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intervention, it was expected, would mean peace-not war, as Seward had proclaimed.
When the news of the Confederate victory at Bull Run, July 21, 1861, reached London, early in August, the commissioners hastened to request an informal interview with Earl Russell; but he cruelly asked them to put their communication in writing. About this time they reported that they had "not received the least notice or attention, official or social, from any member of the government," and that they differed among themselves as to whether they should press for a definite answer on the question of recognition.' In the formal plea made to Russell, a few days later, they informed him that there was an average crop of cotton which would be delivered on the wharves "when there shall be a prospect of the blockade being raised, and not before." The blockade had often been broken at several points, they said. It was for the neutral powers, whose commerce had been so seriously damaged, to determine how long such a blockade should last. But Russell continued to show no signs of great concern.
Optimism was so great a factor in Seward's diplomacy that it is difficult to distinguish when his cheerful and confident expressions represented his real opinions and when they were announced merely to encourage others. Shortly before the battle of Bull Run he wrote to Adams that the "possibility of foreign intervention, sooner or later, in this domestic disturbance is never absent from the thoughts of this government.” * He must have
1 Commissioners' despatch of August 7th.
2 British Parliamentary Papers, 1862, North America No. 1, 63–68. Dip. Cor., 1861, 117. This despatch bore the date of July 21, 1861, which was Sunday and the day of the battle. The character of the greater part of it, and Mr. F. W. Seward's account of what the Secretary did that day (2 Seward, 598), indicate that all but the last paragraph was drafted before the 21st.
feared intervention after that battle; but instead of showing any serious apprehensions, he rejoiced that the defeat would call forth increased resources and compel a careful reorganization of the army. In an unpublished despatch of September 5th, he informed Dayton:
"I am not reposing in the expectation of disinterested sympathy or favor towards our cause, in any foreign country, but I feel it to be necessary that we should obtain time for the complete organization of the powers of the government before suffering the possible foreign complications of our positions to take effect. That assumption is now sufficient to repose upon. I feel assured that foreign nations will from this time forward hesitate more and more about adopting a policy that shall be hostile to this Union. We shall have returning friendship just in the degree that we shall be able to show that we do not need it."
Later in the same month he wrote home saying that his fears of intervention were subsiding, for "the prestige of secession is evidently wearing off in Europe." He was likely to speak of the best and to prepare for the worst. Undoubtedly he was bearing in mind Adams's advice that the English supply of cotton would last until the middle of September, and that there was no danger of a change of policy in the mean time, but that it was uncertain whether there would subsequently be an attempt to break the blockade. He certainly knew that the two greatest European powers were only waiting for a good opportunity to get cotton without taking a war with it.
Although not especially significant, Confederate victories during the summer and early in September strengthened the belief of the Confederates that Great Britain and France would soon be impressed by their military power. They also considered the beginning of
22 Seward, 621.
1 Dip. Cor., 1861, 123, 236.
3 July 12, 1861. MS.
the scarcity of cotton in France and England as very favorable to European interference. Before the end of August it was decided to "disunite" the diplomatic trio, and to send James M. Mason and John Slidell as commissioners to Great Britain and to France, respectively. Both ranked high among the Confederate leaders, and while in the United States Senate they had much to do with the foreign policies of Pierce and of Buchanan. Mason was a distinguished member of a distinguished Virginia family, and Southerners believed that he would be more than a match for Adams; while Slidell, like Rost and Soulé, was intimately associated with the creole aristocracy of Louisiana, who felt more at home in Paris than in New York city.
Seward had said that the United States were not disturbed by a British order sending three regiments to Canada and some armed vessels into American waters. Nevertheless, it was wise for him to find a new way to let Europe know that our measures for defence could be greatly increased. So, on October 14, 1861, he addressed a circular letter to the governors of the states either on the seaboard or on the Great Lakes, asking them to bring to the consideration of their respective legislatures the question of perfecting their military defences. It was suggested that if the states should undertake this work, Congress would undoubtedly provide for their reimbursement. The reason he gave for the request was that agents of the Confederacy had tried to invoke European intervention, and, taking advantage of the embarrassments of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce in foreign countries, resulting from the insurrection they had inaugurated at home, they sought to involve our common country in controversies with powers with whom we ought to maintain peaceful relations. The prospect of any such disturbance was then, he said, less serious than it had been at any previous period of
our trouble. Nevertheless, it was necessary "to take every precaution that is possible to avert the evils of foreign war.
Seward's circular had hardly been sent out when the conditions became more favorable to foreign interference. On the 15th of October it was reported that Mason and Slidell had started on their mission." In fact, the swift little Theodora had escaped with them from Charleston, unseen by the blockading fleet, which seemed to be sleeping in the darkness of the early morning of October 12th. Rumor said that they had gone in the Nashville, and would be borne direct to Europe; and, of course, their escape would be good evidence of the ineffectiveness of the blockade. In the hope of intercepting them, Commander J. B. Marchand, with the James Adger, the fastest warship available, was ordered out from New York, and hastened to the neighborhood of the entrance to the English Channel, expecting to catch the Nashville, whether bound for England or for France. Then, on October 21st, came the disaster at Ball's Bluff. Although it was a comparatively small engagement, the mismanagement and destruction of the Union forces greatly helped to increase the prestige of the Confederates.
During this month, too, when Seward was in the midst of the somewhat dangerous correspondence with Great Britain about Consul Bunch's performances and the imprisonment of British subjects, signs of dire ill-omen came from France. A deficient harvest and the scarcity of cotton were beginning to cause such fear of approaching distress that from the chambers of commerce and from manufacturing and business centres there arose petitions and cries for relief-relief by supplying its factories with cotton, the raw material without which, 13 Moore's Rebellion Record, Docs., p. 193. 21 Naval Records, 113.
it was claimed, hundreds of thousands of persons would soon be unable to earn the barest necessities of life.
The outlook was so serious that Thouvenel sent to Mercier some instructions to be laid before Seward, which indicated that the French government was on the verge of demanding that the blockade should at least be made less severe. Thouvenel's leading ideas, as reviewed by Seward in an unpublished despatch of October 30, 1861, to Dayton, may be summarized as follows: European nations suffered more from the interruption of their commercial intercourse with the United States than with any other country. The blockade had paralyzed French commerce with the Confederate States. France would, nevertheless, wait patiently if the prolongation of the war were not likely to produce new and grave perils. Cotton had been so extensively used that nothing could be substituted for it. France annually consumed enough for the manufacture of tissues worth nearly one hundred and fifty million dollars. Two hundred thousand bales of this cotton came from the United States. If the supplies should fail, many in Alsace and in Normandy would be in danger of starvation. Complaints had already begun to come in from the commercial cities, and if it should be impossible to make new purchases, the people would address themselves to the government for relief. Thouvenel inquired if the time had not arrived to consider future dangers and avert them while there still remained freedom of action. He had expected that the United States would make some concessions to lessen Europe's embarrassments from the scarcity of cotton. France, at least, was no longer able to postpone an examination of the question. He then asked-which was the significant point- the United States to modify the blockade so as to allow foreign consumers to secure supplies of cotton. He thought that such an arrangement would not have