Mr. Sanford to Mr. Seward
Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your circular despatch, under date of the 12th ultimo, with the accompanying map. I deemed it important, in connexion with conversations with the King previously reported to you, to bring the facts and conclusions therein set forth without delay before his Majesty, and, accordingly, asked for an audience, which was granted me to-day.
After the usual interchanges of courtesy, in reply to the inquiries of his Majesty touching the progress of the war, and to the expression of the hope that it was approaching its end, I said that I had come, remembering the enlightened interest in our affairs he had shown in previous interviews, and in connexion with a recent conversation reported to you, to bring for his perusal a recent despatch, in which you had set forth with great clearness and cogency the progress we had made towards the restoration of the authority of the government in the rebellious States, and the expediency, in view of the early restoration [Page 1172] of its former commercial intercourse, for Europe to leave us to settle our domestic affairs without interference therein. The suppression of the rebellion, I continued, was simply a question of time—how much time, depended greatly upon the action of European powers. If this course of giving aid by recognition of belligerent rights; of aiding to injure our commerce by countenancing the building of vessels-of-war to be used by the insurgents to destroy our merchant ships; of giving aid and protection to these vessels, and even the means for continuing this nefarious business; of holding out hopes of recognition, &c; if these were continued, of course, the war would be prolonged, and a restoration of commerce be delayed, in a corresponding degree. If the recognition of belligerent rights to the insurgents were withdrawn, my opinion was, that the bubble of the confederacy would collapse immediately. We considered it would, in any event, be soon pricked by the action of our arms, and the re-action of the people, who were beginning to perceive that they had been led astray, and wickedly used, to further the ambitious designs of a few selfish and miserable politicians. I said, further, that in this connexion with the subject of supplying ships-of-war to those in rebellion to the Union, I felt constrained to say, as a personal opinion, that if it was continued in England, if the iron-clad vessels now in process of construction there were permitted to leave, it seemed to me a continuation of peaceful relations with that country would be impossible; that there was a rising wave of indignation and hostility surging up against Great Britain among our people, in consequence of similar acts, that would, with every desire on the part of the government to keep the peace, be likely, in the contingency suggested, to culminate in an overwhelming outburst of feeling that would, in my view, make war inevitable. I added that I hoped every lover of peace would aid to avert such a calamity, by counsels in favor of a course of conduct due towards a friendly power, as well as in the interests of Great Britain, who was raising precedents which, in the future, would be likely to be turned with mischievous results against her.
It was difficult, his Majesty replied, for neutrals to satisfy either party, and he expressed, in general terms, the hope that there would be no cause for difficulty. His Majesty expressed surprise at the marked progress of our arms, as shown upon the map. He said he hoped an early peace would be arrived at; that he had received too many evidences of regard from the United States not to feel a deep interest in the prosperity, well-being and peace of our country; and it seemed to him that some way might be found for an arrangement, and the avoidance of further bloodshed. When two gentlemen, he continued, had fought gallantly, and with mutual losses, it was generally found that a means of settlement could be arrived at without continuing the combat till one succumbed; and so, in this case, would not the feeling hereafter be likely to be less bitter, and would there not be more future harmony, were this occasion of exhaustion and discontent in the south, to which I had adverted, availed of to come to an arrangement by mutual compromises?
There was no disposition, I replied, to destroy the southern people, or to crush or humiliate them unnecessarily. When they expressed a desire to return to their allegiance, it would be found, I thought, that the return would be made as little onerous or humiliating as was compatible with the future security of the State. A recent letter, written under high authority, as I believed, and published in North Carolina, as well as various other indications, showed that the people were taking this question of a return to the Union into their own hands, and it was through the people, not their leaders, that I looked for a settlement, and the restoration of peace over a united country.
During a lengthened conversation, his Majesty was reserved in the expression of opinion touching the repeal of the recognition of belligerent rights to the insurgents, and the building of ships-of-war for them. He expressed himself warmly, as touched by the cordial friendly spirit of your late communications [Page 1173] for him; and in reply to my remark, that the feelings we entertained for him were almost those of affection, he said he appreciated this regard evinced for him; he felt that it was because we must know that he sought to do good.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.