Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

No. 100.]

Sir: It would be quite impossible for me to express the joy with which every American heart abroad, as well as at home, has been filled at the recent tidings of the occupation of Richmond and the destruction or capture of the whole of Lee’s army. The first emotion must naturally be one of intense and humble gratitude to Cod, that our terrible expiation is nearly accomplished. Certainly no one can now doubt that the four years’ war by which an oppressed race has been redeemed from slavery and the great republic secured upon well-nigh impregnable foundations, is rapidly approaching its end.

No thinker in any part of the world, no one accustomed to ponder the meaning of daily events and to estimate moral and political forces, can ever have doubted as to the ultimate result of this great struggle. Nowhere more than in America have the moral forces a direct and visible effect upon political affairs, and never were the moral forces of humanity exerted on so prodigious a scale and in so unequivocal a direction as in this contest of principles which the profane and vulgar of Europe have been in the habit of denouncing as our “wicked, causeless, and hopeless” war. Certainly, those who have so firmly hoped for the success of a conspiracy ostentatiously founded on perpetual negro slavery as its corner-stone, must have been brought up in a different school of morals from that in which the majority of Americans have been educated. And if the preservation of a great commonwealth like ours, resting on wider foundations of popular liberty, and offering better hopes for the general progress of humanity than any political organization yet attempted by mankind, did not justify the vast and voluntary expenditure of blood and treasure with which the American people has startled the world, then was bloodshed never authorized on earth. In my own humble judgment, there has never seemed a chance of success for the rebellion even in the darkest hours, for to contend against the democratic principle in America was like struggling against any of the elemental and inexorable laws of nature. But while the supremacy of the republic and the destruction of the rebellious oligarchy were predestined events, there was ever a terrible uncertainty as to the number of years during which the sacrifice of [Page 19] human life and the outpouring of national wealth might go unchecked; and it was not until the final destruction of Hood’s army by Thomas, and the magnificent march of Sherman from Atlanta to Wilmington, that the downfall of the so-called confederacy within the current year became inevitable. I confess, however, that I, for one, was not prepared for the most dramatic and complete catastrophe which the genius of the Lieutenant General had so quietly ordained. It is an additional cause of national gratitude to that great soldier that the decisive crushing of the rebellion against American liberty has been effected in so sudden and startling a manner.

The haters of popular freedom everywhere who have been praying so fervently for the success of the slaveholders cannot but be more vividly impressed by such a termination than if Lee had withdrawn his army intact from an untenable position, and had thus, perhaps, been enabled to continue the struggle in some other stronghold until the rebellion perished of exhaustion. And the moral effect upon after ages will thus be the more distinct, for the method taught by Grant of trampling out sedition against the majesty of the people will assuredly be a lesson to be studied in the schools of states unborn and nations yet to be.

I do not think it exaggeration to say that this ten days’ work will always rank among the most consummate of military achievements.

Not often in history have we read of a stronghold like Richmond—besieged, but not invested—being taken by assault, and the whole defending army of seventy thousand men, killed, wounded, or captured within less than a fortnight of time. And the modesty and patience of the general-in-chief awaiting with the steadiness of fate the issue of his vast combinations, and the utter indifference to the common joys of the conqueror, in abstaining from taking formal possession of the captured city that he might the more rapidly intercept the flying but not yet annihilated rebels, are as impressive in a moral point of view as are the wisdom of his strategy and the vigor of his blows when the long foreseen hour to strike had come.

I am trespassing too much on your time, having nothing especial to communicate, and it is superfluous for me to dwell any longer upon this victory of Grant, upon the splendor of Sheridan’s exploits, which will live as long as we have a history, and upon the steadiness, courage, and sagacity of all our other leaders, and of the whole noble army of the Potomac from corps commanders to privates. But what is most likely to strike the foreign observer, and to be most pregnant in useful lessons to mankind, is the magnanimity exhibited by the American people in the hour of its triumph, the absence of a thirst for vengeance, the yearning for reconciliation with our opponents which mingled with the rapture of success; above all, the spontaneous outburst of devout thanksgiving to the Almighty for the preservation of our united republic.

Military and naval triumphs as signal as those which have made the names of Grant and Sherman, and Farragut, and of others, immortal might prove a curse instead of a blessing to the nation if we forgot that they had been achieved over our own brethren, and if they should foster in bur people a love of war for its own sake, a passion for a national military renown which at best, in this age of the world, is a poor thing, and which for us would be fatal as well as vulgar.

Of this we need entertain no fear, I think; and it seems to me the duty of every American representative abroad to combat the very prevalent theory that our success in crushing a domestic sedition by force of arms foreshadows war with foreign nations, and that it will be necessary to seek new fields of action for the great fleets and armies which the rebellion has called into existence. There is no need of my dwelling now on the very obvious arguments, so familiar to every American, by which I endeavor to prove the unsoundness of these fears, the certainty that the American people has had enough of bloodshed for a century, [Page 20] and that it has far too much common sense not to perceive that a future of prosperity and of a higher life is opening before it by cultivating the arts of peace such as never lay before any nation until now.

I ought to add, that on reading the telegraphic news of the surrender of Lee with the remains of his army I had an interview with the Count Mensdorff, and nothing could be more cordial or genial than the felicitations with which he greeted me on my entrance, for the news had already reached him.

“You know,” he said, “that our wishes have always been for your success, and that his Majesty has always frankly desired the suppression of the rebellion.” It was a pleasure to me to respond that ever since my residence here I had never heard a word from any one connected with the imperial royal government except of friendship and cordiality to the American Union. I take pleasure in adding that the language of the Austrian press, so far as I have observed, and of all circles of Vienna society, is one of very sincere congratulations.

Europe is ringing with the news almost to the exclusion of other topics, but the voice of detraction and of impotent malice is unheard in these regions.

In concluding, I beg to express my most fervent congratulations on these auspicious events to the President, who during this eventful period has so well represented the American people in its unsophisticated wisdom, its courage, its patience, and its generosity.

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


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