Mr. Faulkner to Mr. Seward.


No. 119.]

Sir: I called to-day upon Mr. Thouvenel at the ministry of foreign affairs, and was promptly admitted to an interview. Agreeably to your request, I handed to him a copy of the inaugural address of President Lincoln, and added that I was instructed by you to say to him that it embraced the views of the President of the United States upon the difficulties which now disturbed the harmony of the American Union, and also an exposition of the general policy which it was the purpose of the government to pursue with a [Page 205] view to the preservation of domestic peace and the maintenance of the federal Union. Here Mr. Thouvenel asked if there was not some diversity of opinion in the cabinet of the President as to the proper mode of meeting the difficulties which now disturbed the relations of the States and general government. I replied, upon that point I had no information; under our system the cabinet was but an advising body; its opinions were entitled to weight, but did not necessarily compel the action of the President; the executive power was, by the Constitution, vested exclusively in the President.

I said that I was further instructed to assure him that the President of the United States entertains a full confidence in the speedy restoration of the harmony and unity of the government by a firm, yet just and liberal policy, co-operating with the deliberate and loyal action of the American people. Mr. Thouvenel expressed his pleasure at this assurance.

I further said that the President regretted that the events going on in the United States might be productive of some possible inconvenience to the people and subjects of France, but he was determined that those inconveniences shall be made as light and transient as possible, and, so far as it may rest with him, that all strangers who may suffer any injury from them shall be indemnified.

I said to him that the President thought it not improbable that an appeal would be made before long by the “confederated States” to foreign powers, and, among others, to the government of France, for the recognition of their independence; that no such appeal having yet been made, it was premature and out of place to discuss any of the points involved in that delicate and important inquiry; but the government of the United States desired the fact to be known that whenever any such application shall be made it will meet with opposition from the minister who shall then represent that government at this court.

I said to him that my mission at this court would very soon terminate, and that I should have no official connexion with the question which, it was anticipated, might arise upon the demand of the confederated States for the recognition of their independence; that my place would soon be supplied by a distinguished citizen of the State of New Jersey, a gentleman who possessed the confidence of the President, who fully sympathized in his public views, and who would doubtless come fully instructed as to the then wishes and views of the government of the United States, and that the only request which I would now make, and which would close all I had to say in the interview, was that no proposition recognizing the permanent dismemberment of the American Union shall be considered by the French government until after the arrival and reception of the new minister accredited by the United States to this court.

Mr. Thouvenel, in reply, said that no application had yet been made to him by the confederated States, in any form, for the recognition of their independence; that the French government was not in the habit of acting hastily upon such questions, as might be seen by its tardiness in recognizing the new kingdom of Italy; that he believed the maintenance of the federal Union, in its integrity, was to be desired for the benefit of the people north and south, as well as for the interests of France, and the government of the United States might rest well assured that no hasty or precipitate action would be taken on that subject by the Emperor. But whilst he gave utterance of these views, he was equally bound to say that the practice and usage of the present century had fully established the right of de facto governments to recognition when a proper case was made out for the decision of foreign powers. Here the official interview ended.

The conversation was then further protracted by an inquiry from Mr. Thouvenel when the new tariff would go into operation, and whether it was [Page 206] to be regarded as the settled policy of the government. I told him that the first day of the present month had been prescribed as the period when the new duties would take effect; that I had not yet examined its provisions with such care as would justify me in pronouncing an opinion upon its merits; that it was condemned by the commercial classes of the country, and that I had no doubt, from the discontent manifested in several quarters, that the subject would engage the attention of Congress at its next meeting, and probably some important modifications would be made in it. The finances of the government were at this time temporarily embarrassed, and I had no doubt the provisions of the new tariff were adopted with a view, although probably a mistaken one, of sustaining the credit of the treasury as much as of reviving the protective policy. He then asked me my opinion as to the course of policy that would be adopted towards the seceding States, and whether I thought force would be employed to coerce them into submission to the federal authority. I told him that I could only give him my individual opinion, and that I thought force would not be employed; that ours was a government of public opinion, and although the Union unquestionably possessed all the ordinary powers necessary for its preservation, as had been shown in several partial insurrections which had occurred in our history, yet that the extreme powers of government could only be used in accordance with public opinion, and that I was satisfied that the sentiment of the people was opposed to the employment of force against the seceding States. So sincere was the deference felt in that country for the great principles of self-government, and so great the respect for the action of the people, when adopted under the imposing forms of State organization and State sovereignty, that I did not think the employment of force would be tolerated for a moment, and I thought the only solution of our difficulties would be found in such modifications of our constitutional compact as would invite the seceding States back into the Union on a peaceable acquiescence in the assertion of their claims to a separate sovereignty. * * * * * * * * *

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward,
Secretary of State.