Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Your despatches Nos. 17, 18, 19, and 20 have been received.
No. 17, which is printed and in the form of a circular, relates mainly to the subject of possible intervention in our affairs on the part of foreign powers, and of the probable effects of such a step should it be taken.
It is hardly necessary for me to state that the able and conclusive reasoning of your despatch has my entire approval. You are better able to judge, officially, of the probabilities of such a catastrophe, (for an intermeddling by Europe with our domestic matters can be called by no other name, and could have only the most tragical results,) because there are but two governments in the world that have ever arrogated to themselves the right to discuss the proprieties of such a step. The government of the empire to which I have the honor of being accredited has never hinted at any desire of interference, nor made any ostentatious proclamation of “neutrality” between the government bound to it by treaties of amity and commerce and an imaginary nation, which has no existence, save in the visions of domestic treason and foreign malice.
In spite of the clamor of a portion of the English press and of that fraction of the British public, which is incapable of lifting its aspirations higher than its immediate material interests, I cannot believe, now that the proclamation of September 22 has distinctly defined the position of our government on the great question of the age, that any English ministry can stand up in the face of God and man, and extend the right hand of fellowship to a new commonwealth, avowedly based upon the perpetuation and extension of negro slavery as its corner-stone, until that commonwealth has proved its existence to be a fact which can no longer be contradicted. That the fact is already an accomplished one would be a childish assertion, and no man in Europe deserving the name of a statesman or a reasoner has ventured to make it.
The venerable premier of England has been all his life a consistent and determined hater of African slavery, and has always done battle with it stoutly. I shall never believe that, so long as he guides the policy of England, that country will be swift to recognize the claims of the slave confederacy for recognition, now that all the clouds which sophistry has collected in Europe about the causes of our war have been forever dissipated. No man in Europe capable of reasoning has failed to understand the bearings of a subject which in itself was simple, but which passion and malice had rendered complex. It was perfectly understood that slavery, as it existed in the States, was beyond the reach of the federal government in time of peace, and that it was only the war levied by the slaveholders upon the national existence which placed the institution within the reach of the national power exercising its belligerent rights.
Wise and good men have appreciated the hesitation of the President to make use of this tremendous weapon, and to meet revolution by revolution; but nearly all have foreseen that this was the inevitable issue of the great onslaught made by slavery upon the national life and on our free institutions, and, more than all, that as the war went on, emancipation by the commander-in-chief, in the exercise of his unquestioned right to take all measures not repugnant to humanity to overcome the resistance of the enemy, was really the only method of averting that most horrible of catastrophes—a servile war.
Insurrections, unorganized and private wars, whether by white men or black men, may, and, I doubt not, always will, be suppressed by the military arm; but the position of a great country, defending itself against the deadly blows of the slave power with one hand while protecting its enemy with the other,. had become an untenable and almost an absurd one.[Page 569]
“We have the right to put in practice against the enemy,” says Vattel “every measure that is necessary in order to weaken him, and disable him from resisting us and supporting his injustice; and we may choose such methods as are the most efficacious and best calculated to attain the end in view, provided they be not of an odious kind, nor unjustifiable in themselves, and prohibited by the law of nature.”—(B. 111, c. VIII.)
Whether the excellent Swiss would have thought the bestowing liberty upon the captives of the enemy an unjustifiable measure, or one prohibited by the law of nature, may be judged by his well known opinion in regard to slavery.” If I spare his life and condemn him to a state so contrary to the nature of man, I still continue with him the state of war. He lies under no obligation to me, for what is life without freedom ? If any one counts life a favor when the grant of it is attended with chains, be it so. * * * * I shall dwell no longer on the subject; and, indeed, that disgrace to humanity is happily banished from Europe.”
From the tone of the liberal portion of the English press, and from private correspondence, I am disposed to feel comparatively at ease in regard to the possibility of immediate foreign intervention. Of course, the danger is an ever impending one, and the most vigorous measures for the prosecution of the war cannot be too earnestly urged on government by those who know the anxiety with which the struggle is watched in this hemisphere, and who feel the enmity which the progress and prosperity of our great and free republic have awakened among the possessors of privilege and the humble servants of those classes.
The masses all over Europe sympathize with our cause, for they know, without need of argument or illustration, that our great commonwealth was the refuge of the downtrod and the oppressed, and the only hope of humanity and civilization beyond the seas. That its existence is endangered by an oligarchy founded on slavery, and that it is now defending itself with a generous outpouring of its best blood and its treasure, altogether unparalelled in the history of the world, does not diminish the affection with which it is regarded by the lovers of freedom.
