Mr. Adams to Mr. Seward

No. 1503.]

Sir: In accordance with the directions contained in your dispatches Nos. 2102 and 2103, of the 29th of November and 2d of December, I obtained to-day an interview with Lord Stanley, for the purpose of reading to him the contents of the first. After having done so I left a copy, as directed in No. 2103.

His lordship, on receiving it, asked me whether I was in possession of any later views of my government on the subject of this dispatch. I promptly responded in the negative. I considered the negotiation as now closed, without a prospect of reopening it, and had so written home.

His lordship then said that he had just received a letter from Mr. Ford, at Washington, which he would be glad to have me read and give him my impression of its meaning. He then handed it to me, and I looked over it carefully. It was dated the 8th instant, and reported a conversation the writer had just had with you. The substance of it was, according to him, that you said you could not recede from the position of holding the British government responsible for the consequences of the proclamation of neutrality; hence, that all prospect of success from the proposal of arbitration, made with an exception of that point, must be regarded as over. Neither could you make any new offer to negotiate, for the United States felt itself like a party injured by a severe blow, who could not properly initiate a proposal for reparation from the party that had inflicted it. In order to get rid of the awkwardness of [Page 132] such a position, you suggested the possibility of Ms lordship’s proposing to merge this particular question in the mass of matters now remaining open between the countries, and lumping them altogether in one treatment or negotiation. You closed by hinting that an avenue would remain open to his lordship through the answer which he might make to the last note which you had written—in other words, to the dispatch No. 2102, which I had just communicated.

After reading it, I observed that this view of the subject was, in some measure, new to me, and that I could not undertake, with my partial comprehension of it, to give him many explanations having authority. If it was the intention to proceed by the customary way of negotiation between the countries, in my opinion the brief remnant of the term of the administration would expire before much progress had been made. This was said in view of the fact that there must, after all, be some precision arrived at in defining the controverted points. The British claims would require examination, and perhaps evidence to substantiate them, before they could be conceded. The same thing would happen with ours, which were larger, and more complicated with disputed questions.

His lordship said that he did not quite understand it. He had regarded the main question as involving a claim put forth for damages, which it seemed to him the part of the person considering himself aggrieved to advance; but he was not strenuous on that point. A more serious difficulty would perhaps lie in the fact that the private claimants under what were, after all, the gravest questions, might not be well content to see them liable to be mixed up and bargained away against other points in which they were not interested.

I said that there was the more ground for such an objection in the fact that precisely such an event had happened in a former treaty of ours with France. The effect of it had been, in that case, that the country had received a benefit for the surrender of large claims for unlawful captures of private property at sea, but that from that day to this not a farthing of compensation had ever been made good by it to the owners of the claims thus abandoned.

His lordship concluded by saying that he had but just received this letter, and he should endeavor to give it the most careful reflection; but at present he could not perceive any course open to him. The papers would probably be all laid before the House of Commons at the adjourned session, when he would be called upon to make his explanations. He should endeavor to be prepared for the occasion.

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


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