February 14, 2009

Dixe Looks Abroad Part 2 - the Confederacy and beyond

I am now going to take several of Fry's positions where I disagree with him or at least his emphasis. I would like to point out firstly that his obviously unlike me a major expert ,so my disagreements are of course meant to be respectful, secondly that I should add I agree with virtually all his analytical conclusions- including the emphasis he gives to race and his emphasis on the variability of the South. However if we agreed life would be boring so I am going to mark up some points of disagreement. I should add that virtually all our areas of disagreement are ones where Fry follows a pre-existing consensus rather than breaking from it.
Firstly he see's the failure of the Confederacy in the Civil War as sparking from problems in Diplomacy. One certainly should not ignore the copious examples of Confederate diplomatic failure he gives including a diplomat to France who was open in his contempt to the French and the fundamental strategic failure of believing that dependence on slave grown southern cotton would compel Anglo intervention of itself- and that an "informal" embargo was the best way of achieving this! However it strikes me that as with most explanations given for the defeat of the Confederacy confederate incompetence or division as opposed to weakness is given far too much emphasis. As his own account makes clear in fact the South did not receive recognition because Britain and France only wanted to extend recognition when they were certain that independence would stick. Secondly useless as they may have been the confederacy made no diplomatic faux pas on the level of Seward (the Secretary of State of the time for the US) who nearly s started a war with Britain over kidnapping Confederate diplomats from a British Ship- and at a time when key supplies for the Union war's efforts guns were being prepared in a British port! (Fry convincingly shows this was union incompetence not shrewd confederate manipulation). Thirdly it strikes me he gives far too much emphasis to recognition-unless backed by military aid (an unlikely occurrence) or union stupidity in launching a war Anglo-Franco recognition would only have marginally have aided the Confederacy. This incidentally strikes me as similar to Israel's declaration of independence and subsequent war-where far too much attention is given to US recognition and not enough attention to Soviet/Czech military assistance.
Secondly he see's the South late 19th century opposition and problems with overseas intervention as being caused (in the late 19th and early 20th) century in part by a hostility to government intervention and a supposed commitment to "state's rights”. In this he reflects a weak domestic historgraphy.In fact statism at home where it was seen as being in favour of the South-or even against Northern interests (e.g. an income tax or regulation of railroads) was more popular the White South than the rest of the United States in this period. What strikes me as much more important is their opposition to the tariff (which disproportionally hurt the South as it had virtually no industrial goods to be "protected") which was the primary form of federal tax in the absence of an income tax. Furthermore hostility to the military and military expenditure is easily explained when it was overwhelmingly non southern white and was key to holding down the South (this Fry does state firmly). Finally I think he dismisses too readily the meaningfulness of Southern Anti-Imperialism. The parallels between Southern Whites defence of their "autonomy" over African Americans and resistance to imperial intervention are rather closer than much modern discussion would indicate. But in any case the key point is not the validity of such comparison but the sincerity-and Fry does not really provide any evidence of the lack of sincerity of such. In fact rather than being contradicted by the new southern loathing of multi racialism (now slavery the former system of social control ) there is every reason to believe the too were complementary- the greatest ideological racists of the South like Colin Blasé of South Carolina were also often the most fervent anti-imperialism. Imperialism in the 19th century meant a mullet-racial state after all. It strikes me as much more significant than it does for Professor Fry than when the South embraced international intervention in the First World War under Woodrow Wilson it was done under a non even anti-imperialist aegis of liberating people-rather than the neo-imperialist rhetoric of a Theodore Roosevelt- as a liberation of people from external oppression (oppression White Southern saw themselves as suffering after the civil war however wrongly they may have been) rather than the imposition of external uplift.
There are some other disagreements I may write more on -but I would just like to thank Professor Fry again for such an engaging, broad and interesting work


Vino S said...

I agree that international recognition without military aid would have been of little use to the Confederacy.

The thing is, I think they were far more likely to lose than to win. The fact is, they had a population of 8 million (5m whites, 3m blacks) against a free-state US of c.20m people. Also, the North had the industry which could produce armaments and other much-needed industrial goods that are needed in a war. Much of the South lacked this.

Sulla said...

Vilno I could not agree more. I think historians don't lay nearly enough emphasis on this and are far too ready to look at mistakes by the South rather than the old rule that the race does not always go to the swift or the battle to the strong-but that's the way to bet.

Having said that it did require a lot of resource expenditure by the north to do this- frankly if Great Britain had used the same resources against american independence then I think it would have failled. Indeed it's a lack of awareness of this difference in resource expenditure that explains why the British papers tended to expect the confederacy to win.

Vino S said...

Of course, perhaps some British papers wanted the Confederacy to win because it would be poetic justice for a Union that was formed by secession from British rule ;)