Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.


Sir: Since the date of my despatch No. 6 I have had an interview with Mr. Thouvenel.

I told him I was authorized to accept the propositions adopted at the congress of Paris in 1856, but with the desire expressed by the President that the provisions should be added exempting private property afloat, unless contraband, from seizure and confiscation. I did not say, nor did he ask, whether the four propositions would be accepted without amendment. He said nothing could be done except by conference with the other powers, but if I would submit the proposition in writing, which I shall at once do, he would immediately address the other powers, and we would probably receive an answer in ten or twelve days.

I have been induced to suggest again the adoption of this amendment [Page 217] exempting private property afloat from seizure and confiscation: (1.) From the preference or wish of the President expressed in your letter of instruction. (2.) From the great importance, as it seemed to me, of securing the adoption of the principle, if possible, before the United States should give up the right of privateering. (3.) From the facts patent on the correspondence of this legation in 1856, whereby it appears that France and Russia were both favorably disposed at that time to the adoption of the principle of the amendment, (see Mr. Marcy’s despatch to Mr. Mason, No. 94, dated October 4, 1856, and Mr. Mason’s confidential letter to Mr. Dallas, of December 6, 1856,) and the obvious fact that it would be the interest of all the other powers (having little naval force) to concur in the amendment. (4.) From the fact that since the date of your despatch to me authorizing the acceptance of the four propositions adopted by the congress at Paris, Mr. Sanford, our minister to Belgium, on a visit to England, learned from Mr. Adams that the British government had given, as he understood, general instructions on the subject to Lord Lyons; and the impression made on the mind of Mr. Adams, as reported to me by Mr. Sanford, was that it was not improbable that England would now, to secure our concurrence in the other propositions, concur in the amendment. That in view of this information, Mr. Adams, who had like instructions with my own, had referred the matter back to be treated of and discussed at Washington. I could not, therefore, at once accept the four propositions, pure and simple, without running the hazard of conflicting with what might be done elsewhere.

I will probably receive an answer from Mr. Thouvenel (after he shall have communicated my proposition to the other powers) before even I shall receive my next despatch on this subject from Washington, which I shall await with some anxiety.

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The laws, however, in connexion with the practice of the tribunals of France are, I think, as follows:

That the captain who accepts a commission from a foreign government and takes command of a cruiser is guilty of a piratical act.
That all French subjects enlisting on board of such cruiser, without authority of the Emperor, lose their citizenship, and consequently forfeit their right to the protection of their government.
That the principle applied in the French tribunals is unlike that which has been applied in England (and I fear it will be found in the United States) as to harboring privateers; and while their prizes are in a neutral port having them condemned in courts of admiralty of the country licensing such privateer. The laws and practice of the French courts do not admit of this. But these matters, as Mr. Thouvenel now says, must be all left for determination to the tribunals of France.

I am happy to say that there is no disposition manifested here, so far as I have observed, to favor the rebellion in our southern States, or to recognize them as an independent power. All recognition of rights on their part is for commercial purposes only. But the government of France cannot, it says, look at this rebellion as a small matter. That, embracing as it does a large section and many States, they cannot apply to it the same reasoning as if it were an unimportant matter or confined to a small locality.

Mr. Thouvenel says he has had no application from southern commissioners for any purpose of recognition, and he does not know even that such persons are or have been in Paris.

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I send you a copy of “Gallignani’s Messenger,” containing a report of the [Page 218] proceedings of a large and enthusiastic meeting of Americans yesterday at the Hotel du Louvre.

With high consideration, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward,
Secretary of State.