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The Slavery Problem in the Diplomacy of the American Civil War

O n e o f t h e c e n t r a l concerns in studies o f the diplomacy of the American Civil War has been the relative importance o f the slavery question in the determ ination and conduct o f European-Am erican relations. Most scholars agree that for various purely domestic reasons, the federal government initially chose not to present the American conflict abroad as an antislavery crusade. O ne school o f historians argues that as the war progressed, this tactic became increasingly self-defeating. By em phasizing the preservation of the Union and not highlight­ ing the m oral differences between the Union and Confederate causes, the federal government lost liberal and working-class support in Europe, thus permitting conservative governments, whose leaders despised American democracy as much as they disliked southern slavery, to adopt programs that aided the Confederacy. Only after Lincoln committed the United States to the immediate aboliton o f slavery in the South did the tide o f European opinion tu rn and force European officials to re trea t to a more neutral posture.1