Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatches Nos. 1 to 8. Copies of Nos. 2, 5, and 6, relating to my predecessor, Mr. [Page 554]Jones, and commending his management of the affairs of the legation, were immediately forwarded to that gentleman. I am happy to bear my testimony, also, to his fidelity to the Union, as manifested in all his conversations with me. * * * * * * * *
I am happy to state, also, that Mr. Jones received me on my arrival with the greatest frankness and cordiality, and did everything in his power to facilitate my induction to office.
I arrived in Vienna October 31. On the 3d of November, according to appointment made by Count Rechberg, minister of foreign affairs, in reply to my note requesting an interview, addressed to him the morning after my arrival, I called on that gentleman at his office, accompanied by my predecessor, by whom I was introduced to the minister. Mr. Jones then took leave of Count Rechberg, who assured him that the intercourse between the government of the United States and of Austria, during the period of his mission, had been most satisfactory, and that his Majesty’s government were very sorry to part with so excellent and friendly an envoy as he had proved himself to be. He was kind enough to add that, as it was decided to make a change in the mission, they were very glad to receive me as his successor, and that he doubted not that I would do my best to maintain the friendly relations between the two countries which now so happily existed. Mr. Jones then left the room, and I had a long conversation with the minister. He repeated, with emphasis, that the news of my appointment had been received with especial satisfaction by the Emperor and his government, and that I was already well known to them by reputation. He added other observations, personally complimentary, which I do not repeat; but I think it necessary to inform you, even at the risk of being charged with egotism, that my reception by the minister was extremely flattering. At a moment when the leading public journals of many nations are full of vituperation of our country, and of undisguised hilarity at what is thought and hoped by a large portion of the European world—English, French, and German—to be the downfall of the great republic, and when the emissaries of the rebel confederacy are knocking at the doors of foreign powers for admission, and doing their best to poison public opinion as to the character of the great war in which we are engaged, I consider it important that the administration should be informed that its representative here has thus far met with as much courtesy and consideration as could be extended to the minister of any foreign power.
Count Rechberg spoke very freely of American affairs, and seemed to appreciate the complications of our position in regard to slavery. To defend the institution, he said, was a matter of life and death to the slaveholders. I told him that the institution, where it legally existed, to wit, in the fifteen slave States, had not been attacked, and that Congress, at its last session, had affirmed that which could hardly be seriously disputed by any one, namely: that Congress had no constitutional power to interfere with the domestic institutions of the individual States. The Presidential election of last November, I told him, had, however, decided the question as to slavery in what might be called our colonies or dependencies. A majority of the voters in the free States had proclaimed to the world, in the election of Mr. Lincoln, that the normal condition of our territories was that of freedom, and that no power existed to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States. In regard to those territories half as large as Europe, Congress had power, by the Constitution, to dispose of them, and to make all needful rules and regulations concerning them; and as the vote taken in November proved that Congress would henceforth deal with that common possession of the Union as free soil, and not slave soil, the slaveholders went to war with the United States government with the avowed [Page 555]determination of destroying it, and of substituting their new constitution, with slavery for its corner-stone, over all the States. The war which they had levied was in execution of their previous threat that they would destroy the Union should a candidate nominated on the republican platform be elected. The United States government was engaged in a war of self-defence, and would have been despised of all men had it not accepted the wager of battle offered by the conspirators against its very existence. I also explained that the word secession was a sham, for the object had been originally to secede in order to reconstruct. The utmost confidence had been expressed by the emissaries of the conspiracy in Europe that all the States, except New England, would accept the new pro-slavery constitution before the end of the year. They had not reckoned on the support given by the democratic minority in each free* State to the republican majority. They had relied on distraction and division, and had found unanimity. Now they were doing their best to represent themselves as engaged in a holy war of self-defence, and to persuade the world that their only object in destroying the republic was to inaugurate free trade, and to rid themselves of the hostile tariffs imposed by the north. To those of us who know the recent history of the country, nothing could be more ridiculous than such pretences. The only free trade the confederates cared for, I said, was free trade in African negroes, and that branch of industry was sure to be reopened on a large scale as soon as the confederacy was established. For the present the scheme was denied, even by those who had been loudest in its favor, because it was necessary to throw dust in the eyes of Europe on the one hand, and to conciliate the negro-breeders of the border States on the other.
