the secession of 11 Southern states and the onset of the American
Civil War in 1861, one of the primary goals of the Confederate
government was official diplomatic recognition from European
nations, beginning with Britain and France.
That achievement not only would have lent the struggling
Confederacy prestige on the world stage, but probably would have
led to diplomatic pressure on the Union to settle the conflict or
perhaps even to European military assistance for the South.
Napoleon III, the emperor of France, approached Russia
about joining a coalition to mediate the war, but the
administration of Czar Alexander II refused.
Russia looked favorably upon the Union cause, and had
recently fought France and Britain in the Crimean War (1853-1856). It was particularly unwilling to cooperate with the latter
against which it competed for territory in Afghanistan.
Moreover, unlike Britain and France, Russia had no economic
need to obtain Southern cotton.
early 1863, an uprising against Russian rule occurred in Poland,
which fostered substantial pressure in France and Britain for
those respective governments to intervene on behalf of the Polish
people. This had the
effect of solidifying Russia’s support for the Lincoln
administration, which it viewed as similarly trying to defeat a
violent assault on national unity while contending with the
meddling of France and Britain.
Given the possibility of war with the two European powers
over Poland, Russia decided to send its Atlantic and Pacific naval
fleets to New York City and San Francisco, respectively, in the
fall of 1863 as a precaution against being frozen in Russian ports
during the winter.
French troops had overthrown the Mexican republic in June 1863,
and by early the next year Napoleon III had established a monarchy
under a puppet ruler, Archduke Maximilian.
The South offered to recognize the new Mexican government
in return for French recognition of the Confederacy.
the midst of this tense international situation, the arrival of
the Russian fleets in American ports was greeted with relief and
jubilation across the North.
There was diverse speculation on reasons for the visit,
though many newspapers recognized the national interest motivating
the Russians. However,
expressions of Russia’s action as an act of friendship gained
dominance, and the myth soon developed that the event was an
altruistic show of force by Russia on behalf of the Union cause.
While that was, at best, a secondary consideration, the
impressive concentration of Russian battleships may nevertheless
have had some influence on British and French refusals to
recognize the Confederacy.
“The Bilateral Effect of the Visit of the Russian Fleet in
1863.” Loyola University
Student History Journal. www.loyno.edu/history/journal/1983-4/delehaye.htm
“Europe and the
American Civil War.” www.civilwarhome.com/europeandcivilwar.htm
Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union & Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War.
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.