Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton.
Sir: Your despatch of March 4 (No. 124) is received. It brings a casual conversation with which you were favored by his Majesty the Emperor. While it was unquestionably proper that the President should be informed of the conversation, it will be for Mr. Thouvenel to decide whether he will entertain my comments upon it.
It is a pleasure to say that the remarks of his Majesty on that occasion, like the other communications which he has personally made to you, are manifestly sincere, grave, and earnest.
The substance of those remarks is, that he is very solicitous for an early termination of our domestic difficulties, because they are producing effects very injurious to the prosperity, and even calculated to disturb the tranquillity, of the French empire.
We have not been inattentive observers of recent occurrences in France, and thus we have become aware of the distress which prevails in many of the districts of that country, and of the popular movements which it has produced. While his Majesty would probably admit that other circumstances have combined with our unhappy civil strife in producing that distress, I am not at all disposed to deny that a large share of it is justly attributable to the latter cause. I can also very easily understand how naturally those classes of the French population which are most immediately affected trace all their troubles to that cause alone.
In behalf of the President, I can say, with the utmost frankness and sincerity, that he has not indulged a sentiment or a feeling during all our troubles that was not earnestly generous and friendly towards all foreign states, and especially so towards the government and the people of France. Indeed, it could not have been otherwise; for we have learned by painful and anxious experience that the first interests of every state are security and peace. Moreover, although the policy of France during our trials has not always been such as in the great straits through which we have passed we could entirely approve, yet, on reviewing the events of the year, I am able to admit that that policy was not unnaturally regarded by the Emperor as necessary under the aspect which our affairs assumed abroad. I can recall not one instance of disingenuousness or unkindness towards us in the intercourse which has taken place during that period between the two countries. Moreover, revolutions are epidemical; and, although we deem [Page 326] our own country to be now on the return to a condition of order and repose, we are not sure that new distractions would not befall us if revolutions should break out in Western Europe. The United States are thus bound to desire the peace of all other nations. The Emperor may, therefore, rest assured that this government is not merely not indifferent to the wishes he expresses, but is desirous so to direct its proceedings as to meet and gratify them.
His Majesty mentioned to you two subjects of anxiety: the first, whether we shall be able speedily to open cotton ports; the other, whether, even if such ports shall be so opened, cotton will come. It is hazardous, as his Majesty well knows, to speculate on the probable course of military operations. In regard to this strife, I have been sanguine of only one, and that the cardinal point, namely: that the national forces would prevail, and the Union be thus maintained. But how, and when, and where the intervening victories would be won, and the unavoidable disasters and disappointments would occur, I have not undertaken to predict, because such knowledge is never vouchsafed to rulers or to statesmen. Perhaps before this paper shall have reached you, possibly even before it shall have left this place, there may be reverses here which will essentially modify the favorable expectations which, in common with all our countrymen, we are now indulging with a high degree of confidence.
These expectations, however, I give you for the information of the government of France. We have already, with a strong hand, recovered the control of nearly all of the coast of the insurrectionary States, and we have recaptured four of the great ports which were wrested from us by the insurgents, or betrayed into their hands before the government assumed its attitude of self-defence. While doing this we have effected a release of all our land and naval forces from the sieges in which they were held by the rebels. All these forces are, as is supposed, safely acting aggressively. Our means are ample, our forces numerous, our credit sound, and our spirit buoyant and brave. The reverse of all this is the true condition of the insurgents. They are reduced from aggression to defence. Distracted between many exposed points, they have consumed most of their resources; their credit is nearly prostrate; their forces, always exaggerated, are now very feeble; and they are considering, not so much how they shall carry on the war they so recklessly began, as how they shall meet and endure the calamities it is bringing upon them. It is under these circumstances that our army of the Potomac, under General McClellan, to-day is descending that river, an hundred thousand strong, to attack and carry Norfolk and Richmond; that another army, under General Fremont, is moving upon Cumberland Gap, to cut off the communication of the insurgents with the more southern States; that a third army, under General Halleck, equal in numbers and efficiency with that of the Potomac, is descending both banks of the Mississippi, flanking what has hitherto proved to be an irresistible naval force, which is making its way upon the river itself to New Orleans; while a fourth column of land and naval forces, under General Butler and Captain Porter, deemed adequate to any emergency, is already believed to be ascending the river from the Belize to attack New Orleans. Burnside has really left nothing to be done to rescue the ports between Norfolk and Charleston. Charleston cannot long hold out; and the fall of Savannah is understood to be only a question of days, not of weeks. Mobile cannot stand after the fall of these and of New Orleans, and all the ports between those cities are already in our possession.
This summary of our military situation encourages us to believe that the insurrectionary government must very soon fall and disappear.
The second question upon which his Majesty expressed his anxiety is, [Page 327] whether cotton will come, even after the government shall have opened the ports.
Upon this point you may safely assure him that all apprehensions are, in our view, groundless. The American people, in the southern as well as in the northern States, are a civilized, industrial, considerate, and Christian people, and therefore they are a practical people. A seditious faction has induced the southern people to appeal from the constitutional decision by ballot, upon a question of administration, to the unconstitutional test of arms. They, like ourselves, are obliged by the laws of our social condition to submit to the decision of arms when it is made. Of course reckless leaders threaten, in advance of the decision, that it shall not be respected, and, of course, some of them will attempt to prevent acquiescence in it after it shall have been made. They could succeed, however, only by instigating a guerilla war, and that form of warfare would find no support in any part of this country.
You will reassure the French government of the disposition and purpose of the President to remove the extraordinary restraints which have been laid upon commerce, just so far and so fast as it can be done compatibly with the attainment of the sole object of the contest on our part, namely: the re-establishment of the Union.
It would be disingenuous to close this communication without adding that now, as heretofore, it is the firm opinion of the President that it is in the power of the Emperor of France himself to render it absolutely certain that the efforts this government is thus making for the pacification of the insurgent region shall be crowned with immediate and complete success. The insurgents, hemmed in on all sides, without possessing a port or any other egress, and ruined and demoralized, as they are, are not any longer, even if at any previous time they have been, entitled to the forbearance of foreign powers as a public belligerent. Their persistence in resisting the government of their country depends on the groundless hope of foreign intervention which they indulge. So long as they are regarded by foreign nations as a belligerent, they will not relinquish all expectation of such intervention. This view, however, has been already submitted to his Majesty more than once, and it is therefore unnecessary to enlarge upon it, or to re-enforce the arguments in support of it heretofore advanced. A new argument, however, offers itself at the moment when I am closing this despatch. Information comes from Florida that the people of that State, whose ports and harbors have an importance in regard to commerce only inferior to their value in regard to naval defence, are already taking the incipient measures for a renunciation of disunion and a complete restoration of the authority of the United States.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
William L. Dayton, Esq, &c., &c., &c.