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Henri Mercier and the American Civil War

Henri Mercier and the American Civil War

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    Henri Mercier and the American Civil War
    Book Description:

    As French ambassador to the United States from July 1860 through December 1863, Henri Mercier was in an excellent position to observe, report, and influence the events of those crucial years. Through a description of Mercier's diplomacy, Professor Carroll gives a new account of the Civil War-the tenacious nationalism of the Lincoln-Seward government, the French economic distress caused by the loss of the cotton trade, the continental perspective on the War, the men and society of Washington and Richmond. He shows, in particular, that while maintaining friendly relations in Washington, Mercier seriously considered French recognition of the South, and intervention if necessary. Professor Carroll outlines the French peace proposals of 1862 and 1863, and also Mercier's ingenious plan for a North-South common market.

    Originally published in 1971.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6764-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. CHAPTER I Background
    (pp. 3-10)

    In the year 1860, the position of envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Emperor Napoleon III to the government of the United States was a post of limited importance and even less desirability. It was accepted as such, with reluctance and resignation, by the subject of this study.

    For over a generation relations between the United States and France had been at ebb tide, receding quietly from the points of high excitement which had been reached in the eras of revolution, Federalists, and Virginia dynasty, of Louis XVI and Napoleon I. No action of France in 1860, it seemed, could...

  2. CHAPTER II Last Days of the Old Republic
    (pp. 11-45)

    TheAdriaticreached New York on the evening of Saturday, 30 June. Newspapers noted laconically the presence of the French minister, but were more taken with the new mammoth linerGreat Eastern, which had preceded theAdriaticby only two days, and with the news from Europe of Garibaldi’s “further successes” against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Mercier left his wife and daughter in New York and went immediately to Washington to meet Treilhard and to present himself to the government.¹

    The coincidence of dates made Mercier the central foreign figure at what might have been the last celebration...

  3. CHAPTER III Maneuvers and Positions: MARCH TO SEPTEMBER 1861
    (pp. 46-96)

    The morning of 4 March was cloudy and raw in Washington. Something like a normal inauguration crowd was milling about the city, and thirty thousand eventually gathered before the Capitol to witness the transfer of power. Inevitably the threat of violence hung in the air, and General Scott had moved in with a large force of regulars supported by volunteer companies; they were collected on “G” Street, commanding New York Avenue and the Treasury Building, and at Long Bridge. One witness thought that “all preparations seemed more fitting for the capital of Mexico than that of these United States.”¹


  4. CHAPTER IV The Trent Affair
    (pp. 97-118)

    The close working-relationship between Britain and France, an entente which, as we have seen, went back to such earlier events as the American annexation of Texas, was put to a number of severe strains by the Civil War. That it managed to survive these strains was owing primarily to the way in which it served the best interests of both countries. Even when France became thoroughly involved in Mexico, for example, she could see no advantage in a unilateral recognition of the Confederacy, a recognition which could have led to a Franco-American war in which the British fleet would stand...

  5. CHAPTER V The Blockade and Diplomacy
    (pp. 119-142)

    In the normal course of events, if there had been no Civil War, most of Mercier’s time in Washington would have been spent on commercial concerns. As it turned out, such things as market opportunities and the tariff were subsumed into the larger question; but for France and Britain that question remained one of trade, of cotton mostly, and therefore of something like life and death for those thousands whose livelihood was affected. To France, America sent cotton and tobacco, along with such foreign-derived produce as sugar, coffee, and cocoa; from France she bought silk goods, wine, and other luxuries....

  6. CHAPTER VI The Trip to Richmond
    (pp. 143-184)

    The grandest Washington social event of the entire war took place in the White House on Wednesday, 5 February, 1862, a vast entertainment which found a thousand guests promenading to the music of the Marine Corps band, imbibing champagne-rum punch, and picking at a ton of turkeys, duck, venison, pheasants, partridges, and hams. The President and Mrs. Lincoln surely meant no frivolity by this display: they spent a good bit of the evening at the bedside of their son Willie, who died some days later. Mercier may have attended the funeral as the body was laid to rest in Oak...

