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  • The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War by Don H. Doyle
  • Hugh Dubrulle (bio)
The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. By Don H. Doyle. (New York: Basic Books, 2015. Pp. 382. Cloth, $29.99.)

Don H. Doyle’s The Cause of All Nations studies the public diplomacy conducted by both the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Doyle finds this subject particularly intriguing because both belligerents engaged in what were “the first deliberate, sustained, state-sponsored programs aimed at influencing the public mind abroad” (3). Although his story roams the globe from places like London to Washington, D.C., and thence to Mexico City, Doyle focuses mainly on the North and the South’s relationships with Europe. Of the European states, Doyle is most interested in Britain and France because they had vibrant public opinions that could have driven their governments to intervene decisively in the American conflict. Throughout, Doyle is especially keen to describe how hard and soft power intersected in this public diplomacy.

From the start, Doyle argues, both Europeans and Americans described the war as part of a much larger social and ideological struggle. It was a test of the “republican experiment” and a “decisive showdown between the forces of popular versus hereditary sovereignty, democracy versus aristocracy, free versus slave labor, all rolled into one grand epic battle taking place in the distant American arena” (7). European publics took ownership of the war as they sought to interpret its significance for the transatlantic world. At the same time, European states like France and Spain hoped to take advantage of the war in America by erecting or resurrecting overseas empires in the New World. Under these circumstances, Americans did what they could to influence European opinion. Doyle asserts that William Seward, the Federal secretary of state, launched an unprecedented program of public diplomacy that strived to shape European minds through the use of various agents who networked with foreign journalists, intellectuals, and politicians. At the same time, Seward engaged in a policy of brinksmanship that sought to deter the European powers from involving themselves in the Western Hemisphere. [End Page 110]

The southern effort to shape European opinion suffered by comparison. Although the Confederacy enjoyed some signal successes (Henry Hotze was particularly influential in Britain), its diplomats generally proved less competent. Moreover, the South showed an unwillingness to let Europeans speak for it lest they misrepresent the Confederacy’s stance on slavery. Although southern fears on this score were well grounded, they contributed to less effective public diplomacy. Doyle waffles somewhat on the causes of Federal victory in the battle to influence European public opinion. Initially, he claims that this victory was not a result of a more appealing message. Yet he seems to indicate later that the Union enjoyed decisive success in the battle for hearts and minds only when it embraced abolition; at this point, the war finally became about democracy and liberty, ideas that appealed to broad swathes of liberal opinion in Europe.

Doyle’s tale is both old and new. On the one hand, the self-conscious distinction between hard and soft power, as well as the relationship between the two, is a novel and useful approach to transatlantic relations during the Civil War. On the other, Doyle’s characterization of European opinion as dividing along ideological lines—with conservatives supporting the South and liberals backing the Union—perpetuates a long-standing tradition in the historiography of this topic that requires some qualification. R. J. M. Blackett’s Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War (2001), which confirms that political creed played a large role in determining British attitudes toward the war, still highlights the degree to which reactions to the conflict were shaped by a great variety of factors and not merely political ideology. The result was a diversity of opinions rather than the simple division Doyle portrays. Finally, Doyle’s universalizing of the war’s significance is old and new. Since Ephraim Douglass Adams founded the modern academic study of the Civil War’s influence in Europe with Great Britain and the American...


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pp. 110-112
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