Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams

No. 2106.]

Sir: Your dispatch of 22d of November, No. 1484, was duly received. It is an occasion for large satisfaction that in accordance with the instructions of this department you made a representation to her Majesty’s government in behalf of the prisoner McCondon, otherwise known as Shore, and that he was reprieved. It appears that, on the most careful reflection which you could give to the matter, you came to the painful conclusion that to interpose in the same manner in behalf of the prisoner Gould would be to do more harm than good.

It is not difficult to understand the great embarrassment which surrounded that case. The crime was that of murder, and the conviction and sentence were in conformity with the municipal law. On the other hand, this offense against municipal law is very generally regarded by those who, within and without the British realm, are agitating for a change in Ireland, as an incident in a meritorious political movement. Similar conflicts of sentiment occur in every political disturbance.

The judgment of mankind is that in revolutionary movements which are carried on by large masses, and which appeal to popular sympathy, capital executions of individuals who fall within the power of the government are unwise and often unjust. Such severity, when practiced upon a citizen of a foreign state, excites a new sympathy by enlisting feelings of nationality and patriotism. The fellow-citizens at home of [Page 38] the sufferer in a foreign country naturally incline to believe that the just and generous principle to which I have referred is violated in his case The soundness of this principle is quite easily understood after the revolutionary movement is ended, although it is difficult to accept the truth in the midst of revolutionary terror or violence. When the President of the United States dismissed the prosecutions in the United States courts of the so-called Fenians who attempted an unlawful and forbidden invasion of Canada, and returned them to their homes at the expense of the government, and at the same time obtained, through the wise counsels of Sir Frederick Bruce and the governor general of Canada, a mitigation of the capital punishments adjudged against those who were convicted in the Canadian courts, the President adopted proceedings which have practically assured the continuance of peace upon the Canadian border. It was believed here that similar clemency could be practiced in the Manchester case with benign results. Your dispatch leads us to believe that her Majesty’s government was so thoroughly convinced of the necessity of pursuing a different course in that case that further interposition than that which you adopted would have been unavailing and injurious to citizens of the United States. Certainly it belonged to the British government to decide whether the principle which we invoked could be wisely applied in the Manchester case.

Under these circumstances it is necessary to acquiesce in the decision to which you arrived in the matter, after exercising a discretion which in no instance, during your long public service, has failed to command the approval and commendation of this government.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Charles Francis Adams, Esq., &c., &c., &c.