tv The Civil War Confederate Ambitions CSPAN August 4, 2021 7:20am-8:04am EDT
so without further ado, please let me introduce our speakers. our first speaker today will be nl tucker author of newest born of nations european national movements. nationalist movements and the creation of the confederacy. she uses an historian of the us south and civil war in an international perspective. she is an assistant professor of history at the university of north georgia. thank you anne for being here and let me introduce our our second panelist today and that is adrian brettle who is author of our second book colossal ambitions confederate planning for a post civil war world.
he is a lecturer and associate director of the political history and leadership program in school of historical philosophical and religious religious studies, arizona state university. right next to my hometown in scottsdale, arizona, so it's a great pleasure to have both in and adrian here today and if you would please start us off. just tell us a little bit about your book. basic information for those who haven't had a chance to read it yet. thank you in absolutely. thanks to the now center for having us today and thanks to the virginia book festival for including us. i'm looking forward to a great event. so my book looks at international influences on the creation of the confederacy. as the civil war opened and the spring of 1861 the newly declared confederate states of america, of course had to fight against the north against the united states, but much of their
attention was also perhaps unexpectedly abroad. so i have one example the editors of the richmond daily dispatch wrote in may of 1861 using an international context to explain to their audience the meaning of the impending struggle and as they put it the struggle for nationality is the identical struggle for the confederacy as it was abroad. these editors the confederate fight was the struggle of italy against austria. i can federation of independent states against foreign oppressors. this transnational approach to defining the confederacy might surprise a domestic audience that's used to thinking of the civil war as a purely domestic conflict in terms of brother versus brother as we so often
think about it. the reality is though this international perspective that the writers for the dispatch deployed was not only familiar to a contemporary audience, but it was actually central to the way that elite white southerners conceived of this project of nation building that they undertook through the creation of the confederacy. so as i argue a newest born of nations elite white southerners used international perspectives in order to distinguish the south from the north justify secession and ultimately legitimize the confederacy. so a little bit more on how they made all of that happen. so, of course at the opening of the civil war the confederates had to not just defend themselves militarily, but define who they were to themselves and to the rest of the world. and this is where the
international perspectives were apparently very useful to elite white southerners seeking to do just that. so in order to achieve their goals of defining who the confederacy was and what it stood for. white southerners positioned the confederacy as part of the larger international community of nations basically claiming that it was simply the newest member of this international family of nations. and as they did so they drew on a wealth of recent examples of new and aspiring nations as they looked to recent events in europe. so throughout the first half of the 19th century revolution had spread throughout europe as aspiring nations sought to overthrow empires and instead create self-governing nations the revolutions of 1848 spread
through france and germany hungary, ireland, they weren't successful but in 1860 right on the verge of southern secession. italy did actually succeed in creating itself as an independent nation. so there was one successful example that confederates drew upon quite heavily. observers of these european events who are watching from the antebellum south began drawing comparisons between the nations abroad and between the south initially as a way of dramatizing the sectional conflict and the antebellum united states. as the abolitionist movement and the north stoked these southerners' fears that they would lose slavery for example. white southerners claimed that abolitionists attempts to block slavery and the western territories were the equivalent
of tyrannical attempts to oppress italy or ireland or hungary back in europe. and these comparisons taught white southerners to see the south as a potential national unit equal to potential nations and europe. not surprisingly then when these southerners then seceded from the united states. they expanded on these international comparisons in order to justify secession. secessionist claimed that this confederacy fought for the same values as nations such as italy value such as self-determination and self-government. and alternative confederate international perspective even used contrasts between the confederacy and nations abroad to claim that the confederacy's slavery created a pure superior form of nationalism that was
legitimate in its superiority basically, so whether comparing or contrasting southerners used these international perspectives to claim legitimacy for the confederacy based on its relationship to these european nations, these claims were incorrect. of course, certainly slavery did not create a superior nation. and a nation based on slavery did not follow in the footsteps of nations seeking freedom and rights. but even as wartime events made this an accuracy a parent confederates remained committed doubling down on their ideological manipulations in order to continue using international perspectives to justify the legitimacy of the confederacy. so my book then demonstrates that southern nationalism was a transnational process.
