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present state of excitement in the United States consequent upon the measures which it had felt it necessary to adopt, I did not know of anything which would be so likely to allay it as an agreement on this point. His lordship then said that he did not know whether I knew it, but the fact was that Mr. Dayton had made a proposition to France for negotiation on the basis of the articles as agreed upon in Paris. France had communicated the fact through her minister, the Compte de Flahault; and he intimated that there had been a cabinet conversation on the subject, without arriving at a decision. I then referred to what had passed at our former interview. I mentioned my proposal to negotiate, and the inclination shown by his lordship to leave the subject with Lord Lyons, with authority to arrange the only point in dispute as the government at Washington might desire. There I had left the matter. His lordship replied that he did not mean to be quite so understood. His intention was to say, that having agreed upon the three articles, he should be ready to consent to the total omission of the fourth article, if that would be agreeable at Washington. I said that I had not so understood him, and from my present recollection, I am confident that my report of his language was not incorrect. >k >k >k >k >k >k >k >k >k
I next approached the most delicate portion of my task. I descanted upon the irritation produced in America by the Queen's proclamation, upon the construction almost universally given to it, as designed to aid the insurgents by raising them to the rank of a belligerent State, and upon the very decided tone taken by the President in my despatches in case any such design was really entertained. I added that from my own observation of what had since occurred here, I had not been able to convince myself of the existence of such a design. But it was not to be disguised that the fact of the continued stay of the pseudo commissioners in this city, and still more the knowledge that they had been admitted to more or less interviews with his lordship, was calculated to excite uneasiness. Indeed, it had already given great dissatisfaction to my government. I added, as moderately as I could, that in all frankness any further protraction of this relation could scarcely fail to be viewed by us as hostile in spirit, and to require some corresponding action accordingly.
His lordship then reviewed the course of Great Britain. He explained the mode in which they had consulted with France, prior to any action at all, as to the reception of the deputation from the so-called Confederate States. It had been the custom both in France and here to receive such persons unofficially for a long time back. Poles, Hungarians, Italians, &c., &c., had been allowed interviews, to hear what they had to say. But this did not imply recognition in their case any more than in ours. He added that he had seen the gentlemen once some time ago, and once more some time since; he had no expectation of seeing them any more.
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I shall continue my relations here until I discover some action apparently in conflict with it, or receive specific orders from the department dictating an opposite course,
I ventured to repeat my regret that the proclamation had been so hastily issued, and adverted to the fact that it seemed contrary to the agreement said to have been proposed by Mr. Dallas and concurred in by his lordship, to postpone all action until I should arrive, possessed with all the views of the new administration. But still, though I felt that much mischief had ensued in the creation of prejudices in the United States, not now easy to be eradicated, I was not myself disposed in any part of my conduct to aggravate the evil. My views had been much modified by opportunities of more extended conversation with persons of weight in Great Britain, by the improved tone of the press, by subsequent explanations in Parliament, by the prohibition of all attempts to introduce prizes into British ports, and, lastly, by the unequivocal expression of sentiment in the case of Mr. Gregory when the time came for him to press his motion of recognition. I trusted that nothing new might occur to change the current again, for nothing was so unfortunate as the effect of a recurrence of reciprocal irritations, however trifling, between countries, in breaking up the good understanding which it was always desirable to preserve. His lordship agreed to this, but remarked that he could not but think the complaint of the proclamation, though natural enough perhaps at this moment, was really ill founded. He went over the ground once more which he occupied in the former interview—the necessity of doing something to relieve the officers of their ships from the responsibility of treating these persons as pirates if they met them on the seas. For his part, he could not believe the United States would persevere in the idea of hanging them, for it was not in consonance with their well-known character. But what would be their own situation if they should be found practicing upon a harsher system than the Americans themselves. Here was a very large territory—a number of States—and people counted by millions, who were in a state of actual war. The fact was undeniable and the embarrassment unavoidable. Under such circumstances the law officers of the crown advised the policy which had been adopted. It was designed only as a preventive to immediate evils. The United States should not have thought hard of it. They meant to be entirely neutral. I replied that we asked no more than that. We desired no assistance. Our objection to this act was that it was practically not an act of neutrality. It had depressed the spirits of the friends of the government. It had raised the courage of the insurgents. We construed it as adverse, because we could not see the necessity of such immediate haste. These people were not a navigating people. They had not a ship on the ocean. They had made no prizes, so far as I knew, excepting such as they had caught by surprises. Even now, I could not learn that they had fitted out anything more than a few old steamboats, utterly unable to make any cruise on the ocean, and Scarcely strong enough to bear a cannon of any calibre. But it was useless to go over this any more. The thing was now done. All that we could hope was that the later explanations would counteract the worst effects that we had reason to apprehend from it; and, at any rate, there was one compensation, the act had released the government of the United States from responsibility for any misdeeds of the rebels