I took pains to go very fully into these matters in my first interview with the minister, because I doubt if he has ever before heard any such exposition of our polity, and because it seems so difficult for the European mind to comprehend the distinction between a constitutional and lawful prohibition of any further extension of negro slavery in America and an unconstitutional and precipitate proclamation of universal abolition. The efforts of such journals as the London Times and other organs of the slaveholders have hopelessly confused the issues in this respect. He asked me what would be the fate of slavery in the States as the war went on. I told him I did not know what would be the ultimate policy of the administration; but of one thing I felt convinced, that there was no possibility of retreating or flinching on our part. The whole people of the free States, with a considerable portion of the southern population, were determined that the Union should stand. If it came at last to the issue shall the republic of the United States of America die, or shall negro slavery die, it would not be the republic that would perish. Thus far we felt confident that we could suppress the insurrection without resort to the extreme measures which the war power placed within our reach, and the possibility of negro insurrections and massacres, as the result of violent and sudden emancipation of the slaves, was a terrible thing to contemplate. If such catastrophies did occur, the guilt was on the heads of the slaveholders, who, in their insane fanaticism for their peculiar institution, had aimed this wicked blow at the heart of our common country; had plunged the land in war and desolation, and were, thus doing their best to destroy from the face of our whole country everything for which civilized man has respect or affection.
Count Rechberg agreed with me that the insurrection was most unjustifiable, and that the United States government was bound to do its utmost to preserve its existence. He said he knew that our resources were greater, and our population more numerous, than those of the confederates, but he feared that a war of invasion and of conquest would prove a very difficult [Page 556]enterprise. I told him that it would be so if it were the case of a foreign nation carrying war into the territory of its enemy; but that the United States government were as much at home in Georgia and Louisiana as in New York or Illinois, and that he must not accept too hastily the conclusions of our English enemies as manifested in the leading journals; that every feeling of attachment to the flag, and of pride in our nationality, was extinguished in regions where these sentiments so short a time ago were intense. Our whole action proceeded on the theory that the national sentiment, surprised and suppressed by armed and desperate treason, would revive where it could be protected. America was too impatient, and Europe was still more so. An army could not be created in a few months. It was much to inspire pride and confidence that the men and money had been supplied by the people to an unlimited extent. Time, skill, and labor were necessary to construct out of these materials an army; but that when the time, skill, and labor had been applied, an invincible army would be the result. We were in no hurry; if the rebels could wait, so could we. It was to be hoped that popular impatience would never succeed in bringing about another Bull Run; and that, for my part, I felt convinced that the people would wait patiently for the development of the plans of the administration, aided by the skill and energy of General McClellan and his able supporters.
He alluded to the blockade, and to the great suffering caused in England and France by the want of cotton, and expressed some doubts as to the continuance of the forbearance of those governments in this respect. I told him that I had recently had very long and full conversations with Lord John Russell on the subject, and that I was perfectly sure, from a long and intimate acquaintance with that statesman, that he was sincere when he assured me, as he had done, with earnestness, that there was no disposition on the part of the English government to interfere with us in any way: to infringe our blockade, one of the most undeniable of belligerent rights, would be an unjustifiable act of hostility on their part, and one which they were incapable of committing. I told him that I had received similar assurances from other members of the English cabinet, and that I was confident, so long as the present administration held their places, that there would be no hostile action on the part of England. Should the tories succeed to power we might have trouble. There would be much big talking in Parliament, no doubt, next winter, and, I feared, in Congress also; but that I still felt convinced that by no act of ours, or of the present English government, would the confederates be supplied with such powerful auxiliaries as the fleets and armies of England would be for them.
He asked me what I thought of the attitude of France, and I told him that M. Thouvenel had assured me, in a recent interview, as strongly as words could give such assurance, that there was no thought on the part of the imperial government of interfering with our blockade, or of committing any other unfriendly act towards us.
It was arranged by Count Rechberg that an early day should be named for the ceremony of presenting my credentials to the Emperor. In the interval I paid the usual visits to the various members of the diplomatic corps, by all of whom I have been received with the utmost cordiality. Lord Bloomfield, the English ambassador, gave a dinner to Mrs. Motley and myself, at which the new French ambassador, Duc de Grammont, the Belgian minister, the Bavarian minister, the Swedish minister, the Danish minister, the Saxon minister, and others, were present. I may mention, too, that more than one person took occasion to express the warmest sympathy with the cause of our government and of the north. We met with nothing but civility and good wishes on all sides; but I cannot say that confidence is expressed [Page 557]in any quarter as to our ultimate triumph. Our deeds must speak for us, and, in order that our deeds be really telling, they must not be too hasty. This is the language necessary to hold in Europe, and I trust it will be verified by the event.