civil war southerners saw themselves as part of a broader international debate over the meaning of nations a nationhood. and this international self-conception was the central to the way that confederates conceived of themselves as the newest born of nations. thank you so much anne. that was really wonderful. i'd like to give adrian a chance to summarize his book now adrian take it away. thank you will and thank you anne and to the now center and the virginia festival of the book for making this event possible. the war divides separates despoils and destroys until it seems as if all old things are passing away and as if the nations north and south and all things in them were becoming new. and quote fast said henry wise
acting major general in the confederate army former governor of virginia in a letter to his wife written at the midnight hour between november the 13th and 14th 1863 from his headquarters near charleston, south carolina. sleep having been rendered impossible on account of a noise of a naval bombardment from us gunboats on fort sumter by now reduced to rubble. in the midst of his many preoccupations wise found time to think about the confederacy once the conflict was over that very same month. he published a pamphlet and wrote a public letter to a charleston newspaper editor with this suggestions as to what fiscal policy the post war confederate government should adopt now was this escapism from the war? yes, but it's also way for wives to understand the war
significant and purpose for he believed present trials would lead to future power and prosperity. and moving a decade ago my inquiry started on whether pre-war southern-led schemes for the expansion of slavery continued covertly during the confederacy. assuming secretly because there is as much unanimity as there is possible among historians that publicly at least the confederacy being as it was desperate for foreign recognition and fighting for its very existence had to renounce anything emphatically remotely ambitious. it is surely enough just to quote from confederate president jefferson davis message to congress declaring that a stage of war existed with united states on april the 29th. 1861 quote in our independence.
we seek no conquest. no aggrandizement. no session of any kind from the states with which we have lately. confederated all we ask is to be let alone and quote. but i ask let alone to do what? i will surprise to discover first enrichment virginia newspapers that confederate journalist boldly proclaimed that they were succeeding and fighting the war to change the world. naturally. we should use scholarly detachment about what is written in the press. but ambitious plans for the future will also expressed and then attempted to be implemented by leading confederate who my term the planners. many of them were politicians who did so in speeches proclamations and legislation from davis himself to his vice
president alexander stevens and his old rival from mississippi days henry foote from across the confederate congress and state legislatures. business leaders also planned as evidenced by the proceedings or wartime conventions of planters merchants and stockholders of railroad corporations whose deliberations were eagerly anticipated in the correspondent. dandari's of private citizens men and women including rose greenhow, augusta, jane evans and marina davis throughout the war, very undiplomatic diplomats would express similar ambitions via cypher in state department correspondence, and then these ideas were frankly disclosed and commented on in editorials in newspapers and more at length in pamphlets and even a novel what united this these range of voices and media was that they
believed while the civil war raged on that they were on the threshold of a new great power arriving on the world stage. what i first had to learn was how confident the plans were that the moment of securing their independence lay just ahead in time. they were convinced that the grand strategy perfected by robert e lee of persuading northern public opinion, but it was not worth the cost in blood and treasure to conquer and compel reunion was always on the verge of success. hesitant allies whether they knew it or not would also tip the balance in favor confederates whether british french mexicans northern democrats, midwest and californian secessionists. the union teetered always on the brink of economic political and social collapse. therefore confederate planners believe himself to be in control
of events. they sifted the evidence blame themselves as wealth of a shortcomings of their collaborators when things went wrong, but they never gave up. it was only in the aftermath of new spreading of surrender of lee's army at appomattox that this sense of control confidence and destiny. ended abruptly actually vans account. there is no uniformity here of opinion confederates profoundly disagreed among themselves. but the i contend that these rhetorical and sometimes literally dueling battles were about means not ends. nevertheless the book is not about a fixed single fixed agreement about what the nation would be like when peace came. chronological stretch of colossal ambitions is because perceptions of how the war was
going dictated planning for. peace. driven first by the excitement and possibilities of secession. and then by perceptions or when peace was to be expected and the more specific opportunities and threats presented by the war lessons learned clashing disappointments juxtaposed with that times a sense of profound. vindication this shifting context dictated the plans for the future nation. thank you. thank you so much adrian. that's really wonderful. so i would just like to encourage all of our audience members to please ask your questions in the q&a and on facebook live. we'll start off with some questions of my own that i have for both the panelists both of you are well situated in a friend in in history. i'm at least among academic
