Ohio History Journal

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Associate Professor of Speech, Oberlin College

Among the incongruities facing Abraham Lincoln in 1861

was the fact that his minister to Mexico would hold America's

most important diplomatic post.1 Although France and England,

the chief consumers of southern cotton, were powerful nations,

possessed of great maritime strength, in the event of a Union

blockade of the South they could continue the cotton trade only

through the gateway of Mexico. The bitter memories of the

forties, when her northern provinces were lost to Yankee Manifest

Destiny, made it not inconceivable that Mexico would be willing

to aid the South by opening the gate. Confederate leaders were

alert to this possibility; they made the winning of Mexican

friendship a focal point of their diplomacy. If France could be

persuaded that the Civil War nullified the Monroe Doctrine, the

southerners reasoned, she might intervene in Mexico; then Con-

federate support for Napoleon III and his dreams of empire

might be traded for French recognition of the Confederate

States. If France recognized the South, the hope went, Great

Britain would surely follow. Thus a southern diplomatic triumph

in Europe might be born in Mexico.2 It is not to be wondered,

then, that Lincoln believed the mission to Mexico "perhaps the

most interesting and important one within the whole circle of

our international relations."3

To this critical post President Lincoln appointed Thomas

Corwin, the colorful and popular "Wagon Boy of Ohio." From

his first election in 1821 to the Ohio legislature on an anti-

1 Carl Schurz to Mrs. Schurz, March 28, 1861, in Joseph Schafer, ed., Intimate

Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869 (Vol. XXX, Collections of the State Historical

Society of Wisconsin, Madison, 1928), 252-253.

2 See Burton J. Hendrick, Statesmen of the Lost Cause: Jefferson Davis and

His Cabinet (New York, 1939), 109-117.

3 William H. Seward to Thomas Corwin, April 6, 1861, in Senate Executive

Documents, 37 cong., 2 sess., No. 1, I, 67.