Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Yesterday I had a long and interesting conversation with Count Rechberg at the foreign office. He asked me what was the latest intelligence from America. I spoke of the recent victory of the national troops near Somerset, in Kentucky—news of which, with but few details, reached us two or three days ago—observing that the movement seemed to be part of a general plan to surround and crush the insurrection on land, even as it had been already shut off from the sea by a stringent blockade along three thousand miles of coast. I intimated that the weather, rendering the roads in Virginia almost impassable at this season, would probably delay for a few weeks our operations against the main body of the confederates, now intrenched in the neighborhood of Manassas; but that the expeditions along the southern coast, the movements in the direction of Tennessee and the Mississippi valley, seemed indications of a plan to be developed before long on a large scale. We had been bringing our armies into a state of discipline, and providing ourselves with the necessary machinery to bring the war to a decisive issue when we once began to strike, and I assured the minister that I felt perfect confidence in the cabinet and commander-in-chief, the army, and the national spirit. Men, money, and munitions of war were in superabundance. If I felt any apprehension, it arose rather from the general impatience, not only in America, but in the world, that some result should be reached. I said that the impatience seemed to me most unreasonable, for, after all, six or seven months of discipline for an army of such colossal dimensions was but a very short allowance. The minister said, energetically, that this was, indeed, but a very brief space for bringing an army, even of the best raw material, into training, and that it was almost impossible that a really disciplined force could be created in so short a time.
He then observed, spontaneously, that he and the Austrian government felt quite certain of the result. It was impossible, he said, that the insurrectionists could provide men enough or money enough to contend for any great length of time with the United States power. The shorter or longer [Page 562]period which would elapse before they were reduced to obedience must depend on the ability of our generals, but he could not doubt that the government would be ultimately re-established over the whole country. I think that, as nearly as possible, these were the minister’s words; and throughout his whole conversation the sympathy and good will of the imperial government for our cause was unequivocally manifested.
There was no hint dropped on behalf of that government of preserving an even balance of sympathy between both belligerents in America, of maintaining a strict neutrality of sentiment, and of cherishing an equal friendship for both parties. On the contrary, the professions of friendship and esteem were for the United States government in this the hour of its trial. The sympathy expressed was for the established, constituted, friendly power, bound to Austria, as to other European governments, by treaties of amity and commerce, and now putting forth all its strength to vanquish a causeless rebellion which had brought bloodshed and desolation over a continent.
I expressed my gratification at the friendly language used by the minister, and I assured him that his expectations would be justified by the result The insurrection, I told him, would soon prove to be a bad speculation. It had been founded on the idea that foreign intervention—especially that of France and England—was inevitable, and that the south, by means of its cotton crop, held the power of life and death over both those countries. It had now been demonstrated that this intervention was not to take place, and that cotton did not reign supreme over the councils of the world. After the Union troops had penetrated into the interior of the seceded country, and overcome the confederates in a few decisive contests on a larger scale than that of Somerset, the counter-revolution would begin, and men, whose mouths had been closed by violence during the reign of terror, would proclaim lustily that they had always been Unionists, and would rise in revolt against the men by whom they had been deluded or forced into crime. It was not the case of invasion by a foreign army. No foreign nation could conquer the south or the north. There was no resemblance between our operations and the attempt of an invader on a foreign soil. The United States government was at home on every inch of its own territory, and to sustain itself against this wanton insurrection against its benignant and legitimate authority, it relied confidently on its own overwhelming force, supported by the latent loyalty of a majority of the inhabitants of the States which had seceded. The time would soon come when this theory, scouted now by our enemies in Europe who wished the downfall of the great republic, would prove itself to be an unquestionable fact. The United States government would remain and be respected when the names of those who had brought all this misery upon our country had sunk into dishonored obscurity, and the ravings of their European sympathizers had been utterly forgotten. It would one day awaken astonishment that a general opinion should have prevailed in the world that the American republic was powerless to preserve its national existence, because when taken by surprise, by a treason utterly without a parallel in human history, it had been held at bay for a twelvemonth, more or less, while preparing for its defence. I shall not occupy any more of your time with the arguments, so familiar to all loyal minds in America, with which I sought to strengthen the conviction already existing in the minister’s mind as to the justice and the favorable aspects of our cause. I am happy to say that nothing could be more friendly or satisfactory than the language which he held.
Something he said of the danger of our becoming a military power, and remaining no longer a peaceful republic. I said this was a very improbable result, for we were, by nature and habit, a peaceful, commercial people. Our commercial marine, nearly the largest in the world, would require us to maintain [Page 563]in future a stronger navy than hitherto, but as we had ever supported neutral rights against the maritime preponderance of England, this would be an advantage to all other naval powers, and especially to the modest mercantile marine of Germany. It was clearly their interest that our naval strength should be increased. In case, however, the Union were hopelessly broken into two or more rival confederacies, then, indeed, we should become of necessity a military power—strong standing armies and navies would be in-dispensible for domestic and foreign defence. Now these great armaments were but a levy of bucklers of the whole people. It was not an army—it was a nation in arms. This was, necessarily, a passing phenomenon. When the Union was re-established we should resume the peaceful tenor of our lives. The young men who had flocked by hundreds of thousands to the national standard came from every pursuit of life, and would return to them when the danger was over. They had taken arms to defend a beloved country against traitors, not to engage in the military profession.
He spoke with hearty commendation of your correspondence with the Chevalier de Hnlsemann in regard to the questions raised by the Trent affair; and, indeed, I have already had occasion to mention to you the strong language of approbation and congratulation with which he alluded to the issue of that affair so soon as it became known to us in Europe.