historians don doyle paul quigley some others that really emphasizes that the civil war didn't just have and impact on the united states and civil war. didn't just take place in the united states necessarily there was this diplomatic element. there were these international repercussions a whole transnational, you know. aspect to the war that's that's a very important one, but you know, i've i feel that. if you went to a typical and maybe you both correct me if i'm wrong if you went to a typical undergraduate lecture or you know a talk at a civil war roundtable or anything like that. in which we only have so much time to talk about the clauses of the civil war what happened during the civil war and why it was important going forward in the 19th century that that international perspective is not always priority number one,
right? so, what do you both think and i'll ask and answer first. do you feel like this transnational perspective that your books your book has is this on the do you think this is being incorporated into more scholarship even scholarship that doesn't necessarily see itself as transnational does it is it getting into the classrooms or is there still more work to be done to convince people that yes, this is a this is an important war with a global context in global ramifications. you know as you point out, we have a growing body of scholarship on the transnational dimensions of the american civil war that i think really has helped us rethink the nature of this war and the meaning of this war and go beyond just you know, as i put it, you know kind of the brother versus brother kind of narrative and so certainly there's you know, it's an exciting field with i think a lot of great developments. i know one thing that i and some
of our colleagues have talked about is, you know moving on to reconstruction now kind of internationalizing aftermath of the civil war. so there's certainly still exciting work to be done even as i do think we've reached a point where this is part of the way historians understand the civil war and has to really be integrated and to any full account so far as whether it's making it into the classroom certainly in my room and i think it is making it into the classroom as it's not just the civil war where we're kind of looking more transnationally, but i think we're in a moment where historians in general are looking for the broader international connections and applications. and so i think that is an exciting development in the classroom to help our students understand again the broader meaning of you know, they may take us history but understand the broader implications of
that. thank you. and yes, just to just to chip in as well. i eat some. i mean the present day preoccupation with globalization has undoubtedly, so powered this sort of look back to the mid 19th century as the first era of globalization. of course, there's now caveat that globalization has suddenly become markedly less fashionable. thanks to covid and that he that turn that that then this will be an ongoing shift that will be that we have to manage the present day context driving sort of students interest and scholarly interest, but we are benefiting from from the 1990s and 2000s has been this time being globalization was embraced and that led to the trans national turn in civil war scholarship, and i just want to you know, just to re-emphasize
as ann does that we are uncovering. people believed at the time that i mean that the so universal feeling, you know from americans' ideology that they were the last best hope on earth or democratic government for the world the economics that i call stress quite a lot in my book was even more pronounced i would argue among confederates that they see himself as part of an evolving global economy. so i don't necessarily i mean, i i really want to argue that transnational listen just a present an imposition or present day preoccupations on the past, but i also obviously want to beat the drum for it that it is recovering a state of mind which to repeat really astonished me that i thought that i mean slavery was always seen by confederates in a transnational context. it was a labor system that was competing against other labor systems and that we are
uncovering that state of mind. previous lens of globalization / transnational history great. thank you so much, adrian, and and both those are wonderful answers and i have a specific question for you and your book focuses a lot on the legacy of the european revolutions in the early 19th century or the antebellum era as americans would later come to call it. but for those who are not familiar with this subject after europe. were there other what were the other places around the globe that confederates were looking to where they after europe were they looking to the successful revolutions in the south american republics? what was their reference point if it wasn't europe? so actually they were also looking to the latin american revolutions caitlin fitz has written on that. my focus was more on the european revolutions because of
the chronological immediacy. so as the confederates were looking around or even before confederates the secessionists or antebellum southerners, they're living through this moment in 1848 where these revolutions are spreading throughout europe and then as i mentioned in 1860 italy succeeds and what you know, the confederacy claims they're trying to succeed in as well. so the chronological juxtaposition did matter to these comparisons that the confederates were drawing, but they also range quite widely. these were a people who were you know, they had the time and wealth to sit around and study ancient greece and room and so they drew comparisons to the ancients they drew comparisons to the french revolution, and i think that's part of how you know, i totally agree with what adrian was saying about were recovering what they said.
