Mr. Seward to Mr. Sanford.
Sir: I have the pleasure of acknowledging the arrival of your confidential communication of April 29, and your despatch of May 1, No. 62. So much of the latter as relates to iron clad vessels has been submitted to the Secretary of the Navy.
The President, as you doubtless have already learned, has considered well and carefully the subject of the distress of manufacturers in Europe, [Page 655] resulting from the existing blockade of southern ports in this county, and has availed himself of the earliest convenient moment to relax that belligerent measure in regard to several of those ports, including New Orleans, the relief to take effect on the 1st of June next.
From the beginning of our domestic troubles there has been what has seemed to us almost a perverse disposition prevailing in Europe to look for the restoration of commerce only through a concession by the United States of sovereignty and independence to the insurgents. All our representations of a fixed and unalterable determination to maintain the integrity of the Union, although supported by measures of unsurpassed vigor and energy, have been constantly treated in Europe as if they were either insincere or made without adequate consideration of the national strength and resources. Yet it may well be doubted whether there is or ever was a people more really tenacious of integrity and of cherished aspirations than this one. If the disposition in Europe which I have described yet remains unchanged by all the successes of the national arms, then it is to be feared that the sufferers on that continent will derive much less advantage from the restoration of trade which has been accorded than is expected by communities who are naturally rendered impatient by misfortune.
I would endeavor to fix the mind of the enlightened government of Belgium upon a new phase of this unhappy domestic difficulty which is now distinctly presenting itself. I speak not speculatively, but from actual observation; not of what may happen, but of what is actually occurring. The insurrection in this country is consuming the products of agriculture already gathered. It is devoting to war the capital which ought, and which in time of peace would be employed in beneficent industry, and it is wasting the wealth which the inhabitants of the insurgent States would, under other circumstances, expend in purchasing the fabrics of foreign art and labor. More than this, it is demoralizing and disorganizing society itself. The war employs the master in arms, and even the slave, also, so far as, with his low intelligence, he can be made useful. When not so employed, he is left to support himself and his master’s family, and to provide their contributions to the supply and payment of the insurrectionary army. Thus he contributes nothing to the wealth of the State. He discovers that he has an interest in withholding his exertions from the service of a master who perverts the fruits of his labor at the very moment when he becomes sensible that the master’s control over him is relaxed. He admits the hope of freedom, and contrives how to escape from bondage. Wherever the armies or the navies of the Union approach he becomes immediately unfaithful, and prepares to follow the forces which, although they have come only to restore order, have, nevertheless, come to defeat the master who holds him in servitude. The master gathers his slaves to fly with them to some new and safer field. The slave deserts him wherever and whenever facilities offer. Want soon overtakes both the master and the slave, and then the relation that has always before been thought perpetual suddenly comes to an end.
Keen and sagacious minds perceive indications of a still more serious change. The slave, having become partially instructed in military operations and familiar with them, is already prepared to use the fatal knowledge for the overthrow of slavery itself. We have, within a few days, seen a slave crew seize an insurgent ship-of-war in the harbor of Charleston, skilfully bring her within the federal lines, and deliver her and themselves up to the commander of the national forces, and thus entitle themselves to a reward in the form of prize money. Charleston is, consequently, now under martial law, and there are mysterious apprehensions of a slave insurrection there.[Page 656]
However much this government may desire that the States shall remove or modify the practice of slavery, it is, nevertheless, its constitutional duty to leave that subject exclusively to the slave States themselves, and even to guarantee them against slave insurrections, as well as other dangers, so long as those States can, by the use of ordinary agencies, be held in their constitutional relations to the federal Union.
It is very easy, however, to see that a civil war between two parties of the white race could not continue long in this country without bringing the colored race into activity, even though that race had no special interest in the controversy. It is impossible not to see that the bondage of the African race is the remote cause of the present strife, and it is certain that whenever the slave shall intervene in it he will be found on the side which he justly identifies with the cause of emancipation. The civil war, through the operation of the causes I have indicated, is now on the eve of becoming a social—a servile war. Of course such a war would subvert the system of cotton production existing in this country. But it is upon that very system that the nations of Europe have so largely built their own vast structures of manufacturing and commercial industry. I am satisfied that the process of subversion has already begun. Not less than one hundred of the slaves in the insurgent States every day cast off their bondage, and cease to be instruments auxiliary to those systems forever. They are of both sexes and of all ages. How long will the slave production of cotton endure this rapid process of disorganization ?
If the western nations had been careful to lend no direct or indirect aid to the revolution, the United States, through the agency of merely political motives, would have early restored the federal authority without destroying or even deeply disturbing the constitution of society, and slavery, instead of being brought to the sharp trial of servile war, would have been left to be removed peacefully and gradually by the agency of the States which were chiefly concerned with it.
Europe, on the contrary, strangely thought that, by discouraging the United States it would induce them to consent to dissolution, and so save the slave production of cotton in the slave States. Europe has thus put this beneficent government upon an ordeal more solemn and fearful than any through which a nation has ever passed. It is to try, at the peril of its life, whether the American Union is by itself stronger than the slavery which encumbers it, supported by the countenance, if not the actual protection, of foreign nations. We have accepted the trial reluctantly. We have found that the insurrection daily grows weaker, because slavery daily declines, and that the Union daily grows stronger, because, while it carefully preserves all the time the attitude of self-defence against aggression, the instincts of self-preservation, which sustain it, derive new and immeasurable strength from the concurring sentiments of justice and humanity.
If Europe will still sympathize with the revolution, it must now look forward to the end; an end in which the war ceases with anarchy substituted for the social system that existed when the war began. What will then have become of the interests which carried Europe to the side which was at once the wrong side and the losing one ?
Only a perfect withdrawal of all favor from the insurrection can now save those interests in any degree. The insurrectionary States, left hopeless of foreign intervention, will be content to stop in their career of self-destruction, and to avail themselves of the moderating power of the federal government. If the nations of Europe shall refuse to see this, and the war must therefore go on to the conclusion I have indicated, the responsibility for that conclusion will not rest with the government of the United States. We shall see, in that case, whether those nations, Christian nations as they [Page 657] are, will in this, the nineteenth century, intervene with force to maintain African slavery in America against the will equally of the people and the slaves of America. I will not push the argument so far as to inquire what would be the probable result of such an intervention. Europe now knows and understands the policy which this government has adopted for the gradual and ultimate relief of the nation from the evil of slavery. It has been explicitly set forth by the President and adopted by Congress. If accepted by the slave States, it will restore peace and effect the desired result, without involving the sacrifice of a single personal right or privilege of any section of the country or of any State.
These are general observations, having no especial bearing upon the policy of Belgium, and worthy of consideration in that country no more, perhaps even less, than elsewhere in Europe. You may submit them to Mr. Rogier if he shall be willing to hear them They will tend to satisfy him that this government is contending for the present interests of European society, while it is at the same time defending itself and maintaining the cause of human nature.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
H. S. Sanford, Esq., .&c., &c., &c., Brussels.