Date of Award

Fall 1997

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Harold Wilson

Committee Member

Lorraine M. Lees

Committee Member

Craig M. Cameron

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.H47 P527


Although unintentional, no single individual had a larger, if not unrecognized, effect on American interpretation of international law and neutral rights in the later half of the nineteenth century than Charles Wilkes. During his command of the West India "Flying" Squadron, Wilkes used his own form of "gunboat diplomacy," contrary to the established American policy on maritime commerce and warfare, to disrupt Confederate commerce raiding, blockade running, and neutral support. These efforts created depredations on the rights of neutrals, primarily the British, that met with the tacit approval of his superiors. This was primarily due to the unwillingness of the British government to enforce their own neutrality laws. Wilkes aided the northern war effort through his enthusiastic interpretation of neutral rights and through the resultant aberration of American policy, set the precedent for numerous British violations of neutral rights prior to the entry of the United States in World War I. This study is based on primary source material.


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