we're not imposing things on them. they really understood themselves as part of this broader 19th century movement of ideas of nationalism and dependence that of course started with the american revolution. that was major comparison point that they used as well and ran through the french revolution the latin american revolutions the european revolution's and they very deliberately were placing themselves as just the latest iteration and this string of revolutions and this age of nationalism. that's great and if i can ask a follow-up question out of why maybe my own curiosity at the beginning of your book you have this southerners looking to garibaldi a radical anti-clerical italian revolutionary as sort of their model for what they want to do and at the end of the book they're suddenly friends with pope pius 9th, and i seem to remember that those two individ those two italians didn't like each other very much.
how do you account for so the the mental gymnastics from getting to garibaldi to now the pope is our our greatest hope on earth? mental gymnastics is a good way to put it and garibaldi was actually the central figure and the mental gymnastics. i find. what happens is they start off in the revolutions of 1848 watching these events unfold a broad and analyzing which elements of this do we like which elements of this do we not like and and that analysis garibaldi emerged as really kind of the hero. i mean internationally not just in the south but for these conservative southerners, he was the military guy. he's not out there trying to create socially quality so they were able to hold him up as this really kind of relatively unthreatening symbol of the march of national independence that they liked from the revolutions of 1848. of course, then when the
american civil war breaks out garibaldi considers an offer to come fight for the united states against the confederacy, and he also continually makes his antislavery sentiments clear as well. so for the confederates garibaldi goes from this exemplar of nationalism to a hypocrite and a traitor to his own ideology really in a matter of months and what they do instead of accepting and we're really not fighting for the same thing as garibaldi what they do is they start manipulating the image of garibaldi to claim he's a hypocrite. he's fighting against his own values and therefore since he's the bad one. we can still be the good one and we can still fight for the same values. we used to think garibaldi represented. so they're changing over time and response to the unfolding
events, and that's how the pope gets wrapped up and all of this as well as the last ditch effort after britain and france have failed to offer diplomatic recognition. the idea is maybe reach out some more conservative powers. are up like the poop and we can but you know ally on the basis of our common conservatism, it's not intellectually consistent. it really is not but i think that in and of itself indicates just how committed these confederates were to these comparisons that they're continually looking for ways to continue these comparisons even when events are really disproving their claims. right right. thank you very much. it's it's fascinating cast a characters that both of you have in your books for sure. and so adrian, i'll ask you the next question one of the big themes of your book is, you know, they see themselves as a
great power and a great power like the south which is confined to a large area of north america, but one that they want to be larger still they're looking to expand they're looking to expand both territorially and they're looking to expand economically, so do you have a sense of what? you and that was a multifaceted plans. you have a sense of like what was most important to them adrian. was it grabbing that pacific port so that they could have that trade with asia and getting getting territory in the western united states. was that moving down into latin america or was that was it really, you know, they wanted to expand their role in world trade. i mean, is there is there a hierarchy of those goals? it depends on when they expected peace to come. the war determined that hierarchy for them when peace was near at hand like in the summer 62 or summer 64 they
presented themselves as a as a sort of more modest. conservative status quo powell with a lot of demarcation looking for allies offering packs, especially with the united states itself and talk about the balance of power rather than limitless expansion. talked about industrialization a balanced national economy and worried about things that might practical problems that might even encounter them like paying off the post-war debt and how will they gonna to pay pensions to soldiers? then when peace seemed remote like in the sun or 63 after the fall of vicksburg. and the planning for peace became what he was like before war broke out. and that was when they were the expansionist. where the limitless expansion or slavery that's always that and the maximum production of crops. so they're looking for markets.
they're looking for new lands in order to grow crops. it's an interconnection, obviously, so china was crucial as a market. hence the an expansion to the pacific ocean was crucial both to expand slaving state mining and at the same time open up that that sort of increasing amount of trade and in this little circle they are argue that if you open up connections if you with more countries that that interdependency will lead to an international will lead to not only peace. because they knew that war was very bad for slavery, but it would also lead to acceptance of slavery doing business with the slave power would end abolition. so my answer to your is be hierarchy changes at driven by the circumstances of the war. right. thank you so much.
