Southern Hopes of Foreign Recognition
Historian Emory Thomas wrote that Confederates believed themselves “heirs of the American Revolutionary tradition of 1776,” underscored by their President being inaugurated on Washington’s birthday and stating that “We hope to perpetuate the principles of our revolutionary fathers.” President Jefferson Davis told his countrymen, “you assumed to yourselves the right, as your fathers had done before you, to declare yourselves independent.”
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa 1865
Southern Nationhood and Foreign Recognition
“[General Robert E. Lee] and Davis had decided to take the offensive in the east. As he had done the previous fall, Lee drove his army west of his enemy, crossed the Potomac upstream, and sent widely dispersed columns into Maryland. This time the Confederates continued up into Pennsylvania and posed a distinct threat to Washington and Baltimore.
The invasion would not draw off troops from Vicksburg, but should Vicksburg fall, its loss would be small indeed compared to a major victory before Washington. Lee had no illusions about besieging the enemy capital immediately. He and Davis hoped to draw Hooker into another Chancellorsville; this time the ultimate prize would be Washington instead of Richmond, and this time perhaps the Southerners could achieve a battle of annihilation and at the same time a diplomatic coup.
Once in Pennsylvania, Lee expanded his thinking about the campaign and urged that Davis collect all available troops from the Carolinas, place Beauregard in command, and order an assault on Washington from the South. The idea might have had a decisive effect upon what began as a limited offensive, but Davis believed it too complicated and too risky.
Emperor Napoleon III . . . [in the late spring of 1863] came as close as he ever would [to recognizing the Confederacy]. While Napoleon was fretting anew about his nation’s need for cotton, . . . and digesting reports of the Southern victory at Chancellorsville, in England John A. Roebuck announced his intention to place before Parliament a resolution supporting immediate Anglo-French recognition of the Confederacy.
The Palmerston government let it be known that it opposed the project and justified the opposition on the ground that Napoleon had lost all enthusiasm for recognition. Such was not the case, though, though, and on June 18 the Emperor told Confederate diplomat John Slidell that he would “make a direct proposition to England for joint recognition.” Thus Roebuck confidently prepared to introduce his resolution on June 30, and Europe became an active front, along with Pennsylvania and Vicksburg in the Confederate war.
During June of 1863 the tide of Confederate independence and nationhood probably reached its flood. [At] the time Southerners had a right to be optimistic, or at least hopeful, that their revolution would prevail, or at least endure. In the minds of its citizens the Confederacy was more a nation in June of 1863 than ever before or after.
Two years of war had transformed Southern political and economic institutions and the Southern people. War and Confederate nationalism also conditioned Southerners creative energies in music, art, literature and learning. The black experience during wartime underwent subtle but profound metamorphosis, and slavery in the Confederate South was an unsettled institution. The end product of these Confederate alterations of antebellum norms was a distinctive national life behind the battle lines.”
(The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865, Emory M. Thomas, Harper & Row, 1979, pp. 219-221)