Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the Second Session of the Thirty-ninth Congress
Mr. Adams to Mr. Seward.
Sir: In accordance with the desire expressed in your despatch No. 1579, of the 4th of November, I presented a copy of the same to Lord Clarendon, who freely expressed his approbation of it, after which I concluded to give it publicity through the press. It accordingly appeared simultaneously in all the London morning papers of Saturday last, the 2d instant. I transmit a copy of the Times of that day, and likewise a copy of the same paper of the 5th, containing [Page 27] a leader on the subject. The tone of this is conciliatory until towards the close, when allusions are made of an ambiguous character.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
There are few Englishmen of any feeling who would not have a host of once vivid impressions revived by the sight of Mr. Seward’s despatch to the American minister in our Saturday’s columns. It is only seven months since we heard the news of a crime which grows in magnitude and in horror as we drift away from it down the swift stream of time. The intervening period has not been uneventful or unexciting. We too, like the Americans, have lost the political chief of our government, and quietly accepted the next in authority. The United States themselves have been pacified, reorganized, and reunited, with a rapidity and ease that command our admiration. Our own immense empire has never failed to produce, somewhere or other, objects of anxious or agreeable interest. At home we are dividing our time between domestic economies and organic reconstruction. Our hands are never idle, but we can still feel the shock of the frightful tragedy which only in the spring of this year threw into the background every lesser or older misery, and might atone for any number of errors. It so happened that Abraham Lincoln, by the progress of or the amendment of truth, had righted himself in English esteem, and then stood as well in our regards as any foreign potentate could ever hope to stand. We admired the man, and were beginning to like him, seeing in him the able and kind-hearted administrator of the greatest work of social peace-making the world had yet seen. So we felt his murder as we should have done that of a leading British statesman at the hands of a political fanatic. There was more, indeed, in his case than there would ever be in this country, unless we could suppose half the realm making head against the other half for several years. There was the grand ceremony of a national reconciliation to be performed, and, as Heaven would have it, there lay bleeding before us the victim to consecrate it. Other victims were intended, and the assassins so far succeeded that one, the foremost statesman on the federal side, and the man with whom we had most to do, had to endure for months a living martyrdom. The strong will, the active intellect, and the ready tongue lay trembling between life and death when the most difficult stage of his great task had only just begun. We could not but be deeply impressed with a catastrophe that appealed to the chief qualities of our race, and the national sympathy burst out at a thousand openings, wherever many or few had been wont to come together and make a common utterance. It was the same elsewhere. So mail after mail took across the Atlantic such piles of condolence as had probably never before been evoked by any national bereavement. Answer could hardly be expected, for the man to answer was himself a dying man, for the time as helpless as his chief. So we were all content to wait; and now, after seven months, we find that we can revert to that crisis with undiminished horror at the deed, and larger and more certain knowledge of its place in the work of American reconstruction.
The American Secretary of State has done all that could be done under the circumstances. Any attempt to produce a form of words specially appropriate to every address and every community would have been only a ridiculous effort of literary clerkship. Even in this country people are little aware of the pressure of work in the principal departments on an extraordinary crisis or in a busy season. At Washington there was a war to be brought to an end, a great empire to be rebuilt, and a good many questions with other countries to be settled, if possible, to the satisfaction alike of the American and of the foreigner. Mr. Seward, who has recovered slowly from his terrible succession of injuries, has only just been able to speak for himself and his government. The British public will not have failed to notice the modesty with which the Secretary alludes to the cause of this delay. His department was indeed crippled when he lay, as many thought, on his death-bed, with wound upon wound; for that was “the peculiar calamity” which then impaired the efficiency of the American foreign office. That a government simply constructed for the transaction of necessary affairs in the ordinary course of public business should have been able to do its share in the work of the war was itself a wonder to this country. But when a new calamity involved new “obligations”—the calamity a partial massacre of the government, and the “obligations” the duty of answering condolences—the worst foe of republican institutions could not but do justice to the government which went on at all under such circumstances. We all saw, and duly appreciated, that there was not the least symptom of failure or collapse. Everything went on as usual, as far as met the eye. Our own difficulties, indeed, are so different in kind that it is not easy to make a just and intelligible comparison; but after witnessing the confusion apt to take place in other States upon the sudden withdrawing or the disabling of those at the head of critical affairs, we seemed to recognize a character like our own in a [Page 28] people whose chief rulers fell or were prostrated in a day, at a time when they were more than ever wanted, but which went on just as usual.
The simple but Very hearty acknowledgments of the American Secretary seem to give us an opening for a word or two on the prevalent feelings of this country towards the United States. It would be quite idle to deny that there are points upon which this country is jealous, or sore, or without the perfect sympathy that obtains between two similar social systems. With long arrears of quarrels upon one trifle or another, and a new one every year, and with a very strong opinion on this side that our rights were often sacrificed to political exigencies in the United States, we certainly have found it difficult to appreciate the Americans as we really wish to do. We can afford to make this confession when we state what we believe to be the truth as to the great extent of our good wishes for America. We have not the least objection to the United States increasing to any extent, and annexing any amount of territory or number of States, so long as it is all done honestly, above-board, and by fair appeals to the sympathy and good sense of the people. If the population, either of our own provinces or of Mexico, freely and spontaneously declared that they thought this their best chance of peace and prosperity, the British people would only feel the most passing regret at the loss of a name, and the proportionate aggrandizement of the United States. Of course the case is altered if the object is to be obtained, by fraud, by force, or by intimidation. In that case, not only is there actual wrong done upon our own loyal fellow subjects, and others entitled to our sympathy, but there is also established a prescription, a policy, and a temper ruinous to the future peace and even progress of the world. History contains some very colossal instances of continual annexation by fraud and by violence; in fact, by policies constructed with a special View to perpetual aggrandizement. But the event yet condemns them; the moral sense is opposed to them; and modern politics are mainly directed to prevent the recurrence of the evil. It is from no special jealousy of the United States that we dread their indefinite enlargement by the means too often employed, and vainly denounced by American demoralists. It is our English habit, our second nature, our historical teaching, our European law. Even in Europe we are glad to see Italians or Germans achieve more comprehensive unions than circumstances have hitherto allowed. Nor should we object to any amount of aggregation in America by equally allowable means. Only, as a great State we cannot bear to be ousted, outwitted, and coerced, and to see our own people, suffer for their loyalty.