i'm going to ask you both a couple short questions. i think before we move on to the audience here. but some let me let me stick with you adrian for a second here and this could be this. i know this is a long answer. i'll ask you to be sort of brief and it's when i reading your book and i'm reading a lots and all the other planners and all these great ambitious vicious schemes were expansion that you just spoke about. am i am i wrong to just think these people are hopelessly deluded or is that just me from 2020 hindsight saying that? you know, it's um, it's hard to gauge sometimes. their rhetoric versus real possibly like how realistic was it that the midwest was suddenly going to say we don't want to fight anymore and we're going to secede from the union as well or mexico is going to send troops north to help the the confederates or something like
that. if you could just speak to that a soul what they wanted to see they read what they they interpreted what they wanted to interpret and they could always explain away in action like say that the midwest and secession is never appeared. they read these conspirants, but you know conspiracy theories are credible as we know all too well today and they and they believe that they were rationalizing it they but if you like the biggest delusion of all was that they profoundly believed that they will come a point when the united states would sit down. and negotiate with them as equals and that delusion remained right until after robert e lee surrender at appomattox. and it is and so but they took it as real they could not accept. that there would not be that point when they would be treated as equals into a reunion and i
think that is and i you know just just reiterate it is hard for us to follow because of course we have a benefit of hindsight. we knew that they were deluded but if you look they actually went into actions, they they took up time and space when you would have thought they had sort of plant other things on their mind in order to announce and i do finally believe that it is they took me so seriously explains a lot about the bewilderment that engulfed confederates in april 1865 and that sort of shock of defeat that it wasn't going to be followed by negotiation. i think that opened the way to the lost cause myth to become so powerful after the war light germany and in november 1918 with the stab in the back a vacuum. he's a really dangerous thing for reinventing history and i would argue about that post war
that reconstruction era arises from this profound sense of reality that they had beforehand. great. thank you so much adrian. appreciate that. in my own work, i'm studying some of those midwestern conspiracies. so it always kind of interesting to see how the south perceived them as well and not just the lincoln administration trying to figure out whether this was a real threat or whether you know, like with the diplomatic side of things whether it's real threat of actual intervention by some major power or not, and i'm gonna build off of i'm gonna kind of shift now and build off of one of the audience questions here and there they're asking, you know to what degree did northerners and lincoln pay attention to what the confederates were saying and to what extent did they counteract it? so i think this gets to the point in what you include in your book you include a little bit about the northern perspective on how they see themselves in the international order. so could you speak to that for a little bit, please?
absolutely, certainly. it was not the northern government or the united states government priority to focus on countering these diluted good word for the international comparisons, but the north of the united states understood their nationhood and this international context as well. so of course as we've already mentioned the idea of the united states as the last best, hope of democracy for the world, and i do talk a little bit in my book about how these comparisons do and don't resonate with northerners and europeans. the reality is of course for the most part. they do not resonate there were small groups of minorities abroad and in the united states who endorsed some of these perspectives that the confederates use to justify the confederacy, but perhaps more useful for this question. i also look at southern anists
and how they create their own international perspective to justify a national vision of the south as continued and its unity with the nation of the united states and there is where we really see these ideas that were more prevalent and the north as well the idea that the united states was the last best hope for democracy for all of these oppressed nations and europe for example, and that if the experiment of republicanism failed in the united states, it would inevitably fail in the rest of the world. so that's where unionists were really arguing the south has to come back into the nation and prove that democracy can work and also starting to argue that it's the confederates who are actually the european style tyrants, so and that they were again those were the southerners who are making the arguments that would have been are similar
to the way that northerners saw themselves again still within this international context of this international contest over what nationhood means? right, and if i and i can build off of that a little bit and another one of our wonderful audience questions about we have a question asking whether all of this rhetoric was just pr for white southerners or just a way to justify their actions. was it how sincere was it? you know, that's kind of something we've gotten to already but when you talk about white southerners, you're not just talking about white native born southerners you also have some foreigners in your your book in your story as well. would you speak to what they add to this conversation? i'm thinking specifically of john mitchell, but please talk about anyone you'd like. yeah, the context here. is that the united states at the time of the civil war had a