I observed that perhaps it might hardly seem fitting that anything should be said between us just now about the Mexican matter. On the contrary, said he, I am quite ready. I then replied that I had nothing to say on the subject at present; that the remarkable turn the affair was taking was unknown in America by last advices, and that I was, of course, without any instructions with regard to it. He said we are ourselves simply in a position of expectancy. The three maritime powers had made an expedition to Mexico. We have nothing to do with it, and intend to have nothing. Should the result of the enterprise be to establish a stronger government in Mexico, a monarchy, it will then be for the Austrian government to consider whether sufficient guarantees of various sorts as to its stability can be offered in order to induce an archduke of our imperial house to make the great sacrifice of mounting its throne.
I think, as nearly as possible, these were the minister’s exact words. I have already mentioned to you, in a private letter, that it is quite certain that the Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian had been consulted by certain Mexican refugees—Almonte, Estrada, and Gutierez—at Trieste, on this matter, and that the Emperor of the French was in favor of his candidacy. Thus far the subject is in nubibus—the new Mexican throne is in the misty future—and Austria has only agreed that the archduke shall ascend it, if proper securities be offered.
I made no reply to Count Rechberg’s observations. He then asked me if I thought there would be opposition to the scheme in the United States.
I said that, as he asked me the question, I had no hesitation in answering as a private person, not officially, that I thought the opposition would be universal and intense. He asked why? I gave two reasons: First, the American people, abstaining from European politics, have always had a strong feeling in regard to European interference with political arrangements on the North American continent. Secondly, the republican form of government was the hereditary one over the greater part of our continent, and attempts to supersede it by monarchical forms, by means of force, would be regarded both by the lovers of progress, and by more conservative parties, as revolutionary, unphilosophical, and mischievous. He asked if the monarchical form of government was considered so objectionable in America. I said, unquestionably for America. Whatever might be the case in Europe, with us there were absolutely no materials for monarchy. And in Europe, [Page 564]said he, there are no materials for a republic. Then, I replied, you can easily perceive the revolutionary shock to men’s ideas which would be communicated by the sudden creation, on our frontier, of a foreign monarchy by foreign arms. Suppose that the United States, acting in concert with another powerful American republic, if such there were, should, on pretext of debts owing to their citizens, or flagrant wrongs committed against individuals through an unsatisfactory condition of the local administration, suddenly invade some weak kingdom, or portion of a kingdom, in your neighbourhood, reduce its cities and strong places with their armies and navies, without any declaration of war, and proceed to establish a strong democratic republic, for example, on the frontiers of Austria, and in close neighbourhood to your capital or great commercial centres: you would certainly not regard such events with indifference or without alarm. Governments and individuals would be full of suspicion. Men would say, if a great power from the other end of the earth can be permitted to come hither and subvert dynasties, and make radical changes in the political institutions of independent nations, by means of superior military force, there is an end forever to any separate national existence, or to any international law. Every state would henceforth live upon sufferance. The great powers, acting in concert, and making use of brute force, would reduce the world to obedience, and change political institutions at their pleasure.
I said, whatever might be the present condition of Mexico, that I could not imagine that the nation was prepared to abandon the republican form of government and suffer itself to be converted in a European monarchy without a struggle. I had no special means of information, but I thought that, on general principles, refugees were bad counsellors, and rarely represented the feelings of a nation. I should be surprised if a Mexican kingdom could be established, except by force. No doubt the allies were strong enough to crush resistance. But bloodshed and massacre on a considerable scale would, I thought, be necessary to overcome that resistance. I could not believe that the enlightened powers of France, England, and Spain intended the perpetration of a crime, and it seemed to me improbable that the end proposed could be accomplished except by crime. It seemed to me, too, almost impossible that a monarchy thus established, unless constantly supported by foreign bayonets, could maintain itself long. The idea of European monarchy rests upon an established and historical order of things, which are entirely wanting in North America. The feudal system, from which the monarchies and aristocracies of Europe derived their origin, their sanction, and their strength, is unknown in the western world; and the elements out of which it was compounded can scarcely concur again. A foreign monarchy transplanted from Europe would be a tender exotic, and would wither for want of sufficient roots. A territorial aristocracy to surround the throne would seem almost impossible on a continent where land of the best quality can be had, in fee simple, for a dollar or two the acre. In certain portions of our own country a pseudo aristocracy had grown up, founded not on the sword, not on military conquest, nor on vast territorial possessions, but upon particular and exceptional kind of property, as recognized by special legislation in an unfortunate race of mankind. I did not know whether or not the new Mexican monarchy was to be surrounded by an aristocracy of slaveholders, and in a land where the republic had already abolished African slavery.
Still speaking as a private person, and by no means officially, I took occasion to say that all my feelings and political opinions were strongly opposed to the absorption by the United States of an inch of Mexican soil, and that they always had been, and probably always would be, opposed to any annexation, north or south. We had territory enough and a sufficient mingling of [Page 565]races; especially the extension of our frontier any further towards the tropics, together with the admixture of so foreign an element as that of the Mexican population, I considered to be fraught with evil. For my own part, I wished sincerely that the Mexican republic could be strengthened and its administration improved; but I should deplore its conquest, either by our own arms, or those of any European nation.
I have endeavored to give the substance of our conversation as accurately as I can from memory. It was to me an interesting one, and I trust it may be deemed not unworthy of the President’s attention and your own. If it is desired that I should say anything officially on the subject at any future day, you will of course instruct me. I believe, however, the scheme in question to be so doubtful, and at any rate so distant, as to make it preferable to leave the matter for the present out of the region of formal discussion.
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I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.