Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your despatches, No. 28 to 33, of dates January 5, February 2 and 26, March 11, April 7 and 21.

I have delayed longer than usual sending you a despatch, in the hope of being able to give you more definite information in regard to the political and interventional aspects of this part of the world than it had of late been in my power to do. I am obliged to say, however, that I have nothing very important to add to the views presented, with much freedom, in my private and confidential letter of date March 10, 1863.

It is always easy to speculate as to the future, if one is indifferent to the possibility of being reputed a bad prophet, or confident that one’s fortunate guesses, or unhappy blunders, are sure to be alike forgotten in the rapid movement of events.

Nevertheless, it is my duty to present you, from time to time, with the best materials within my reach for forming a judgment as to the present condition and immediate future prospects of Europe. In doing so, I shall always endeavor, as far as possible, to treat such subjects, as the Germans say, objectively, and not subjectively; for I should be rendering you very little service if I allowed such information as I may be able to collect to be colored either by my fears or my hopes.

It is also very difficult to obtain any special intelligence. Even despotic governments have, in our day, an almost feverish desire to appeal to the great tribunal of public opinion, by which, humanly speaking, the fate of nations must be ultimately decided; so that the most secret of the state papers would seem to be written with a view of publicity, even before they have become very old.

Moreover, the telegraph, in its fragmentary, sensational, and contradictory style of recording the events as they succeed each other, seems almost to have imprinted something of its elective character on the events themselves. At any rate, it has reduced current history into a perpetual propounding of riddles.

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Wishing to send nothing in my letters which has already reached you in the public prints, and being at the same time quite unable, of course, at this distance even to keep pace with them, my occupation seems to be reduced to that of a commentator, rather than a narrator I can only give you results and impressions, derived from all the sources of intelligence within my reach, but refrain, for obvious reasons, from citing my authorities.

The attitude of Europe is at present one of expectation. It is on tiptoe, waiting to see and to hear of startling events; and very contradictory statements circulate in well-informed circles. The prominent topic is naturally Poland. I have been informed, on good authority, that the Emperor of the French had determined, with or without the alliance of any other power, to make war upon Russia, for the purpose of securing the complete independence of the Polish kingdom.

Yet I have the best reasons for believing that this view is entirely erroneous. Most alarming reports are spread from time to time that the outbreak of hostilities is imminent; and the funds respond to the rumors with their usual alacrity of sinking, much to the advantage of the “bears;” yet, thus far, I have been able to discover no ground for believing, this year, in a European war.

It was said not long ago that Sweden, in conjunction with France, was ready to declare war upon Russia, and all the details of a Baltic campaign were duly mapped out by amateur strategists; yet I believe that Sweden was never further than now from contemplating war, and has seldom been more tranquil than when she was represented as overflowing with naval and military ardor.

It was very generally stated and believed that England had sent, without concert with the other powers, a proposition of armistice with the insurgent Poles to Russia. As such a step involved the recognition on the part of the Czar of his rebellious subjects as lawful belligerents, and a negotiation with an occult and mysterious power, called the national committee of Poland, concerning whose local habitation nothing is known, except to the initiated, it seemed difficult to credit such a report. To make a suggestion which could only meet with a refusal, and would be esteemed an affront by one party, without being of any service to the other, did not appear a very probable measure. I am informed that no such proposal has been made.

The prevailing impression here is, that there will be no war. The language of those most entitled to speak with authority is very pacific. Russia, France, England, Austria, prefer peace, during this year at least, to hostilities. Meantime the Poles have been encouraged by expressions of enthusiasm and sympathy in foreign countries, and by individual contributions to their aid, to proceed in the most determined and valorous, but as it would seem hopeless, attempt to make themselves independent of the Russian empire. Blood flows in Poland, and ink is profusely shed in the bureaus of the great powers; but, thus far, there are no tangible proofs of any effectual movement to aid the insurgents on the part of foreign governments.

What is called “moral influence” is as generally bestowed on the insurgent Poles as it has been, and continues to be, on the insurgent slaveholders in the United States; and it has done as much for the one as for the other. But in the case of the Poles, that material and political aid has been withheld for which they would have been very grateful. As yet there has been no proclamation of neutrality as between Russia and Poland; the insurgents have not been declared lawful belligerents; nor have any war vessels, built, manned, equipped, and armed in English ports, hoisted the Polish flag, and burned Russian merchantmen on the ocean. Yet it would be as easy for such vessels to sail with their prizes into Poland as into the “confederacy.”

The stories which circulate as to the condition of affairs in Poland almost [Page 1002] exceed belief. I make no allusion to acts of cruelty said to be perpetrated by the armed troops on both sides. Such horrors fill the journals of all countries, and resemble those which occur or are invented in every age and land afflicted by the scourge of civil war. But the immense power wielded so secretly and so strenuously by the national committee of Warsaw has had no parallel in Europe, if half what is reputed to be true, since the Vehm Gericht, of the middle ages.

The officials of the imperial government, in large numbers, are said to be the devoted servants of the insurrection. Men have been summoned from places as distant as Vienna by this occult power, and made to serve in the Polish armies, and no man knows the machinery by which these decrees are communicated and enforced. Intelligence is spread and newspapers are circulated under the very eyes of government. Armies are levied, supported and diverted, municipal functions are exercised, a regular police is established, power of life and death over millions of people is steadily maintained. Yet no man knows by whom or how.

Dead bodies of conspicuous personages are picked up in the streets of Warsaw, labelled with a brief statement of the crimes for which they have been condemned to death and secretly executed.

Thus a double reign of terror, the open and the hidden, the legitimate and the insurrectionary, seems to pervade the whole atmosphere.

I give the latest intelligence of the working of this double reign of terror, taken from this morning’s Warsaw correspondence in one of the leading journals of Vienna.