It is in this connexion that I refer to a passage in your despatch No. 19, in which you inform me that you can give me no fresh instructions in regard to the multitude of brave and distinguished officers in this empire seeking to serve under our flag. I have always given them the same answer; that neither international law nor the statutes of our own country permitted a diplomatic representative to come into engagements with foreign soldiers. At the same time I have always expressed myself as deeply touched by their manifestations of sympathy and devotion to our cause. Hardly a day has passed since I have had the honor of representing our republic, in which I have not received applications, often from officers of high rank, who have gained reputation on many battle fields of Europe, for permission to enter our army. And it is with deep regret that I have been obliged to decline the services of men who would have done honor to any cause. But as part of the current history of the times it is well that these things should be recorded, and the archives of this legation contain many eloquent letters from chivalrous soldiers, who have asked to devote their swords and their lives to the “starry banner,” which to them, as they uniformly assert, is the symbol of freedom and civilization. It is right that the homage so earnestly paid in a foreign land to that flag, under which so many of our own best and bravest are laying down their lives, should be remembered.
In this connexion I deem worthy of your notice a brief extract from a remarkable series of papers in the principal military journal of this empire, in which the course of our campaigns is criticized, sometimes severely, but never ungenerously; always with talent, and with thorough knowledge of the subject, topographically and strategetically, and with a firm disposition to do justice. [Page 570] You will be interested to read the comments of so able a writer upon the withdrawal of our armies from the James river:
“It is not to be wondered at, then, if the general-in-chief of the army of the Potomac was in haste to save the army intrusted to him from the dangers surrounding it, even from certain destruction; from a noose, in fact, which required only to be drawn a little more closely together in order to suffocate the soul of the Union. The manner in which he acquitted himself of this most difficult of all military tasks redounds to his infinite honor, and places him at once in the ranks of those memorable commanders whose names history treasures for posterity; men who, if they have, perhaps, not had the art to chain victory to their banners, possessed, at any rate, the fortitude, the audacity, and the circumspection to rescue their armies from impending ruin. * * * The American general has made a thorough study of war in the swamps of the Chickahominy, and has made himself a complete master in that most difficult of professions. * * * He has manifested the unquestioned talent to save his army, in a manner not sufficiently to be admired, out of the most desperate of situations. Moreau made himself immortal by his famous retreat from the Iller to the Rhine in the year 1796. What is due to the American general-in-chief, who conducted, with a morally and physically exhausted army, through a swampy, pathless country, covered with ancient forests, and in face of an enemy outnumbering him two to one, the most classical of all retreats recorded in military history, without a single disaster?”
The press of Austria has, on the whole, been friendly to our cause. An extract or two from a recent number of one of the most widely circulated journals of this capital may be interesting to you, written, as it is, in my opinion, with singular talent:
“The defeat of the great armies of the confederates, which had pressed into Maryland, near Hagerstown, and were then compelled to retreat into Virginia, and the proclamation issued by President Lincoln on the 22d of September, abolishing slavery after January 1, form a turning point in American events. Our London correspondent, with judgment unclouded by the language of the English press, which is almost unanimously favorable to the south and to the cause of slavery, makes the following observations concerning the new situation in America:
“‘The short campaign in Maryland has decided the fate of the American civil war, however the fortune of war, for a longer or shorter time, may hover between the contending parties. It was formerly developed in this journal that the contest for the possession of the border States was the contest for the sovereignty of the Union, and the confederacy has been defeated in this struggle, which it undertook under most favorable circumstances, which can never occur again.
“‘Maryland was justly considered the head, Kentucky the arm of the slavery party in the border States; Maryland’s capital, Baltimore, was supposed to be maintained in its loyalty by force. It was a dogma not only of the south, but of the north, that the appearance of the confederates in Maryland would give the signal for a rising of the population en masse against the “satellites of Lincoln.”
“‘It would be a case not only of military success, but of moral demonstration, which should electrize the southern elements in all the border States, and carry them irresistibly into the vortex. With Maryland Washington was to fall, Philadelphia to be threatened, and New York to be rendered doubtful. The simultaneous invasion of Kentucky, by population, situation, and resources the most important of the border States, was, if considered as an isolate demonstration, only a diversion. Supported by decisive success in Maryland, it would overwhelm the Union party in Tennessee, outflank Missouri, secure Arkansas and Texas, threaten New Orleans, and, above all, transfer the war to Ohio, the [Page 571] central State of the north, the possession of which would subdue the north as entirely as that of Georgia would subdue the south.
“‘A confederate army in Ohio would cut off the western from the eastern States, and would fight the enemy from his own centre.
“‘After the failure of the main rebel army in Maryland, the Kentucky invasion, carried forward, as it was, with little energy, and never meeting with popular sympathy, shrinks to an insignificant guerilla incursion. Even the occupation of Louisville would now only unite the “giants of the west,” the masses of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, in a similar avalanche to the one which descended on the south during the first glorious Kentucky campaign.
