Mr. Taylor to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I hasten to communicate to you the information promised in my despatch of yesterday. I have just returned from an interview with Prince Gortchacow, who, with the generous frankness which has hitherto characterized his intercourse with me, has placed me in possession of all the facts of which it is necessary that the government of the United States should be informed.
I first asked him whether the proposition of France, announced in the journals of Paris and London, had actually been made to the imperial government. He replied in the affirmative. I then asked whether he was willing to communicate to me its exact terms. He answered in French, apparently quoting the words of the official communication:
“A conjunctive proposition on the part of France, Russia, and England, to the belligerent parties in America, to agree to an armistice of six months.” He further informed me that the proposal was to be considered by the English cabinet on the 11th, (yesterday.)
I stated to the Prince that the declarations of Russia had heretofore been sufficiently frank and explicit; that we could rely upon her action in the matter as that of a friend, and whatever it might be, the government of, the United States was assured in advance of the friendly consideration which would inspire it. I judged it necessary to add, however, that the moment was ill chosen for the presentation of such a proposal. After a campaign, the unsatisfactory character of which I could not deny, and the non-fulfilment of promises which ought never to have been made, the prospect of the suppression of the rebellion was now decidedly encouraging. The government was aware of the necessity of the most speedy and vigorous action; three hundred thousand men had been added to our army within the last two months, and the new iron-clad vessels, probably afloat by this time, would, I hope, soon enable us to dispense with the blockade, by putting us in possession of all the southern ports.
The Prince assured me, in reply, that the action of Russia would be governed entirely, as heretofore, by the most friendly feelings toward the United States. He would take no step which could not receive that interpretation. He then offered to read to me his instructions to M. de Stoeckl in regard to the proposed action of the three powers. After stating the proposition, the despatch refers to the position which Russia has occupied since the commencement of the struggle, repeats her desire for a settlement by conciliatory measures, and expresses her [Page 844] willingness to tender her good offices in a way that shall be acceptable, and that shall seem to promise a good result.
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The despatch having, been rapidly read, and in a foreign language, I do not pretend to give you the precise words, but I am sure of having reproduced the material substance of it. Its prevailing tone was a delicate and friendly consideration for the views of the government of the United States.
“There,” said Prince Gortchacow, when the reading was finished, “now you know the worst, so far as Russia is concerned.” I considered myself justified in assuring him that there was nothing in his instructions to M. de Stoeckl to which the government of the United States could take exception, for it would interpret every act of Russia in the light of her motives. An assurance of this kind seemed to me necessary in return for his frankness. I then retired.
I should do the government ill service by disguising the truth that the European powers most friendly to it are at last becoming impatient. The failure of two campaigns is the prominent fact in their eyes; the important advantages which have been gained are overlooked. Nearly all the news which is received comes distorted through English and French channels. The correspondents of the London journals, in particular, continually give currency to malicious falsehoods, the absence of which in American newspapers they pretend to account for by a tyrannical censorship. These statements, copied throughout the continent, and persistently repeated, are beginning to produce their natural effect; to which is added the prestige of apparent success, to a certain extent, on the part of the rebel government. There is a universal sympathy, independent of the principles at stake, with success against odds, and this sympathy is beginning to tell, not only against the government of the United States, but against the wisdom of its friends.
What Russia evidently fears at present is the ultimate exhaustion of the two sections of the Union, which will leave them either divided or reunited, helpless to resist the encroachments of hostile powers. The political equilibrium which she sees in the maintenance of the Union in its original strength would thus be destroyed. No news could be more welcome to her than that which should indicate the speedy overthrow of the rebellion, but a struggle protracted much longer seems to her not less unfortunate than immediate separation.
I believe this to be a strictly correct statement of the predominant feeling of the imperial government. My duty terminates in communicating it, for the possibility of its existence and the course which it suggests have undoubtedly been foreseen by the President and by yourself.
I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.