“All burgomasters and magistrates in the land have already, under date of April 17, received the following order from the national government, which I have had, by chance, an opportunity of examining:

“The chief of Curie, N. N., informs the city presidents, burgomasters, and magistrates, that they are forbidden, under any form whatever, to make reports concerning the movements, numbers, and operations of the insurrectionary national troops, and, in general, concerning all things which regard the insurrection. In case of disobedience, (widrigen falls,) they will be considered as traitors to their country, and, as such, immediately and unconditionally punished with death.

“As, among others, the burgomaster R., in the village of R., circle W., received the proclamation of the national government, he wrote, under date of April 23, a report (No 509) to the land councellor (land-rath) of the Russian government, in which, after representation of the danger threatening him thus from both sides, he begged his superior authorities to provide him with the protection which he required for the fulfilment of his official duties.

“This request, which we have ourselves read, is expressed in a respectful and loyal tone; he alludes to the punctuality of the national government in executing their sentences of punishment, and appeals to the humanity of the Russian government.

“The answer which he received to his most obsequious request, under date of May 20, (No. 36,008,) from the commission of interior at Warsaw, was to the effect that he would be brought before court-martial and shot, in case he did not fulfil his official duties. The anxious burgomaster himself showed me this correspondence.”—Wanderer, Vienna, June 2, 1863.

Of course, I do not vouch for the authenticity of these documents and statements; but I take them from a highly respectable and well-known daily newspaper.

Nevertheless, the contest in the end would seem unequal, although it is not the prevailing opinion of those who ought to be best informed that it will prove an easy task for the Russian government to suppress the insurrection.

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As for the diplomatic negotiations going on, I have thus endeavored, without attempting to give details of matters which will soon be made public, to indicate their character according to the impressions made upon me by what I can gather as dilatory and pacific.

The optimists believe that an excellent arrangement will be made, by which a constitutional autonomy and representative institutions will be granted to Poland, and, therefore, as a necessary consequence, to the whole Russian empire, and that the Poles, although now professing to be contending for nothing short of complete national independence, will be very glad to accept of so large an instalment of their rights as the one thus stated.

The pessimists, on the contrary, look forward to a continued and chronic insurrection, cropping out at every point, not only of Congress Poland, but of the old provinces on the southeast, Podalia, Valhynia, and the Ukraine, never to be terminated until they have brought on a general European war, or until the Poles, for the want of foreign assistance, shall be decimated and exhausted.

I abstain from all disquisition as to the rights and wrongs of the question. My object, as before stated, being to provide you with such materials as are at my command for estimating the probabilities of the immediate future.

Austria, you may be sure, is most pacifically inclined. The imperial government has thus far acted with the western powers in their appeals to the magnanimity and forbearance of the Czar; and thus far Austrian Poland has not strongly sympathized with the insurrection. It would, however, be impossible for this empire to take part in a war against Russia for the purpose of establishing an independent kingdom of Poland, and by so doing to forfeit a considerable province. Governments make war sometimes to gain provinces, but rarely with the express purpose of losing one.

You have observed the recent course of events in Prussia. The question whether that country shall be considered a military monarchy, more or less limited by a written constitution, or a government of a house of commons majority, after the English manner, has reached, and, perhaps, passed its crisis.

The house of representatives adopted by a large majority an address denouncing the ministers and requesting the King to remove them at once and to change his whole policy; and the King has refused to receive a deputation charged with the presentation of the address, and has sent a message in reply rebuking the chamber and expressing unbounded confidence in the ministers.

The session of the house has been suspended, and a new one will not probably be called before January next, very soon after which date the term of its existence expires. It is hardly believed that there will be serious commotion.

It would thus seem that the house of commons majority system was defunct in Prussia. It could be defended only by force of arms, or, at least, by some such peremptory measure as by the resignation of the whole house of delegates in a body.

As nothing of the kind has been done, and as the people are tranquil, it would seem that the fighting point had been reached and passed. At any rate, there is no belief to-day of impending civil war, but rather that a noiseless coup d’etat has been struck, the ministers would seem more securely established than ever.

Meantime, during the coming summer and autumn, modifications of the electoral law will probably be matured and decreed by the crown, by which a more pliable house may be secured, and it remains to be seen whether such laws will be resisted by force of arms. Present indications incline me to the belief that Prussia will again become a military monarchy.

In your despatch No. 31, of date March 11, you express the intention of [Page 1004] the President to appoint a minister to Greece, and request my opinion as to the fitting time for such a mission.

I have hitherto delayed replying to that communication, expecting every day that there would be something definite to state. Greece is, however, still without a government, and marvellously in want of one. It is probable, however, that the difficulties in the way of the election of the young Danish Prince will be ultimately removed, and that the crown will be placed upon his head. Thus far, however, the efforts of the powers to obtain from the house of Wettesbach the renunciation of its claims have been unsuccessful. Moreover, the very alarming and anarchical condition of the country renders it more and more improbable that the new King, who is but a boy in years, could undertake to govern it without the assistance of a considerable foreign army.

There are recent indications that a military occupation of Greece will be thought a necessary measure. Certainly the accounts from that most interesting country are melancholy in the extreme; so painful that I do not like to dwell upon the subject to-day longer than to say, that up to this moment it would seem difficult to send a minister there, for it would be very doubtful to whom he could present his credentials. As a specimen of the sensational meat on which the public is fed, I give you the very latest telegram received here, although it will be old enough before it reaches you.

“The powers have so little confidence in the chances of the meeting of a congress, that in London and Paris engineer officers are occupied with the study of a plan of a campaign. Views incline to the idea of an occupation of Finland, in order, by means of a successful battle, to capture Petersburgh.”

Our latest dates from America are to the 20th of May. I have the honor to remain your most obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.