Mr. Perry to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have had two interviews with the minister of state, Mr. Calderon Collantes, on the subject of your instruction of February 24.
The affair of the visit of the Sumter to the port of Cadiz, in January last, was closed by my addressing to Mr. Calderon the note of March 22, based upon the first part of your despatch of February 24, and embodying some of the suggestions of yours of February 4, of which I had before furnished Mr. Calderon Collantes with a translation.—(See my despatch, No. 39, March 8.)
The interview of March 26 was short, and turned rather upon the subject of the note of 22d instant, just referred to.
On the 28th instant the views of the latter part of that note were also alluded to, amplified, and, with varied argument and illustration, urged upon the attention of Mr. Calderon, with the general object of producing conviction that the people of the United States had been and would still be the best ally on which Spain could count in North America, from considerations connected with their own paramount interest politically, and from the harmony of mutual demand and supply in matters of commerce between the United States and the Spanish colonies.
I then read him your entire instruction of February 24. Mr. Calderon replied to the positions assumed by Mr. Seward, recognizing completely the bad condition to which the insurrection had been reduced by the recent successes of the armies and fleets of the government, and manifesting no idea that the insurgents would long be able to resist our power.[Page 489]
But the position of Spain towards us had, from the beginning, differed from that assumed by England. In the royal decree of June 17, 1861, he had carefully abstained from insisting on the word belligerent as equally and legitimately applicable to both parties in the contest begun in the United States But it was a civil war, and a war extensive enough and important enough to call for some rules of conduct, to be laid down by her Catholic Majesty’s government, for the Spanish authorities and Spanish subjects to observe. The war was a fact, and he had merely taken cognizance of the fact and proclaimed that Spain wished to have nothing to do with it, and would have nothing.
Perhaps the word neutrality had been used, but the position of Spain was not neutral in the proper sense of the term. This government had never assumed the duties and obligations of a neutral power towards the insurrectionary party in the United States; it had not proposed to injure them, but it had not treated them and the government of the United States with equal favor, either in rule or practice.
The armed vessels of the insurgents were treated as privateers, and were not permitted in the Spanish ports, except so far as the exigencies of humanity appeared to demand; whilst the vessels-of-war of the government of the United States were lying in Spanish ports precisely as they had always done before this war commenced. The position of Spain was very different from that taken and maintained by England. He, Mr. Calderon, hardly knew from what Spain could retire, at least for the present. The civil war was a fact whose existence she had been forced to recognize, and that fact still existed, though recent events seemed to indicate that the war might soon terminate, a thing which he heartily desired.
Upon the last paragraph of your instruction Mr. Calderon said, No; he himself had never mistaken the strength and power of the government of the United States. It might be the case with some others in Europe, but, from the first, he had always estimated the power of the United States as immense. About the sentiments and policy of our people he was not so clear. Speaking frankly, he had considered us as somewhat disposed to. be overbearing and aggressive, displaying little courtesy towards other nations, and little consideration for their rights.
I replied with equal frankness, confessing that many instances of the deportment of the United States towards foreign nations might be cited which would lend an apparent support to Mr. Calderon’s idea, and, perhaps, better cited by Spain than by almost any other power; but I begged him to remark that all these things had happened during the time that the faction now in rebellion against the government had been dominant in its counsels.
What I wished especially to impress upon him was the fact that there was going on in the United States not merely a local insurrection but a great political change throughout the whole country; not a change in the sentiments of the people, perhaps, but a change in that these sentiments were now uppermost, manifest, dominant, and were receiving their true expression in the interior, as Mr. Calderon might be certain they would also be reflected in the exterior policy of the country. The American people desired peace and the peaceful development of their industry and commerce without attacking the rights or prejudicing the interests of any other people. They had always desired this, but, unfortunately, for twenty or thirty years previous to the election of Mr. Lincoln, these sentiments had been overshadowed, overlaid by the will and purposes of a privileged class, who were, indeed, overbearing and aggressive by the natural influence of their education and circumstances, but more yet because latterly to rule and to domineer had become for them a political necessity. In fact, the [Page 490]American people had for many years bought their peace and the tranquil pursuit of their industry and commerce at the expense of yielding more or less to the lead of the class alluded to. The reaction had now come, and its natural effects must now be looked for not merely in the interior but in the foreign policy and purposes of the United States.
It would weary you to repeat all this long conversation. I may say, however, that Mr. Calderon seemed to listen with pleasure, and to be favorably impressed, having desired me to meet him again upon this same subject to-morrow.
After this conversation I left in Mr. Calderon’s hands the translation, B, of your instruction.
With sentiments of the highest respect, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.