Book Review: The Cause Of All Nations

The Cause Of All Nations:  An International History Of The American Civil War, by Don H. Doyle

Every once in a while a fond reader of diplomatic history such as myself will find a good book that takes a familiar subject and looks at it through the generally unfamiliar perspective of diplomacy.  Although the Civil War is a subject that is familiar to many readers and well represented by a large and diverse body of literature, at times it is important to recognize the connection between the Civil War and the larger world, where the repercussions had serious consequences on politics.  Close to home, the Civil War encouraged the French invasion of Mexico to set up a puppet regime [1] as well as encouraging a brief imperial resurgence in Spain [2].  In Europe, there was a close connection between the United States and the various Italian states desiring their own unity [3].  This book does a good job at setting the context of the Civil War as it related to fellow Atlantic nations, making this book a thoughtful exercise in what could be called Atlantic History.  If you like the Civil War and want to know how it affected other nations, this is definitely a worthwhile book to check out.

In terms of its contents it works in a chronological fashion that is slanted towards the early part of the Civil War before the message of the Union and Confederacy had been fully established.  A few overall themes come through over and over again in this book, which is about 300 pages or so of text.  The downplaying of the slavery issue that was deemed necessary for the Union home front was harmful in terms of the Union appeal abroad, especially among liberal and radical circles in Europe.  The North was far better served by its diplomats, who were a relatively able group, than the South was served by its inept crew.  The North was also better served by encouraging Europeans to write amicus briefs in the court of foreign public opinion than the South was served by its attempts to control the message of foreign sympathizers.  The author also shows the way that imperialistic and aristocratic elements (including the Pope) generally favored the South while antislavery and pro-democracy elements favored the North.  In that light, the book continues after the end of the Civil War to look at the effects of the Civil War on Spain (with the abolishing of the monarchy), France (with the fall of Napoleon III), Italy (the conquest of Rome by Italian forces), and the United Kingdom (the establishment of Canada and the passage of a major reform bill expanding the electorate in 1867), putting the Civil War in a larger context.

This book contains precious little about the course of the Civil War itself, although important events of the war, such as the relationship between the Confederacy and Mexico, the seizure of Confederate agents in the Trent Affair, as well as the relationship between certain key events of the war and the price of Confederate cotton bonds on the international market, are discussed.  It is an unusual but also an intriguing matter to view the Civil War from the point of view of outsiders, and to think of the role played by the friends and agents of the North and South abroad.  Many readers of this book will likely be unfamiliar with the importance of public diplomacy in influencing the behavior of other nations and in the way that paid agents and unpaid sympathizers saw in the Civil War encouragement or barriers to their own ambitions in their own countries.  This volume is a worthwhile effort at encouraging students of the Civil War to be a bit less insular about the war and to recognize that what happens in the world has effects on other parts of the world as well, a lesson we would do well to remember in our own times.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, International Relations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: The Cause Of All Nations

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    That reminds me of a book that I read a few years ago: Kevin Peraino’s Lincoln in the World. It covered a lot of the issues that you mention, but it also addressed Karl Marx’s stance on the Civil War.

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