Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.

No. 3.]

Sir: No despatches have been received from the Department of State at this legation since my last.

The purpose of this brief communication is simply to express my sincere congratulations upon the able and honorable manner in which the dangers created by the Trent affair have been averted. I have not thought it a part of my duty to obtrude my reflections or my advice upon the government while this matter was pending. Even had the administration required assistance from abroad—which, as the event has proved, it did not—there were not wanting able heads and hands at London and Paris to communicate everything of importance in the way of counsel or information. Nor do I desire, now that this momentous affair is so fortunately terminated, to occupy the time of the department with any reflections of my own.

I will merely state, therefore, that during this anxious period of suspense—during the six weeks which, have elapsed between the arrival of the news of the arrest of the commissioners and that of their liberation—I have held, without wavering, one language in all my communications with the members of the government here, and with the representatives of foreign powers, that our government would do all that was possible, in honor and in consistency with international law, to avoid a rupture, with England. I have always taken the ground that our whole history showed us to have been uniformly the champions of the rights of neutrals and of the largest liberty of the seas, and that I could not imagine, under so trivial a temptation, that we were now likely to abandon our most cherished principles, in exchange for the violent and lawless practice too often pursued by England, when belligerent, to ourselves and other powers, when neutral. I knew that the administration of our affairs was in the hands of upright and sagacious statesmen, and I constantly expressed the hope that their treatment of this untoward event would signally put to shame the unjust and venomous spirit by which the English press, with a few most honorable exceptions, has been characterized. I take pleasure in saying that the English ambassador here, Lord Bloomfield, was as unaffectedly sincere in his desire for an amicable settlement of the affair, and as magnanimous and courteous in his attitude, as the best friend of either country could desire. I may add that all my colleagues manifested the greatest anxiety that peace should be preserved, although it was very difficult for me to inspire many of them with much of my confidence that this fortunate result would be secured.

In regard to the imperial government of Austria, you have already been informed of their views by the letters of Count Rechberg to his Majesty’s representative at Washington, of December 18. I had one or two interviews with the minister during the interval of suspense, and took occasion to express, with much energy, my confidence in the pacific intentions of our government. Count Rechberg, while enlarging with fervor on the calamitous results to the world of a rupture and a war between the United States and Great Britain, stated his doubts whether our government was strong enough to resist the popular pressure, or bold enough to confront the popular passion, by firmly maintaining the law, even at the risk of what might seem like concession. I told him that the Americans were a reasonable and law-abiding people; that, if they were convinced the demands of England were founded in justice and reason, and were not accompanied by menace, they [Page 560] would sustain their government in every honorable concession. The picture of the United States government overborne by a tumultuous, violent, uneducated, and unreasoning mob had been painted by hostile and foreign pencils, and the model did not exist in nature. So soon as the result had so amply justified the predictions I had ventured, I had another interview with Count Rechberg. The minister, in very warm language, expressed his satisfaction at the pacific termination to this affair, and begged me to convey to the President and to yourself his most sincere congratulations and thanks for the able, temperate, courageous, and statesmanlike manner in which the government had borne itself throughout these trying circumstances. Especially he commended the concluding despatch of the Secretary of State to Lord Lyons.

Lord Bloomfield, too, expressed to me his deep satisfaction that the danger of war between the two nations had been averted, and his hope that more amiable relations than ever might succeed to this mutual misunderstanding. Nearly every one of my colleagues here have expressed themselves to the same effect and in the strongest terms, and all compliment and congratulate the United States government upon the prudent and honorable course which it has adopted. These expressions have been so spontaneous and energetic that there can be no doubt of the feeling of relief which is experienced in this part of the continent by the removal of the impending danger. The reasons why the government here should deprecate a great maritime conflict between the United States and Great Britain, with its inevitable results in Europe, are too obvious to need comment. Moreover, the consequence of this affair has been to draw from the great powers strong vindications of the rights of neutrals and of the freedom of the seas, always cherished by the United States when neutral, and it is the general feeling that a victory has been gained for humanity and civilization by the issue of the Trent affair. It may be confidently asserted that there is no true friend to America nor to humanity that does not sincerely rejoice in the decision of the President.

You are too well acquainted, through your able representatives in England and France, with the state of public feeling in those countries to require any allusion to it on my part. Nevertheless, as I maintain a constant private correspondence with influential persons of various parties in England, I may take the liberty of stating that the cause of our government is strengthened in public opinion by the recent events. The idea which has been so carefully planted and nurtured in England, that our government desired to force that country into a war, in order to escape from a dilemma at home and to cover our incapacity to deal with the southern insurrection— this idea, which to our minds seems like the weak delusion of a sick man’s brain, has taken possession of a considerable portion of the English population. Profligate and unscrupulous writers and speakers have done their best to perpetuate the delusion, until it has become almost an article of the national creed. The conduct of the United States government in the Trent affair has, as I am assured by eminent persons in England, done much to dispel the fiction. In regard to the British public, no doubt there is a considerable and influential portion which cordially detests the United States, its institutions, its government, its people, and earnestly desires its downfall. Among this portion there is a less numerous but a noisy and ferocious faction which is anxious for a war with us, and will make the most of every pretext, as they have already done of the Trent affair, to precipitate hostilities and to throw the weight of the English nation on the side of the slave confederacy. These are not theories, but facts within my knowledge. The slaveholders have many warm partisans in England and France. On the other hand, there are many in England who do not love us, but who, for [Page 561] selfish reasons, would deprecate hostilities, if they can be honorably avoided. And, again, there is a large, powerful mass who warmly sympathize with our cause. The anti-slavery feeling in England is so strong that it has been necessary for the southern partisans to persuade the British public that slavery has nothing to do with the American civil war, and this ridiculous notion has found many believers in Europe. It is gravely asserted, by many who pass in the world for reasonable beings, that the secession was brought about by southern opposition to tariffs and by the love of free trade! It is superfluous to say that the victims of this delusion see in the recognition of the slaveholders’ confederacy an additional expansion for English markets, combined with the weakening of a hated rival.

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I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


William H. Seward, Secretary of State.