Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward

No. 330.]

Sir: I waited upon his excellency the minister of foreign affairs on Saturday last, in pursuance of a previous appointment, to confer with him upon the subject-matter of your instruction, No. 459, marked confidential. As he had been already apprised of the contents of that despatch, through the French minister residing at Washington, I was spared the necessity of restating them. He said that the imperial government proclaimed its intention to retire from Mexico because it suited its convenience and interests to retire, and for no other reason. When, therefore, it announced formally, not merely to the United States, but to all the world, that the army would be withdrawn from Mexico within a specified term, he thought it should be deemed sufficient. The government made its declaration in good faith, and means to keep it. It means to withdraw its army within the time prescribed, and it does not intend to take one or two hundred troops in the first detachment, and one or two hundred more in the second, leaving the great body of them to the last; though it had not deemed it necessary to specify with minuteness details of this kind, which depend upon hygienic and climatic considerations, of which it was the best and the only competent judge. This, his excellency said, he wished I would say to my government.

Tasked his excellency if I had ever intimated to him, whether in writing or orally, any suspicion of the Emperor’s intention to withdraw his army from Mexico in unequal proportions. He replied that I had not. I then asked him if any other person authorized to speak in the name of my government had done so. He said no; but he had read imputations of that kind in one of our papers. I replied, in substance, that the press was a law unto itself, but that we had better not accept it as a law unto us; and as he asked me to communicate to my government a formal answer to what sounded like an accusation of insincerity and bad faith on the part of the Emperor, I wanted his authority for stating that no such accusation had reached him through any official channel. He replied that he only had read of it in a newspaper.

I then went on to say that the purpose of your instruction, as I understood it, was simply to obtain an explanation, which was sure to be required of you, of the shipment by France of large bodies of troops to Mexico after the purpose to withdraw her whole army had been officially proclaimed. To this his [Page 850] excellency replied, that since seeing me he had gotten from his colleagues of the marine and war departments information to the purport—

That no troops belonging to the Corps Expeditionaire had been sent to Mexico this year, unless for the sake of partly replacing soldiers missing, but at any rate without augmentation of the number of standing troops.

That the shipment of troops referred to in the public prints, and in your despatch, was most likely that made in the transport Rhöne about the beginning of the year.

That this Rhöne touched at Martinique, but not at St. Thomas, as was stated.

That she carried 916, and not 1,200, soldiers,

That they belonged to the Foreign Legion, and not to the Expeditionary Corps.

That they consisted of troops which had been waiting transportation a long time in France and in Algeria to join their regiments.

That no new troops had been enrolled for the Foreign Legion since the Emperor proclaimed his purpose to withdraw his flag from Mexico, and that no more, for what he knew, were intended to be enrolled.

In regard to the shipments of troops from Austria, he said that that was an affair entirely between that government and the Mexican, with which France had nothing to do; that since I had spoken to him upon the subject he had verified his own convictions by a reference to the ministers of war and of marine, and had ascertained that no engagements of any sort had been entered into by either for the enrolment or transport of troops from Austria to Mexico. He went on further to say, that it was the intention of the government to withdraw the army entirely from Mexico within the time specified in his dispatch to you at the very latest; sooner if climatic and other controlling considerations permitted, and it was not its intention to replace these with other troops from any quarter.

At the conclusion of a long conversation of which I have given the important results, I expressed my satisfaction with his excellency’s explanations, and the pleasure I should have in communicating them to my government.

This despatch has been submitted to Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys, and the foregoing version of the results of our conversation has been approved by him.

I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Department of State, Washington, D. C.