Book cover

No period of our history has had more books written about it than the US Civil War. However, the diplomatic struggle, international aspects of this fight, has not been included. That gap in our historic record has now been magnificently filled by Dan Doyle’s A Cause of All Nations (2015, Basic Books).

While not a history of battles and heroic generals, this topic may sound like a dry, uneventful read, it is anything but! It is a page turner, covering a key, central, but previously uncovered, chapter in our nation’s struggle against secession and slavery. For the slave-holding Confederacy, the ability to gain international recognition was a struggle for survival. The Union, on the other hand, had to block recognition of the Confederacy if the Union was to survive.

Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin is quoted as stating that the Confederacy would either “win the war peacefully overseas or lose it by arms at home!”

It was a contest at which the arrogant slaveowners proved to be woefully short of skills.

After the slave-owning south seceded, then attacked Fort Sumter forcing civil war, both sides began lobbying European people and leaders, attempting to win recognition and support for their cause. In 1861, the old ruling classes, monarchists, political conservatives and colonialists, held strong sympathy for the slaveholding Confederacy. A general hope among the old rulers was that the Union, the “experiment in democracy,” according to Lincoln, would receive its comeuppance and America would return to the natural order of rule by monarchs and oligarchs.

Across Europe, old rulers had returned to power when revolutions in Germany (1848), Italy and the Communard uprisings were beaten back. They saw comrades in the Confederate slaveholders and hoped a Confederate victory would likewise spell doom for their home-grown democratic movements.

Initially Confederate diplomats were optimistic, writing home in one case, that:

“Our cause has great support here! Everyone supports our struggle except for the nobodies!”

Unfortunately for the Confederates, they were soon to learn that it is truly the “nobodies,” when mobilized, that make history!

While dueling diplomats from the Union and Confederacy, tried to gain official support for their side, the old rulers were plotting to throw support to the south. The reactionary Napoleon III wanted to recolonize, first Mexico, then all of Latin America. He’d sent a large invading army to Mexico to overthrow the Juarez government, then lift the Union blockade of the south. He formed an uneasy alliance with the autocratic Bismarck in Germany and the conservative Palmerston administration in Britain. Most reactionary of all was Pope Pius, who was kept in power only by 20,000 occupying French troops.

This alliance had reached a secret agreement to call for “peace” in America, then to intervene in favor of the Confederacy, giving them official recognition and breaking the Union blockade.

These reactionary old rulers did not count on the intervention of the people of Europe and Mexico in their well-laid schemes. The people held very strong anti-slavery, democratic, sentiments, and they acted on them. Taking the ruling classes by surprise, revered Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi organized a huge march on Rome calling for a democratic/united Italy, in solidarity with the American Union and for emancipation, against slavery.

Garibaldi was wounded and an all-European solidarity movement supporting U.S. Union/emancipation emerged. In Britain, Karl Marx and his supporters helped the young trade union movement organize a series of large, militant demonstrations opposing any recognition of the Confederacy. France and Germany both also saw large solidarity demonstrations.

Mexico, meanwhile, saw a people’s army defeat Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Puebla. The holiday, Cinco de Mayo, celebrates this people’s victory.

At the Battle of Antietam the Union army turned back Lee’s invading Confederates, with massive losses. Lincoln then issued the Emancipation Proclamation, changing the nature of the war from one only to reunite the union, to one clearly for emancipation of the enslaved peoples.

The schemes of the oligarchs and their alliance collapsed! Only the arch reactionary Pope Pius stayed on target, mobilizing the Catholic Church against the Union. This had a negative impact, especially on the largely Catholic Irish! Still, the beloved Irish rebel Thomas Meagher led the heroic Union Irish Brigade for the Union and around 40 percent of Union troops were immigrants, mainly Irish and German.

Doyle goes on to explain how the people of Europe, Latin America, beaten down and under attack, developed a new revolutionary movement, found a variety of ways to stand in solidarity with Unionists, against slavery.

He closes it out describing the Union victory ending slavery in the U.S., how it intertwined with a growing worldwide democratic revolutionary movement. The Mexican people overthrew, then executed, Napoleon’s stooge, Maximillian and established a revolutionary government under Juarez. This shook France at its core, opening the way for a new revolutionary movement, which overthrew Napoleon and established the 4th Republic. The conservative administration in Britain also went down to defeat and Garibaldi’s revolutionary movement won in Italy.

 Cause of All Nations is a tremendous addition to our historic record, helping readers see the previously hidden international ties between our struggles for democracy, against racism/slavery, and for freedom!