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REPLY TO THE FRENCH PROPOSAL.
I have taken the President's instructions, and I now proceed to give you his views upon the subject in question.
It has been considered with seriousness, resulting from the reflection that the people of France are known to be faultless sharers with the American nation in the misfortunes and calamities of our unhappy civil war; nor do we on this, any more than on other occasions, forget the traditional friendship of the two countries, which we unhesitatingly believe has inspired the counsels that M. Drouyn de l'Huys has imparted.
He says, "the Federal Government does not despair, we know, of giving more active impulse to hostilities;" and again he remarks, "the protraction of the struggle, in a word, has not shaken the confidence (of the Federal Government) in the definitive success of its efforts."
These passages seem to me to do unintentional injustice to the language, whether confidential or public, in which this Government has constantly spoken on the subject of the war. It certainly has had and avowed only one purpose-a determination to preserve the integrity of the country. So far from admitting any laxity of effort, or betraying any despondency, the Government has, on the contrary, borne itself cheerfully in all vicissitudes, with unwavering confidence in an early and complete triumph of the national cause. Now, when we are, in a manner, invited by a friendly power to review the twenty-one months' history of the conflict, we find no occasion to abate that confidence. Through such an alternation of victories and defeats as is the appointed incident of every war, the land and naval forces of the United States have steadily advanced, reclaiming from the insurgents the ports, forts, and posts which they had treacherously seized before the strife actually began, and even before it was seriously apprehended. So many of the States and districts which the insurgents included in the field of their projected exclusive slaveholding dominions have already been reestablished under the flag of the Union, that they now retain only the States of Georgia, Alabama, and Texas, with half of Virginia, half of North Carolina, and two thirds of South Carolina, half of Mississippi, and one-third respectively of Arkansas and Louisiana. The national forces hold even this small territory in close blockade and siege.
This Government, if required, does not hesitate to submit its achievements to the test of comparison; and it maintains that in no part of the world, and in no times, ancient or modern, has a nation, when rendered all unready for combat by the enjoyment of eighty years of almost unbroken peace, so quickly awakened at the alarm of sedition, put forth
energies so vigorous, and achieved successes so signal and effective as those which have marked the progress of this contest on the part of the Union.
M. Drouyn de l'Huys, I fear, has taken other light than the correspondence of this Government for his guidance in ascertaining its temper and firmness. He has probably read of divisions of sentiment among those who hold themselves forth as organs of public opinion here, and has given to them an undue importance. It is to be remembered that this is a nation of thirty millions, civilly divided into forty-one States and Territories, which cover an expanse hardly less than Europe; that the people are a pure democracy, exercising every where the utmost freedom of speech and suffrage; that a great crisis necessarily produces vehement as well as profound debate, with sharp collisions of individual, local, and sectional interests, sentiments, and ambitions; and that this heat of controversy is increased by the intervention of speculations, interests, prejudices, and passions from every other part of the civilized world. It is, however, through such debates that the agreement of the nation upon any subject is habitually attained, its resolutions formed, and its policy established. While there has been much difference of popular opinion and favor concerning the agents who shall carry on the war, the principles on which it shall be waged, and the means with which it shall be prosecuted, M. Drouyn de l'Huys has only to refer to the statute book of Congress and the Executive ordinances to learn that the national activity has hitherto been, and yet is, as efficient as that of any other nation, whatever its form of government, ever was, under circumstances of equally grave import to its peace, safety, and welfare. Not one voice has been raised anywhere, out of the immediate field of the insurrection, in favor of foreign intervention, of mediation, of arbitration, or of compromise, with the relinquishment of one acre of the national domain, or the surrender of even one constitutional franchise. At the same time, it is manifest to the world that our resources are yet abundant, and our credit adequate to the existing emergency.
What M. Drouyn de l'Huys suggests is that this Government shall appoint commissioners to meet, on neutral ground, commissioners of thy insurgents. He supposes that in the conferences to be thus held, reciprocal complaints could be discussed, and in place of the accusations which the North and South now mutually cast upon each other, the conferees would be engaged with discussions of the interests which vide them. He assumes, further, that the commissioners would seek.
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by means of well-ordered and profound deliberation, whether these interests are definitively irreconcilable, whether separation is an extreme that can no longer be avoided, or whether the memories of a common existence, the ties of every kind which have made the North and the South one whole Federative State, and have borne them on to so high a degree of prosperity, are not more powerful than the causes which have placed arms in the hands of the two populations.
The suggestion is not an extraordinary one, and it may well have been thought by the Emperor of the French, in the earnestness of his benevolent desire for the restoration of peace, a feasible one. But when M. Drouyn de l'Huys shall come to review it in the light in which it must necessarily be examined in this country, I think he can hardly fail to perceive that it amounts to nothing less than a proposition that, while this Government is engaged in suppressing an armed insurrection, with the purpose of maintaining the constitutional national authority, and preserving the integrity of the country, it shall enter into diplomatic discussion with the insurgents upon the questions whether that authority shall not be renounced, and whether the country shall not be delivered over to disunion, to be quickly followed by ever-increasing anarchy.
