Mr. Clay to Mr. Seward.

No. 17.]

Sir: I called on Prince Gortchacow to-day, at his own request, when he read me the letter which he had already despatched to Baron (M.) de Stoeckl, congratulating our government upon its late adjustment of the Trent affair. The letter you will perceive is well written, and very favorable in its tone to our government. He asked what I thought of its publication here within a week. I said it was somewhat unusual, but the British government have published diplomatic correspondence before it was complete by arrival at its destination. He added if I thought it would aid us in this crisis of public formation of opinion in Europe, that he would have it then put in the official paper, being the St. Petersburg Journal. I told him I liked the style and spirit of the letter, and believed it would greatly forward our interests by its immediate publication. He responded that he was anxious to do us all the good offices possible (without interfering directly in our home troubles) as the great American nation, and that he would then publish it at once. He then repeated to me his wishes for the restoration of the Union. He expressed his fears, if any reverse should happen to us, that England would at once make common cause with the south, acknowledge her independence, and finally break down the power of the republic. He said, in addition, that if we should succeed in conquering the south that we would have a sore and discontented population upon our hands, which would ever prove a source of weakness, and that he felt that we ought to make a generous offer of reconciliation to the south. I responded that I agreed with him; that we were always and are now ready to deal justly and generously with the south should she be willing to listen to reason, but, failing to hear our appeals, that we would war it out to the bitter end before we would allow our natural boundaries to be broken by them. I must confess that I very much fear [Page 446] England’s interference. My first impressions in Europe are not changed nor weakened, but rather strengthened. Nothing but quick and effective success will save us from foreign enemies. If slavery could be rooted out of our system, I think any sacrifice of life and money now would not be too much to pay for such consummation. But, as it seems now to be determined to stand by slaveholders’ rights though all others may perish, I confess I think that urgent appeals ought to be made at once to the south to save itself by accepting anew the Constitution and the Union, with all guarantees of slavery, as of old, unequivocally expressed. This should, however, be a secret and confidential proffer of the administration, without making its publication demoralize the troops and the country. For my part, I venture to suggest that the President send one of his most able diplomatists to Jeff. Davis’s government, in an unofficial way, with the olive branch, ready, upon the gaining of any victory of importance on our part, to win him back to allegiance. You think you can trust England. I do not. So I would prepare at once for a war with that power, as an inevitable result of any reverses which would prevent a subjection of the south before the first of April next. But you may have sources of forming an opinion which are not open to me. I tell you simply how I look at this issue. One thing is certain: war or no war, Portland harbor ought to be at once fortified in the most permanent and effective manner. The tones of European governments are greatly changed since the rendition of Mason and Slidell. If England now seeks a quarrel with us, we will have all liberal Europe on our side. But she never cares what people think when she sees her way open to success. Upon our own strong right arm we must rest.

I trust you will pardon me for so often venturing to make suggestions in reference to our home affairs. My anxiety about the issue must plead my apology.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,


Hon. W. H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.