In the aftermath of the War Between the States, the French came to regret their failure to militarily intervene on behalf of the Confederacy. The defeat of the Confederacy was reinterpreted as an epochal defeat for France, Europe and Western civilization as a whole.
The following excerpts comes from a fascinating book by the French historian Philippe Roger called The American Enemy: The History of French Anti-Americanism. It explains how the term “Yankee” became a pejorative synonym for American in Europe.
There is a discussion about the rise of the Yankee in world affairs, how the Yankee became synonymous with the American after the War Between the States and how the Yankee woman was perceived in Europe as a dominatrix and lascivious sovereign over the henpecked American man in a perverted society, which had menacing imperial ambitions as its gaze turned toward Old Europe.
When General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, the project of Western civilization in North America effectively came to a crashing end as the conservative resistance to liberalism crumbled. The present day United States must be seen in the context of other radical utopian social movements that swept across the Deep North in the years that followed.
After abolishing slavery and elevating African-Americans over Whites in the Southern states, the Radical Republicans turned their attention to their next three great reform movements: civil rights, temperance and women’s suffrage. That is why the 14th Amendment (black citizenship), the 15th Amendment (anti-discrimination), the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage) and the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) are now part of the Constitution. Of these utopian social movements, only Prohibition was strongly supported by the “dry” Protestant South because of all the social dysfunction that was caused by alcoholism, mutilated war veterans and intractable poverty here in the the aftermath of the war.
“The return to the Civil War after a twenty-year latency period was an inaugural moment for the anti-American discourse, which chose as its star actor its preferred villain, the Yankee. This was because, for the French commentators of the 1880s, the war’s most tangible outcome was less the abolition of slavery (they would take pleasure in saying that emancipation had destroyed the South without improving the black’s situation) than the “Yankee” takeover of the United States’ entire territory and wealth. Beyond the ideological differences, the North’s victory was retrospectively analyzed as a failure for France. Anti-Americanism was anchored in regrets over a lost opportunity. Just recently, General Robert E. Lee’s capitulation had been nothing more than the forgettable epilogue to a very foreign war. Now, all of a sudden, doubt was taking hold. What if the whole chessboard of the world had changed? Those were the questions gnawing at the tardy chroniclers of a war that had been lost not only by the South, but, it would seem, by France as well.
One regret tormented the French: their nonintervention. The republican Gaillardet’s 1883 conclusions fell in line a posteriori with Southern propaganda and the official imperial press: France ought to have thrown all its efforts into helping the South win, thereby dividing the Union. Moreover, “strictly speaking, the South was constitutionally in its rights, by the federal pact and the very act of American independence.” The former Jacobin did not shrink from the most nitpicky legalism, and his republican regrets look just like the emperor’s most cautious wishes. Napoleon III was accused not of collusion with the South, but of timid weakness toward the North: “Once Napoleon III had come to share England’s [anti-North] views, what should the two European powers have done? Not just recognize the Southern Confederacy’s independence … but also form a defensive and offensive military alliance with the Confederacy to force the North into peace.” Alas! Instead of taking this “straight and courageous path, England and France followed a different one, one that was pusillanimous and convoluted.” This was a considerable revision and a spectacular change of perspective. During the war, liberal associations and militant republicans had bitterly reproached the imperial government for its overly favorable stance toward the “slave owners” and overly reserved one toward the North. Now the accusation was reversed: the empire should have intervened on the South’s behalf and used all of France and England’s military might to tip the scales! Instead, the two countries’ inertia had allowed a fearsome reunion of the divided states to take place, under the North’s iron rule.
