Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.


No. 10.]

Sir: Your despatch (No. 10) was duly received on the 9th instant, and, by the same steamer, certain enclosures which were delivered by me to Mr. Sanford as directed.

Your despatch (which is of great interest) was likewise handed by me to Mr. Sanford, to be read and copied if desired, with strict injunctions as to the necessary care to prevent all premature exposure of its contents. * * You will observe in the first column of “Le Moniteur Universel” (a copy of which is herewith sent) that his Majesty the Emperor of the French, has published a formal declaration, setting out the principles by which this government will be controlled in respect to vessels of war or privateers of the United States and of those who assume to have formed (“prétendent former”) a separate confederation. These principles are substantially the same as those set forth in my despatch No. 5, and, if they are thoroughly carried out by this government, I do not see that much danger can arise to our commerce from French subjects, or any facilities afforded by French ports. Indeed, if the insurrectionists of the south are recognized as belligerents, I do not see how we can justly ask or expect the French government to go further against the pretended confederacy than it has gone in this declaration. That part of the declaration which puts the vessels of the United States in the same category as the vessels of the Confederate States, may, I think, be justly complained of; but this grows almost necessarily out of the recognition of those States as belligerents. France has placed upon their rights as belligerents (as it seems to me) the utmost limitation that she could put [Page 223] upon them, consistently with the recognition of such rights at all. She has done this, moreover, without offensive promulgation of sympathy with the southern rebels either upon the part of the government or its statesmen, but with expressions of kindness and respect for us throughout.

I have not yet received from Mr. Thouvenel an answer to my written proposition to open negotiations for the accession of the United States to the treaty of Paris of 1856. A copy of that written proposition, marked A, is hereunto attached.

The European press, so far as I have observed, take it for granted that the accession of the United States to that treaty would not at all alter the relations of the several powers to the so-called southern confederacy. A treaty cannot of itself alter the law of nations, although it may restrict the rights of those States which become parties to it. The treaty of Paris certainly did not prevent the United States, while no party to it, from issuing letters of marque, nor would the accession of the United States to such treaty prevent the confederates of the south from doing the same thing if they are recognized by other nations as a belligerent power. The whole difficulty, every subsequent right which has been conceded to the confederates, grows out of that recognition.

It is doubtful, perhaps, whether the other powers will, under the circumstances, negotiate for the accession of the United States at this time to the treaty in question; but should they do so, it will be with the understanding, I take it, that it imposes no new duties upon them growing out of our domestic controversy. I beg pardon, however, for these suggestions. They may, perhaps, be considered a little beyond the line of my official duties.

* * * * * *

With high consideration, I have the honor to be your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward,
Secretary of State, &c.


Sir: In conformity with the verbal promise I gave at our last conference, I now have the honor to propose to your excellency an accession, on the part of the United States of America, to “the declaration concerning maritime law,” adopted by the plenipotentiaries of France, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia, and Turkey, at Paris, on the 16th of April, 1856, with the addition to the first clause, which declares “privateering is and remains abolished,” of the following words: “And the private property of the subjects or citizens of a belligerent on the high seas shall be exempted from seizure by public armed vessels of the other belligerent, unless it be contraband.”

Thus amended I will immediately sign a convention on the part of the United States, acceding to the declaration, which will, I doubt not, be promptly ratified and confirmed by my government.

With much respect, I have the honor to be your very obedient servant,


His Excellency Monsieur Thouvenel,
Minister of Foreign Affairs.