The story of the Confederacy is essentially the story of the loss of the Civil War. Even with its early military triumphs, the Confederacy experienced trying days. It never won recognition as an independent government, although Southerners had been confident that "king cotton" would bring this about. In 1861 they instituted an embargo on the export of cotton and voluntarily limited cultivation of the staple on the theory that these self-imposed and unofficial restrictions would make a cotton-hungry England eager to acknowledge the new nation that could supply in abundance the most important raw material in Britain's industrial system. The British, however, were well provided with cotton from previous boom years, and when their stocks finally were depleted, other sources of supply became available.
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation enhanced the Union cause in the eyes of the average Briton, and the British government, no matter how pro-Confederate some of its individual members were, was not disposed to fly in the face of popular opinion. The Confederate cruisers built or bought in England were a scourge to the U.S. merchant marine, and later at the settlement of the Alabama claims, Great Britain was adjudged partly responsible for their depredations; but beyond this the Confederate missions of James M. Mason, John Slidell, William L. Yancey, and others in Europe achieved little. Napoleon III would probably have followed Britain in recognizing the Confederacy, but not even the Confederate offer to recognize the French-dominated government of Maximilian in Mexico could induce the emperor to go off on this diplomatic venture alone.
On the other hand, both the British and French recognized the blockade of the South, which the Union had proclaimed at the beginning of the war. This was particularly galling to Southerners because at first the blockade was not very effective; it is estimated that not more than a tenth of the ships running the blockade in 1861 were captured. But as the war progressed the blockade became more effective, and by 1865 one of every two blockade runners was being taken. When, in Oct., 1863, Davis expelled the British consuls who had remained in the South, the Confederacy had resigned itself to European nonrecognition, which was mostly influenced by the rising tide of Union successes in the war.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.