Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.
Sir: There has, for the last few days, been a lull here in the excitement as to our affairs.
Indeed, since the disappointment experienced by the friends of secession at the late opening speech of the Emperor, they seem to have quite “subsided.” It is surprising how strongly they had been impressed with the [Page 314] conviction that a policy in their favor was to be foreshadowed by the Emperor, and followed by England. I am told by one, in the confidence of their representatives here and in England, that they had what they considered assurances from the most reliable sources that such would be the case. But the quiet of these men is temporary only. They have managed, and will manage, to keep up through the public press a constant excitement, deluding others, and being, I verily believe, to a certain extent, deluded themselves. One hope is not extinguished before another is started.
The inefficiency of the blockade, as illustrated by the alleged passage in and out of four hundred vessels, or five hundred, as Mr. Mason says, will doubtless be strongly pressed in the British Parliament, and perhaps in the French Chambers.
Could we but get the names of those vessels, and their ports of entrance and departure, it would without doubt appear that they were generally mere fishing smacks, or small coasting vessels, against which no blockade ever did or could provide; and that the entrance and departure even of these were generally by some inlet, by-way, or side channel, not open at all to regular sea-going ships.
If blockades are to be maintained at all, neither England nor France, being large naval powers, can afford, I think, to make their efficiency depend on the evasion of the blockade by such craft. It would be equivalent to their abolition altogether. The rule laid down in the declaration of Paris of 1856 certainly never contemplated that an occasional success, even by a sea-going vessel, in evading a blockade by the aid of a storm or a dark night, or some other casualty, should be sufficient in law to destroy its efficiency. The true rule undoubtedly is that which was given by his excellency M. Rouher, the French minister of agriculture, commerce, and public works, in September last, (enclosed by me to you,) which holds, if I recollect rightly, a blockade to be effective if it exposes those who shall attempt an approach to the port to certain danger. No government desirous of sustaining the right of blockade, as England probably is, can, I think, venture to lay down the rule of law as exacting more than this; and up to that point you must certainly have evidence to show you have kept the existing blockade.
Unfortunately, however, this is a question of fact, and a willing power may determine it according to inclination, pretending all the while that she is keeping herself strictly within the rule of international law.
But it is no part of either my purpose or duty to write you loose opinions upon what the law is or ought to be.
The Emperor, last night, in a brief conversation held with him while at a private ball at the Tuilleries, again expressed his earnest wish that our domestic strife was brought to a close. When I told him that I had sanguine hopes of success at no distant day, he asked me specially about the condition of the roads, and the possibility of turning aside from them into the open country. He referred to the great difficulty of moving wagons, cannon, and the immense materiel essential to a great army over a single road, especially in a wooded country, illustrating it forcibly, as he did, by his own troubles and perplexities in his Italian campaign.
The papers I see deny that you are sinking more “stone ships” in the channel at Charleston. I rather regret this, if true. It was one of those matters on which the public mind here was much against us, and, to a certain extent, is yet so, because, perhaps, its purpose was and is misunderstood.
I explained this in despatch 109, and stated the responsibility I had assumed in repudiating, on the part of our government, any intent permanently to destroy that harbor. The very next steamer following that conversation brought out the despatch from Lord Lyons to his government, which [Page 315] contained your own explanation to him, and, much to my gratification, confirmed substantially what I had said on this point to Mr. Thouvenel.
So, too, in a late despatch, February 3, I suggested the propriety of maturing some plan for the delivery of letters in the southern country, and within a few days only after that despatch was sent, I learned through the newspapers that you were already engaged in maturing a plan for that purpose. We seem, to a great extent, to have anticipated each other’s suggestions, which is some evidence at least of their propriety.
I am, sir, with much respect, your obedient servant,
His Excellency William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.