How the Civil War Changed the World – NYTimes.com

Giuseppe Garibaldi Credit Library of Congress

Even while the Civil War raged, slaves in Cuba could be heard singing, “Avanza, Lincoln, avanza! Tu eres nuestra esperanza!” (Onward, Lincoln, Onward! You are our hope!) – as if they knew, even before the soldiers fighting the war far to the North and long before most politicians understood, that the war in America would change their lives, and the world.

The secession crisis of 1860-1861 threatened to be a major setback to the world antislavery movement, and it imperiled the whole experiment in democracy. If slavery was allowed to exist, and if the world’s leading democracy could fall apart over the issue, what hope did freedom have? European powers wasted no time in taking advantage of the debacle. France and Britain immediately each sent fleets of warships with the official purpose of observing the imminent war in America. In Paris, A New York Times correspondent who went by the byline “Malakoff” thought that the French and British observers “may be intended as a sort of escort of honor for the funeral of the Great Republic.”

Spain, its fleets already in position in Havana, struck first that March, landing in the Dominican Republic and proclaiming that its former colony had returned to Spanish rule. Seeing no sign of resistance from the Lincoln administration, France, Spain and Britain met in…

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