Embargoes and Sanctions - The civil war




For decades after the War of 1812, peace in Europe gave the United States a chance to expend its diplomatic energies on westward expansion, where it did not need economic weapons. Population pressure and diplomatic maneuvering were often adequate, and where they failed, outright military action was possible because these areas were physically contiguous. Not until the Civil War was the weapon of economic sanctions once again taken up, this time by the Confederacy. The South was convinced that "cotton was king" and essential to both British and French industry. After the North instituted a blockade of the entire Confederacy, the South decided to enhance that blockade by embargoing exports of cotton. The Confederacy urged southerners not to plant cotton until the war was over, and they burned more than two and a half million bales. Unfortunately for the South, the bumper crop shipped in 1860 had already given Great Britain an oversupply of cotton, and cotton factors actually welcomed the shortage as a chance to reduce their supplies. Shortages did begin to occur by 1862. Four hundred thousand workers lost their jobs. Many of these workers advocated British intervention on behalf of the South to restore the cotton supplies; but their political impotence, the increasing supplies of cotton from Egypt, and the growing realization that the South would lose the war doomed their efforts. As the war went on, even southerners found the embargo too painful, and they cooperated in running more than a million and a half bales of cotton through the northern blockade. Once again an economic sanction had proved to be a disastrous failure.

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