Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.


No. 5.]

Sir: I have the pleasure to announce to you my arrival in this city on Saturday, May 11. On Monday, application was made through our legation for an audience with Mr. Thouvenel, minister of foreign affairs, which was granted for the 16th instant, on which day I was duly presented to him by Mr. Walsh, of the American legation.

Mr. Thouvenel, in the course of the conversation, took occasion to say that he deeply regretted the condition of things in the United States, and that in this expression of feeling he represented the views and feelings of the Emperor; that so deeply concerned was the Emperor that he had felt disposed to offer his good offices, but had been deterred from the fear that his offer might not be well received; but should occasion for this arise, he would always be ready and happy to be of use. He made special inquiry as to the policy of our government in regard to neutral rights, particularly in reference to neutral property found in southern ships. He went into considerable detail to show that historical precedents were in favor of treating southern vessels as those of a regular belligerent, and applying the same doctrine to them as had always been upheld by the United States. He dwelt particularly upon the fact that Great Britain, during our revolutionary war, had not considered our privateers as pirates. I understood him to say that, as respects an effective blockade, it would be fully recognized and respected; but he seemed much impressed with the importance of understanding clearly the intentions of our government in reference to these matters as respects the foreign world.

As respects a tender of the kind offices of the Emperor I could only thank him for the interest in our country which the suggestion manifested, but gave him no reason to suppose such offer at this time would be accepted. As to the doctrines which our government would apply in reference to the blockade of southern ports and neutral rights, I told him I had no specific instructions at present, and could only refer him to the proclamation of the President and the general principles of international law which might bear on the case. I further informed him that immediately after my reception by the Emperor I would apprise my government of the anxiety of the French government to learn the views of our government more definitively upon these questions. You will not fail to have observed that the action of France and England upon this question of belligerent rights has been upon a mutual understanding and agreement.

[Page 209]

Throughout the conversation he seemed anxious to impress upon me the great interest which France took in our condition, and their desire for the perpetuation of the Union of the States. He referred to the fact that France had aided in its formation, and did not desire to witness its dissolution. The recognition of the southern confederates as possessing belligerent rights he did not consider at all as recognizing them as independent States.

After the conversation had closed, to save time I at once presented a copy of my letters of credence, and requested an audience of the Emperor, &c.

On the next day I was informed by a note from the minister that I would be received at the palace on the 19th instant, at which time I was presented in due form to the Emperor, in the presence of certain officers of the court.

A copy of my remarks to the Emperor will be found enclosed, (letter A.) In reply, the Emperor, after a courteous welcome, and one or two remarks of a character personally complimentary, said, in substance, that he felt great interest in the condition of things in our country; that he was very anxious our difficulties should be settled amicably; that he had been and yet was ready to offer his kind offices, if such offer would be mutually agreeable to the contending parties; that whatever tended to affect injuriously our interests was detrimental to the interests of France, and that he desired a perpetuation of the Union of the States, with some additional remarks of like tenor and character. His observations were in the same vein as those of the minister of foreign affairs, and I doubt not were the frank expressions of his views on this subject.

Immediately after the formal part of my presentation had closed, and my letters of credence been delivered, he entered for a short time into general conversation. Upon taking my leave of the Emperor I was conducted by the grand chamberlain to the apartments of the Empress, and there presented to her. She repeated to some extent the same views already presented by the Emperor. My reception at the palace was in every respect agreeable. On Monday, the 20th instant, I called again on Mr. Thouvenel, in company with Mr. Sanford, (our minister to Belgium,) for the purpose of obtaining, if possible, a little more distinct information as to what France meant by the terms “neutral rights” and “belligerent” rights; how far he considered such rights as extending to the capture and condemnation of prizes in the ports of France, &c. He said in reply, in substance, that they held that the flag covers the cargo; and that if a southern ship carrying neutral property was captured, the property would not be condemned, &c. He hoped our government would recognize principles for which it had always contended. I told him it would certainly do so, but the question here was, whether there was a flag; that our government insisted that the confederates, being merely in rebellion, had no flag, and I could not exactly understand how a foreign government which had not recognized them as an independent power could recognize them as having a flag. He said, furthermore, that the French government had given no warning to their citizens, &c., (as the English government had,) by proclamation, because it was unnecessary; that the statute law of France (of 1825, April 10, I think) declared that any French citizen taking service under a foreign power lost all claim to protection as a citizen; that if a subject of France should take service on board of a letter of marque licensed by the Confederate States, it would be, as I understood him, piratical on the part of such subject. He said, furthermore, that no letters of marque could be fitted out in their ports, or even sheltered there, unless they came in from necessity, (as stress of weather, &c.,) and then could remain, I think, but twenty-four hours; that Consequently there could be no bringing of prizes into French ports, and while there a condemnation of them in the courts of the southern States. His conversation on this part of the case was very satisfactory, and he [Page 210] promised me a reference in writing to the French statutes bearing on the question. He added that the French government had addressed certain interrogatories to our government, and would await their answer. The disposition of this government to keep on friendly relations with us is, I think, manifest, and it will not, I judge, be diminished by the obvious fact that certain portions of the public men and the press of England are felicitating themselves on the condition of things in America. The policy of having a heavy commercial power in the west, as some counterpoise to the marine power of England, is too manifest to escape a mind so sagacious as that of the present Emperor of the French. I had taken the liberty before the reception of your last despatch, dated 4th instant, of assuring all persons, official and otherwise, with whom I came in contact, that the most effective measures were being taken by our government to crush out this causeless and wicked rebellion, and that I believed such efforts would be continued to the end; that the fears (which existed in some quarters) that the government would again temporize, and lose the advantage which the present determined enthusiasm of the people gave to it, were groundless. I find very strong feelings existing here in behalf of the Union among the American citizens from the northern States, and a determination to support the government with men and money.

