Mr. Seward to Mr. Motley

No. 45.]

Sir: Your despatch of the 21st of September (No. 34) has been received. You have proceeded very properly in giving to Count Rechberg a copy of my despatch to Mr. Dayton of the 3d of March, 1862. This government desires to practice no concealment in its intercourse with foreign states. During the discussion concerning Mexico, and France, and the United States, which has been going on in Europe, I have refrained from instructing you to speak for the United States. This reserve has been practiced because the questions immediately concern only the three states mentioned, and the personal relation to them of the Austrian grand duke is an incident which could only bring the imperial royal government under any responsibility to the United States when that government should attempt or propose to violate some actual political right or disregard some practical interest which it would be the duty of the President to maintain or assert. But in this course of proceeding it has not been my intention to deny to you a full knowledge of the position of the President in regard to the questions debated. France is at war with Mexico and at peace with the United States, and a civil war is raging in the United States. I am to speak of the attitude of France towards the United States in relation to this civil war, and also to speak of the attitude of France towards Mexico, as it bears on the United States. For the sake of perspicuity I keep the two topics distinctly separate, and I treat the last one first.

We know, from many sources, and even from the direct statement of the Emperor of France, that on the breaking out of the insurrection he adopted the then current opinion of European statesmen that the efforts of this government to suppress it would be unsuccessful. To this pre-judgment we attribute his agreement with Great Britain to act in concert with her upon international questions which might arise out of the conflict, his practical concession of a belligerent character to the insurgents, his repeated suggestions of accommodations by this government with the insurgents, and his conferences on the subject of a recognition. These proceedings of the Emperor of France have been very injurious to the United States by encouraging and thus prolonging the insurrection. On the other hand, no statesman of this country is able to conceive of a reasonable motive on the part of France or the Emperor to do or to wish injury to the United States. Every statesman in the United States cherishes a lively interest in the welfare and greatness of France, and is content that she shall peacefully and in unbounded prosperity enjoy the administration of the Emperor she has chosen. We have not an acre of territory nor a fort which we think France could wisely covet, nor has she any possession that we could accept if she would resign it into our hands. Nevertheless, when recurring to what the Emperor of France has already done, we cannot, at any time, feel assured that under mistaken impressions of our embarrassments in consequence of a lamentable civil war, he may not go further in the way of encouragement to the insurgents, whose intrigues in Paris we understand and do not underestimate. While the Emperor of France has held an unfavorable opinion of our national strength and unity, we, on the contrary, have as constantly indulged an entire confidence in both. Not merely the course of events, but that of time also, opposes the insurrection and reinvigorates the national strength and power. Under these convictions we avoid everything calculated to irritate France by wounding the just pride and proper sensibilities of that spirited nation, and thus we hope to free our claim to her just [Page 1017] forbearance in our present political emergency from any cloud of passion or prejudice. Pursuing this course, the President hopes that the pre-judgment of the Emperor against the stability of the Union may give way to considerations which will modify his course and bring him back to the traditional friendship which he found existing between this country and his own when in obedience to her voice, he assumed the administration of her government. These desires and purposes of ours do not imply either a fear of imperial hostility or any neglect of a prudent posture of national self-reliance, and in that posture we constantly aim to stand.

I speak next of the relation of France towards Mexico. Until 1860 our prestige was a protection to her and to all the other republican states on this continent. That prestige has been temporarily broken up by domestic faction and civil war. France has invaded Mexico, and war exists between those two countries. The United States hold, in regard to these two states and their conflict, the same principle that they hold in relation to all other nations and their mutual wars. They have neither a right nor any disposition to intervene by force in the internal affairs of Mexico, whether to establish or to maintain a republican or even a domestic government there, or to overthrow an imperial or a foreign one if Mexico shall choose to establish or accept it. The United States have not a sight nor a disposition to intervene by force on either side in the lamentable war which is going on between France and Mexico. On the contrary, they practice in regard to Mexico, in every phase of the war, the non-intervention which they require all foreign powers to observe in regard to the United States. But notwithstanding this self-restraint, this government knows full well that the inherent normal opinion of Mexico favors a government there republican in form and democratic in its organization in preference to any monarchical institutions to be imposed from abroad. This government knows also that this normal opinion of the people of Mexico resulted largely from the influence of popular opinion in this country, which constantly invigorates it. The President, moreover, believes that this popular opinion of the United States is just in itself and eminently essential to the progress of civilization on the American continent, which civilization he believes can and will, if left free from European resistance, work harmoniously together with advancing refinement on the other continents. This government believes that all foreign resistance to American civilization, and all attempts to control it must and will fail before the ceaseless and ever-increasing activity of material, moral, and political forces which peculiarly belong to the American continent. Nor do the United States deny that in their opinion their own safety and the cheerful destiny to which they aspire are intimately dependent on the continuance of free republican institutions throughout America, and that their policy will always be directed to that end. They have frankly, and on proper occasions, submitted these opinions to the Emperor of France, as worthy of his serious consideration, in determining how he would conduct and close what might prove a successful war in Mexico. Nor do we practice reserve upon the point that if France should, upon due consideration, determine to adopt a policy in Mexico adverse to the American opinions and sentiments which I have described, that policy would probably scatter seeds which would be fruitful of jealousies that might ultimately ripen into collisions between France and the United States and other American republics. An illustration of this danger has occurred already. Political rumor, which is always suspicious, one day ascribes to France a purpose to seize the Rio Grande and wrest Texas from the United States. Another day rumor advises us to look carefully to our safety on the Mississippi. Another day we are warned of coalitions to be formed under French patronage between the regency that has been recently set up at the city of Mexico and the insurgent [Page 1018] cabal at Richmond. The President apprehends none of these things, and does not allow himself to be disturbed by suspicions. But he knows also that such suspicions will be entertained more or less extensively in this country, and will be magnified in other countries, and he knows, also, that it is out of such suspicions that the fatal web of national animosity is most frequently woven. The President, upon the assurances which he has received from the Emperor of France, expects that he will neither deprive the people of Mexico of their free choice of government nor seek to maintain any permanent occupation or dominion there.

It is true that the purposes or policy of the Emperor of France, in these respects, may change with changing circumstances. Although we are confiding, we are not therefore unobservant, and in no case are we likely to neglect such provision for our own safety as every people must always be prepared to fall back upon when a nation with which they have lived in friendship ceases to respect its moral and treaty obligations.

In giving you this summary of our positions, I have simply drawn off from the records the instructions under which Mr. Dayton is acting at Paris. I remain of the opinion that national dignity is best conserved by confining the discussion of these affairs to the cabinets of the United States, France, and Mexico, and that no public interest is to be advanced by opening it at Vienna, and, therefore, I do not direct you to communicate this despatch to the imperial royal court.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


J. Lothrop Motley, Esq., &c., &c., Vienna.