Mr. Perry to Mr. Seward.
Sir: It is incumbent on me to report to you the changing phases of opinion in Spain as to the war in which the United States are engaged.
You know from my former despatches that the sympathies of this government from the beginning were with the faction which seemed to offer some hope of dividing the republic and diminishing our power in the western hemisphere.[Page 515]
Mr. Preston, of Kentucky, had, in the latter part of his term of office here, labored to aid the conspirators, and not without success. He had the good sense, having also the means, to spend annually at this court something more than double the salary assigned to his post. The society of the court, the aristocratical and governing classes, were found by me in June, 1861, deeply imbued with the ideas which he had labored to cherish, and the notion of an aristocratical and chivalrous society in the south of the United States, armed to resist the aggressions of an underbred, sans culotte democracy at the north, was the prevalent idea of these classes concerning us. They were still full of the resentments and apprehensions produced by our filibustering exploits of former years, which were for them connected only with the name of the United States. The Confederate States was a new name, as yet unsullied, and the rebels who had taken up arms against the government of the United States could not but be the friends of Spain.
My first care, as you are aware, was to undo all this by showing that the filibustering and aggressive policy which had marked our policy towards Spain for some years before was the work of the same men and the same parties who had now gone into rebellion against the government of the United States; that their designs upon Cuba and other territories contiguous to our southern limits had failed of execution only on account of the resistance of the conservative masses of our people of the northern States. That the extension and perpetuation of their own political power, the mastery of the policy and destinies of the entire Union, was the motive for the annexation policy of our southern statesmen; failing to secure which they had resolved to divide the republic, thus assuming to themselves the direction of the foreign as well as the interior policy of the southern part. I showed the government of Spain, by the speeches pronounced in South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana at the breaking out of the rebellion, that its leaders already, leaping beyond the eventualities of the war against the federal government, were holding up to the population of the south the plan of immediately annexing Cuba, San Domingo, and Mexico, as one of the grand results to be obtained by severing their connexion with the north, and I urged the conclusion that the continued union of the south with the north of the United States was the best guarantee to Spain of her own peace in North America. You are aware that the conduct of this government soon became to be more friendly towards us than that of either England or France.
Aside from the now governing classes, the people of Spain are liberal 01 democratic in their political sentiments and aspirations. The United States were for them the model and example of all that is desirable in government. Their natural sympathies for us had been rudely jostled by our filibusters, but the grandeur of our national prosperity and the spectacle of our increasing power was not an eyesore to them, but, on the contrary, a triumphant argument in favor of the political ideas we represented and they loved. They were a good deal troubled, however, upon one point. The Spanish liberals said to me always: but if the people of the south wish to separate and establish a distinct government, what right have you, according to the principles of popular sovereignty, to impede that movement? The answer was that the rebellion at the south was the work of comparatively a few men for their own ambitious purposes, but not heartily desired and supported by the people of the south, whose majority was, on the contrary, loyal to the Union and the Constitution. The statistics of the slave-owning and non-slave-owning classes, and the popular votes of such States, where popular votes had been permitted, were appealed to in support of this view, and the armies of the government were truly represented as marching to liberate [Page 516] the people of the south from the oppression which a rebellious faction exercised over them.
But it is necessary to confess that the incidents of the war have much debilitated this argument. It is true at bottom, but it no longer serves. In the opinion of the masses of Europe, who judge from the great visible facts of our contest, the south is to-day a brave and united people, fighting for their independence against a government whose yoke they repel. They are fighting successfully against great odds, and neutralizing by their valor and conduct such merely material power as has seldom been displayed before by any government for the coercion of any people. And it is generally recognized that the people of the south, by the extent of territory they defend, by the number and bravery of their armies, by the skill of their generals, by their attitude of apparently unalterable determination, by the peaceful submission of their slave population, and the apparent unanimity of their will to live apart, have demonstrated that they do possess the conditions necessary to constitute a solid, separate, and independent nation.
There is, therefore, but one sentiment, one argument left for us who represent the Union before the peoples of Europe; this is the sentiment of popular abhorrence for African slavery; the argument that the south is fighting to maintain and perpetuate that institution, whilst the north, avowedly or covertly, is fighting against it. I cannot speak for any except myself, but I am persuaded, no matter what our individual ideas of interior policy may have been heretofore, all who faithfully strive to serve the United States of America abroad at this juncture, are obliged to use this argument, do use it to the extent of our respective power and ability. At home I was a conservative. I write now from slave-holding and slave-trading Spain. Nevertheless it is my duty to inform you that this is the only ground we stand on in this country; the only point which has told for us here for some time past. I have urged it and caused it to be urged in every form and place which the social customs of the country open to my influence. I have written it and spoken it in season and out of season. Those popular and liberal journals whose editors honor me by seeking my ideas and statements on the subject of our affairs have not ceased to reproduce it.
I sincerely trust that in taking this course I have not misinterpreted your instructions or wishes in this respect.
Your recent and most important instruction (No. 44) of August 18 has reached me, and its unanswerable reasoning would have been, ere this, urged by me upon the attention of this government were it not for the absence of the court and ministers in Andalusia. If Mr. Koerner’s movements should permit I shall join the court this week.
As to the effect here of recent events, I could send you excerpts from the Spanish press of all colors, but you will not need to burden your attention with these writings. I enclose, only as a sample of the ideas which prevail in the circles of the government, the article of the Epoca (ministerial journal) of to-day.
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I cannot deceive you; outside our own limits the remoter benefits or evils to come to men from the maintenance or loss of our territorial integrity are not seen or are little heeded. Men care very little about our Union, and between the Constitution of the United States and the paper made at Montgomery the people of the world see little to choose; both occupy and cover the ground gained by our fathers eighty years since, and which then gave them the sympathies of the world.
Reducing our question of to-day to the simple terms of a government on one side, and a numerous, brave, and compact people, determined to be independent of that government on the other, popular ideas of democratic [Page 517] sovereignty are against us, and the masses of this continent will see the republic of Washington divided without a protest, almost without regret. It cannot be concealed that already, in this country, the hope that slave emancipation will be proclaimed by the government of the United States, as that hope rises or falls, gives the measure of popular favor to our cause. Without that hope I am persuaded by recent indications, which I can neither neglect nor fail to report to you, that this government could adopt the policy of recognition of the so-called Confederate States without any considerable opposition in the interior of Spain. With that measure proclaimed by the United States, I, on the other hand, am clear that this government could not venture oil the step alluded to, or, if it did, that error would soon be followed by such events in the interior of Spain herself as would promptly take away all its significance for us, and result, perhaps, in giving to the United States a better position relative to Spain than we have held since the first days of our national independence. You have recently received information relative to Spanish political affairs which will enable you to estimate, in some degree, the value and reliability of this conclusion.
The President will, of course, be guided in the conduct of our affairs at this crisis by superior considerations of interior policy, of which I am not cognizant. It is my duty simply to report what passes here of interest to our country, and having done this, to leave to the President and to God the issue.
With sentiments of the highest respect, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.