* * * * * * * * * *

I have had many applications, since here by foreigners for service as officers in the army of the United States, and I understand from one of the former secretaries of the legation that many applications were made at the office of the legation before I came. There was one case only, as the secretary says, of an application at the office of the legation for service in the army of the south, and this was from an anonymous correspondent, the note seeking service being unsigned. To these applications I have said that our service was open to volunteers, but I had no authority to commit the government to appointments; that, in fact, we needed arms rather than men. * * *

No formal notice of the blockade of southern ports has been given to the government here, unless through the agency of the French minister at Washington. Indeed, I think I understood Mr. Thouvenel to say that they had received no such formal notice at all. I shall call the attention of Mr. Thouvenel to the original proclamation when I communicate to him (as I shall at once do) the additional proclamation (just received) of the blockade of the ports of Virginia and North Carolina.

* * * * * * * * * *

I have opened, since here, (directed to my predecessor,) a copy of the President’s proclamation as to the blockade of the ports of Virginia and North Carolina, dated 27th April, 1861. I received likewise despatch No. 4 last night, containing views of the government at Washington as to the abolition of privateering, and enclosing to me a commission to effect with the French government a treaty for that purpose, with the form of such treaty. This is of great importance, and will affect in a material degree the means of defence on the part of our country in time of war. I shall proceed in conformity, however, with these instructions to communicate with the minister of foreign affairs on the subject. But I cannot help feeling, in view of what the French law is, as heretofore stated, and the little danger to our commerce which can soon arise from any action of this government or of its subjects from privateers, that I had better attempt again to obtain a provision exempting from seizure private property afloat (unless contraband) the same as private property is now exempt on land. I should very much regret an opportunity lost to obtain such a treaty provision, if possible, before we give up that species of volunteer marine by which we are enabled in some degree to affect the commerce of other nations, having [Page 211] a heavier naval marine, while they are destroying our own. The Emperor is about to leave Paris for the country, and it is doubtful if great expedition can be had in this matter; but, acting under the direct instructions of the government at home, I shall incur no unnecessary delay in carrying those instructions (if I can procure no better terms) into effect.

* * * * * * * *

I have received your despatch (No. 7) containing instructions as to matters to be communicated to Mr. Thouvenel in reference to the unity of the cabinet at Washington and the intentions of the government to prosecute the war with the utmost effect.

I will, at the earliest moment, so state to Mr. Thouvenel, though it will be to some extent a restatement of what has already been said. There has, I fear, been some misapprehension upon the minds of the authorities here upon this subject.

Since my arrival here my engagements, personal and official, have been constant; so much so that it has not been in my power to communicate as promptly with your department as I would have desired.

* * * * * * * *

Your very obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward,
Secretary of State.


Your Majesty: I have the honor to present to your Imperial Majesty these, my letters of credence from the President of the United States of America, accrediting me as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary near to your Majesty.

By these letters it is made my especial duty, as it will certainly be my pleasure, with the assent of your Majesty, to cultivate and strengthen the friendship and good correspondence which has heretofore existed between France and the United States, and as far as possible to preserve and advance the interest and happiness of both nations. The people of the United States have not forgotten, nor can they ever forget, that France was their first ally, and throughout the whole period of their national existence has been (with a passing cloud only) their constant friend. An unbroken intercourse of good offices and kind feelings between two great nations for so long a period affords just cause of pride and congratulation to both. Each year has continued to enlarge those business interests which bind us together, and I am happy to know that at no period in our past history have those interests been more prosperous than under the wise, liberal, and enlightened policy of your Imperial Majesty. All our recollections of the past, all our interests of the present, and all our hopes for the future, prompt the United States to cultivate with sedulous care those friendly relations with the government of France which have existed so long and been productive to each nation of results so auspicious.

I have it specially in charge from the president of the United States to give assurance to your Imperial Majesty of his disposition to cultivate such friendly relations; to assure your Majesty personally of his high respect and appreciation; to tender to you, to the Empress, your imperial consort, and to each of the members of the imperial family, his best wishes for their [Page 212] health, prosperity, and happiness. Permit me only to add that the mission near to your Imperial Majesty, with which I have been honored, is one most grateful to my feelings, and without neglecting the interests of my own government, I shall endeavor so to discharge its duties as to make my residence here entirely agreeable to your Majesty.