Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Various causes have drawn my attention recently to a subject of considerable interest to the United States, which, in the midst of angry agitation, has not received the consideration which it really deserves.
When the hot passions that now retard complete unity and tranquillity at home shall have subsided, as subside they soon must, the country will bound forward, as it were, with a progress which is destined to astound the world, even accustomed as it is to our extraordinary development. The most terrible civil war recorded in history, and the violent fermentation which naturally succeeded it, were not suficient to turn aside effectually the march of a prosperity without example. It is therefore easy to suppose what will come to pass when harmony is fully restored, and the nation shall work again with one mighty will, and move with one compacted energy. American enterprise must open up before an immense commerce with the ocean islands, Africa, Brazil, and the Indies. It is not necessary to point out to one who is so familiar with the facts, and who has watched so vigilantly over the interests of his own country, what have been the efforts and the successes of Great Britain, our most serious rival, in planting colonies and securing advantages at nearly every principal point in the world. A practical sagacity has accompanied every step of her universal march, the want of which has rendered us relatively dependent.
In the long voyage from the ports of the United States to Africa, Brazil, or the Indies around the cape, there is hardly a single coaling station which is not in the hands of British subjects, and in many cases they are owned or administered by British officials. I had occasion to observe the operation of this system during our civil war, and to know, in a limited degree, the injury which such an organization is capable of inflicting upon a nation to which it may be hostile. Our ships of war and our merchantmen were subjected to constant vexatious and invidious discriminations from this cause at the islands where they were forced to coal, and in several instances which were reported to me, a vindictive purpose of refusing any supply at all was almost manifested.
The English have possession of nearly every depot of coal at the Azores, Madeira, Teneriffe and Cape de Verde islands. Recently, an American and Belgian company have established a station at Porto Praya, Cape de Verde, under a concession from this government, which I have done my best to encourage by recommending it to our ships of war, and presenting the subject to the rear-admiral in command of the European squadron. All nations are exposed to the danger of foreign wars, especially at a time when the states of Europe are passing through a most momentous crisis, which, before long, will shake empires and dynasties to their very foundations. If, by any calamity or unfortunate combination of events, the United States should be forced or drift into such a war, we should be seriously straitened for the means of motive power [Page 691] abroad, and then should discover that we were mainly at the mercy of a power which is not specially interested in our success. The world saw what happened when the maritime nations combined to shut the doors against us during the civil war, and when there was not a single port freely open on the whole coast of Europe except that of Lisbon, or at the mid-ocean islands, except those of Portugal; an exception which, though immensely valuable during our time of trial, seems to have been but indifferently appreciated since then.
The natural protection of commerce, independently of other considerations too important to be slighted, seems to be a sufficient reason why this subject should have a share of attention from our government. It is practicable to organize through the consular corps or otherwise a system which will not leave us altogether in the hands of a jealous rival for the means of traversing distant seas in time of peace, or of vindicating the national honor should that stern duty be imposed in time of war.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.