Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.
Sir: * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Your communications to Mr. Mercier in respect to opening a way for the transmission of letters to New Orleans, &c., from French houses, have, I [Page 328] think, been made known to this government. They seem to feel an interest in the accomplishment of this purpose, but subordinate altogether to the question of cotton. That is now the great and leading point of interest between them and us. The changed condition of things at home has driven out of mind (or at least out of our political conferences here) all questions as to the efficiency of the blockade as now maintained. The French government has come to the conclusion, I think, that we will get possession of the cotton ports, but they seem now to be troubled with grave doubts whether in that event, even, cotton will be forthcoming. This suggestion, as I have already said, was made by the Emperor, and afterwards was repeated by Mr. Thouvenel. I told Mr. Thouvenel that it was possible that foreign purchasers might find it necessary to send their agents into the interior for the purpose of buying directly of the producer, instead of their factors at the seaports, but that I did not doubt that cotton enough would remain undestroyed in the southern country to supply existing wants. I again called his attention to the propriety of his government’s retracing its steps in regard to its concession to the insurrectionists of belligerent rights, referring him to the considerations in reference thereto stated in your despatches. He gave me no reason to suppose they would at present comply with this request. On the contrary, he said that it would scarcely be worthy of a great power, now that the south was beaten, to withdraw a concession made to them in their day of strength. I asked him, in reply, how long this concession was to last? How far it was expected we should go in crushing out this rebellion before it would be withdrawn? I said that it might well happen that, even after the southern ports were in our hands and their armies subdued, that bodies of men—brigands and guerillas—might be found in arms in some sections of the country, and I begged to know whether they were then yet to be considered as a “belligerent power?” Whether their flag was yet to be respected? He said it was impossible to answer these questions without conference with England. That they had acted in these matters upon an understanding throughout. But, he said, if we took possession of the ports, the war would be altogether internal, and France would have nothing to do with it; that if we had the ports in our possession, no southern cruisers could get out, and the recognition of their flag would practically be a matter of no importance. I told him that some cruisers were already out—the Sumter for instance. “Oh!” said he “she is fast; she can’t move.” I then told him that, aside from foreign ports, from sundry points upon our own coast, (not ports by law,) small armed craft might steal out to prey upon our coasting trade, if their right to do so ‘was recognized by maritime nations. This fact, together with the countenance and moral support which the concession of belligerent rights gave to the rebellion, made it most desirable to the government of the United States that it should be ended. He seemed to think that we attached an undue importance to this. He said that their own consuls reported to them that the south were very much dissatisfied with France; that they complained that they had been badly treated, and threatened even to send their consuls and citizens out of the country. He said, furthermore, that we knew very well that all the sympathies of France and her people had been with the north from the beginning, and we could yet see how these sympathies tended from the mode in which the commissioners of the south had been received here.
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I am, sir, your obedient servant,
His Excellency William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.