[316] *Mr. Dayton, United States minister, to Mr. Seward, Secretary of State.


[317] Sir: I yesterday communicated to Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys the contents of your dispatch No. 468, and I did this the more readily as, in its main features, it was a reiteration from yon of views that I had individually already expressed to him. I read to him that part of your dispatch in which you state that the decision of the French government in respect to the Rappahannock, co-operating with other causes, will be a trial to the friendship of our country toward France, for which, after the protests we have made, not our Government, but “the Emperor, will be responsible.” He said, in reply, that we must deal with things as they [Page 44] were. That France having acknowledged the South as belligerents, he could do nothing less than treat them as such. That, keeping that position in view, the Florida and Georgia had been received in their ports. That the Florida had been repaired, though little had been done to the Georgia, and nothing had been done to either of these vessels except what was essential to their “navigability” That their fighting powers had not been improved, nor had a French seaman been permitted to embark on either of them. That in respect to these vessels, therefore, he thought they had kept within the limits of clear rules of international law. That in respect to the Rappahannock, she had not yet been permitted to leave port, nor would she be permitted to leave *until his government, by a most rigorous and careful examination, had satisfied itself that no rule of war had been violated. She had been permitted to repair as a vessel of commerce only, and if we anticipated that she was to be converted into a ship of war by guns from England, it was against England, and not France, we should complain; but if the fact turned out as I insisted, that she was no vessel of commerce, but a ship of war, then he admitted that if she came into a French port, not by stress of weather, but voluntarily to finish her equipment, and she were permitted to leave, it would be a breach of the proclamation of neutrality published by the Emperor; but the question of fact, he said, was yet in the course of investigation. I repeated to him the evidence on this question, (a summary of which will be found, by the way, in the first dispatch I sent to him on this subject December 4 last.) He seemed to consider, however, that I presented the subject in some new lights, and said he would again refer the matter to the minister of marine. The line of distinction between what they might properly do, and what they might not, was, he said, in his mind quite clear. If a war-vessel came into their ports from stress of weather they were bound to let her repair damages, adding nothing, except such repairs, to her fighting qualities; but if such a vessel came into port in an unfinished condition they could not rightfully permit her to finish her equipment, for that would be to shape a harmless log or mass of timber into a fighting-ship. I told him that he and I dul not then differ in this case so much about the law as about the fact, and I yet hoped that on the further investigation, which he promised, this vessel might be stopped.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. Wm. H. Seward,
Secretary of State.