Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton

No. 452.]

Sir: Your despatch of December 11, No. 384, is the latest which has been received here, and an acknowledgment of it has been delayed by reason of my short absence from this city.

Your proceedings in the case of the Rappahannock are approved.

I have communicated to the Secretary of the Navy the information you gave me concerning the Florida and the Georgia. Mr. Mercier has returned to France for the winter. I have reason to believe that he has left us with kind and liberal sentiments towards the United States. Certainly he bears with him the respect and good wishes of this government. The beginning of our unhappy civil war found him in close and intimate relations with the leaders of the insurrection. This could not well be a cause of surprise or of reasonable complaint on the part of this government, for those leaders were, until a very late hour in Mr. Buchanan’s term, directors of the administration of this government itself. We had no right to expect greater loyalty from a foreign minister than was exhibited by the cabinet of Mr. Buchanan. It is believed that Mr. Mercier has been slower than most of the representatives of foreign states residing here in accepting the conclusion that the Union would be saved from the appalling dangers with which he has seen it combating. Nevertheless his bearing and his interviews with the government are believed to have been frank and honorable. He is therefore commended to your kind and respectful consideration.

He will inform you that just when the President had acceded to the wishes of the French government for a permission to export the tobacco which it has stored at Richmond, upon the express ground that it had been bought and paid for before the blockade was laid upon the southern ports, it was discovered that [Page 16] the French government had been in error as to the fact of the alleged early purchase and payment so far as five or six thousand hogsheads of the tobacco were concerned. On this mistake being brought to the knowledge of the President, he at once consented to authorize the exportation of the 1,500 hogsheads, which it was still understood had been bought and paid for before the blockade, and said that he would review the subject as to the 6,500 hogsheads which it would appear had not been thus early purchased and paid for. When this decision was made known by Mr. Mercier to Mr. Paul, the French agent in Richmond, that gentleman then for the first time discovered, or at least made known the fact, that even the 1,500 hogsheads referred to were not paid for until after the blockade was established. This statement became known to Mr. Mercier just when he was on the eve of departing, and when I was at New York, and not at this capital, so that it could not be made a subject of correspondence between us. I therefore recommended to him, under the circumstances, to submit the altered state of the case to M.Drouyn de l’Huys. This government is satisfied that the imperial government is disposed to practice not only strict neutrality in our civil war, but also to extend to this government all the comity that shall be consistent with that relation.

The President is therefore by no means inclined to insist rigorously on the condition of its concession concerning the tobacco in question. At the same time it is to be remembered that a waiver by Great Britain of a right to object to the relaxation of the blockade, so as to permit the exportation of this tobacco, was deemed necessary before those concessions were made, and that Great Britain made the waiver upon the direct application of the French government, and upon the express ground that the tobacco involved had been actually bought and paid for before the blockade was established. You will bring this important fact to the recollection of Mr. Drouyn de l’Huys, who may, if he shall deem it expedient, apply to her Majesty’s government for a renewal of its original assent upon the now corrected state of facts. If the difficulty which I have thus stated shall be removed, the President will reconsider the case in the same spirit of liberality and comity towards France which has governed the previous proceedings of this government.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


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