Mr. Adams to Mr. Seward

No. 1502.]

Sir: I have to acknowledge the reception from the department of dispatch No. 2106, of the 9th of December. It is with great satisfaction that I learn that the government is disposed to view my coarse in the case of the prisoner Gould, at Manchester, as founded on reasonably strong grounds.

Subsequent events have only contributed to confirm me in my views of the propriety of it. The deplorable consequences of the attempt on the prison at Clerkenwell have contributed much to destroy all further sympathy here with persons capable of devising similar schemes. It would seem as impossible to place them within the category of a “meritorious political movement,” alluded to in your dispatch, as it would have been with us to shield the incendiary who attempted to destroy the New York hotels, and still more the assassins of President Lincoln and yourself, under the same plea. Accordingly, these last were all executed by the decree of our tribunals. The united testimony of all Christian ages established a clear line of distinction between open wax and clandestine attempts upon individual members of society. The effect of the one may be to bring about ultimate results of value to the world. That of the other is only to shake the foundations of confidence between man and man, so far as to unsettle society without effecting any public good whatever.

It may be doubted whether at any time since the discovery of the scheme of Guy Fawkes there, has been so much of panic spread among families throughout this community as at this time. The newspapers are filled with alarming reports, and with accounts of the measures of repression contemplated. The consequences may be serious, not so much to the perpetrators of these offenses as to multitudes of the very class which they are supposed to intend to befriend. I think it would now be very unsafe for Irishmen to attempt to hold a meeting for any purpose in any great town in England. The government felt compelled to prohibit one which was called here for the declared purpose of [Page 131] disavowing all sympathy with the outrage, on that ground alone. There is danger of a general discharge and proscription of these people, most of whom are laborers earning their daily bread, and a very large proportion of whom are doubtless wholly innocent. The consequences to themselves, not less than to the community at large, may easily be foreseen. The chief sufferers will be those least contemplated at the outset. Under these circumstances, it does not seem to me that the mode of operation thus resorted to can ever deserve to be classed as an incident to a meritorious political movement, or, if pushed much further, is likely to be productive of any better ultimate result than a passionate and vindictive retaliation upon a race, without discrimination between the innocent and the guilty.

In this view of the difficulties of the case, it seems extremely hazardous for persons not members of the community to undertake to judge of the propriety of the course of repression which it may be driven to adopt. Certainly, down to this time, the policy of this government cannot be charged with extreme severity. It has, on the other hand, given rise to more or less of popular dissatisfaction, on the ground of its feebleness and lenity. In regard to these conflicting opinions it is my province not to adopt either. I have endeavored only to present to you the exact state of the facts, so as to enable you to judge of the great difficulty in any case calling for intervention of steering clear of offense between them.

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


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