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Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.
[Extract.] No. 91.]
Paris, December 6, 1861.
, 6 SIR : I felt it a duty to call on Mr. Thouvenel to-day, in reference to the views and position of France, as respects our unfortunate difficulty with England. I had understood that the French government had expressed its views to Lord Cowley, and thought, therefore, that it would have no objections to doing the same to me. Mr. Thouvenel said at once that the taking of Messrs. Slidell and Mason off a British ship was the affair of England, not theirs, but he had no hesitation in saying that it was the opinion of the French government that the act was a clear breach of international law; that the French government could not permit the application of such a principle to their ships. He added that all the foreign maritime powers with which he had conferred agreed that the act was a violation of public law. He said, furthermore, that he had at once communicated these views to Mr. Mercier. In view of what bad been the past conduct of the British and French governments in our affairs, and their joint action in the affairs of other nations, I thought it best to ask bluntly whether, in the event of a war with England, we were to expect France to go beyond the expression of her opinion? Whether she would or would not be a neutral power ? He said, of course, it was not their affair; they would be spectators only; though not indifferent spectators; the moral force of their opinions would be against us. I told him that had I known he had communicated his views through Mr. Mercier, I should not have troubled him with this interview. With much respect, I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
WM. L. DAYTON. His Excellency WM. H. SEWARD,
Secretary of State, Sc., sc.
Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.
[Extracts.] No. 95.]
PARIS, December 11, 1861. Sir: I enclosed you by the despatch bag yesterday a copy of the “Constitutionnel,” containing an article (marked) of a very obnoxious character.
That article, as you will observe if you have had time to look it over, advocates the policy of France making common cause with England against us. It looks likewise to the early recognition, by France and Great Britain, of the south as an independent power. The Constitutionnel is understood here to have a semi-official character. * I intended to have said this to you yesterday, but time failed me.
General Scott will have arrived in the United States doubtless before this despatch; will you say to him that I last evening received a note from Mr. Thouvenel, naming two o'clock to-day to receive him; at which hour I attended at the foreign office and returned his thanks, &c.
Mr. Thouvenel was quite disappointed at not seeing him, and said that the Emperor had promptly assented to give him a private interview. I explained at the same time that his departure for his own country had been sudden and unexpected. The general's letter, as I have heretofore said, has made here a good impression. The belief is that he is peacefully disposed, and I have no doubt that his sudden return to the United States will be considered as having been made in the hope of exercising a mollifying influence upon the temper and policy of his countrymen. It is well that it should I have the honor to be, with much respect, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM L. DAYTON. His Excellency WILLIAM H. SEWARD,
Secretary of State, foc., fc., fc.
Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
Washington, December 26, 1861. Sir: Your despatch of December 6 (No. 91) was duly received. In previous papers of this date I have already exhausted what is needful to be said on the several subjects discussed in it, except one, namely: that of the confidential note of Mr. Thouvenel to Mr. Mercier, read by him to me, and my reply thereto, read by you to Mr. Thouvenel.
Important events roll on so rapidly, each crowding the other so entirely out of view, that this government can see no reason to desire any further prosecution of the subject opened in those papers. I am, sir, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD. WILLIAM L. DAYTON, Esq., fc., 8c., fc.
Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton.
[Extract.] No 95.]
DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
Washington, December 28, 1861. Sir;
You have rightly conjectured that the subject of our relations with Great Britain, as affected by recent events, at present engages the chief attention of the government, so far as foreign affairs are concerned. I am, sir, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD. William L. Dayton, Esq., &c., &c., &c.
Mr. Seward to Mr. Daylon. No. 100.]
DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
Washington, January 2, 1862. SIR: In bringing up arrears of correspondence, it is a pleasant duty to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch, of the 25th of November, No. 86, and to express to you the President's satisfaction with your proceeding in regard to the reply to Mr. Thouvenel's confidential conversation. I am, sir, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD. WILLIAM L. Dayton, Esq., 80., 8c., fc.
Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton. No. 104.]
DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
Washington, January 23, 1862. SIR: Your despatch of January 2 (No. 97) is before me.
Its subject is the condition of our affairs abroad. This foreign aspect must of course bave somewhat changed when the action of this government in regard to the search and detention of the British steamer Trent became known in Europe. Recent military occurrences here will probably have sume modifying influences there. Practically, the whole coast of the insurtectionary States is falling into the possession of the federal forces. The expedition under Burnside is in Albemarle sound, and we trust that it will produce some decisive results.
The government is co-operating with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company in restoring this important communication between Baltimore and the Ohio, which will soon be effected.
But the great events of the day are, first, the determined vote of Congress to sustain the government by a tax of one hundred and fifty millions of dollars, which will be adequate to preserve the national finances during the vigorous prosecution of the war.
And secondly, the removal of the obstructions raised by the insurgents on the banks of the Cumberland river, to prevent the entrance of federal columus into eastern Tennessee. The victory of General Thomas at Mill Spring was a very gratifying affair ; but its brilliancy is surpassed by its strategic importance. You will see at once that it opens the way to eastern Tennessee, and so to the cutting off of supplies and reinforcements for the insurgent army of the Potomac. You will not err in assuming that this great movement is one having no isolated purpose, but that it is a part in a general system which contemplates the bringing of all the federal forces promptly into activity, with a view to the complete restoration of the federal Authority throughout the country. It is not in our power to control the policies of European cabinets. They acted precipitately in May last, and thus aggravated and prolonged our troubles. It is to be hoped that they will allow themselves now to understand the resources and the energies which have enabled us to recover from those injuries and to hem in the insurrection on all sides, so that it must be soon exhausted and defeated: The spirit of the nation, however, is sufficiently roused so as to enable us to meet and overcome all adverse designs, of whatever kind, from whatever quarter. I am, sir, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.