On the 14th November, according to a notification received three days before from Count Rechberg, I proceeded to the imperial palace, and was received by the Emperor. Mr. Jones, my predecessor, had, on the same day at an earlier hour, presented his letter of recall. The Emperor received me quite alone, and, so soon as I had presented myself, I made him a short complimentary harangue, assuring him that the President, the government, and the American people desired to maintain the most friendly relations with his Majesty and the Austrian empire, and that it would be my object, so long as I occupied my present position, to do my best to cultivate kindness and good will between the two nations.
He answered in a similar strain; expressed his gratification at my appointment, and assured me that there was every disposition on his part and on that of his government to cultivate the friendship of the United States, and to maintain the present agreeable international relations.
After these formalities had been finished, the Emperor engaged in conversation with me. As I had made my address to him in German, he had responded in that language, and thus continued the conversation. His first question was, are you a German ? I told him, no; but that I had been much in Germany in my youth, when I had acquired the language. He then added, but you are of German birth and parentage. I said, no; that I was descended of the early pilgrims of New England, and therefore of entirely English extraction. Again, I have to observe that I do not state this from egotism. The Emperor obviously did not ask the question for the sake of paying a compliment, but because he was curious, even anxious, I thought, to learn whether or no I was a German exile, returned in diplomatic character to these regions, and he seemed relieved by my reply.
He then asked many questions about America, opening at once the subject of the war, and manifesting much intelligent curiosity in regard to its causes and probable results. I was glad to have so early an opportunity of conversing with his Majesty on this important subject; and from the nature of his questions I should infer that the great topic of negro slavery had never been presented to him in the light in which it is at present regarded at Washington. I said that the great cause of the war was slavery; that the seceding States had revolted, and were doing their best to destroy our national existence, because they were no longer to be allowed to extend the institution to regions where it did not exist. He almost hesitated when he expressed the opinion that after all, at the present day, the extension and perpetuation of negro slavery were hardly commendable aims for an enlightened government, in which sentiment you may suppose that I expressed my hearty concurrence. It is highly probable that the nature of our polity and the probable tendency of our history have been formerly represented to the imperial government in different colors from those in which I endeavored to depict them. So long as I have the honor to represent the United States, I shall certainly omit no occasion to convince those with whom I may converse that the extension of African slavery is not the only legitimate aim and object of a free government, and that the American republic neither intends to pursue those ends any longer nor to abdicate its place among the nations as a penalty for abstaining from that pursuit. The Emperor expressed surprise that the confederates were able to maintain so large an army as they were reported to have on foot; but I warned his Majesty that those armies were not to be regarded as having much resemblance in equipments, discipline, or the cohesive qualities, to the armies of Europe, and that [Page 558]a day would come when they would melt away faster than they had rolled together. On the other hand, I ventured to predict that every day would see the United States government growing stronger. We could afford to wait, and our greatest danger was in haste. He observed that he was quite aware of the strength and great resources of the government and of our superiority to the enemy, and expressed considerable confidence in the issue.
I shall not weary you with any more details of my interview with the Emperor. As he manifested much interest in American affairs, and asked many questions, I was of course the principal speaker, and found myself engaged, somewhat to my surprise, in delivering a regular lecture on American politics. As the discourse, however new in the imperial palace of the Hapsburgs, would not have the charm of novelty in your ears, I forbear to add anything more. But the department may be sure that I preached sound doctrine.
I say nothing to-day of Austrian politics, concerning which my predecessor has kept the government well informed up to the present time. I am quite aware that, at this moment, the preoccupation of the United States government with its own most momentous affairs would make any disquisitions upon foreign matters, not bearing directly on our international relations, tedious and irksome. Nevertheless, as the condition of this part of Europe is so critical, and as the position of this empire offers so, many curious parallels and contrasts with that of our republic, and as a complication of our own politics in the great web of intrigue now stretching over all Christendom is at least possible, I shall observe the current of events carefully, and from time to time ask for the attention of the government, even at the risk of being thought tedious.
One thing is very certain: The government here will be much influenced by the course of policy pursued towards the United States by the British and French governments; and I am therefore glad that, in pursuance of your instructions, I passed some time before coming to my post, informing myself at the fountainheads, in England and France, of the probable nature of that policy. I am constantly questioned on the subject by all with whom I come in contact. Should a tory government succeed the present cabinet of England I anticipate much trouble. Nothing can exceed the virulence with which the extreme conservative party regard us, nor the delight with which they look forward to our extinction as a nation. They consider such a consummation of our civil war as the most triumphant answer which could be made to their own reform party. The hatred to the English radicals is the secret of the ferocity and brutality with which the Times, the Saturday Review, and other tory organs of the press, have poured out their insults upon America ever since the war began. In the present administration and its supporters I know that we have many warm friends, warmer in their sentiments towards us than it would be safe for them in the present state of parties to avow.
I have the honor to remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.[Page 559]