Don H. Doyle. American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe and the Crisis of the 1860s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. 272 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4696-3108-0; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4696-3109-7.
Reviewed by Ian Iverson (University of Virginia)
Published on H-War (September, 2020)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)
The Critical 1860s in Global Perspective
Far too often, laypeople and historians alike imagine that the American Civil War occurred in a vacuum, divorced from the dynamics of global development in the mid-nineteenth century. American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, and the Crisis of the 1860s, edited by Don H. Doyle, situates the United States’ bloody internal conflict in the wider context of the Atlantic world. This collection of eleven essays recaptures the contingencies of a moment when it appeared that European colonial powers might reemerge as the dominant force in the Western Hemisphere as internecine conflicts tore apart Mexico, Santo Domingo, and several South American republics. Although the authors offer detailed analyses of disparate events spread across thousands of miles, their works combine and connect to portray a period of global upheaval in which the American Civil War played a sometimes unexpected, but always decisive, role.
Jay Sexton’s essay, “The Civil War and U.S. World Power,” artfully complements Don H. Doyle’s introduction by framing the Civil War as a question of future American power. Union victory, an outcome unthinkable for most foreign actors in 1861, eventually set the stage for US expansion into the Pacific and added weight to the Monroe Doctrine, a policy flagrantly violated between the firing on Fort Sumter and Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. According to Richard Huzzey, Great Britain’s recognition of US preeminence in the aftermath of the Civil War pushed the empire toward confederation in Canada and a policy of “inter-imperialism,” which sought “to complement or direct” US power in the Western Hemisphere (p. 99).
Still, the power vacuum created by the apparent division of the United States in the aftermath of secession prompted an “interventionist crisis” among the powers of Europe, documented in Howard Jones’s essay. Patrick J. Kelly describes how the Confederacy initially sought to turn European intervention in Latin America to their advantage but could not convince foreign courts that they had suddenly repudiated the past half-century’s demands for Southern expansion. France and Spain, in particular, sought to take advantage of American weakness to revive their imperial fortunes in the Americas. Stève Sainlaude’s overview of Napoleon III’s Grand Design for Mexico, along with Erika Pani’s essay on the conflict between liberal republican and conservative monarchist elements in that country, reveals the scope of French imperial ambitions in the Americas. Similarly, the essays of Christopher Schmidt-Nowara and Anne Eller shed light on Spain’s brief imperial resurgence in Mexico, Peru, and Santo Domingo and its efforts to reimpose monarchic authority throughout its former colonies. Hilda Sabato’s essay aptly describes the military responses of the Latin American republics to these challenges and the consequences of professional militaries superseding roles traditionally occupied by citizen militias.
The two major Western slave societies outside of the American South in 1861, Spanish Cuba and imperial Brazil, also receive careful examinations in essays by Matt D. Childs and Rafael Marquese. Childs argues that in Cuba, “the American Civil War of the 1860s created a crisis” that placed “the abolition of slavery on the political horizon” (p. 206). After breathing new life into slavery, the collapse of the American South's slave society from 1861 to 1865 undermined efforts to maintain the institution elsewhere in the hemisphere. In the case of Brazil, Marquese points to the pressures imposed by American Reconstruction on Brazilian parliamentarians negotiating the end to slavery in their own country.
Indeed, the strongest aspects of this work emerge from the connections across the essays. The underlying contests between republicanism and monarchy, freedom and slavery, shine through in each work. Although often growing out of domestic contests, the conflicts of this era resonated across continents and oceans as the aftershocks of battlefield victories traveled far beyond established borders.
This volume will help to familiarize American Civil War historians to the global implications of the conflict and the ripple effects of Union and Confederate diplomatic efforts. It might also appeal to historians of nineteenth-century Europe or Latin America teaching in the United States as they connect their own course materials to events already familiar to their undergraduate students. It deserves a place on the shelf of any scholar of the nineteenth-century Atlantic world.
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Ian Iverson. Review of Doyle, Don H., American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe and the Crisis of the 1860s.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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