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The real Cabinet crisis ended before Christmas, 1862, but the newspapers and the politicians continued to wrangle for months. Still smarting from Seward's cutting but imprudent declaration that "the extreme advocates of African slavery and its most vehement opponents were acting in concert," Greeley affected great indignation and charged Seward with sending despatches without submitting them to the President for approval. The intended implication was that the Secretary was too presumptuous and headstrong to be tolerated by the administration. Raymond, as usual, replied for his friend. The Times declared that not one despatch, "not merely and exclusively formal and technical in its character,” had been sent to any foreign Minister without the approval of the President, and that this statement was made on the authority and by the permission of the President and of the Secretary of State. This was a flank attack that Greeley had not anticipated, and it showed that he had undertaken a most gratuitous task. The Tribune maintained that the exception was so broad that it was practically a confession. Greeley was strong in a single charge, but his enemies were more resourceful. It came out as Raymond expected when he wrote, February 27, 1863: "I think before the matter is ended I shall put Mr. Greeley into an awkward position.'
For a man that was usually so adroit and circumspect, Seward had a strange faculty for getting himself into annoying complications, and the extrications were not always satisfactory. Like a lion-tamer or snakecharmer, he seemed to think at times that he could safely perform what others could do only with the greatest risk. His share in the responsibility for the trip that Mercier, the French Minister, made to Richmond, in the
1 Seward MSS. The discussion between the Tribune and the Times continued almost daily for two weeks after about February 20, 1863.
spring of 1862, illustrated this trait. The particulars of the incident did not become known until early in 1863. When Mercier expressed to Seward a regret that he did not know more about the condition of affairs in Richmond, the Secretary obtained the President's permission for him to visit that capital, as has been mentioned. Seward was sure that the "insurrection " was" shrinking and shriveling into very narrow dimensions," and he hoped that Mercier might "come back prepared with some plan to alleviate the inconveniences of his countrymen in the South, who were not acting against this government."1 Before Mercier started Seward remarked that he would be pleased to find himself again in the Senate with those whom the South might see fit to send thither, and that the North was animated by no sentiment of vengeance. Mercier's subsequent account made it plain that Seward spoke unofficially,' but what the Frenchman said in Richmond led to very different inferences. To the Confederate Secretary of State he expressed the belief that the United States would in time get possession of all the southern ports; but Benjamin thought he convinced Mercier that in any case there was no doubt of the ultimate independence of the Confederacy. Mercier said that it would be a matter of infinite gratification to himself and his government if his good offices could be interposed in any way to restore peace, and he suggested political independence combined with commercial union. But, he remarked, with regret, one side would not hear a sentence that did not begin with "independence," while the other insisted that not a syllable should be spoken except on the basis of "Union." At this time Seward wrote to Weed: "Mercier's visit to Richmond was on con
1 Dip. Cor., 1862, 335.
2 New York Tribune, February 5, 1863, printed Mercier's despatch describing how the trip originated, etc.
9 Benjamin to Slidell, July 19, 1862.
sultation with me, and it will produce fruits, I hope.' In a letter of June 25, 1862, to Bigelow, he spoke of "our consenting to Mr. Mercier's going to Richmond " as being meaningless.
The Tribune, of course, led the attack, and represented that Seward was using the French Minister to invite Confederates to return to their seats in the Senate." This led Senator Grimes to introduce a resolution requesting the President to communicate the character of the suggestions that the French Minister was authorized to make from the government, or from the Secretary of State, to the Confederate authorities. Seward replied that "since March 4, 1861, no communication, direct or indirect, formal or informal, save in relation to prisoners of war, has been held by this government, or by the Secretary of State, with the insurgents, their aiders, or abettors; no passport has been granted to any foreign Minister to pass the military lines, except by the President's direction." Of course the sweeping declaration about not holding any communication, direct or indirect, with insurgents left out of view what had taken place between Seward and Gwin, Hunter, and Campbell in March and April, 1861. Seward wrote to Dayton, March 16, 1863:
"Nothing was ever more preposterous than the idea engendered here, and sent abroad to perplex Europe, that an American Secretary of State would employ a plenipotentiary of the Emperor of France to negotiate with American insurgents, and that a plenipotentiary of such a power would accept such a mission."
This was a good reply to the false charges, but it did not show that what he had actually done was either necessary or wise.
13 Seward, 88.
"New York Tribune, February 4, 1863.
5 6 Moore's Rebellion Record, Diary, p. 45.
4 Globe, 1862-63, 817.
1 Dip. Cor., 1863, 149.
Seward had more bitter and active enemies among the politicians than any other member of the Cabinet; yet, excepting Welles, he was the only Secretary that served throughout the administrations of Lincoln and of Johnson. There was always a strong element of pugnacity, personal hatred, or ambition in the disagreements that Chase and Blair, respectively, had with various men and factions. Therefore, Lincoln did not find it practicable to retain either of them to the end of his first term. Seward had a positive dislike for a quarrel of any sort; and, finding himself involved in one, he always tried to extricate himself in some diplomatic way. He had his failings; but his great intelligence, his affable manners, his earnest desire to serve his country, and the great value of the work he did, made it easy to overlook his mistakes and to feel that he was indispensable to the administration in the crisis.
THE BRINK OF A FOREIGN WAR: BLOCKADE - RUNNING AND BUILDING CONFEDERATE WAR-SHIPS
THE Confederates did not expect to prevent a blockade, but they counted on blockade-running as a sufficient means of communication with the outside world until some foreign nation should come to their assistance. They were also confident that by sending out privateers and improvised cruisers they could destroy the commerce of the United States. And if war-ships could be obtained abroad, they alone might be able to break the blockade. Foreign capital and enterprise were soon attracted to the contraband trade with the Confederacy. It was not long before the two great powers that were complaining of the blockade, but dared not disregard it, were building different kinds of war-ships with which the Confederates hoped to sweep United States merchantmen from the seas, and to open southern ports. The serious international questions that arose in consequence brought the United States to the brink of a foreign war.
It was impossible to watch strictly all of the three thousand miles of Confederate coast-line with its one hundred and eighty-five harbor openings. At many points there were, especially in the beginning, no serious obstacles to blockade-running. Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah, on the Atlantic, and Galveston and Brownsville on the Gulf, were the principal ports. Charleston harbor was the one most frequently entered at first, although