  7. CHAPTER VII Renewed Pressure for Peace: MAY TO AUGUST 1862
    (pp. 185-209)

    Before ten o’clock on the morning of 24 April 1862, news reached New Orleans that David Farragut was at hand, breakfasting seven miles downstream before coming on to lay the town beneath his guns. Stores closed, bells rang, troops and steamboats headed north, and the cloudy skies were alight with burning tobacco and cotton. During the next several days, as the warships and the city sat looking at each other, the French consul, Count Méjan, had some dealings with Farragut; he and other consuls tried to soften the admiral’s threat to fire on the town should anyone stop the Stars...

  8. CHAPTER VIII The Three-Power Proposal
    (pp. 210-250)

    By evening on 30 August, it was at last clear to General Pope that, unlike Robert E. Lee, he had not really known what was happening over the last forty-eight hours. Second Bull Run was a clear Confederate victory. To the Union soldiers who had fought now as they would again under inept leadership, it was a shattering and demoralizing blow (but the impact was softened and even turned to advantage by the reappointment of the popular McClellan). By every historical precedent, every tendency of human nature, every logical deduction, the federal government should now have had its eyes wide...

  9. CHAPTER IX The French Proposal of 1863
    (pp. 251-274)

    The first two months of the new year were in many ways the zenith of dissident peace sentiment in the North, and Mercier came to believe that there was material enough in that sentiment for a new European overture. Burnside’s defeat at Fredericksburg had come on the heels of Democratic electoral victories, and this had produced a broad and deep peace movement. It had also produced a hardening of Radicalism, and one early result of that was the abortive effort to unseat the moderate Seward. “I believe he would prefer to see England and France intervene,” Zach Chandler said, “rather...

  10. CHAPTER X Mexico
    (pp. 275-303)

    One of the first diplomatic problems which Henri Mercier had to address shortly after his arrival in Washington in 1860 was the question of European intervention in the Mexican revolution. Throughout the next three and a half years, this problem continually accosted Mercier, and as the extent of French involvement increased, so did the dimensions of the difficulty. Long after his return to Paris in 1864, Mercier was still concerned about Mexico, and as late as 1867 he was writing to Seward about it.

    Toward the close of 1860, the long-running Mexican war had reached a decisive point: General González...

  11. CHAPTER XI A Sea of Troubles
    (pp. 304-347)

    Following the Georgetown fire, his trip to Richmond and his summer vacation, in the fall of 1862 Mercier accepted the offer of William W. Corcoran to live in his luxurious “H” Street home. By moving the legation into this house, the French minister risked adding to the mounting criticism of his own supposed Confederate leanings. From a purely personal viewpoint, however, the opportunity to live in one of Washington’s most notable buildings was a blessing indeed, and Mercier undoubtedly hoped that it would ease his wife’s burden of exile.

    The house was brick, in three stories, with one-story wings on...

  12. CHAPTER XII Last Weeks and Return
    (pp. 348-363)

    Henri Mercier had often requested permission to go home. The fact that this request was finally granted in December of 1863 corresponded to no particular, single event in the history of the American Civil War. Inevitably a number of matters were left in the air: Mexico and theRégietobacco for instance. But the two major French efforts to intervene had failed, and Union victories and the abstentionist attitude of England had all but foreclosed the matter of intervention. Basically, therefore, there is a certain retrospective unity to Mercier’s American career: he came as the old Union was breaking up;...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 364-374)

    From first to last it was a matter of defining “American.” There had been tribes, cities, multitribal monarchies, empires, federations, confederations. And now there were nationalities and nation-states. Somehow the old way of personal subjection and loyalty within a definable boundary had become a part of one’s being, one’s “blood.” By the time the United States was born, men were Frenchmen or Englishmen, not merely subjects of the French or English kings. And shortly after that, the very concept of being French not only survived the death of the Bourbons but throve and grew on it, so that the “fraternity”...