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an unfavorable effect upon the United States, but would call forth the good-will of other nations.
Thouvenel's expressions were diplomatic and not decidedly unfriendly, but there was a suggestion of a threat in the problem presented, which was likely to excite alarm. France had no right in international law to demand American cotton for her factories, but in the face of popular distress and outcries for relief, every government is prone to resort to arbitrary measures. Seward did not know to what extent the agreement between Great Britain and France to act jointly might be carried. The rumors prevalent a few months before about intervention in Mexico were now confirmed. Such an enterprise would naturally draw Napoleon closer to the Confederacy, and open a wide field for intrigues. Was this warning about the scarcity of a very important raw material merely statesmanlike foresight, or was it an introduction to something else?
Seward, in replying, affected to regard Thouvenel's suggestions as a candid statement of real but unfounded apprehensions. The President was represented as still having the question under consideration; so Seward's despatch, addressed to Dayton, was largely tentative:
"I do not altogether agree with Mr. Thouvenel in regard to the imminence or even the seriousness of the evils which he apprehends in France. The very vigor of modern commerce which makes the shocks which result from its occasional interruption so painful, enables it to seek out relief or mitigation in a speedy change of its movements. My observation, moreover, would lead me to believe that what the manufacturing interest of France is likely to need most and soonest is supplies, not of material, but of provisions, and that the customary purchases of cotton would be unavailing for the relief of her people without a restoration of the market for her cotton, silken, and fancy fabrics and her wines, which notoriously have heretofore been found in the more northern and western of our states, and which the war has temporarily closed."
Then, in a careful statement of the general nature of the commerce between the United States and France and Great Britain-such a statement as one would expect a tariff-for-revenue-only Democrat to make-he continued:
There are three leading commercial nations on the earth-namely, the United States, France, and Great Britain. The two last, with less range of production, have the advantage of greater capital and mechanical skill and labor. The former, with a new and unexhausted continent for its home, excels in bread and in materials for manufacture. The United States consume European fabrics and luxuries, and France and Great Britain naturally rely upon us for provisions and vegetable and mineral productions needed in manufacture. Virtually the three nations, though politically divided, constitute only one great society or commonwealth. The wheels of industry in each country move with a certain dependence on the corresponding wheels which are kept in operation in the other countries, and, all moving together, they work out a common prosperity for all of them. Civil war in either country, in just the extent that it is flagrant and obstinate, suspends the wheels which it finds in motion there, and consequently disturbs and retards the accustomed operations of industry in the other two countries."
"The Union made the commerce whose obstruction France deplores. Let the Union fall, then not only will that obstruction continue, but with it the highly perfected and thoroughly adapted systems of production, exchange, and consumption, which hitherto have existed in all three of the countries, will disappear forever."
"We have adopted, as necessity required, the legitimate means to save the Union, regardless of remonstrances from any quarter, and we have adopted no other."
In answer to the request for a relaxation of the blockade, Seward said that it was the desire of the government in restoring the Union to use the least harmful means; but to comply with Thouvenel's suggestions would give all the gain to others, and leave to the United States all the losses and hazards. No mention had been
made as to how much cotton was desired, or of what would be given in exchange for it. Nor had it been explained how a mitigation of the blockade could be made compatible with Federal sovereignty. Moreover, there had been no statement of the advantages that might be expected to accrue to the United States. It had, indeed, been said that allowing France to have cotton would prevent an accumulation of difficulties. "Our respect for France forbids us from supposing that Mr. Thouvenel is to be understood as implying that she will adopt any injurious or hostile policy, whether in arms or without, if we should refuse to yield a concession, which, although desirable for her own welfare, is, nevertheless, solicited as a favor and not claimed as a right." Lest this might be mistaken for timidity or obtuseness, he warned France that although the United States had not been ambitious for the isolation of this continent, they were not insensible that they had resources sufficient to enable them to rise above the necessity of maintaining existing relations with the old world. Europe had planted slavery here, he said, and we were waiting for its extirpation. "But when European nations shall think of intervening to maintain it here for their own advantage and to the subversion of our own government, they will, I am sure, calculate not only the cost but the probabilities of success in an enterprise which the conscience of the civilized world would forever reprobate and condemn. We do not expect any such proceeding on the part of France."
