace since 1815, and in 1861 British-American relations were more dependable...

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1. The Antebellum Rapprochement

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pp. 8-34

The growth of cooperation between America and Britain after 1815 provides a clearer understanding about the activities and outcomes of the British-American relationship before, during, and after the Civil War. Britain and the United States stopped competing militarily for advantages in North America after 1815, and...

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2. Caution, Cooperation, and Mutual Understanding, 1860–1864

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pp. 35-63

Before the Civil War, Britain’s leaders decided that if the American sectional rivalry turned into a shooting war they would not intervene militarily or diplomatically to mediate the dispute. Palmerston wrote Russell in December 1860 that unless the North was militarily devastated, “Nothing would be more inadvisable than for us...

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3. The Trent Affair and Its Aftermath in the Rapprochement

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pp. 64-88

With the cooperation that had been achieved over the first spring, summer, and fall of the Civil War, the South was not in the fine position that many in Richmond believed. British-American relations had emerged after the first six months of the conflict with the antebellum sentiments of cooperation intact. These past...

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4. Averting Crisis in 1862

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pp. 89-99

Despite the foreign policy breakthroughs, in 1861 and 1862 Unionists remained perplexed with British neutrality, recognition of Confederate belligerency, blockade running, and the British-built Confederate raiders destroying Northern merchant ships all over the world. Yet cooperation persisted beneath these outward...

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5. Dissolving Intervention in 1862

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pp. 100-126

Good feelings following the Trent settlement, and cooperation in the first half of 1862 gave way to Federal military defeats in the summer of 1862. These defeats led Russell and Gladstone to consider intervention for humanitarian and other reasons.1 Palmerston was initially interested, but large forces debunked the idea as the...

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6. Lincoln’s Cabinet Crisis of December 1862 in the Rapprochement

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pp. 127-141

The tensions surrounding Lincoln’s government and Congress were probably greater than those that caused the British to consider intervention in the fall of 1862. Just as the idea of intervention had grown up in British inner circles in the summer of 1862, the leaders of the Union government and Congress were becoming...

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7. Mutual Support in 1863

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pp. 142-170

On 8 December 1863, a year after Lincoln had expressed his desire to maintain peaceful foreign relations in his second annual message to Congress, the weary president presented his third annual message. Disputes with Britain remained, but relations had settled into a steady cooperative give-and-take instead of a communications...

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8. Mutual Dependence in 1864

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pp. 171-187

In 1864 Britain’s strict neutrality was further challenged. Confederates operating out of Canada captured Federal ships on Lake Erie and raided the hamlet of St. Albans in Vermont. A further threat to neutrality also occurred when Congress, without the administration’s support, gave notice that it was going to terminate...

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9. The Failure of Confederate Diplomacy and British Pro-South Impotence

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pp. 188-206

“Observing the interaction between the sea and land along the rocky Maine coast [Jefferson] Davis watched the waves rush onto the cliffs, only to be thrown back. But when the tide receded, ‘I saw that the rock was seamed and worn by the ceaseless beating of the sea, and fragments riven from the rock were lying on the...

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10. Cooperation to End the Slave Trade and Promote Commercial Expansion

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pp. 207-227

Cooperation overseas was one of the new shapes of the British-American relationship that continued in spite of the Civil War. There were two primary regions of cooperation away from the battlefields that conditioned how Britain and the Union thought about the fighting. First, behind the refusal of Britain and the...

11. War’s End: Retrenchment and Commerce Ascendant

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pp. 228-238

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Conclusion: Accommodations and Rapprochement

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pp. 239-256

British-American relations continued on their traditional path during the Civil War despite what historians have written about their tenuous nature. This unsettled atmosphere was established from the spring of 1861 through the early winter of 1862. In this period, Britain declared strict neutrality, began to court the...


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pp. 257-299


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pp. 300-321


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pp. 322-332

E-ISBN-13: 9781612776019
E-ISBN-10: 1612776019
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873389457

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: (To view these images, please refer to print version)
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series
Series Editor Byline: Mary Ann Heiss See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 608482622
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Caution and Cooperation

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Subject Headings

  • Public opinion -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Foreign public opinion, British.
  • Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1861-1865.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Great Britain.
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