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By Roger on 05-07-15
Doyle meticulously uses a wealth of research to present the various international aspects of the US Civil War, from diplomatic maneuvering to public relations to military recruiting. All depended, in one form or another, on the arguments advanced by each side, and all played out, of course, within the specific contexts of the foreign audiences.
For European elites, especially Napoleon III and the Pope, who feared democracy, the South’s appeal to class and racial oligarchy was attractive. For the non-elites, most with fresh memories of the failed democratic movements of 1848, the North’s appeal to the rule of law and majority rule resonated deeply. When the North then combined that appeal with the goal of freedom, its appeal became overwhelming. Given that the major European powers had already abolished slavery, Confederate sympathizers could not risk being seen to support a revolt whose only purpose was the preservation of slavery.
Doyle’s international perspective sheds interesting light on the appeal of the early, and sometimes overly legalistic, arguments of the Union. The issue at stake was the principle of majority rule, which is why Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg about the survival of popular government on “the earth” and not just in the US. Doyle’s perspective also shows how this principle led to arguments for, and the acceptance of, abolition.
The Union’s success demonstrated the power and resilience of popular government, thereby giving encouragement to democratic movements throughout Europe.
Doyle’s book helps shed light on the ways in which the American War for Independence was, and was seen to be, a social as well as a political revolution. America not only shook off British rule, but also empowered the ordinary citizen, at least the ordinary white, male citizen. That move scared elitists, both abroad and in the South. It helped make the Civil War inevitable and created enduring tension with the European power structure. It also, as it was intended to do, provided inspiration to the unfranchised around the world.
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