Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton.

No. 27.]

Sir: Your despatch No 12 (dated June 22) has been received. It relates to our proposition for accession to the declaration of Paris. This [Page 232] affair has become very much complicated, by reason of the irregular and extraordinary proceeding of the French government in proposing to take notice of the domestic disturbance which has occurred in this country. I do not know that even now I can clear the matter up effectually without knowing what may be the result of the communication which, in my despatch No. 19, I instructed you to make to the French government. I will try, nevertheless, to do so. The instructions contained in my despatch No. 4, dated 24th of April last, required you to tender to the French government, without delay, our adhesion to the declaration of the congress of Paris, pure and simple.

The reason why we wished it done immediately was, that we supposed the French government would naturally feel a deep anxiety about the safety of their commerce, threatened distinctly with privateering by the insurgents, while at the same time, as this government had heretofore persistently declined to relinquish the right of issuing letters of marque, it would be apprehended by France that we too should take up that form of maritime warfare in the present domestic controversy. We apprehended that the danger of such a case of depredation upon commerce equally by the government itself, and by its enemies, would operate as a provocation to France and other commercial nations to recognize the insurrectionary party in violation of our national rights and sovereignty. On the contrary, we did not desire to depredate on friendly commerce ourselves, and we thought it our duty to prevent such depredations by the insurgents by executing our own laws, which make privateering by disloyal citizens piracy, and punish its pursuit as such. We thought it wise, just, and prudent to give, unasked, guarantees to France and other friendly nations for the security of their commerce from exposure to such depredations on either side, at the very moment when we were delivering to them our protest against the recognition of the insurgents. The accession to the declaration of Paris would be the form in which these guarantees could be given—that for obvious reasons must be more unobjectionable to France and to other commercial nations than any other. It was safe on our part, because we tendered it, of course, as the act of this federal government, to be obligatory equally upon disloyal as upon loyal citizens.

The instructions waived the Marcy, amendment, (which proposed to exempt private property from confiscation in maritime war,) and required you to propose our accession to the declaration of the congress of Paris, pure and simple. These were the reasons for this course, namely: First. It was as well understood by this government then, as it is now by yourself, that an article of that celebrated declaration prohibits every one of the parties to it from negotiating upon the subject of neutral rights in maritime warfare with any nation not a party to it, except for the adhesion of such outstanding party to the declaration of the congress of Paris, pure and simple. An attempt to obtain an acceptance of Mr. Marcy’s amendment would require a negotiation not merely with France alone, but with all the other original parties of the congress of Paris, and every government that has since acceded to the declaration. Nay, more: we must obtain their unanimous consent to the amendment before being able to commit ourselves or to engage any other nation, however well disposed, to commit itself to us on the propositions actually contained in the declaration. On the other hand, each nation which is a party to the declaration of Paris is at liberty to stipulate singly with us for acceptance of that declaration for the government of our neutral relations. If, therefore, we should waive the Marcy proposition, or leave it for ultimate consideration, we could establish a complete agreement between ourselves and France on a subject which, if it should be left open, [Page 233] might produce consequences very much to be deprecated. It is almost unnecessary to say that what we proposed to France was equally and simultaneously proposed to every other maritime power. In this way we expected to remove every cause that any foreign power could have for the recognition of the insurgents as a belligerent power.

The matter stood in this plain and intelligible way until certain declarations or expressions of the French government induced you to believe that they would recognize and treat the insurgents as a distinct national power for belligerent purposes. It was not altogether unreasonable that you, being at Paris, should suppose that this government would think itself obliged to acquiesce in such a course by the government of France. So assuming, you thought that we would not adhere to our proposition to accede to the declaration, pure and simple, since such a course would, as you thought, be effective to bind this government without binding the insurgents, and would leave France at liberty to hold us bound, and the insurgents free from the obligations created by our adhesion. Moreover, if we correctly understand your despatch on that subject, you supposed that you might propose our adhesion to the treaty of Paris, not pure and simple, but with the addition of the Marcy proposition in the first instance, and might afterwards, in case of its being declined in that form, withdraw the addition, and then propose our accession to the declaration of Paris, pure and simple.

While you were acting on these views on your side of the Atlantic, we on this side, not less confident in our strength than in our rights, as you are now aware, were acting on another view, which is altogether different, namely, that we shall not acquiesce in any declaration of the government of France that assumes that this government is not now, as it always has been, exclusive sovereign, for war as well as for peace, within the States and Territories of the federal Union, and over all citizens, the disloyal and loyal all alike. We treat in that character, which is our legal character, or we do not treat at all, and we in no way consent to compromise that character in the least degree; we do not even suffer this character to become the subject of discussion. Good faith and honor, as well as the same expediency which prompted the proffer of our accession to the declaration of Paris, pure and simple, in the first instance, now require us to adhere to that proposition and abide by it; and we do adhere to it, not, however, as a divided, but as an undivided nation. The proposition is tendered to France not as a neutral but as a friend, and the agreement is to be obligatory upon the United States and France and all their legal dependencies just alike.

The case was peculiar, and in the aspect in which it presented itself to you portentous. We were content that you might risk the experiment, so, however, that you should not bring any responsibility for delay upon this government. But you now see that by incorporating the Marcy amendment in your proposition, you have encountered the very difficulty which was at first foreseen by us. The following nations are parties to the declaration of Paris, namely: Baden, Bavaria, Belgium, Bremen, Brazils, Duchy of Brunswick, Chili, the Argentine Confederation, the Germanic Confederation, Denmark, the two Sicilies, the Republic of the Equator, the Roman States, Greece, Guatemala, Hayti, Hamburgh, Hanover, the two Hesses, Lubeck, Mecklenburgh Strelitz, Mecklenburgh Schwerin, Nassau, Oldenburgh, Parma, Holland, Peru, Portugal, Saxony, Saxe Altenburgh, Saxe Coburg Gotha, Saxe Meiningen, Saxe Weimar, Sweden, Switzerland, Tuscany, Wurtemburg, Anhault Dessau, Modena, New Granada, and Uruguay.

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The great exigency in our affairs will have passed away—for preservation or destruction of the American Union—before we could bring all these nations to unanimity on the subject, as you have submitted it to Mr. Thouvenel. It is a time not for propagandism, but for energetic acting to arrest the worst of all national calamities. We therefore expect you now to renew the proposition in the form originally prescribed. But in doing this you will neither unnecessarily raise a question about the character in which this government acts, (being exclusive sovereign,) nor, on the other hand, in any way compromise that character in any degree. Whenever such a question occurs to hinder you, let it come up from the other party in the negotiation. It will be time then to stop and wait for such further instructions as the new exigency may require.

One word more. You will, in any case, avow our preference for the proposition with the Marcy amendment incorporated, and will assure the government of France that whenever there shall be any hope for the adoption of that beneficent feature by the necessary parties, as a principle of the law of nations, we shall be ready not only to agree to it, but even to propose it, and to lead in the necessary negotiations.

This paper is, in one view, a conversation merely between yourself and us. It is not to be made public. On the other hand, we confide in your discretion to make such explanations as will relieve yourself of embarrassments, and this government of any suspicion of inconsistency or indirection in its intercourse with the enlightened and friendly government of France.

I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,


William L. Dayton, Esq., &c., &c., &c.