Wednesday, January 04, 2012


Napoleon III

A question that a friend of mine once recently asked was “Why did the USA not intervene during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, even though France intervened on the American side during the Revolutionary war of 1775-1783?”

Actually in the USA at the time, 1870-1871, the attitude was not to get involved in European disputes at all. There was a distinct aversion to European disputes. Basically the American attitude was to have nothing to do with such stuff unless it was directly affecting American interests.

The classic example of that was the Revolutionary / Napoleonic war period. Basically such things as the Quasi war with France, (Over French Privateers attacking American merchant ships), the Barbary War, (Over Barbary Pirates attacking American ships and seizing American nationals), and the Napoleonic Continental system and the British blockade, which severely affected American trade and involved the seizing of American ships, (It also involved the British searching American ships and seizing alleged fugitives from the British Navy). The result was Jefferson's Embargo of 1807-1808, and of course the war of 1812. All this left a very bad taste in the mouth of Americans towards getting involved with European disputes.1

The fact that Napoleon III had followed a pro-Confederate policy and then intervened in i.e., invaded Mexico didn't help. Americans did not want the European powers intervening or attempting to re-impose European authority over Latin America. The Monroe doctrine and all that. This policy was given teeth by British support in the first generation after the doctrine was publicly declared. Napoleon III's intervention annoyed many in the USA. It also annoyed Britain who made it perfectly clear they wouldn’t mind the USA getting Napoleon III out of Mexico.2

So to sum up the USA had a strong aversion to European and frankly all Old World entanglements and Napoleon III had made himself rather unpopular in the USA on top of that.3

Britain was not particularly worried about Napoleon III's fall either because it knew Napoleon III had wanted to annex Belgium and the Rhineland, both ideas which the British viewed has utterly unacceptable. Napoleon III had pursued for years a very bad foreign policy that left France isolated in the face of Prussia under Bismarck. Although Britain like the rest of Europe was surprised by the speed and completeness of the Prussian victory.4

Bismarck's peace terms with France were actually fairly moderate, with one huge and very important exception. That being the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. This was if not Bismarck's worst mistake one of his worst.5

Regarding what America's response to the fall of Napoleon III, the general response was serves him right.

1.  1. Berton, Pierre, The Invasion of Canada, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1980, pp. 19-29.

2. 2. McPherson, James M, Battle Cry of Freedom, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, 553-554, 683-684.

3.  3. IBID.

4.  4. Craig, Gordon A, Germany 1866-1945, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1978, pp. 19-37.

5.  5. IBID.

Pierre Cloutier

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