The Earl of
Clarendon to Sir F.
Sir: Mr. Adams called upon me three days ago and read to me a confidential dispatch from Mr. Seward respecting the Fenian agitation.
Mr. Seward said that he did not think that either time or occasion had arrived for making any communication on the subject to Her Majesty’s Government, but in view of the news which had arrived of the suspension of the act of habeas corpus in Ireland, Mr. Seward thought Mr. Adams ought to be informed of the sentiments of the President in regard to Fenianism.
The Fenian excitement in the United States was, Mr. Seward said, a political question, exclusively affecting Ireland as one of the United Kingdoms. Those engaged in the agitation were, as a general rule, native Irishmen, of whom some had, while others had not, become naturalized in the United States. In moving, controlling, and directing the Fenian agitation these persons were influenced by feeling, sentiments, and views which they cherish as Irishmen, notwithstanding their change of domicile or place of residence or citizenship. In a word, the Fenian was a British, and not an American movement.
The only question for the United States Government, Mr. Seward said, was not whether the motives or designs of these agitations in regard to Ireland were just, wise beneficent, and humane, or the reverse, but whether, in seeking to promote their designs, they commit any violation of the laws of the United States which have been adopted to prevent military or naval aggression against nations with whom the United States are at peace.
Thus far, Mr. Seward said, no such violation of the law had been brought to the knowledge of the United States Government, either by its own agents or by the British Legation, and it did not appear to the United States Government to be wise to denounce the proceedings of the agitators so long as they were confined within those limits of moral agitation recognized equally by the United States and Great Britain as legitimate.
It was not unreasonable to suppose that any unlawful enterprises against Ireland and the Colonies contrived in the United States would prove abortive and even absurd unless the movement had some connection with an uprising in the country to be invaded. It was not for the United States Government to pronounce upon the improbability or otherwise of such an uprising in Ireland. It was, however, reasonable to suppose that if anything of the sort was contemplated, the suspension of the act of habeas corpus would bring matters to a crisis, and if no uprising had taken place, it might be supposed either that such a movement had not been meditated, or that it had been averted. In either case it was not to be apprehended that a violation of United States neutrality would now be committed. On the other hand, if any insurrection should have already broken out in Ireland, it would be by no means the purpose or policy of the United [Page 266] States to suffer their own laws to he violated, and their dignity and honor to be compromised.
Mr. Seward further said that it might he expected that some Irish-born hut naturalized American citizens who might be now sojourning or traveling in Ireland would be arrested upon complaints of complicity in seditious proceedings. Of these, some would probably be innocent, and others guilty. The situation would thus for a time necessarily become inconvenient and embarrassing; but Mr. Seward frankly admitted that Americans, whether native born or naturalized, owe submission to the same laws in Great Britain as British subjects while residing there and enjoying the protection of the British Government, and Mr. Seward added that the United States Government has applied the converse of that principle to British subjects who were sojourning or traveling in the United States during the late rebellion.
Mr. Adams was, therefore, to give a careful examination to each complaint, dealing at all times frankly with the British Government, and asking on their part strict justice where American citizens were concerned.
I told Mr. Adams that I had listened with much satisfaction to the views and opinions of Mr. Seward, as stated in the dispatch which he had just read to me, and that I trusted that both the state of Ireland and the prudence of the lord lieutenant would prevent any difference between Her Majesty’s Government and that of the United States upon a question involving a principle, the discussion of which, in connection with Fenianism, it would be desirable not to enter upon.
I have, &c.,