If it were possible for the Government of the United States to compromise the national authority so far as to enter into such debates, it is not easy to perceive what good results could be obtained by them.
The commissioners must agree in recommending either that the Union shall stand or that it shall be voluntarily dissolved; or else they must leave the vital question unsettled, to abide at last the fortunes of the war. The Government has not shut out the knowledge of the present temper, any more than of the past purposes of the insurgents. There is not the least ground to suppose that the controlling actors would be persuaded at this moment, by any arguments which national commissioners could offer, to forego the ambition that has impelled them to the disloyal position they are occupying. Any commissioners who should. be appointed by these actors, or through their dictation or influence, must enter the conference imbued with the spirit and pledged to the personal fortunes of the insurgent chiefs. The loyal people in the insurrectionary States would be unheard, and any offer of peace by this Government, on the condition of the maintenance of the Union, must necessarily be rejected.
On the other hand, as I have already intimated, this Government has not the least thought of relinquishing the trust which has been con
fided to it by the nation under the most solemn of all political sanctions; and if it had any such thought, it would still have abundant reason to know that peace proposed at the cost of dissolution would be immediately, unreservedly, and indignantly rejected by the American people. It is a great mistake that European statesmen make, if they suppose this people are demoralized. Whatever, in the case of an insurrection, the people of France, or of Great Britain, or of Switzerland, or of the Netherlands would do to save their national existence, no matter how the strife might be regarded by or might affect foreign nations, just so much, and certainly no less, the people of the United States will do, if necessary to save for the common benefit the region which is bounded by the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts, and by the shores of the Gulfs of St. Lawrence and Mexico, together with the free and common navigation of the Rio Grande, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Ohio, St. Lawrence, Hudson, Delaware, Potomac, and other natural highways by which this land, which to them is at once a land of inheritance and a land of promise, is opened and watered. Even if the agents of the American people now exercising their power should, through fear or faction, fall below this height of the national virtue, they would be speedily, yet constitutionally, replaced by others of sterner character and patriotism.
I must be allowed to say, also, that M. Drouyn de l'Huys errs in his description of the parties to the present conflict. We have here, in the political sense, no North and South, no Northern and Southern States. We have an insurrectionary party, which is located chiefly upon and adjacent to the shore of the Gulf of Mexico; and we have, on the other hand, a loyal people, who constitute not only Northern States, but also Eastern, Middle, Western, and Southern States.
I have on many occasions heretofore submitted to the French Government the President's views of the interests, and the ideas more effective for the time than even interests, which lie at the bottom of the determination of the American Government and people to maintain the Federal Union. The President has done the same thing in his Messages and other public declarations. I refrain, therefore, from reviewing that argument in connection with the existing question.
M. Drouyn de l'Huys draws to his aid the conferences which took place between the Colonies and Great Britain in our Revolutionary War. He will allow us to assume that action in the crisis of a nation must accord with its necessities, and therefore can seldom be conformed to precedents. Great Britain, when entering on the negotiations, had
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manifestly come to entertain doubts of her ultimate success; and it is certain that the councils of the Colonies could not fail to take new courage, if not to gain other advantage, when the parent State compromised so far as to treat of peace on the terms of conceding their independence.
It is true, indeed, that peace must come at some time, and that conferences must attend, if they are not allowed to precede the pacification. There is, however, a better form for such conferences than the one which M. Drouyn de l'Huys suggests. The latter would be palpably in derogation of the Constitution of the United States, and would carry no weight, because destitute of the sanction necessary to bind either the disloyal or the loyal portions of the people. On the other hand, the Congress of the United States furnishes a constitutional forum for debates between the alienated parties. Senators and representatives from the loyal portion of the people are there already, freely empowered to confer; and seats also are vacant, and inviting senators and representatives of this discontented party who may be constitutionally sent there from the States involved in the insurrection. Moreover, the conferences which can thus be held in Congress have this great advantage over any that could be organized upon the plan of M. Drouyn de l'Huys, namely, that the Congress, if it were thought wise, could call a national convention to adopt its recommendations, and give them all the solemnity and binding force of organic law. Such conferences between the alienated parties may be said to have already begun. Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri-States which are claimed by the insurgents are already represented in Congress, and submitting with perfect freedom and in a proper spirit their advice upon the course best calculated to bring about, in the shortest time, a firm, lasting, and honorable peace. Representatives have been sent also from Louisiana, and others are understood to be coming from Arkansas.
There is a preponderating argument in favor of the Congressional form of conference over that which is suggested by M. Drouyn de l'Huys, namely, that while an accession to the latter would bring this Government into a concurrence with the insurgents in disregarding and setting aside an important part of the Constitution of the United States, and so would be of pernicious example, the Congressional conference, on the contrary, preserves and gives new strength to that sacred writing which must continue through future ages the sheet anchor of the Republic.
You will be at liberty to read this dispatch to M. Drouyn de l'Huys, and to give him a copy if he shall desire it.