Mr. Taylor to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to report to you that immediately after the receipt of your despatch (No. 14) of September 26 I applied for an interview with Prince Gortchacow, for the purpose of delivering into his hands the letter of his excellency the President to his Imperial Majesty Alexander II. My request was at once granted, and an early hour the next day was appointed, but the prince having in the meantime been summoned to the town of Gatschinee, some thirty miles from here, to confer with the Emperor, the interview was postponed until to-day.
After having received the President’s letter, which he promised to present to his Imperial Majesty without delay, the prince entered upon a conversation concerning American affairs, which I deem so important that I hasten to report it while his expressions are yet fresh in my mind, and can be communicated to you with the greatest possible exactness.
He commenced by stating in the strongest terms his concern at the course which events are taking in the United States.
“Your situation,” said he, “is getting worse and worse. The chances of preserving the Union are growing more and more desperate. Can nothing be done to stop this dreadful war? Can you find no basis of arrangement before your strength is so exhausted that you must lose for many years to come your position in the world?”
I answered that the critical period in the fortunes of the war seemed now to be passed. Our arms were again victorious, and could the military strength of the rebellion be once fairly broken, it would be almost impossible for it to maintain itself longer.
“It is not that alone,” said he, “but the fury which seems to possess both sides—the growth of enmities which are making the gulf continually wider between the two sections. The hope of their reunion is growing less and less, and I wish you to impress on your government that the separation which I fear must come, will be considered by Russia as one of the greatest possible misfortunes.”
“To loyal Americans,” I answered, “separation seems nothing less than national ruin, and precisely for this reason there can be no negotiations at present with the rebel authorities. They would listen to no terms which did not include separation, and hence the war is still a terrible necessity. I have hopes, however, that a change may occur before the term of grace allowed by the President’s proclamation expires. Have you noticed that the State of North Carolina is already taking some action on the subject?” * * * * * “Russia alone,” said he “has stood by you from the first, and will continue to stand by you. We are very, very anxious that some means should be adopted; that any course should be pursued which will prevent* the division that now seems inevitable. One separation will be followed by another; you will break into fragments.”
“We feel this,” I replied. “The northern and southern States cannot peacefully exist, side by side, as separate republics. There is nothing the American people desire so much as peace. But peace on the basis of separation is equivalent to continual war. We have only just called the whole strength of the nation into action. We believe the struggle now commencing will be final, and [Page 464] we cannot, without disgrace and ruin, accept the only terms upon which the rebels would treat, until our strength has been tried and has failed.”
“You know the sentiments of Russia!” the prince exclaimed with great earnestness. “We desire, above all things, the maintenance of the American Union as one indivisible nation. We cannot take any part more than we have done. We have no hostility to the southern people. Russia has declared her position, and will maintain it. There will be proposals for intervention. We believe that intervention could do no good at present. Proposals will be made to Russia to join in some plan of interference. She will refuse any invitation of the kind. Russia will occupy the same ground as at the beginning of the struggle. You may rely upon it, she will not change. But we entreat you to settle the difficulty. I cannot express to you how profound an anxiety we feel—how serious are our fears.”
We were standing face to face during the conversation, and the earnest, impassioned manner of the prince impressed me with the fact that he was speaking from his heart. At the close of the interview he seized my hand, gave it a strong pressure, and exclaimed “God bless you!” I felt that any further declaration of the grounds for encouragement which I see in the course of events at home, would be useless. His excellency had evidently been disappointed in his hopes, from the representations heretofore made to him. I thanked him for his frankness and for the renewed declaration of the attitude of Russia. I had purposely abstained in former interviews from referring to current rumors of intervention, in which Russia was to be invited to take part, because any such reference might have implied a doubt in the permanence of her friendship. The spontaneous expression of Prince Gortchacow in regard to the subject is thus all the more satisfactory.
I fixed in my memory at the time, and have reproduced, almost word for word, the conversation which occurred between us. I judged it prudent to enter into no discussion concerning the impressions which the prince has derived from recent events. His manner convinced me he desired his words to be reported, and I was therefore anxious that he should express himself as fully as possible with no more interruption on my part than was necessary in order to justify the government of the United States.
The proclamation of the President, which I forwarded to Prince Gortchacow as soon as it arrived, was translated and published the next day in the Journal de St. Petersbourg, together with your circular which accompanied it. Since then the same paper, which preserved a complete silence on American affairs during the period of our reverses, has contained several pungent paragraphs in the interest of the Union. The Journal of yesterday, for instance, has the following: “As to the democratic meeting which has been held in New York, for the purpose of condemning the emancipation proclamation of Mr. Lincoln, and declaring that the republicans violate the Constitution, it will suffice, to give a just measure of the value of this demonstration, to recall the fact that before the war commenced the friends of slavery in the United States were designated by the name of ‘democrats,’ while that of ‘republicans’ was given to the adversaries of the peculiar institution.”
The proclamation has not excited much surprise at this court. So far as I have been able to ascertain the impression which it has produced among intelligent Europeans, it is considered a justifiable measure. Some doubts have been expressed in the diplomatic circle here whether it can be enforced without a military occupation, which would insure submission in any case; but the general feeling is favorable to the step. Among the Americans whom I have met, those who formerly belonged to the “Breckinridge” wing of the democratic party have been strongest in their expressions of satisfaction.
I shall do my best to promote the confidence of our friends—which term includes all Russians, and a large portion of the foreign residents here—although [Page 465] painfully conscious that arguments and representations, however just and telling, are beginning to lose much of their force. I am waiting in the most anxious expectation to be strengthened by deeds. The conversation recorded above is, in some respects, a type of much in which I must take a daily part. Speculations concerning the future are no longer received; apparent inaction is considered almost equivalent to defeat; and even that better knowledge of an American which supports his own hope and confidence is partly neutralized by the disappointments of this year. For my part, I can scarcely doubt the issue without doubting the justice of God; but I am forced to encounter a feeling in others which my own confidence cannot overcome.
I have also to announce a change in the ministry, which may have some bearing on the interests of American citizens in Russia. A letter of the Emperor was published on Sunday last, allowing General Chef kin to retire from his post as chief director of the ways of communication. He is succeeded by General Melnikoff, of the engineers, a man of distinguished talents and acquirements, who has travelled in the United States, and is said to be anxious to enlist American enterprise in the great system of railroad communication which the imperial government has planned. As Mr. Collins’s project of telegraphic connexion has been referred to this department, I anticipate a much more speedy and favorable report upon it than could have been expected during the direction of General Chefkin. The change, which has been rumored for a month past, has, no doubt, delayed action upon the project, but I hope soon to be able to announce to you its acceptance by the imperial government.
I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.