Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward

No. 312.]

Sir: I have had the honor to receive your No. 155, instructing me to make a representation to his Majesty’s government in regard to the equipment of another pirate in Portuguese waters.

As that instruction is predicated, apparently, upon the belief that a British steamship called the Sea King had, by preconcert and collusion with another British steamer called the Laurel, been converted into a rebel cruiser at the Desertas, near Funchal, I have deemed it prudent to suspend action until the explicit information, which I have heretofore sought in vain upon this subject, can be obtained.

There are various conflicting reports, none of which are quite satisfactory to my mind. Our vice-consul at Funchal seems in much doubt as to the real facts, and has not been able to answer distinctly the various inquiries made from this legation.

Had it not been for special official causes, demanding my constant presence here for some time past, I should have gone personally to Madeira, and to the spot, to make a thorough investigation of the matter, under the authority conferred for that purpose by your No. 133. It may be still necessary for me to adopt that course, and no personal convenience will be allowed to interfere with its execution if further reflection and a sense of duty should require it.

I have heretofore explained that we must look mainly for the protection of American commerce in these waters to our own resources; and it was for that reason that I ventured frequently within the last two years to urge with much earnestness upon the proper department the absolute necessity of placing upon a more efficient footing than has all along existed whatever naval force could be spared for European service. Those suggestions, derived from actual experience and from anxious observation, failed to attract attention, doubtless because of more pressing cases, so that we have paid a costly penalty for the want of plain and effective organization.

This government has a very limited navy, which is not equal to the protection of its own exposed interests, and is but little available for those duties which other nations may claim under circumstances such as now embarrass the United States. An unusually prompt and good disposition has been manifested on various occasions to arrest the intended equipment and preparation of rebel cruisers, but the means are not always at hand when most needed, and consequently we are thrown back upon our own naval resources to prevent depredations and to punish the depredators.

There is no other reliable mode of security; and if our ships-of-war now in [Page 102] Europe, or to be sent to these waters, are judiciously devoted to this important object, there will soon be less injury to regret, and little cause for serious complaint. But as long as there is no system, and nothing but indifferent concert of action between the civil and military agents of the government abroad, commerce will be comparatively at the mercy of the corsairs which roam the ocean, seeking what they may plunder and destroy.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.