Turning from "this unpleasant phase of the subject to intimations of more agreeable import," Seward suggested that Thouvenel had neglected to mention the form and extent in which the good-will, of which he had spoken, might be expected to come, and that he had not indicated "the grateful states by which it is to be exer
cised." This showed that no complete proposition had yet been made. Then in a few sentences he put upon France the responsibility for the delay, and he made it easy for her to show if her purposes were friendly:
"Heretofore France has advised us that she was acting upon agreement with Great Britain in all that concerns our affairs. We are not informed whether hereafter that power is to act towards us in an improved spirit, while the confidence imposed upon me by Mr. Thouvenel does not even allow me to seek any explanation on the subject from Great Britain herself.
"It is left equally obscure with whom the combination can be formed by us, or what is the nature of the combination itself which it is suggested the President can make with a view to disperse the difficulties with which our position is, in the judgment of Mr. Thouvenel, surrounded.
"I am sure that Mr. Thouvenel will admit that these reflections are natural and just. They suggest these inquiries: First, if we should relax our blockade, as Mr. Thouvenel proposes, will France thereafter maintain an attitude of cold indifference to our exertions for the preservation of the American Union, with its inestimable blessings, or will she regard the struggle as one virtuous in its nature, noble in its object, and needful to the best interests of mankind? If France should so regard it, to what extent would she exert her own great influence to cause it to be so regarded by other nations? If we make the concession required of us, are we still to be held to the strict law of maintaining a blockade with adequate force at every port on our sea-coast of three thousand miles, or shall we be challenged when we proceed to close the ports usurped by our own disloyal citizens, without provoking the intervention of the parties whom we shall have sacrificed so much to favor thus in a season of distress? Shall pirates preying upon our commerce be sheltered, supplied, and armed in the ports of the nations to whom we have opened, at our own cost, a trade from which by the law of nations they had been rightfully excluded ?"
Dayton was instructed to ask confidentially for information on these points. Seward did not believe that the struggle would be as protracted as Thouvenel sup
posed, and he felt confident that the United States would "be in free possession of some or all of those ports ""long before France or any other nation shall be brought to such distress as he apprehends." Then (C our own commerce and that of the world" would be restored to their former flourishing condition.
This was one of Seward's great despatches; perhaps it was the greatest, if we consider his perfect balance and the diplomatic way in which he seemed to ignore what was menacing, while he adroitly let Thouvenel see what the result would be if the implied threats should be carried out. Like the man in the proverb who went out for wool and came back shorn, Thouvenel, instead of receiving such a response as he had sought, found himself confronted with a request for a careful exposition of the attitude France would assume under certain conditions; and this request had been made with such perfect skill that the great Frenchman had to comply with it or change the current of his inquiries. Either course would be a decided gain to the United States. Although Seward wrote at a time when he was in the midst of "intense anxiety and severe labor," and thought it doubtful whether the government could escape the yet deeper and darker abyss of foreign war,' the despatch showed no signs of impatience or irritability.
1A letter to Mrs. Seward, written on the next day, shows that Seward's temperament had not changed, but he had learned to exercise more self-control in his official communications :
"The pressure of interests and ambitions in Europe, which disunionists have procured to operate on the Cabinets of London and Paris, have made it doubtful whether we can escape the yet deeper and darker abyss of foreign war. The responsibility resting upon me is overwhelming. My associates, of course, can differ with me about what I ought to do and say, but not advise me what to do and say. I have worried through, and finished my despatches. They must go for good or evil. I have done my best. I thought that my health would fail, but now I am well and cheerful, and hopeful as ever. 2 Seward, 627.