Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton.

No. 114.]

Sir: The lateness of the hour in which your despatch of January 27 (No. 109) was received rendered a reply by the returning mail impossible.

I am glad that you have had so long and free a conversation with Mr. Thouvenel. Your report of it “suggests the points to be noticed in this despatch:

First. The subject of maritime law in regard to neutrals as affected by the present state of affairs in our country.

Second. The obstructions placed in Charleston harbor.

Third. Our present blockade.

Fourth. The progress and end of our military operations.

I begin by saying that, in my view, the whole difficulty which prevents correct views being taken on these subjects arises from one cause, namely: the fact that the European states have been from the first impatient of a civil war in America, and have thought that it could soonest be ended by pursuing a policy practically discouraging to this government. This is a mistake, against which we attempted to caution foreign powers in the beginning earnestly, though respectfully. I have only to say upon that point now, that revolutions, especially those instituted on a large scale, and disturbing a government that extends over regions of vast extent, will not. accommodate themselves to either the interested desires or the benevolent wishes of those who may be incidentally disturbed by them. Of all human transactions a civil war is that one which most requires to be treated practically, dispassionately, and with patience.

First. The subject of maritime law in regard to neutrals as affected by the present state of affairs in our country.

We remonstrated with the European states against recognizing the insurgents here as a belligerent power, on the ground that it was unnecessary, and would injuriously prolong the civil war. Our remonstrances were disregarded. Let European statesmen now take a retrospection of ten months of war, and say whether we were then in error. The Sumter and the Nashville, outlaws in America, are found disturbing the peace of Europe by piratical depredations on our commerce—the second commerce of the world— within sight of European ports. This is the extent of the naval strength of the new belligerent. What have not the European states lost by the terror struck into our commerce? Is it nothing that because of that unnecessary recognition our accession to the treaty of Paris, tendered by an [Page 316] administration favorable to neutral rights, has been rejected? Look at the insurrection now breaking down before the mere array of national strength which meets it on every side, and say whether the same result would not have happened three months ago but for the hopes of recognition infused into the insurgents by their recognition as belligerents.

The Trent affair, all the world sees, was an accident for which not the least responsibility rests upon this government. For a time our national pride and passion appealed to us to abandon an ancient liberal policy; but, even though unadvised, we did not listen to it, and we are to-day, after that occurrence, as ready and as willing to join other maritime powers in meliorations of the law, to the extent that France desires, as we were before it happened, and before the civil war commenced Forced into a belligerent attitude, and treated as such by neutral powers, we, of course, while these hostilities last, must claim for ourselves the rigors which other maritime powers agree to apply to us when we are neutrals. But even to-day, in the midst of this strife, if the other powers, including Great Britain, should agree to abolish naval blockades altogether and forever, and to exempt private property from confiscation in maritime war, we are prepared to consider the propositions. But we can make no proposition except as a whole nation. France and Great Britain, having declared the insurgents a belligerent, are not prepared to treat with us as more than a part of a nation. Is it not clear that the sooner they reconsider that unnecessary step, so prematurely taken, the better it will be for all parties concerned? I send you a copy of my rejoinder to Earl Russell on the Trent affair, which will show you more at large our views on this point.

Secondly. The artificial obstructions placed in the channels to the harbor of Charleston.

Hitherto such obstructions have been regarded as an ordinary military appliance of war. No American ever conceived that the human hand could place obstructions in a river which the same hand could not remove. No loyal American citizen has regarded this war as one that can have any other than a brief duration, with a termination favorable to the Union, casting upon the federal government the responsibility of improving the harbors of all the States. We were, therefore, surprised, and even incredulous, when we saw that the placing of obstructions in the channels leading to Charleston was, in Europe, regarded as an act of peculiar and ruthless severity. I observe that my explanations to this effect, made to Lord Lyons, are already published in the European journals. Since they were given I have ascertained that there yet remain two of the natural channels leading to Charleston harbor in which no obstructions have been placed or intended to be placed. In making these explanations, I must not be understood as conceding to foreign states a right to demand them.

Third. The present blockade.

It is a legitimate war measure intended to exhaust the insurrection. As I have already intimated, we are willing to conform to the law of nations as it is, or to consent to modifications of it, upon sufficient guarantees that what we concede to other nations shall be equally conceded by them. It is not the blockade that distresses European commerce. It is the insurrection that renders the blockade necessary. Let the European powers discourage the insurrection, it will perish. The blockade has not been unreasonably protracted. The whole coast of the blockaded ports is now falling rapidly into our hands. From the north line of Virginia to and including the Savannah river we, not the insurgents, have military occupation of the roadsteads and harbors. Before a month shall have elapsed we shall be in occupation of all the rest. When this shall have been done, we shall also have pressed the insurgents so closely inland that the insurrection will be [Page 317] practically without support. We shall, of course, be able safely to raise or modify the blockade as soon as we resume possession of the ports, and shall desire to do so. If our expectations shall prove too sanguine, we shall then consider how to favor commerce without danger to the national cause.

Fourthly. The prosecution and end of the civil war.

It has seemed slow and discouraging only because all parties accustomed to peace at home and abroad, and more or less dependent on American productions, commerce and consumption, demanded that it should be brought to an end without allowing time and preparation. The time, however, has been gained, and the preparation has been made, and its satisfactory results are already known to the world. Let the European states acknowledge these results, and concede now to the Union half as much toleration as they have practically, though unintentionally, shown to disunion, and the civil war will come to an end at once. The insurgents would be without means, without credit, and without power. Loyalty would resume sway in the insurrectionary States in place of treason, and the peace of the world would be restored. These reflections appear to me to be worthy the consideration of France. It seems to us, indeed, that France would consult her own true political interest by considering them; for government in France can stand on no other foundation than the democratic principle, while that principle must be surrendered as hopeless throughout the world if it be allowed to fail on this continent. The material interest of France counsels the consideration of these suggestions. For France will be prosperous only when the United States are united and at peace, and therefore also prosperous. I am aware that I have presented in this paper some facts and some thoughts contained in previous despatches, but I have thought it not unprofitable to bring the discussion of the subjects involved into a form in which it maybe submitted to Mr. Thouvenel. You will show him this paper, and give him a copy if he shall desire it.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


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