Mr. Seward to Mr. Sanford.
Washington, March 26, 1861.
Sir: Having spent the winter in Washington, you need not be informed of the attempts of a misguided party of citizens in several of the southern States, not unattended with violence and spoliation, to dismember the federal republic, and of their scheme to organize several of the States in a new revolutionary government, under the name of the Confederate States of America. Formidable as this conspiracy seemed at the beginning, it is now confidently believed that the policy of the present administration in regard to it will be supported by the people—a policy of conciliationr forbearance, and firmness—and that the conspiracy will thus fail for want of ultimate adoption by the States themselves which are expected to constitute the new confederacy. Aware of this danger, the movers in that desperate and destructive enterprise are now understood to be making; every effort to gain external advantage by appeals to prejudice or supposed interest in foreign nations for a recognition of the independence of the proposed new confederacy.
Under these circumstances the most important duty of the diplomatic representatives of the United States in Europe will be to counteract by all proper means the efforts of the agents of that projected confederacy at their respective courts. It was your extensive acquaintance on the continent, taken in connexion with your activity and energy here, which induced the President to confer upon you the appointment of minister resident in Belgium.
The general considerations to be urged against such a recognition will be found in the inaugural address of the President, delivered on the 4th of March instant, and in a circular letter despatched by me on the 9th instant to our ministers, an original part of which will be found in the archives of your legation. For your present convenience I enclose a copy of this circular letter.
The President, confident of the ultimate ascendancy of law, order, and the Union, through the deliberate action of the people in constitutional forms, does not expect you to engage in any discussion which the agents of the disunionists may attempt to initiate on the merits of their proposed revolution. He will not consent, directly or indirectly, to the interpellation of any foreign power in a controversy which is merely a domestic one.
There is some reason to suppose that the agents of the disunionists will attempt to win favor for their scheme of recognition by affecting to sympathize with the manufacturing interests of the European nations in their discontent with the tariff laws of the United States, and by promising to receive the fabrics of such nations on more favorable terms. You will be able to reply to such seductions as these that the new tariff laws thus complained of are revenue laws deemed by the legislature of the United States necessary under new and peculiar circumstances; that all experience shows [Page 54] that such laws are not and cannot be permanent; that if, as is now pretended, they shall prove to be onerous to foreign commerce, they will, of course, prove also to be unfruitful of revenue, and that in that case they will necessarily be promptly modified. The inconvenience, if any shall result from them, will therefore be temporary and practically harmless. Nor will any statesman of a foreign country need to be informed that the consumption of the fabrics which it is proposed shall be favored by the so-called seceding States chiefly takes place, not within those States, but in a very large degree in the States which remain undisturbed by this unhappy attempt at revolution.
It hardly needs be added that the recognition which the insurgents States desire tends through either peace or war to the establishment of a new government. That new government, like the government of the United States, must levy imports on foreign merchandise, while it must also resort to an export duty on cotton, its great staple, for its support; and these two measures combined would constitute a policy largely prohibitive, instead of the liberal and genial one which is now promised by the disunion party.
You will not fail to represent to the government of the King of the Belgians that all the interests of European manufactures and commerce are identified with the promotion of peace and the undisturbed activity of the American people. An act of recognition in favor of a now discontented party would necessarily tend to encourage that party to attempt to establish their separation from the Union by civil war, the consequences of which would be disastrous to all the existing systems of industrial activity in Europe, and when once they had begun, those consequences would be likely to continue indefinitely; whereas no nation in Europe can hope that their own interests would be as safe and prosperous under any change of government here as they are now and have so long been under our present system.
It is quite manifest already that differences and embarrassing questions may soon arise concerning the conduct of commerce, and that the commercial States of Europe may be subjected to strong seductions to violate our revenue laws and regulations. You will say generally on this subject that the government of the United States will expect the same respect to those laws and regulations which has hitherto been shown and which our treaties of amity and commerce entitle us to demand, and that it will not hold itself bound to favor or exempt from consequences any parties, of whatever nation, who may violate them. It does not at all distrust its ability to maintain them or the good disposition of its allies to observe them.
I shall not enlarge on these subjects, insomuch as the phase of the whole affair changes almost daily. The President willingly expects to rely on your astuteness in discovering points of attack and your practical skill and experience in protecting the interests of the United States. He will expect you, however, to communicate to this department very fully and frequently, and you will receive prompt instructions in every new emergency.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Henry S. Sanford, Esq., &c., &c., &c.