Mr. Webb to Mr. Seward

No. 42.]

Sir: The British steam packet Magdalena arrived on the evening of the 5th, bringing despatches Nos. 46, 41, 48, 49, and 50; and circulars Nos. 14 and 29.

I immediately enclosed to the secretary of foreign affairs a copy of despatch No. 49, and took occasion to cancel so much of my despatch to the Marquis d’Abrantes, in relation to the President’s proclamation of the 22d of September, as conflicted with the spirit of that all-important document, and of which I most cordially and unreservedly approve.

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The copy of my despatch enclosed herewith will, I trust, prove satisfactory, as it certainly is intended to demonstrate that all that has been done in the way of manumission is in strict compliance with the Constitution and the law.

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I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c.

Mr. Webb to the Marquis d’Abrantes

The undersigned, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from the United States, has the honor to enclose to his Excellency the Marquis d’Abrantes, counsellor to his Majesty the Emperor, minister and secretary of state for foreign affairs, a copy of a circular from the Secretary of State of the United States, bearing date the 3d January, 1863, enclosing a proclamation, issued by the President of the United States on the 1st of January, 1863, giving freedom to the slaves held in bondage by the States, and parts of States, in insurrection against the United States on that day. This proclamation was issued in conformity to the pledge contained in the proclamation from the same high source bearing date the 22d of September last, and was resorted to by the Executive as a military necessity. The Constitution gives the President of the United States no right to abolish slavery in those States where it exists under the local law; but both the Constitution and the law invest him with extraordinary powers to put down insurrection, punish traitors, and suppress rebellion; and it was in the legitimate exercise of this necessary war power that the proclamations of the 22d of September and 3d of January were issued, and will produce such mighty results upon the future destinies of the United States. Slavery can only be abolished under the war power with which the President is clothed, in those districts of the country in open rebellion against the United States. Consequently, it is not abolished in the more northern slave States of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and in certain portions of Virginia and Louisiana. Therefore, the attention of the undersigned has been called to the fact that he committed an error, or wrote hastily, when he said, as he did in the copy sent to Washington, of his note to your excellency of the 3d of November last, that the proclamation of the 22d of September “manumits on the first of January next all the slaves in the United States.

The phrase should have read, “virtually manumits on the first day of January next all the slaves in the United States;” and if the word “virtually” is engrossed in the copy of the despatch sent to your excellency, it is well; if not, it should be substituted; because the Executive of the United States never claimed, and has never attempted to exercise, the power of manumitting slaves, except where their masters were in open insurrection, and their property thereby had, under the law and the Constitution, become forfeited to the government of the United States.

The slave population of the United States, by the census of 1860, was 3,953,760; and in round numbers may be put down at four millions. The circular from the State Department, herewith enclosed, communicates the pleasing intelligence, that by the proclamation of the 1st of January, 1863, “the number of slaves thus restored to freedom is about three and one-half [Page 1260] millions,” or seven-eighths of the whole number. And thus, that proclamation “virtual” gives freedom to all; because the moral effect of thus confiscating, and, as a war measure, emancipating seven-eighths of our slave population, secures the freedom of the remaining one-eighth by purchase from their owners.

I have, also, the honor to enclose a circular from the Postmaster General of the United States, naming the 2d Monday in May next as a convenient day for the meeting at Paris of the International Postal Convention, and I am instructed to invite the special attention of the Brazilian government to this interesting subject.

The undersigned avails himself of this occasion to reiterate to your excellency his sentiments of respect and most distinguished consideration.


His Excellency the Marquis d’Abrantes, Councillor to his Imperial Majesty, &c., &c.