Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.

No. 128.]

Sir: I omitted in my despatch of yesterday to say, that in my conference with Mr. Thouvenel, therein referred to, I again briefly called his attention to the suggestion in your note to Mr. Mercier in relation to certain ameliorations in the international code of maritime law. He said he did not think that much could be accomplished at present in that way by direct negotiation with foreign powers, (meaning, I suppose, Great Britain,) but that the public mind must first be properly impressed. He called my attention to the fact of the issue of the pamphlet by Monsieur de Hautefeuille on the subject, which I enclosed to you; likewise to the recent debate in the British Parliament.

This debate, by the way, is calculated in the end to impress itself strongly upon the mind, more especially, of the shipping interests of Great Britain. It has brought out prominently the effect of the Paris convention of 1856 upon British interests. The adoption by that government of the principle that the neutral flag protects the goods of a belligerent, goes far towards a recognition, practically, of the principle that private property afloat (not contraband) is safe; for it follows almost as a consequence of the adoption of the principle that private property, in time of war, will only be put afloat in neutral bottoms. In other words, the commerce of England and France, in case of a war between those powers, would be carried on in safety through the agency of the ships of the United States and of other neutrals, while their own ships would be left to rot at their wharves. It is true, the same result, under like circumstances, would come to us; but our separation from the European powers, and, as a consequence, the fewer chances of war with maritime nations to which we are subject, makes the contingency more remote. It would certainly be to advance only one step further in this ameliorating process to make private property safe in any ship; and the interests [Page 323] of England would seem to justify this advance, if it does not require it. Her immense commercial marine would then be kept afloat in time of war. If the principle would deprive her of the power of crippling an adversary to so great an extent as heretofore, an advantage more than equivalent would arise in the increased protection it would give to her shipping and to her commerce. It would be but to sacrifice a war power to a greater and better—a peace power. To this she will, I believe, come at last; or, if not, in time of war, she will violate the principle she has adopted—that the flag covers the cargo. She cannot, as it seems to me, stand for many years in the anomalous position she now occupies.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


His Excellency William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.