But it got worse. France and England were not equally responsible for the fiasco. Great Britain was obviously the loser in the situation, insofar as a reunited United States with immense resources would become its industrial competitor, hamper its trade, and before long make claims to being a great naval power. In the long run, though, the negative outcome for England would be offset by a phenomenon Gaillardet considered essential – and one that would become a French obsession in the last decade of the nineteenth century: the American continent’s Anglo-Saxonization. The new, post-Civil War United States’ imperialist impulse would be combined with the Anglo-Saxon race’s rise to power within the Union itself … Crushing the South was a decisive step in the plan for domination. But it was just one step. As early as 1865, the conquering race had started look farther afield. It was already eyeing other prey.…
In 1900, that was all over. The coexistence of very different connoted uses belonged to a forgotten past. Not that there was perfect agreement about the referent; the leeway for person interpretation remained fairly wide. (Lanson’s Yankee, for instance, is synonymous with “nouveau riche”; he is “the billionaire who has not yet cleaned himself up, the business-man who, in the struggle for money, starts seeing money as the only goal in life.”) But the very possibility of a positive use was ruled out. In fact, the inexorable shift to the pejorative had started in the 1860s. The Civil War had three main effects. Until then, the Yankee had been a geographically hazy figure, found in New England or else the “North” of the United States, or even the entire North American continent; he was now assimilated with the “Northerner,” as opposed to the “Southerner.” At the time, pro-South war propaganda definitively gave the word a negative connotation. While Lincoln’s America was singing “Yankee Doodle,” only the North’s enemies used the word Yankee in Europe. (Its supporters said “the Union” or “Federals.”) Monopolized as it was by hostile pronouncements, the term was definitively taken out of all noncontentious circulation. In the end, the last stage of an evolution spurred on by the Civil War was that the North’s victory led the French to retool the word’s meaning. The Yankees (Unionists) had become the masters of the whole country, so all of (white) America would be considered “yankee country.” We have observed this with the early anti-Americans of the 1880s: Yankee designates, with denigrating overtones, the North American in general. The word’s prior multiplicity of meanings was consolidated and stabilized: Yankee had become the generic pejorative for the Homo americanus nordicus, excluding the Indians and the blacks. . .
The fact was that in less than a generation, the American woman, still discreet in the works of writers like Gaillardet and absent from those of Mandat-Grancey, had taken center stage in French descriptions and analyses. The feminist movement and “suffragism” certainly had a hand in this, at least indirectly. It is hard to confirm, other than militant literature, most French texts written before 1914 do not mention the topic. Le Correspondant, generally attentive to all things American, flippantly evoked “the gynocratic movement,” confirming that in America it had “its most important base of operations. That is where its general staff holds its deliberations and where its assault columns against male tyranny receive their orders.” But on the whole, the French press did not bring up the topic, not even ironically. Most books about America gave it no space at all. Male chroniclers’ probable lack of interest or enthusiasm was coupled with the unshakable conviction that woman was the “real sovereign of the great Republic,” as Urbain Gohier would repeat ten years after Crosnier de Varigny.
North America was a gynocracy. This affirmation was dogmatic or at least axiomatic in France as of the 1890s. The American woman’s supremacy was thus twofold. The superiority of her “type” also corresponded to the empire she had taken over the opposite sex. The same cliche was tirelessly repeated, somewhere between fascination, fear, and reproach: the American woman ruled over the country just as she governed her home. The American man was her servant, or even her slave. The Yankee husband was not master of the house. He was lucky if he was not treated too badly! What Frédéric Gaillardet had once called the “republican duchess” had moved up from the footstool to the throne. And she occupied it as a despot rather than a sovereign.
The omnipotence the French saw American women wielding did not make them laugh, even at the husbands’ expense. This was not time for sly witticisms or colorful pleasantries; this upside-down world did not enchant its explorers. … But it was clear that their heart was not in it – that they feared the American woman was setting a bad example, and a contagious one. …
The author of La Femme aux Etats-Unis firmly believed that “the ‘dame,’ not satisfied with having also conquered the New World, is well on the way to Americanizing the old one. ” One more push and that born dominatrix would substitute the right to flirt for the rights of man and the citizen, because “the freedom to flirt is as sacred and inalienable in the United States as are the immortal principles of 1789 are in our country. …
“Mrs. Flora Thompson wants to colonize France – and probably Europe, too. Here, she is imprudently betraying the secret wishes of the most notorious of her imperialist compatriots, who not only dream of making the Old World the outlet for their industrial overproduction, but also a vacation spot! The question is whether Europe will comply.
On this point, the French clearly failed to get the joke. That Le Figaro‘s correspondent could transform a New York socialite into a Valkyrie of yankeesme speaks volumes about the place American women held in belle epoque France’s imagination. . .
