Mr. Adams to Mr. Seward.
Sir: It is with great regret I find it my duty to apprise you of a difference of opinion between the consuls at London and at Liverpool, which threatens to terminate in a grave question of conflict of authority, to be put at issue before the courts of this kingdom, in the suits which have been brought against the holders of rebel property.
As the consuls themselves have, doubtless, made official reports of their different modes of action under the powers respectively conferred upon them, as well as the result to which they have brought them, I shall not enter into any explanations on that subject. It will be sufficient for me to state the circumstances under which I have been called upon to interpose in the affair.
Mr. Morse, in conjunction with Mr. Gibbs, has considered the authority under which he acts sufficient to empower him to negotiate with Mr. Prioleau, of the firm of Fraser, Trenholm & Co., and conclude a contract which involves the withdrawal of the suits in court, hitherto carried on under the sole direction of Mr. Dudley. This gentleman, on the other hand, who appears never to have been consulted in the proceedings, denies the power of Mr. Morse to make such a concession, and considers the terms of that contract so disadvantageous to the government as to render it highly unadvisable for him to consent to it. He therefore appeals to me in a letter, a copy of which is herewith transmitted.
Mr. Morse, on the other hand, has submitted to me the letter from the Secretary of the Treasury under which he claims his authority. In it, to my surprise, I find at the close a suggestion that in whatever he may do he should consult with me and obtain my assent.
This has placed me in a situation of no slight embarrassment. Under the contract thus made, without my knowledge, by Mr. Morse, the counsel of Mr. Prioleau propose to move in court, next week, that the suits be dismissed, and they expect the assent of the lawyers on our side employed by Mr. Dudley. On the other hand, the latter propose to resist the action, and to deny the validity of Mr. Morse’s contract, as not having had my assent. I am, therefore, to be drawn in to give a public opinion in a case, the merits of which I have not been previously called to determine.
In order to put an end to the possibility of such an unseemly exhibition in the eyes of a foreign nation, I have at once seen and conferred with Mr. Morse. I did not disguise to him my opinion that it was not the intent of the Secretary of the Treasury to give him powers so extensive as he claims.
The purpose seems to me to have been to authorize him to act in cases of discovery of further property than that already proceeded against, and not to trench upon the powers under which Mr. Dudley had been already authorized to act with success. Hence, if appealed to by Mr. Dudley, I should not feel able to direct him to withdraw his suits and abandon the property involved in them, against his own judgment.[Page 28]
I therefore recommended it to both gentlemen to exert themselves to procure a suspension of action until the government could be heard from or they could enter upon a plan of perfect and hearty co-operation. To this course Mr. Morse has consented, and I trust the difficulty may be avoided.
But it is no more than my duty to point out to you that the trouble has grown out of the division of authority given by the government, and the absence of one directing mind with a clear and single responsibility to the highest authority at home. At an early date I pointed out to you more than once the necessity of sending such a person here to superintend all these proceedings, whether conducted in or out of the courts. I am aware that Mr. Cushing was reported to me as having been assigned to such a duty, and I thought no person was more competent satisfactorily to perform it. Unfortunately, Mr. Cushing has never come out to do so. The consequence is now made visible.
I trust I may be excused if I now renew an urgent entreaty either that Mr. Cushing be sent out by the very next steamer, or, if he be unable to come, some other individual equally competent and of high character be commissioned to assume the responsibility of all these negotiations, and, acting with the co-operation of the respective consuls, to make such complete and final settlements with the various parties holding rebel property as may terminate forever all disputes upon the subject in this kingdom. It is highly expedient that there should be no delay in such a mission.
It is proper for me to add that I entertain the highest opinion of the motives of the two gentlemen in prosecuting their respective proceedings. Both are animated by their anxiety for the public interest only.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.