Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Your despatches from No. 128 to 135, both inclusive, have been duly received. Through some oversight, I neglected to acknowledge the receipt of the first five when they came to hand.
The change in the condition of things at home has produced a change, if possible, more striking abroad. There is little more said just now as to the validity of our blockade or the propriety of an early recognition of the south. The fight between the Monitor and the Merrimack has turned the attention of these maritime governments, and of England more especially, in another direction. They certainly appreciate more highly than heretofore the difficulty of shutting up distant ports with wooden ships. They must see, too, that the present unhappy condition of things in our country is forcing us to increase our iron-clad vessels with a rapidity elsewhere unknown. With a powerful and disciplined army on foot, and a heavy iron-clad naval force at our command, the world will understand that our just rights are not to be trifled with. I only hope that no consciousness of strength may, at the close of our domestic struggle, induce a spirit of arrogance or aggression upon our part towards other nations. If the control of the government be then in its present hands, I am sure that such spirit will be restrained.
Your confidential despatch (No. 133) has been read by me with great interest. It is in answer to mine of March 4, (No. 124,) giving you the substance of a conversation with the Emperor. The point of that conversation was the somewhat anxious expression of a hope upon his part that some of the cotton ports would be opened, and the expression of a confident belief upon mine that it would be done at an early day This, upon my part, was predicated upon the repeated assurances received from Washington that as we took possession of the southern ports they would be opened to trade. Your despatch, however, though summing up with great force the strength of our present position and the grounds of our future hopes, gives no distinct assurance of the time or circumstances under which any of the ports will be opened. To say, as your despatch does say, they will be opened “upon the re-establishment of the Union,” will be, in the view of foreign governments, rather to limit than extend the assurances heretofore given. They will say, I fear, with justice, that we have heretofore held out to them what they believe to be a better hope than this.[Page 334]
They will feel that as our strength increases, and our fears of foreign interference diminish, we are not willing to make good our promises. I will communicate your views to Mr. Thouvenel, but I must say I feel somewhat the awkwardness of my position, though I am quite sure that I have not heretofore gone further in my assurances than communications from your department justified.
Your reference to the question of a withdrawal by France of the concession of belligerent rights to the south is noted. I will keep the suggestion in view, but you will have already learned, by a subsequent despatch from me, that I have fully presented that matter both to the Emperor and to Mr. Thouvenel.
I have forborne to address them in writing upon this subject, because I feared that a direct and formal refusal would commit this government still further, and make the matter worse. Besides, did you not refuse to take official notice of the fact that such concession ever was made? Mr. Adams, on a recent visit here, informed me that he had not yet addressed the British, government upon this question, but having learned what had been done here, he would now make the suggestion there. As these governments act upon an understanding on this question, it is, perhaps, not wise for me to go further until it shall appear that some suggestion has been made in England.
I was happy to receive a visit from Mr. Adams, and to confer with him upon this and other matters.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
His Excellency William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.