A type within a type, the East Coast American woman, the supreme stage of Yankee femininity, was an icy sphinx: “There is a type of East Coast American woman, neither young nor old, with golden spectacles, I will particularly remember, as I met several examples. She has thin lips, any icy gaze, an impassive face. We can easily see in this New England gorgon the Frenchman’s classic nightmare: an unpleasant cross between the Americano-Puritan and the prudish Englishwoman “with thin lips.” The anti-Miss Betsy …
Ten years later, the 1920s would bring along the Fitzgerald era, of emancipated flappers, short hair, and crazy ideas – a little too crazy for the French. The American girl’s excessively liberated attitude rekindled blame and censure: she still embodied the “type’s perfection,” but now she was tyrannical, egotistical, arrogant, and all the more pernicious because she was desirable and cynically deployed her flagrant sexual freedom. …
A run-of-the-mill scene of carousing – the Americans do not know how to throw a party, so they get drunk – is suddenly broken by an obscene and strident streak: “Miss Diana gets up; she lifts her short skirt up to her face. She dances the most Negro steps, in white underpants. The underpants twist and gape. I see tufts, her shady crotch, her genitals. I get a joyless eyeful.” This is a strange dive into American femininity’s heart of darkness – there is even the indispensable racist touch of “Negro steps” animating the white Diana’s pallid body. …
So the American man was not having much fun. That was a known fact in France in the late nineteenth century. His home was a contentious place where he suffered his daily martyrdom of resignation. Fortunately, he was not really wanted there, and his occupations, which kept him working long hours at the office, reduced his sufferings. But was he completely innocent? At the end of the nineteenth century, more than one French traveler suggested that the American man deserved his misfortune, or that at least, because of various shortcomings, he had his part in conserving the status quo that set the wife up as domestic tyrant. Some went so far to question his desire for women. To the question, “Is the American a good husband”? Jules Haret responded with this tactful parable: “A man says: I love to read and he reads two or three books a year. Do we really think he loves it? No. However, he believes it, and he is sincere.”
For the Frenchman describing it, the American man’s situation did not arouse any notable commiseration or sympathy. Perhaps because the same man – a docile and self-effacing husband, a domestic serf deprived in his own home of all the sexual and/or gastronomic satisfactions that could justify marriage – turned back into a menacing predator once he left the house: vir americanus horribilis. Never trust a man would around his wife’s finger. When he unleashed on the outside world the energy he did not use in his private life, the maritally subjugated Yankee became a fearsome overlord. Though self-effacing and shy, unrecognizable in his domestic setting, as soon as he was outside he turned into a wild beast, recognizable at a glance.”
“The billionaire who has not yet cleaned himself up”
“The businessman who, in the struggle for money, starts seeing money as the only goal in life. …”
“A type within a type, the East Coast American woman, the supreme stage of Yankee femininity, was an icy sphinx: “There is a type of East Coast American woman, neither young nor old, with golden spectacles, I will particularly remember, as I met several examples. She has thin lips, any icy gaze, an impassive face.”
“We can easily see in this New England gorgon the Frenchman’s classic nightmare: an unpleasant cross between the Americano-Puritan and the prudish Englishwoman “with thin lips.” The anti-Miss Betsy …”
It is worth noting here that so many American social trends like gender equality which we think are new are quite old. The French were already horrified and alarmed by it in the late 19th century. The War Between the States was seen as a missed opportunity to check the social contagion at the Potomac before the excesses of democracy spilled over across the Atlantic and infected Western Europe.
Here’s another excerpt from The American Enemy by Alexis de Tocqueville’s aristocratic cousin, the Baron de Mandat-Grancey, and his impressions of the United States:
“Past acquaintances with the United States had given Frédéric Gaillardet a head start, but his anti-American venture would not be a solo one for long. Ten years later there would a great editorial rush toward America, the Uncle Sam rush. For the moment, Gaillardet had to make do with the unexpected Edmond de Mandat-Grancey as a traveling companion.
A distant cousin of Tocqueville, whose ideas he boasted of not sharing, the Baron de Mandat-Grancey was an ultraconservative. A serene racist and confirmed antidemocrat (he predicted the rapid demise of New York, an inevitable result of “the spirit of heedlessness which is inherent in democratic governments”), he seemed more interested in the enhancement of the equine race than in the workings of America’s social and political institutions. Spry and instructive, he peppered his travel diaries with remarks that gave off the whiff of high society. Thus he disapprovingly noted that in New York one saw “very few private carriages” and that “those one does see are ill-harnessed, ill-kept, and driven by coachmen with unspeakable mustaches.” Elsewhere, he waxed indignant over “the incommensurable culinary ignorance” of Chicago’s 600,000 inhabitants, who had never prepared crayfish à la bordelaise, despite the fact that ” all the streams in the vicinity are literally crawling with the admirable crustaceans.” It would take all the irascible baron’s aplomb to articulate such grievances with solemn gravity and use them to flesh out the docket in his case against the United States. …
These authors’ treatment of the “black question” was both more brutal and circuitous. Mandat-Grancey’s racism was not paved with a single good intention. He did not mince words, declaring the black race “absolutely inferior to the white race.” Abolitionism was an abomination to the baron, who had not forgiven Victor Hugo (and this in 1885, when France gave Hugo a state funeral) for having “spilled so many tears over the misfortunes of John Brown and all the Dombrowskis and Crapulskis of the Commune.” It speaks volumes about Mandat-Grancey’s intellectual universe that he would associate Communards with unpronounceable names with the famous abolitionist hanged in 1859 in Charlestown for having roused the blacks to insurrection. But this fundamental racism, loudly and clearly expressed, did not stop the very same Mandat-Grancey from placing the entire responsibility for the unworkable and explosive situation created by the “black question” on the hated Yankee’s shoulders. Without the North’s hypocritical propaganda, the blacks would have stayed in their place. It was the Yankees who had opened Pandora’s box, and in this sense, they were more hateful than the former slaves misled by their promises. How could you blame the Southerners for taking a few steps toward self-defense – such as creating the Ku Klux Klan – in reaction to the unbearable “state of things”? And how could you avoid fantasizing (aloud) about the Yankees’ annihilation by the very people they had purported to want to free at any price? “If this continues,” Mandat-Grancey glibly prophesized, “the Yankees, who struggled so hard to free the blacks, will be conquered by them like the Tartars were by the Chinese, or else they will have to suppress universal suffrage.”
