Mr. Perry to Mr. Seward.

No. 17.]

Sir: I have received your despatches Nos. 51, 58, and 59, addressed to Mr. Schurz.

The anxiety felt at this capital concerning the grave question pending between the United States and England, as the time draws near when the reply of our government to the demands of England may be expected, is quite evident. I do not hesitate to say that public opinion is decidedly against us in the question of right, and the proceeding of the commandant of the San Jacinto with the Trent is considered by Spanish jurisconsults as unsanctioned by the law of nations. It is considered, therefore, that the United States ought not to hesitate to make reparation for the fault committed by their officer. Whilst this is so, there is at the same time a good deal of satisfaction manifest that the act condemned should have been committed with an English ship, and not that of any other nation. The skirts of England are not clean, and Spanish statesmen willingly allow that she is the last of all the powers in her right to complain of such treatment. But though England may have been guilty in times past of acts in regard to neutral ships even more indefensible than that of which she now complains, this is not thought to justify the United States in the commission of like faults, and there is no hesitation here upon the point that the interests of all nations would be served by the United States yielding in this matter and allowing the question involved in the affair of the San Jacinto and Trent to be decided against them upon principle.

I give you thus a summary of the opinions of various personages with whom I have conversed freely, and which may be taken as those of the most enlightened and most competent of this country.

Yesterday I had an informal interview with the minister of state at his department, in which the conversation turned upon the declaration made to me in June last by Mr. Calderon, to the effect that he would not see nor receive any commissioners or other negotiators from the so-called Confederate States, as reported by me in despatch No. 4, of June 13, published in the London [Page 482] Times of December 19. Mr. Calderon renewed to me yesterday the same declaration, saying that the policy of Spain in regard to our civil contest was fixed by the royal decree of June 17, which appeared a few days subsequent to the interview referred to, and that her Majesty’s government had no intention to depart from its provisions in any respect. Mr. Calderon said himself, that to hold conferences with or to receive the agents of the so-called Confederate States in any official capacity would be tantamount to recognizing the separate existence of those States as a body politic, and this the government of Spain had no intention to do, but holds to the line of conduct and policy embodied in the royal decree of June 17.

As to the question between the United States and England growing out of the affairs of the San Jacinto, Mr. Calderon said, in substance, in reply to my observations, that we were wrong, and that England could not help making her energetic reclamation against that proceeding. That the subject of the attitude of Spain in the case of war between the two powers had not been treated in the council of ministers, as there had been no formal instance on my part in regard to the matter; but he quite agreed with me that the interests of Spain indicated a complete neutrality, and there was no motive why Spain should take any part in the contest on either side. His manner was frank and kind, and his language such as to completely reassure me in my conviction that this country has no idea of being itself drawn into the dispute in any event. I did not myself think proper to give to this rather informal conversation any more important character, nor attempt to press the minister to any distinct declaration of an official nature at the present moment. When we know the reply of the President to the pretensions of the English cabinet, I shall endeavor to shape my course here in accordance with what our interests may then seem to demand, hoping to receive your instructions as to any positive step which it may be proper to take. Meantime everything confirms the opinion expressed in my despatch No. 15, that a complete neutrality of Spain in any and all circumstances of the threatening conflict with England can be maintained.

I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, sir, your obedient servant,


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