Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Seward.

No. 85.]

Sir: From the time of my arrival here I have uniformly, and on the best authority, assured you of the, sincerity of the King of Prussia and of his ministers in their desire of peace; and I have also always given it as my opinion that peace was the choice of the French people and of their Emperor. There is now a lull in the rumors of war, and they will not very soon be revived; but as the pacific intentions on the part of France are qualified by the intimation of a policy hostile to any further improvement of the unity of the German people, it can only be said that the danger of war is indefinitely adjourned. The interests of France and of Germany, the interests of the United States, and the principles that are dear to the United States, are all so involved in the subject, that I deem it proper to offer some remarks for your consideration.

1. A war undertaken for the avowed purpose of preventing the peaceable improvement of the German constitution by the joint act of the German governments and people, would be a war of revolution; for the principle that it is the right of a people to reform their government so as to advance their safety and happiness is now the received principle of international law, first proclaimed by the United States, next by France, then by Great Britain, practically in its several unions of its kingdoms and its reforms in like manner by the Swiss Confederation, and now formally by Italy, Prussia, and Spain, and practically by the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. A war directed against that principle could not but convulse the world. The claim of right to forbid a government and people to improve their political condition is in itself an act of hostility to the human race, and therefore must necessarily fail; but a [Page 58]war founded upon it would be attended by incalculable disasters, so that to deprecate such a war is a proof of friendship for France.

2. Should such a war assume the form of a war for aggrandizement, the war must become a world-wide one; for all the great powers of Europe are pledged to the neutrality of Belgium and of Luxembourg, and gave their assent to the present frontier of Germany.

3. Such a war must be accompanied by an abdication of the influence of France in the east, and especially a renunciation of the results of the Crimean war; for a life-and-death conflict between France and Germany would leave to one great power an undisputed control in the southeast of Europe; a result which no friend to France would desire.

4. If in the three points to which I have here directed your attention the United States have no immediate interest, it is not so with regard to maritime rights and the liberty of the seas, which would be exposed to violation in a war that must take the character of a naval conflict on all the oceans. Here the United States, now one of the great powers, inferior in numbers to no European country on the continent of Europe east of the Vistula, and inferior to none in wealth and resources, would have a right to be heard, and in all probability the duty and necessity to make themselves heard. It is then an act of friendship to France to wish to avoid any possibility of conflict, in their common interest as defenders of maritime liberty.

5. Still more would the mercantile interests of the United States be exposed to peril and interruption by a war to prevent the improvement of the political institutions of Germany. The intercourse between the United States and Germany is immeasurably more important to the United States than its intercourse with any other continental power. Were German emigration from the ports of Bremen and Hamburg alone to be interrupted, it would occasion a loss of that which nourishes the life-blood of the nation. The loss, when weighed merely as a diminution of annual wealth, would be one of the greatest blows which could be inflicted on our prosperity.

On these grounds, among others, I congratulate you upon the continuance of European peace, and cannot but hope that under the influence of our example, and of the principle which, as a nation, we have always professed, the right of a people, especially in harmony with its government, to reform its institutions, may never be questioned, least of all be resisted by war or the menace of war.

I remain, sir, yours sincerely,


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