“‘Thus the Maryland campaign has proved that the power is wanting to the waves of secession to roll across the Potomac and up to the Ohio. The south is compelled to the defensive, but only in the offensive lay the possibility of its success. Deprived of the border States wedged in between the Mississippi on the west and the Atlantic on the east, it has now conquered nothing—but a grave.
“‘One should not forget for a moment that the southrons possessed the border States, and governed them politically when the banner of the rebellion was planted. What they desired was the Territories. They have lost the Territories with the border States. * * * * * *
“‘E puo si muove.’ Reason conquers, after all, in the world’s history. * * * * * * Nothing is easier than to show up apparent inconsistencies and aesthetical shortcomings in many of President Lincoln’s actions of state, as is done by the English Pindars of slavery, the Times, Saturday Review, and tutti quanti.
“And yet, in the history of the United States and of humanity, Lincoln will take his place immediately next to Washington! Is it, then, altogether without meaning, in our days, when the insignificant on this side the Atlantic drapes itself so melodramatically, that in the New World the important strides about in everyday clothes? * * * * *
“Hegel has observed that, in truth, comedy stands higher than tragedy— the humor of reason above its pathos. If Mr. Lincoln does not possess the pathos of historical action, he possesses thoroughly its humor. In what a moment does he issue the proclamation abolishing slavery on January 1, 1863? In the very moment in which the confederacy, as an independent power, had resolved, in the Richmond congress, on proposing peace negotiations; in the same moment in which the slaveholders considered their peculiar institution as much secured by their invasion of Kentucky as was their dominion over their countryman, the Kentuckian, Lincoln.”—Presse of Vienna, October 12.
You are far better able to judge of the attitude of the government of France than I can be, and your relations with the French minister at Washington, and with our excellent envoy at Paris, enable you to see how much or how little truth there may be in the periodically recurring rumors of an intended interference on the part of the French Emperor. So far as I can decide, from private means of information of the highest and most unquestionable character, I should say that, thus far, no projects or propositions of interference have been presented by that government to England. The proclamation of September 22 would seem to make such projects, for the present, impossible. I doubt if there is a government in Europe that would dare to confront the strong anti-slavery feeling which is entertained by a large majority of the European populations.
The manifesto of the English chancellor of the exchequer at Newcastle has, doubtless, engaged your attention, and you are better able to decide than I am how much weight is to be attached to those remarkable instances of sympathy with the slaveholders and their cause.
I only allude to it in passing as forming a portion of the historical record of these times. It is the first public, although unofficial, response of an English [Page 572] minister to the emancipation proclamation of the President. I do not believe it to represent the feeling either of the government or the nation.
The speech, so far as it related to the United States, was a consummate work of art, and suggests the oration which the great dramatist has imagined for Mark Anthony, arousing the citizens of Rome to fury over the dead body of Cæsar. There is the same elaborate deprecation of hostile feeling, the same subtle and successful fanning of flames of hatred in his hearers, under pretence of cooling a popular frenzy.
“Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honorable,”
says the Roman.
“Why, gentlemen, they are our kin; they were, at any rate, if they are not now, our customers ; and we hope that they will be our customers again!” says the chancellor of the exchequer.
A people struggling for its life against the most tremendous oligarchy that the world has ever seen awakens not his respect, but his pity. He is anxious, therefore, that a people so humiliated should be treated with due compassion. “Let us bear with them all we can.” To assure a people thus battling for freedom against slavery, for law, order, and social progress against a despotism, avowedly founded on slavery as its corner stone, that it is sure to be defeated, and that the sympathies of the world are with its antagonist, is, it seems, the true way of “manifesting a kindly temper.” To do this is to observe “great caution about adverse criticisms.”
The cup of humiliation and shame is ready for them, it appears. “They are still endeavoring to hold it far from their lips; they have not yet drunk of the cup which, notwithstanding all the world sees, they must drink of.” Enjoying thus the advantage of reading the future with perfect accuracy, the orator instructs his hearers to imitate his Christian forbearance, and not to trample on the downfallen. He “earnestly hopes that England will do nothing to inflict additional shame, sorrow, or pain on those who have already suffered much, and who will probably have to suffer much more.”
Those who know—as what American does not—the deeds of daring by men, of self-devotion by women, the almost fabulous generosity of all, the countless traits of individual heroism and chivalry with which the simple annals of so many families, rich and poor, throughout our land have been filled, during this dark but most honorable epoch of our history; those who know what a great people is now doing and suffering in defence of the free institutions bequeathed to them by their fathers, will know how to appreciate the epithet of “shame” which an English minister so genially bestows upon our name.