significant immigrant population when we put together all of the immigrants and their sons who fought in the civil war were looking at almost half of the us troops and upwards of 10% and the south so that created a direct sense of connection right there. so one of the things that i look at is these foreign-born soldiers who are particularly in the north claiming they're fighting for the same values that they fought for abroad. that's a little bit harder of a case to make in the south and it's in part why it's not as widespread of a phenomenon john mitchell really becomes the spooks person on some level of this foreign-born population and the self because why he does is he was already famous as an irish nationalist. he's exile to the united states. he's a news paper man and uses his platform as a journalist to popularize his pro-slavery
views, and this was confounding to northerners abolitionists the rest of the world who already associate slavery as an opposition to values of self-government and freedom and rights, of course, so what mitchell does is by making his pro-slavery case. he says there's an there is an alternate case to be made that these deluded self-comparisons that white southerners are making are not yet quite outside the bounds of the way that nationalism was understood and the 19th century and mitchell actually does then go on to directly draw the same comparison that native born white southerners were as well. he was quite out spoken in claiming that it was the confederacy that fought for the same he had fought for maryland so again, we from our perspective certainly recognize that he was not correct in this
that the confederacy was fighting against value such as freedom and inequality and natural rights, but mitchell and his like-minded immigrant southerners were interesting and that as i say, they indicate that these ideas are outside our understanding they weren't yet outside the understanding of contemporaries in the 19th century. that was really what was that stake and the civil war was this a valid interpretation of the ideas of nationhood. great. thank you. and if i can switch over to ask adrian a similar question about the role of foreign-born confederates in in the creation of this this rhetoric of expansion great power confederacy legitimacy the confederacy as a nation henry hots is a very important figure in your book and i was again
wondering some of our people asking well, what are what is the foreign press writing about all this? and that's a lot to ask you to read, you know find articles especially in for in a different language to be able to answer that thoroughly, but do you have a sense of how successful hots was in? propagating the confederate narrative across europe is he is he speaking to himself is he being widely read? is he being read back in the confederacy as well? just tell us a little bit about it. i mean yes on henry holtz a swiss spawn, of course as you know, and he established a confederate newspaper the index in london from 1862 until that indeed after the end of war. i think what entrance your question it was it was red. i mean it was about it had a circulation about 20 fouls and so as a high end that's a sort of reasonably high circulation and excerpts of it ended up in
papers like the times the economistic cetera, and it was red also back. i mean juda benjamin franklin state read it for example back in richmond. i think the most striking thing, is that the i mean if you like they were lousy propagandists in this for foreign audience in the sense that they were up front. that the confederacy was about slavery was about expansion and was about a new and that it was a great power on its own account. it was i mean to connect with ann it was a nation among nations, but it was also seen as a vanguard of an entirely new nation. it was one about white egalitarian democracy. it was one about racial hierarchy in an era where races were going to come more into touch with each other. and so it was offering global solutions and they was of it was a very emphatic. i mean, you know, it was the emphatic message was.
it is we have a proposition for you. you are making a mistake in not taking us for what we are so that could explain there's a diplomatic failure. they were lousy diplomats. but of course everybody knew about what was going to result in hots of becoming successful will be a robbery lee one another battle or you know and if what the confederates expected was going to happen was going to pass. right, so i think i think that's that's a wonderful way to end our conversation today. i can't believe we've already hit a 245. i just want to reiterate if it's okay with the panelists that it's very clear that just as historians have shown the centrality is a slavery to the confederate national project that was very much as an aspect to the transnational attempt to do that. it was very central to it and cannot be that transnational perspective cannot be held without addressing slavery as well. so thank you both so much for speaking about your books and
speaking to these large important issues that historians grapple with today. so to wrap up. thank you adrian and everyone in our audience on facebook and zoom for watching. we really appreciate your time. please consider buying these excellent books colossal ambitions and newest born of nations. you can get them from your local independent book seller or again va book.org and you or go to the uva. to our website if you're more familiar with that you can also check out all of the upcoming and past events from this festival at va book dot org as well. so with that, thank you very much very much and adrienne and take c