Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Your despatches Nos. 118, 119, and 120 were received by me on the 21st instant, and yet the contents of 118 and 120 have not, up to this date, been communicated to Mr. Thouvenel. This is owing to the fact that I received notice, on Sunday last, that he would not receive me until Friday next, and I did not feel that the despatches were of a nature to justify a call for a special interview.
In the meantime the Emperor, without application on my part, by a note from his chamberlain, signified to me that he would receive me to-day at 2 p.m. Of course I availed myself of the opportunity, and have just returned from this personal interview. I was most kindly received, and he said at once that he had wished to have a talk with me about cotton, and the prospect of opening our ports. He spoke again of the great inconvenience connected with the existing condition of things, and feared it would not speedily come to an end; that the war might yet be a long one. He referred, too, to the probability of the south’s destroying its cotton, &c. These, of course, are old matters, and I refer to them only as coming now directly from his Majesty. In reply, I thanked him for the opportunity of a direct personal conference, and assured him again of the confidence of our government in the early suppression of the insurrection. As to the burning of the cotton I told him that it might be, and doubtless would be, done, to a limited extent, but that little confidence was to be placed, in my judgment, upon the blustering resolutions and loud talk of southern people upon this subject; that I did not doubt, if we got possession of the country, enough of cotton would remain to supply the present European want. I then read to him your despatches 118 and 120. He was aware that an army and fleet were on their way by sea to New Orleans, and asked, if we took that city, whether I thought they would then get a supply of cotton. I told him I had little doubt of it; that you had always represented that when we took possession of the country in which the ports were located the blockade would be removed, I thought that cotton, to a considerable extent, would come forward. I then called his attention particularly to the suggestion in the latter part of your confidential despatch No. 120. I told him we honestly believed that if a proclamation by France and England withdrawing belligerent rights from [Page 324] the insurrectionists should be made, the insurrection would collapse at once; that it was the moral support only which that concession had given them that had sustained them so far; that they had always looked to it as a first step towards their final recognition as an independent power. If the concession were withdrawn, I believed, as an equivalent, the blockade would be raised at an early day. He said the concession of belligerent rights was made upon an understanding with England; that some legal questions were involved in it originally, and that he would have to speak to Mr. Thouvenel about them. I called his attention to the fact that the confederate flag had been scarcely, if at all, seen in a port of France; that they had almost no commerce upon the ocean and scarcely the pretence of a navy; that the two vessels, (Nashville and Sumter,) which had alone been in European waters, had demeaned themselves as pirates rather than as ships-of-war; that a withdrawal of belligerent rights would, under these circumstances, take from the south no material advantage; it would only deprive them of the countenance and moral support of other nations. The Emperor replied that he must frankly say, when the insurrection broke out and this concession of belligerent rights was made, he did not suppose the north would succeed; that it was the general belief of statesmen in Europe that the two sections would never come together again. This belief, he intimated, was a principal reason why this concession of belligerent rights was then granted. He said now it was a large country, and for that reason difficult to subdue. I told him (as I had before told Mr. Thouvenel, in answer to the same objection) that we did not need to seize hold of a man’s entire body to control him; that if we grasped firmly any sensitive extremities it was enough; that he had controlled Russia for the time being by taking possession of Sebastopol. I then called his attention to the few ports in the south, and the effect of seizing and holding them—excluding from the outer world the people of the interior, whose entire surplus industry was devoted to raising articles for export. This advantage, in connexion with the fact of the unquestionable existence of a large Union element in parts of the south, would, I thought, bring them into the Union again. Without expressing any opinion upon these matters, he said he would think of them, but hoped in the meantime that something would be done by us to relieve the difficulties here growing out of the want of cotton. I have heretofore expressed my earnest and perhaps somewhat urgent wish that this hope may be realized.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
His Excellency William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.