Paris, January 27, 1862. Sir: Since my despatch of the 18th instant I have received yours, (No. 97,) and cannot but feel gratified that our views expressed in those despatches, crossing each other in their way, should have so nearly conformed. When I expressed the wish that permission to trade with certain ports of the south might be granted if it could be done without too great bazard to paramount interests, I had not ventured to hope that such wish would so soon find in effect a corresponding response from yourself. Your despatch came in good time. It is not to be denied that recently things here have had an unfavorable look for our interests. The effect of the blockade, the permanent destruction of the harbor at Charleston, the hopelessness of our cause, all taken for granted, and all impressed upon the public mind here by the English press, have had a damaging influence. Whether anything will be developed by the action of this government I know not; but it is not to be doubted that it has had under serious consideration the question of the blockade and of recognition. Your despatch afforded me an excuse for asking of Mr. Thouvenel a special interview. It was granted for Friday last, when I had with him a long conference, and, I think, made an impression on his mind in reference, at all events, to certain points.
I suggested to him, according to your directions, the propriety of calling the attention of the British government to the suggestion in your note to Mr. Mercier in reference to the better settlement of certain principles of maritime law. I assured him that the government of the United States would at all times be ready and willing to assent to any general arrangement which would have for its effect the permanent settlement of the rights of neutrals on a liberal basis. That we did not want the present occasion to pass without fixing upon Great Britain especially, in a definite form, certain principles for which France and the United States had always contended, but to which Great Britain had never yielded her assent. I reminded him that while we were not, at the present moment, in the most favorable position to move in such a matter, France could, under all the circum. stances, with great propriety and power, take the initiative. That it seemed to me very desirable she should do so, and that something should be done before the question of the Trent should become mere matter of history; to take its place as a single precedent among others, and to be dealt with, canvassed, or avoided by the statesmen of that country as interest or inclination might prompt. Mr. Thouvenel thought that Great Britain could not now get back of this precedent, but said that France could do nothing alone; she must consult with other powers. He suggested a com mission of jurisconsults, who should prepare and present for discussion certain questions, which should be submitted to a congress of ministers of ambassadors, something, I suppose, after the manner of the congress of Paris of 1856. This I inferred to be a suggestion only. It indicated however, a willingness to act in the matter, if any available means could be found for doing so. In calling his attention, among other matters, to those questions affecting the interests of neutrals, I told him that, without having any distinct authority from my government for saying so, I had no 'doubt it would be happy to adopt the most liberal policy in reference to blockades, either to abolish them by the general assent of all nations, or modify them in such way as to make them, in the least possible degree detrimental to the great interests of commerce. He at once asked if I in
tended to include in my remark the blockade that we had established of the ports of the south. This afforded me an opportunity, and I replied, in the language of your despatch, by telling him that this blockade was" a thing daily more and more falling within our power to modify, if not remove altogether." I reminded him that it was manifestly the interest of the United States having a great commercial marine (though not a large naval power) to remove all obstacles in the way of the most free commercial intercourse, and I ventured to assure him that our government was too wise and far-seeing to permit any transient matter to interfere with the attain. ment of a great 'end, or the adoption of a most liberal and enlightened commercial policy. This naturally brought up the question of the stone fleet" and the supposed attempt at the permanent destruction of the port of Charleston. He said he wanted to hear what explanation I could give of that proceeding. He added that it had made a most unfavorable impression against us all over Europe. I told him that, without having any authority from my
. government, one of the principal objects of my visit was to correct erroneous impressions as to this matter. I reminded him then of the fact that the only information we had on this subject was through the newspapers; that the government had never, so far as I know, declared its intention permanently to destroy that port; that the temporary obstruction of one of its channels was, I believed, all that was sought. I told him that had not stones been placed in the old hulks sunk there, to keep them down, we might as well throw chips into the sea; the very next gale would have swept them from their position; that the bank on which they were placed was, I thought, some five or six miles from Charleston, in the ocean, not in the mouth or bed of the river, and that the depth there, at high water, was about eighteen feet, and at low water about eleven feet only; that much of the time, therefore, these old hulks were, to a great extent, above water, and that there would be no difficulty, as I supposed, in removing them at a future day, if it were desirable to do so. I showed him, likewise, an extract from the Charleston Mercury, which scouted at the idea of permanently closing the harbor in that way, and added that it had known a new ship or ships of a thousand tons burden, loaded with railroad iron, sunk in the middle of the channel and in a few weeks entirely gone or swept from their position. I further told him that if newspaper reports were to be relied upon, I believed the south had itself sunk vessels, not only in the interior of the harbor, but in the Savannah river, for the express purpose of keeping our ships out, and we had exercised only the same right as against them. After further conversation as to this matter, he said these explanations were most important, and asked if Mr. Adams had made them to Lord John Russell. I told him I knew nothing about that, though it might be he had not; that my suggestions were merely personal, volunteered; that you had given me no authority to make such explanations; that you never noticed officially, nor acted upon what appeared in the newspapers, and probably never contemplated that the French pr British government would act upon information obtained from that source. He said that it seemed to him very important that the conduct of our government should be properly understood in this matter, and asked why it had not been explained through the French press. I told him that personally I was forbidden by my instructions from writing anything for the press, which he said was all right, but that it should have been done by others. I then told him that it would yet be done.
I took with me to the foreign office a skeleton map of the United States, and explained to Mr. Thouvenel, as well as I could, the position of our troops, and what I supposed to be the purpose or plan of the campaign. • I told him I thought we were now nearly or quite ready to move, and wanted a little