Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton

No. 218.]

Sir: The Europa’s mail has only just now come in, a few hours in advance of the time assigned for the departure of the outgoing despatches, and it brings no communication from your legation.

The circumstances calculated to excite distrust of the friendly feeling of France towards the United States, to which you have heretofore directed my notice, are now fixing public attention in this country as well as in Europe. Some European observers who are unfriendly to us, or, to speak more accurately, who are jealous of a good understanding between France and the United States, are stimulating popular suspicions here, which, if they are without any just foundation, as the President believes, must be very deeply regretted in both countries. The form which these suggestions take is, that France has design to make of the war against Mexico only an introduction to aggressions against the United States in the Gulf of Mexico or on its coasts. The interpretation which is popularly given to the Emperor’s late overtures to Great Britain and Russia for mediation in our affairs favors this alarm, and is consequently causing it to receive a very wide acceptance.

Satisfied that France, equally with the United States, desires that the mutual and almost fraternal sympathies that so long have prevailed in the two countries shall remain undisturbed, it becomes a grave question whether it is not expedient that Mr. Drouyn de l’Huys shall do or say something to correct the impressions to which I have adverted.

When the French government looks to the land and naval re-enforcements which the President has just sent to New Orleans and the Mississippi, and to the now rapid departure of our iron-clad vessels to their southern destination, it must perceive that in no case do we expect to surrender that river or any part of the Gulf coast to insurgents or to any foreign power. The same inference will be justly drawn from the important change of the war [Page 709] policy in regard to slavery, which will be completely announced in the President’s forthcoming proclamation of the first of January next.

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But while all these points are so obvious as to need no elucidation, there are yet some others upon which, although they are matters of much delicacy, I could not, consistently with candor and frankness, forbear to speak under the circumstances now existing.

It is very generally understood that there is some peculiar sympathetic relationship between Louisiana and France, which has an important political significance in regard to the relations of the two countries. Nothing could be wider from the truth. New Orleans, in its early history, as a capital of the vast but wild French province of Louisiana, was French; but so was St. Louis, then as now an important trading post, situated a thousand miles above New Orleans, on the Mississippi river. With the annexation of Louisiana to the United States, if not before, French immigation stopped and American immigration set in there. New Orleans is at this day American in the same fixed sense that New York, Boston, and Cincinnati are. There is a small French commercial interest in New Orleans, but so there is in New York. It is as completely exotic as if it had been lately engrafted on an American stock, instead of having an American graft set upon itself, which has absorbed the chief life of the community. The French relationship existing between New Orleans and France is now merely the relationship of a social class, perhaps I might say a creation of fashion. As proof of this you may refer to the fact that the French representation of New Orleans in both houses of Congress has dwindled away year after year until a Frenchman is rarely found in it. There is another proof: Even the insurgents, when they choose in New Orleans pretended representatives to go to France, take not Frenchmen, but natives, or persons derived from the prevailing stocks of the other States. There is now no more a hook for a French intervention to grapple to in Louisiana than there is in any other State of this Union. This fact is even more palpable now than it has been heretofore. The war makes social and political changes here, as it necessarily must. They are none the less real because they escape for a time the attention of a class of observers who fasten themselves upon events which merely strike the imagination. If you could return home you would be surprised to find Baltimore and Washington so changed that you would scarcely perceive a difference in the tone of society there from what prevails in Chicago and Trenton.

There is a second consideration which the French government ought to understand. The attachment of the people of the United States to France differs from the sentiment they bear towards every other country. It is general, practically universal. But it is an attachment that has its roots not in natural affinity, nor yet in international motives. It is the fruit of two purely moral sentiments—justice and gratitude. We all have been educated to pity the fate of Louis XVI, who was our friend—to admire Lafayette, who was a chivalrous knight-errant in our revolutionary cause—to admire Napoleon the First, who saved and restored France by his genius and his valor. We honor and love all France, because she has constantly cherished with pride and pleasure the memories of the period when we were allies, because she has been willing that we should endure, and hopeful of our social, political and civil institutions. The affection of the American people is attended, not by any national sense of weakness, or dependence, or fear, or of interest, but by a luxuriant Americanism, or love of independence. It is more honorable to France for being so; for there is for nations no esteem that is worthy of pride, or that can be relied upon as a bond of friendship, but that which is the outgrowth of national magnanimity.

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The fact that the national attachment of this country to France is so pure and so elevated, constitutes just the reason why it could be more easily supplanted by national insult or injustice than our attachment to any other foreign state could be. It is a chivalrous sentiment, and it must be preserved by chivalrous conduct and bearing on both sides. I deduce from the two positions which I have presented a conclusion which has the most solemn interest for both parties, namely, that any attempt at dictation— much more any aggression committed by the government of France against the United States—would more certainly and effectively rouse the American people to an attitude of determined resistance than a similar affront or injury committed by any other power. There is reason to believe that interested sympathizers with the insurrection in this country have reported to the French governmnent that it would find a party here disposed to accept its mediation or intervention. I understand that they reckon upon a supposed sympathy between our democratic citizens and the French government. It may as well be understood as soon as possible that we have no democrats who do not cherish the independence of our country as the first element of democratic faith, while, on the other hand, it is partiality for France that makes us willingly shut our eyes to the fact that that great nation is only advancing towards, instead of having reached, the democratic condition which attracts us in some other countries.

If we understand Mr. Drouyn de l’Huys, he is capable of believing that the sentiments I have expressed may be maintained and avowed with the most perfect respect and the most cordial feeling towards France, because they are sentiments which, in an American, are as virtuous as devotion to the intellectual and moral ideals of France are in a Frenchman.

Since I began this communication I have received, by a delayed mail, your despatch of the 12th of December, No. 240, in which you have set down explanations made by Mr. Drouyn de l’Huys, which are just such as it was my object on this occasion to instruct you to solicit You know how confidingly we accept assurances of this character from France, and, therefore, I hardly need say that they are entirely satisfactory.

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I am, sir, your obedient servant,


William L. Dayton, Esq., &c.,&c., &c.