After substituting the Indians for the cowboys, why not replace the Yankees with the blacks? At least the choice he was offering America’s Anglo-Saxons had the merit of being clear-cut. They could choose between their own demise or the destruction of their founding institutions, starting with the tradition of “one man, one vote.” The blacks would practically find favor (a very temporary one) in Mandat-Grancey’s eyes. Immanent justice that they should be ones to inflict punishment on the self-same Yankees who had, in more than one sense of the word, unleashed them. Frédéric Gaillardet had been satisfied with a less apocalyptic historical irony in stressing the fact that the freed blacks had used their right to vote in favor of their former masters. But for both writers, there was the same dialectic, in which the Yankees were presented both as the exterminators of the non-Anglo Saxon races and the sorcerer’s apprentices of a false and calamitous emancipation. …
Their views about the Civil War’s being a missed opportunity were also identical. Mandat-Grancey’s sympathies are less unexpected than Gaillardet’s: how could a conservative aristocrat not be on the Confederates’ side? Like Gaillardet, then, he reshuffled the diplomatic cards; he recast and replayed France’s had with big swipes of “we should have” and “we would only have had to.” For “we would only have had to unequivocally back [the Confederates] to make America permanently split into two rival States which would have mutually paralyzed each other, and of which one, made up of populations with preponderantly French roots, would have been a precious ally for us.” Self-interest and honor worked together here: “Having started the war in Mexico, it was the only way of getting out of it honorably.” So it was the same old story? No! France’s spinelessness was what had allowed a devouring monster to come to life – “the reconstructed United States.” It had now “achieved the economic conquest of Mexico by constructing its network of railroads, and soon it will take over the Isthmus of Panama in order to profit from the millions we are so madly spending there.” But Mandat-Grancey was a better prophet in announcing France’s misfortunes than in wishing them on the United States. The Panama Canal would be taken over in the end, as he had predicted, but the secession of the American West, which he considered just as inevitable, would not take place. In Mandat-Grancey’s opinion, France had played its cards so badly during the 1865 conflict that it would only have been sporting of America to give it a second chance with an encore of the Civil War – but his wish would remain unspoken …”
As we have already seen, the Southern elite at the time boasted about being descended from the Norman race and identified with the classical Latin definition of the term “liberty” and saw itself as the champion of classical Greco-Roman civilization as opposed to Yankee liberal modernism. It wasn’t interested in American expansion across the Pacific and Atlantic.
A Southern Confederacy would have never gotten involved in World War I or World War II. The South only supported these wars in the 20th century out of loyalty to the Democratic Party and because of its domestic agenda of wealth redistribution due to the crushing poverty that was created here by the free-market capitalist system after the War Between the States. While the South may have dreamed of creating a Caribbean empire, Southern expansion would have been easily blocked by Britain and France and an independent South would have been too distracted by the military threat posed by the North. Similarly, the diminished Union would have never been able to intervene in World War I.
The defeat of Robert E. Lee at Appomatox really did change “the whole chessboard of the world” and the dust had barely settled from the War Between the States before the Union Army was driving the French out of Mexico and putting down the Plains Indians, Alaska was annexed to the United States only to later be followed by Hawaii, Ulysses S. Grant attempted to purchase the Dominican Republic and soon came the Yankee flood into the Caribbean and Latin America whether it was through creating Panama, occupying Haiti, Dollar Diplomacy in Central America or most notoriously the Spanish-American War which made Puerto Rico an American colony and extended the US Empire to the Philippines. The assault on the Spanish Empire in Cuba was a preview of how Yankee imperialism would operate down to the present day with lies and hypocritical moralizing in its war propaganda against Iran.