The American Civil War was decided on many fronts and battlefields, from the plains of Virginia to the oceans and waterways of the eastern seaboard, and all the way to the royal court in London.  It was from there, under the leadership of Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams, that the Union waged a relentless and successful diplomatic campaign to prevent the Confederacy from being recognized by any of the European powers.  In appointing Adams as Minister to Great Britain in 1861, Secretary of State William Seward instructed him to “warn the British not to fraternize with our domestic enemy,” either formally or informally.

Adams’s arguments found resonance among antislavery European elites and were aided by Europe’s preoccupation with crises elsewhere on the continent as well as the Confederacy’s shaky success on the battlefield.  But his exceptional diplomatic skills also played a major role in convincing Europeans to adopt policies that ran counter to commercial interests in maintaining access to agricultural products from the South, particularly cotton.  While in Britain, Adams spent his days tirelessly refuting Confederate arguments, combating any diplomatic intrigues by Southern representatives and sympathizers, and keeping a watchful eye on British shipyards suspected of constructing ships for “the rebels.”  Thanks in no small part to his efforts, the South received only minimal support from European powers throughout the Civil War.

  • Duberman, Martin B. Charles Francis Adams, 1807-1886. Standford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1968.
  • Kirkland, Edward Chase. Charles Francis Adams. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965.