William Yancey and his Confederate Diplomacy in Great Britain   Leave a comment

               On March 16th, 1861, the Confederacy selected three men for an imperative mission. On the eve of war against the Union, these men were commissioned by Robert Toombs, the Confederate Secretary of State, to be diplomats to Europe.[1] One of these three diplomats was William Yancey.[2] Yancey was given the assignment of attaining political recognition of the nationhood of the Confederacy from Great Britain.  Yancey was unsuccessful in his attempts at courting the English representatives. This paper will focus on the failed diplomatic mission of Yancey at attaining English recognition for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Yancey was an exceptional orator and well-known Southern politician. This was the chief reason he was selected as a diplomat. Regrettably for Yancey, he also had a legacy of “violent behavior,” and a sharp tongue.[3] Even more devastating to his image in Great Britain was his stance on slavery. Not only had Yancey been a proponent of it, but he also had “been instrumental in writing the Alabama platform in 1848 that” later caused the Dred Scott decision in 1857.[4] Yancey carried this reputation with him to the shores of Britain.

Yancey arrived in England on April 29th, 1861. He and the Confederate cabinet had outlined a plan to win over the British recognition of their ‘country.’ The plan was called the King Cotton Diplomacy. It was conceived out of England’s dependence upon southern cotton. The Confederate states had been the suppliers of nearly 80% of England’s cotton supply since 1840, a total of 600,000,000 dollars worth.[5] Due to the dependents upon American cotton, the King Cotton Diplomacy attempted to blackmail the English into recognizing the Confederacy, or be cut-off from the trade.

On May the 3rd, Yancey met with Lord John Russell, a liberal politician who recently had been deemed Leader of the House of Lords.[6] Yancey discussed with Russell the South’s need to leave the Union and the encroachment that had been felt in Congress for years by Southern supporters. At the latter end of the interview, Yancey began to hint at the King Cotton Diplomacy, alluding to the end of cotton shipments. When the threat of cotton shipments was brought up, Russell immediately said he would discuss the matter with the cabinet and parliamentary leaders.[7]

Yancey left the meeting greatly encouraged. Writing to Toombs, the Confederate Secretary of State, he said, “England…will grant recognition as soon as the Confederate States have gained in an important battle.”[8] Yancey was even more encouraged when in the course of the next two weeks; Britain passed a stance of neutrality towards the recognition of the Confederacy, a Recognition of Belligerency.[9]

On July 21st, the victory that was sought for by Yancey occurred at Bull Run, Virginia. Yancey immediately held a quick meeting with his fellow diplomats and decided to push for the recognition of the South again with Russell.[10] They met on August 14th. Yancey pointed out both the victory at Bull Run as well as the Confederacies add-on of four more states, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia. He again reminded Russell of King Cotton by pointing out that cotton picking had begun in the South and without the recognition of the Confederacy, there would be no shipments to England. After the meeting, Russell again took a stance of neutrality upon the issues presented. Yancey knew that although Bull Run was a huge step forward, it was not a decisive enough victory to hurt the southern cotton supply and harvest. Thus Britain would not have the pressure of recognizing the Confederacy until it was pushed due to cotton shortages.[11]

After time began to pass, Yancey began to doubt the intention of Britain to make a stand for recognition. The British remained completely neutral to the events that were occurring in the United States. This was partly due to Yancey’s “arrogant demands” to Lord Russell as well as a growing desire to not be dependent upon Southern cotton, leaving the King Cotton Diplomacy useless.[12] Furthermore, unknown to Yancey, due to the amount of cotton imports to England prior to 1861, Great Britain would not need more shipments for several years. As the discouraging realization of Britain unfaltering neutrality continued, Yancey began to view his diplomatic mission as futile. Within a few months, Yancey resigned as the Confederate diplomat to Great Britain.

Yancey failed at his mission to gain the recognition of the Confederacy by Great Britain. From the beginning however, it was a hopeless cause. Yancey’s compulsive and hot-headed reputation greatly hurt him when he arrived in England. He failed at using the King Cotton Diplomacy to convince Lord Russell as a means to gain urgent action. “The velvet gloves of diplomacy were not worn well by an outspoken agitator.”[13]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

  1. Richardson, James D.  A compilation of the messages and papers of the confederacy. Nashville, United States Publishing Company, 1905.

 

  1. Owsley, Frank. King Cotton Diplomacy. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1931.

 

  1. Jones, Howard. Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations. North Carolina, The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

 

  1. Bennet, John. The London Confederates. North Carolina, Mcfarland and Company, 1937.

 

 

 


[1] Robert Toombs, “From Mr. Toombs, Secretary of State in A compilation of the messages and papers of the confederacy by James D. Richardson (Nashville, United States Publishing Company, 1905) 3. http://books.google.com/books?id=iQ0TAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&dq=picket+papers+toombs+to+yancey

[2] Frank Owsley, “The First Envoys of the Cotton Kingdom” in King Cotton Diplomacy (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1931) 51.

[3] Howard Jones, “Republic in Peril” in Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (North Carolina, The University of North Carolina Press, 2010) 16. http://books.google.com/books?id=RiD8c21B-7MC&pg=PA249&dq=blue+and+grey+diplomacy

[4] Howard Jones, “Republic in Peril” in Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (North Carolina, The University of North Carolina Press, 2010) 16.

[5] Robert Toombs, “From Mr. Toombs, Secretary of State in A compilation of the messages and papers of the confederacy by James D. Richardson (Nashville, United States Publishing Company, 1905) 8. http://books.google.com/books?id=iQ0TAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&dq=picket+papers+toombs+to+yancey

[6] John Bennett, “A Diplomatic Presence” in The London Confederates (North Carolina, Mcfarland and Company, 1937) 26.

[7] Frank Owsley, “The First Envoys of the Cotton Kingdom” in King Cotton Diplomacy (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1931) 57.

[8]Frank Owsley, “The First Envoys of the Cotton Kingdom” in King Cotton Diplomacy (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1931) 58.

[9] Ibid, 60.

[10] Charles Hubbard, “Poorly Chosen Diplomats Produce Poor Diplomacy” in The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy (Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, 1998) 44.

[11] Owsley, 55-80.

[12]Charles Hubbard, “A New Initiative in Europe: The Blockade” in The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy (Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, 1998) 66.

[13]Frank Owsley, “The First Envoys of the Cotton Kingdom” in King Cotton Diplomacy (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1931) 77.

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