“We do not want to give a more liberal construction of the meaning of neutrality than was given by the French Government when we were in trouble."When the Civil War broke out, and in its first years, the inclination of the French government was to sympathize with, and even recognize, the Confederacy for two important reasons, the first being economic and the second diplomatic. On the economic side, the Union blockade cut off most cotton supplies to French textile mills, causing a cotton famine. Mills saw prices of cotton double by 1862 and were forced to lay off many workers, causing major dislocation on national and local levels. As a result, many French industrialists and politicians were favorable to a quick Southern victory. On the diplomatic side, Emperor Napoleon III saw Central America as an area where French influence and power could shine, without causing another rift and war with Britain. He hoped to build a transoceanic canal, and be the fulcrum of trade between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Looking for a pretext for his plan to create a French client state in Mexico, he found one when Mexican President Benito Juarez suspended interest payments on its foreign debts in 1861. Napoleon landed French troops in December of that year and installed Austrian Archduke Maximilian Ferdinand as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, much to the delight of Mexican monarchists and the Catholic Church. The United States refused to recognize Maximilian's government and covertly supported Juarez' efforts to overthrow him. But distracted by civil war, there was little the Union could concretely do to thwart French ambitions in Mexico. The Confederacy, on the other hand, tolerated the idea of a French presence in Mexico rather than resisted it, so to France a Confederate victory would install a friendly power on the northern border of Mexico.The French were, however, nominally neutral, so the Confederate delegate in Paris, John Slidell, was not officially received. However, he made offers to Napoleon III that in exchange for French recognition of the Confederate States and naval help sent to break the blockade, the Confederacy would sell raw cotton to France. The French were interested, and after the Trent Affair in November 1861 threatened to drag Britain into a conflict against the Union, the French would have been glad to act in concert with Britain in a confrontation with the United States. But France refused to move without Britain’s taking the lead, and the British, who had many both inside and outside the government opposing a war with the U.S. (including the influential Prince Albert), held back. When the Union captured French-influenced New Orleans in spring 1862, French diplomacy refused the Confederate plan, but Slidell did succeed in negotiating a loan of $15,000,000 from French capitalists, with the government offering no impediment. The French later sold the Confederacy an ironclad, much to Union irritation.With the surrender of Confederate forces in 1865, the United States was once again able to focus on affairs on its southern border. While ostensibly neutral, many Americans continued to support efforts to rid Mexico of the French and their puppets. Because the French controlled Mexican ports, the only viable means of supplying liberal forces was overland. U.S. Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Philip H. Sheridan bypassed Secretary of State William H. Seward and began covert support of Juarez along the Texas-Mexico border. The French complained that this was a violation of neutrality.On October 11, 1865, General Irwin McDowell, acquiescing to French diplomatic protests (likely at a State Department request), and seeking to ensure American neutrality, ordered that no more aid flow into Mexico for the rebels: ”It is made the duty of the officers commanding the Districts of Arizona and Southern California - whilst keeping in view the recent orders allowing the exportation of arms and munitions of war, to instruct the commanders on the southern frontiers within this department, to take the necessary measures to preserve the neutrality of the United States with respect to the parties engaged in the existing war in Mexico, and to suffer no armed parties to pass the frontier from the United States, or suffer any arms or munitions of war to be sent over the frontier to either belligerent. This is not to prevent individuals from passing with arms for their personal protection." Grant was having none of this coddling the French, after they had given the U.S. such a hard time during the Civil War. Even more importantly, Grant was also mindful that Maximilian was inviting former Confederates into Mexico, and a number of generals (including Joseph Shelby and Matthew Maury) and about 2,500 ex-Confederate soldiers fled south to Mexico, some with the vain hope of continuing the Civil War from there. This created the potential for plots and cross-border raids, or worse, for a remastering of Confederate forces. Maximilian himself may have had designs on the American South as well. Autograph letter signed, as General of the Army, on "Head Quarters Armies of the United States" letterhead, Washington, November 13, 1865 to Major General Henry W. Halleck, then commander of the Military Division of the Pacific, concerning McDowell’s order. "The New York Herald of the 11th contains the enclosed order No 17 Oct. 11, 1865 [not present] purporting to have been issued by order of Maj. Gen. McDowell. If such an order has been issued it should be revoked at once. France has taken to steps to prevent rebels purchasing and receiving whatever they could pay for, and it should not be our policy to prevent the Liberals of Mexico from getting all they need from us. We do not want to give a more liberal construction of the meaning of neutrality than was given by the French Government when we were in trouble."By early 1866, the intervention in Mexico had grown unpopular with the French public, and was an increasing drain on the French treasury. Meanwhile, Liberal military victories made Maximilian’s position increasingly difficult. On January 31, 1866, Napoleon III ordered the withdrawal of French troops, to be conducted in three stages from November 1866 to November 1867. Maximilian had large forces, and it was believed that he would be able to carry on the war without French troops on the ground. France wanted assurance that the U.S. would not disturb the situation in Mexico while it was withdrawing from the country. The State Department was sympathetic to this request, and by April 1866 had acknowledged that the withdrawal was actually taking place. Juarez’s forces soon triumphed, and in June 1867 executed Maximilian by firing squad.This letter is from the library of John Augustin Daly, one of the most important figures in nineteenth-century American theater, who worked as a critic, manager, playwright and stage director. At the time of his death, he owned two major theaters, one in New York and the other in London and is considered personally responsible for the careers of such acting greats as John Drew Jr. Maurice Barrymore, Fanny Davenport, Maude Adams, Sara Jewett, Isadora Duncan, Tyrone Power, Sr. and many others. Daly was also an avid book lover and collector, amassing an enormous library over the course of his career. That collection was dispersed in an epic, two-week auction at the American Art Association in New York in March 1900. The present letter was part of an extra-illustrated volume, described in the catalog as a "Unique copy, with autograph letters of all the Presidents inserted..." Walter Benjamin, writing in The Collector, described the sale as a "blaze of glory, due to the total having reached nearly $200,000." The extra-illustrated volume fetched $850, nearly four times above the going rate for presidential sets at the time (Benjamin quipped that they normally realized around $250). The purchaser quickly resold the volume for $1,000. (The Collector, New York, May 1900, 1-2). (Inventory #: 11152)
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