Mr. Perry to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to report for your information what was said in the interview which took place on the 23d instant between Mr. Calderon Collantes and myself, and which was also referred to summarily in my last despatch.
On the occasion referred to I informed Mr. Calderon that I was still without instructions from you, written since the embarcation of the Spanish troops from Vera Cruz for the Habana could have been known in Washington. I ventured little, however, in saying that my government would regard that conduct of the general in command as a high proof of the loyalty and good faith with which the government of Spain had proceeded in this business. I was of opinion also that, at the height the pretensions of France had reached in Mexico, it was the best possible termination of Spanish participation in the affair. It hardly comported with the dignity, certainly not with good policy on the part of Spain, to march in second line after the French in Mexico, even if there had been no previous obligations to be regarded; but the stipulations of the treaty of London, offered also to the United States for their co-operation, and the repeated declarations of Mr. Calderon to myself, certainly forbade Spain to engage in the project now openly avowed by the French agents of putting the Archduke Maximilian on the throne of Mexico. I was aware that it must have been a delicate matter for Spain to break with France in this affair, but it was better now than later, and the vigorous action of the Spanish general and plenipotentiary at the critical moment when it was exerted had left the French so evidently in the wrong and placed Spain so boldly in the right that I had little fear of any serious complication for Spain with the government of the Emperor. His imperial Majesty was too sagacious a statesman and too mindful of the public opinion of the world to pursue Spain on such ground.
I thought to interpret faithfully the public sentiment of America in assuring Mr.Calderon it would be decided and even enthusiastic in favor of the highly honorable conduct of Spain. And I did not confine my remarks to the United States; I had myself made a campaign in Mexico and had seen something of that people, knew something of the ideas which prevailed among them, something of what would be their probable feelings and sentiments in view of the events which were passing among them.
The national feeling of Mexico would be strongly roused by the attitude now taken by the representatives of France, and the government of President Juarez would never have been so strong and well supported in Mexico as now when its existence was threatened from abroad.
If the Spanish government had before been looked upon with prejudice or enmity in Mexico, which was in fact true, I had no doubt it would hereafter be treated with respect and perhaps with affection. The effect of the [Page 505] recent conduct of Spain in Mexico would not be to lessen, but in all probability to increase her influence in all Spanish America, and open for her facilities for arranging her questions pending with those independent states such as she might never have obtained if her military expedition had continued its course with the French.
Spain had, in fact, undoubtedly obtained a great part of the object which she proposed by this expedition, as it had been repeatedly explained to me by Mr. Calderon. She had shown the Spanish-American states that she was not without means to assert her rights if she were aggrieved. They had seen that a complete army, well-disciplined and appointed, with a valiant general at its head, could be sent from the island of Cuba at short notice, attended also with a powerful fleet of screw frigates, such as any nation would be proud to possess.
This was palpable evidence that the Spain of to-day was no longer the Spain of that time when the struggles of colonial independence took place. Spain had planted her flag alone on the forts of Vera Cruz, and afterwards the conduct and discipline of her soldiers had gained for them the respect or good will of the inhabitants who had seen and dealt with them, whilst at the same time she had now demonstrated that it was not her purpose to send her forces into those states with any aggressive plan for intervention in their interior policy and government. I should acknowledge myself mistaken if, in relieving herself from an unsustainable position in Mexico, Spain had not by that very act obtained moral advantages quite equivalent to the objects which she had proposed in this expedition to accomplish.
Mr. Calderon manifested much pleasure during the course of these remarks, saying that, in fact, the two great points of showing to the American republics the power at the same time with the forbearance and good will of Spain he hoped had been attained; but he would also inform me that the whole object of the Spanish expedition to Mexico might be considered as accomplished. And her Majesty’s minister here entered upon a train of remarks which, as he afterwards informed me, were not to be regarded as of an official character, and are therefore suppressed. Spain having thus attained the objects of her expedition to Mexico had retired when her work in that country was done, in fulfilment of the stipulations of the convention of London and of the assurances which he had had the honor to give me and afterwards to transmit to Mr. Tassara for his instruction at Washington.
Mr. Perry also made some observations upon the probable fortunes of the French expedition to Mexico, not doubting the power of France to occupy the capital of that country and establish temporarily any kind of government she pleased; but whatever the form or appearance of such government might be, it would be either very transitory or it would end in being the government of France herself.
Mr. Calderon assented to this remark, but doubted whether it could be the serious plan of the French Emperor to follow up the expedition to Mexico as the beginning of a permanent intervention in the interior affairs of that country.
Mr. Perry replied that sound policy would certainly not counsel such a project, and doubtless the Emperor was too well informed of the nature of such an enterprise in a military point of view, as he certainly was too sagacious a ruler to have conceived that idea in the beginning. But the course of events might prove to be stronger than the purposes of the Emperor of the French. It was no criticism upon the political conduct of the Emperor to suppose that when he crossed the Alps into Italy, in 1859, he could have had but a very imperfect idea, if any, of the turn which Italian politics have really taken in consequence of his act, or of what would really be his own action as realized by events. Probably, though the action of the Emperor [Page 506] in Italy must be said to have been eminently successful, not one of his preconceived plans had been followed out, aside from the stipulated annexation of Nice and Savoy.
The road from France to Mexico was long, and the condition of the latter country not such as to inspire the highest confidence in any political calculations concerning it. But how would France be able to retire from her present enterprise once fairly begun? And if a French administration should come to be imposed on Mexico? The country was rich in resources and might gain, materially, at least, by such a change. Was not the vision of such a dependency of the empire as Mexico might become bright enough to obtain for the Emperor by and by the support of the French people to procure it?
The visible policy of the Emperor, which he pursued constantly and at the expense of every sacrifice, was to increase the maritime power of France. He had created a magnificent war marine, but he lacked behind it the resources which the possession of a great merchant service could only supply. When thousands of ships should be crossing each other between Mexico and France, conducting a thriving commerce which it would be in the power of the Emperor to confine to French bottoms, would not the merchant navy of France be created? These were questions merely, but they were such as the present attitude of that power in Mexico made natural and necessary.
I wished merely to say to Mr. Calderon that the geographical and strategical position of the Spanish colonies in the West Indies, with their magnificent harbors on the road between France and Mexico, ought to make the government of her Catholic Majesty careful as to the consequences of the present French intervention in the interior affairs of that country. In my own humble opinion, though I spoke unadvisedly and without the knowledge of my government, the conversion of Mexico into a French colony ought to be looked upon as deeply interesting at the same time to England, to Spain, and to the United States.
Mr. Calderon observed that we in the United States were the most interested. Mr. Perry answered that, in his judgment, the first and most deeply interested was England, for reasons which it is unnecessary to repeat. After England came Spain, from the position of her American colonies. But the United States, though they certainly could not witness the permanent occupation of Mexico by the French with indifference, esteemed far too highly the political sagacity of the present Emperor ever to imagine that he would, under any circumstances, dream of seeking a second Moscow in the territories of the United States themselves.
Mr. Calderon informed Mr. Perry that the whole history of the allied expedition and the rupture of the plenipotentiaries would be laid before the Spanish Cortes as soon as the voluminous correspondence could be copied, and he had no doubt that the conduct of Spain would receive the complete approbation of the government of the United States.
Mr. Perry again assured Mr. Calderon that this, indeed, was hardly doubtful, even upon the data already before us, and took his leave, once more expressing in earnest language his sense of the noble and chivalric deportment of the Spanish general and plenipotentiary in Mexico, who had now added to his well-earned laurels as a soldier the proofs of great political foresight and a moral courage which did honor to himself and to his country
Most respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington,