Mr. Clay to Mr. Seward.

No. 15.]

Sir: In this critical time, whether war or peace with England ensues, I deem it my duty to give the President my impressions of European sentiment; for only by a sum of all the opinions of all the foreign agents can an opinion be properly formed with regard to the nations.

The monarchies of Europe have always regarded our republic with jealousy and distrust, because it was an ever-living protest against any other than self-government. They are injured by us, because the immigration to us of men, money, and the arts, is to them a great and increasing loss. They have just cause to fear us, because of our expansion by the acquisition of territory. They say our republic, by “annexation,” by which other nations or fragments of nations are united to us, by consent or partial force—by our sharing with them a common liberty—is an advantage which monarchies and aristocracies cannot avail themselves of; that by this means we have already greatly increased our domain; that we threaten the absorption of the isles of the western Atlantic and the Pacific, of Canada, of the Isthmus, of Mexico, and of South America; that our mercantile aptness equals that of England and surpasses that of France and the other nations; that this gives us the power, and they fear the inclination, to interfere at no distant day with European governments, which threatens their ruling classes, and, perhaps, their national existence; that the great European system of the balance of power must now be extended to America; that, perhaps, it would not have been expedient to have made war upon us to weaken us, but that now, we having divided ourselves, self-interest, if not self-preservation, demands that that division should be made permanent. This would give a fatal blow to the prestige of republicanism, and by compelling the two republics to keep up, by onerous taxation, an extensive system of fortifications and standing armies, they would both be too well balanced and too much weakened to disturb others, either by the force of their example or the power of their arms. These are the views and avowals of the European aristocracy, and especially those of England.

But the same aristocracies, and especially England, have in private intercourse, in public speeches, in the newspaper press, and in their works of a more permanent nature, persistently denounced the republic on account of slavery in some of the States. We said in defence that we inherited that relic of barbarism from our ancestors, and especially those of the British isles. That institutions so thoroughly the web of all society could not be readily and safely changed. We asked time and advancing civilization to help us. Besides, slavery was a State creation, and the national Union could not justly or constitutionally reach it there, and of course we could not be held responsible for its existence. But we acknowledged its evils and its wrongs, and to some extent complicity in its maintenance. Thereupon the liberal party, moved by the highest impulses of world-wide [Page 444] justice and the purest conscientiousness, took counsel to exclude slavery from all places of exclusive national jurisdiction—to enforce in good faith the laws against the slave trade; to exclude it from the national territories, and to cease to bend our domestic and foreign policy to its support. These were the avowed principles of the republican party, standing upon the Constitution and the eternal laws of justice and liberty. Upon this issue the slave States met us, avowing that slavery was the corner-stone of all real progress and safety, and since they could no longer use the Union they would ruin it, and seek security for themselves in an independent government.

Having thus followed in the lead of the European philanthropists, we had a right to expect their moral if not their physical support, aid, and comfort. But no: they denied the facts of history to shield themselves from the damnation of their great hypocrisy! Said they, the slavery question has nothing to do with the American issue: it is one of distinct interests—of a tariff and commerce; they contend not for principles, but for prowess. In vain we urged that the rebel States had controlling congressional power of the whole tariff question up to the time of the result. In vain we showed there could be no real antagonism between the north and the south; that we were the same race, spoke the same language, had the same religion, common commercial interests, and were one in geographical unity. In vain we plead that a separation of States violated the theory of our republicanism, which gives no sanction of right to the rebels, for our Union was one and indivisible by the Constitution and majority of the people themselves. The more we defended our right, the plainer the justice of our cause, the more violent our enemies became. Their jealousy, their secret hate, their blind vengeance verges upon insanity. At one time they blame us for our supineness in allowing the Union to drift into ruin; at another time for our cruel and remorseless thirst for “fratricidal strife.” Now, if we were real emancipationists we could claim their sympathy; then, when abolition seems to threaten to rise into the ascendant, with affected horror they cry out against the barbarism of a servile war. Hence all the speculations on our side of the ocean in favor of peace and the good will of Europe, founded upon ordinary ideas of philanthropy, cotton and commercial interests, will all prove delusive. You must recur to the motives set forth in the first part of this letter, from all of which there can be drawn but this conclusion: they renew with us the fable of the wolf and the lamb; though we are below on the mountain stream, we are accused of muddying the waters?

We ought, then, at once to fortify our coast lines everywhere. We ought to commence at once a war navy of iron vessels, on the seas and the lakes—first capable of protecting the seaport towns, and next taking the ocean against all enemies. The militia should again in all the States be armed and disciplined, ready to move in a day. This could be done without injury to the ordinary business of the people. I think the army should in no case be increased for the general service, but its efficiency increased, and a portion of it be capable of release as a reserve, by permanent fortifications at suitable places. We should put ourselves at the head of all the nations of America in a league of common defence against European intervention and invasion. In case of war with England, Canada should be seized at all hazards. A large force should be first placed in fortifications in some place suitable near the coast, which would cut off re-enforcements from England. Union with us, with equal rights, should be offered the Canadians, and the lives and property of friends secured. Men and money should be sent into Ireland, India, and all the British dominions, all over the world, to stir up revolt. Our cause is just; and vengeance will sooner or later overtake that perfidious aristocracy.

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I have always thought that the whole property of the rebels, slaves and all, should be summarily confiscated. On the subject of slavery, my motto is now, and ever has been, “Delenda est Carthago.” At the same time I would keep the olive branch ever extended in the other hand, constitutional guarantees and general amnesty to the rebels if they would lay down their arms and return to their duty and the Union. And here is our real danger— a division of the unionists between these extremes. The first duty of every man is to secure the restoration of the Union. To do this, we must have unity of counsel and action. That unity can only be attained by supporting “the powers that be.” I would say, then, to our “radical friends,” let us advise the President, in and out of Congress, but leave him to conduct the war upon his own convictions of right and possible success, and our whole duty then will be to support him with all the moral and physical strength of the republic. I see dangers ahead; I hear of factions and fear divisions! Hence I come forward to enter my protest against them to friend and foe. The President, if he deems it worth while, may use these words of mine as he deems best. I am willing to stand by him upon his last congressional message for the sake of unity, liberty, and Union. And may God save the commonweath.

Very truly, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. G.