The Effect of the Battle at Antietam
The effects of the bloodiest battle in American military history spread all over the world; however, the resulting Emancipation Proclamation, in particular, had an enormous impact on Britain’s decision to not recognize the Confederacy as a nation. During a low point for the Union, the birth of this pivotal piece of anti-slavery legislation from the Battle at Antietam helped deter Britain from intervening. The Battle at Antietam and the resulting Proclamation were colossal victories for the Union as they discouraged the intervention of the British, preventing potential war between the United States and Great Britain.
In 1862, during the time of the Battle at Antietam, the British Cabinet was immensely divided. Half wanted to stay neutral, while half were considering intervention. According to Kinley Brauer, Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister, and Lord John Russell, Great Britain’s Foreign Secretary proposed European aid to America in the fall of 1862. They eventually decided after three months to maintain “cautious neutrality.” To gain support for mediation, Palmerston had to be able to convince the Cabinet the North would not mind receiving British intervention (Brauer). British leaders thought that the North could not dominate the South militarily but rather drag the war out long enough for the South to “sue for peace.” This, of course, was not the case, as the victory at Antietam convinced Lord Palmerston that the South would not be winning the Civil War (Brauer). Because of the unexpected Union victory at Antietam, intervention became more and more unlikely. According to Brauer’s article, the British saw that by August of 1862 that a “stalemate had been reached.” The British came to the conclusion that South could not overtake the North. More importantly, they became aware of Lincoln’s will to continue the war. Thus, doubt began to linger in the forefront of the minds of the British. Consequently, intervention was delayed. Moreover, Lincoln’s ideas about ending slavery caused Britain to hesitate (Brauer).
Two major reasons contributed to Britain seeking intervention as a result of the Battle at Antietam. First is the fact that America practiced slavery. In a letter from Secretary of State William H. Seward to Henry Adams 18 August 1862, Seward wrote, “I cannot avoid thinking that the ideas of intervention and mediation have their source in an imperfect conception in Europe of the independence of the American Nation” (Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs). It is important to remember that both Britain and France were anti-slavery at the time. Slavery was viewed as one of America’s most noticeable imperfections.
Secondly, the cotton famine was severely affecting the British. When the Union captured New Orleans, cotton flow to Britain was still not returned as promised by Seward. Throughout the summer, pressure built for Britain and France to mediate a settlement, which would...