“Blistered be the tongue, that speaks of shame” is the only fit response to such rhetoric and such prophecy.
But there were words in the oration to which it is to be hoped America will never refuse its assent. The Americans, it is admitted, “have warm affections towards England.” England is “the country which, however they may find fault with us, from time to time, has the highest place in their admiration and respect.” This is perfectly true, and will, I trust, long remain so. But the England thus venerated and beloved of America is not the England which speaks through the lips of the chancellor of the exchequer, and which cheers his prophecies of our humiliation and shame.
It cannot be denied that the tendency of European public opinion, as delivered from high places, is more and more unfriendly to our cause. This is to be ascribed, of course, to the interruptions which the continuance of the war causes to material interests, and to the increasing dislike in Europe to liberal institutions. It would be weakness in us to expect sympathy from the privileged classes; but the people everywhere sympathize with us, for they know that our [Page 573] cause is that of free institutions, that our struggle is that of the people against an oligarchy. They are not deceived by the reiteration of the stale commonplaces about the “wicked war,” the “miserable war,” the “causeless war.” Not one of the critics and prophets with which the world swarms, and who are so anxious to take the mote from their neighbor’s eye, has ever suggested any possible project for the restoration of peace. They content themselves with denouncing the war. It would be well for these philosophers to ponder the motto which the State of Massachusetts borrowed from Algernon Sydney, and has borne for nearly a century on her seal:
“Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.”
The time comes to all nations when they can achieve peace and liberty by the sword alone. And when those blessings have been secured—as they only can be, on our continent, which the hand of God has indicated as the residence of one people—by the re-establishment of our federal Union and popular institutions, now threatened by the slaveholders’ insurrection, it may be hoped that the American sword may be sheathed for centuries.
Nor do I think that optimism puerile or unphilosophical which looks forward, through the war clouds that now envelop our land, to a day when the passions, slaked in blood, shall at last permit reason to resume her sway, and when the south as well as the north shall be both proud and happy that an oppressed race has been converted from chattels into free laborers, and the only obstacle removed which has ever lain in the path of our united nation to prosperity and true glory.
Even if these be dreams, I for one would not exchange my faith for that short-sighted materialism which, in either hemisphere, can see any good to the world in the downfall of our great and free republic.
I have nothing special to report of the condition of this empire. Its financial condition would seem to be improving, to judge by the rise of twenty per cent, in the market value of its paper as compared with specie. Ten pounds sterling, which at par are equivalent to 100 florins, were worth 140 florins a year ago, and are now worth but 120. There are hopes of a resumption of specie payments at the end of five years. The measures are now pending before the Reichsrath, and I will inform you duly of the result.
The proposed budget for 1863 shows a probable expenditure of 388,698,000 florins, with an income of 304,300,000. The deficit is already 84,398,000, which in time of peace does not seem very encouraging, particularly as about one-third of the whole annual expense is to be charged to the army. It should never be forgotten, however, that the resources of this empire are vast, and to a great extent still undeveloped.
The condition of the inhabitants is far from an unfortunate one in a material point of view; the agricultural and mineral wealth is great, and there is a steady effort to give fair play to the liberal institutions with which the empire has recently been endowed.
The taxation is heavy upon the wealthier classes, rather than upon the nation. Thus the tax on real estate is about 331/3 per cent., and there is an income tax of six per cent., which is shortly to be increased to seven per cent.
Nevertheless, the gross amount of the debt is, in round numbers, but eleven hundred and fifty million dollars, which, for a population of thirty-six millions, is but thirty-two dollars per head.
The amount of annual taxation is but a fraction over four dollars per head. To speak, therefore, of the Austrian empire as on the verge of bankruptcy and impending dissolution is mere abuse of language. The amount of debt and the ratio of taxation distributed per head over the population show that the condition of the Austrian subject is better than that of the subject of any monarchy in Europe, except Greece and Russia. The amount of debt in Holland [Page 574] is, per head, one hundred and thirteen dollars, while in the same country the ratio of contribution to the public revenue is more than eleven dollars per head. The amount of debt per head in France is above fifty dollars, with a ratio of taxation of ten dollars. The amount of debt per head in Great Britain is about one hundred and forty dollars, with a ratio of taxation of more than eleven dollars.
Thus the condition of Austria is, comparatively, favorable, and there is no doubt that the general aspect of the empire is one of thrift, contentment, and prosperity. The capital is growing like an American city, and the old feudal and picturesque town is surrounded by vast suburbs, in which splendid streets and stately palaces are rising and extending themselves in all directions.
My despatch has reached a greater length than I intended, and I shall therefore conclude these desultory remarks.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.