towards Great Britain. If any of their people should capture or maltreat a British vessel on the ocean, the reclamation must be made only upon those who had authorized the wrong. The United States would not be liable. I added that I could not close the interview without one word upon a subject on which I had no instructions. I saw by the newspapers an account of a considerable movement of troops to Canada. In our situation this would naturally excite attention at home, and I was therefore desirous to learn whether they were ordered with any reference to possible difficulties with us. His lordship said that the country had been denuded of troops for some time back, and it was regarded only as a proper measure of precaution, in the present disordered condition of things in the United States, to restore a part of them. He said he did not know but what we might do something. He intimated a little feeling of uneasiness at the mission of Mr. Ashmun, without any notice given to them of his purposes; and he likewise said something about a threat uttered by yourself to Lord Lyons to seize a British vessel on Lake Ontario without ceremony. To this I replied, that inasmuch as I had understood Mr. Ashmun's mission had been made known to the governor of Canada, it did not seem to me that it could be of much concealed significance; and that as to the other matter, if there was any reality in the threat, it surely was an odd way of proceeding to furnish at once the warning in time to provide against its execution. >k >k >k >k >k :k >k >k >k
I did not touch at all on the subject of the blockade, as referred to in your despatch No. 10, for the reason that I do not now understand the government as disposed in any way to question its validity or to obstruct it. On the contrary, his lordship, incidentally referring to it in this interview, said that instructions had been sent out to the naval officers in command to respect it, and never themselves to seek to enter any of the ports blockaded, unless from some urgent necessity to protect British persons or property.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams.
No. 21.] DEPARTMENT of STATE, Washington, June 19, 1861.
SIR: On the 15th day of June instant, Lord Lyons, the British minister, and Mr. Mercier, the French minister, residing here, had an appointed interview with me. Each of those representatives proposed to read to me an instruction which he had received from his government, and to deliver me a copy if I should desire it. I answered, that in the present state of the cor: respondence between their respective governments and that of the United States, I deemed it my duty to know the characters and effects of the instructions, respectively, before I could consent that they should be officially communicated to this department. The ministers therefore, confidentially, and very frankly, submitted the papers to me for preliminary inspection. After having examined them so far as to understand their purport, I declined to hear them read, or to receive official notice of them. I proceed now to give you our reasons for this course, that you may, if you find it necessary or expedient, communicate them to the government of Great Britain. When we received official information that an understanding was existing between the British and French governments that they would take one and the same course concerning the insurrection which has occurred in this country, involving the question of recognizing the independence of a revolutionary organization, we instructed you to inform the British government that we had expected from both of those powers a different course of pro: ceeding. We added, however, that insomuch as the proposed concert of action between them did not necessarily imply any unfriendliness of pur. pose or of disposition, we should not complain of it, but that we should insist in this case, as in all others, on dealing with each of those powers alone, and that their agreement to act together would not at all affect the course which we should pursue. Adhering to this decision, we have not made the concert of the two powers a ground of objection to the reading of the instruction with which Lord Lyons was charged. That paper purports to contain a decision at which the British government has arrived, to the effect that this country is divided into two belligerent parties, of which this government represents one, and that Great Britain assumes the attitude of a neutral between them. This government could not, consistently with a just regard for the sovereignty of the United States, permit itself to debate these novel and extraordinary positions with the government of her Britannic Majesty; much less can we consent that that government shall announce to us a decision derogating from that sovereignty, at which it has arrived without previously conferring with us upon the question. The United States are still solely and exclusively sovereign within the territories they have lawfully acquired and long possessed, as they have always been. They are at peace with all the world, as, with unimportant exceptions, they have always been. They are living under the obligations of the law of nations, and of treaties with Great Britain, just the same now as heretofore; they are, of course, the friend of Great Britain, and they insist that Great Britain shall remain their friend now just as she has hitherto been. Great Britain, by virtue of these relations, is a stranger to parties and sections in this country, whether they are loyal to the United States or not, and Great Britain can neither rightfully qualify the sovereignty of the United States, nor concede, nor recognize any rights, or interests, or power of any party, State, or section, in contravention to the unbroken sovereignty of the federal Union. What is now seen in this country is the occurrence, by no means peculiar, but frequent in all countries, more frequent even in Great Britain than here, of an armed insurrection engaged in attempting to overthrow the regularly constituted and established government. There is, of course, the employment of force by the government to suppress the insurrection, as every other government necessarily employs force in such cases. But these incidents by no means constitute a state of war impairing the sovereignty of the government, creating belligerent sections, and entitling foreign States to intervene or to act as neutrals between them, or in any other way to cast off their lawful obligations to the nation thus for the moment disturbed. Any other principle than this would be to resolve government everywhere into a thing of accident and caprice, and ultimately all human society into a state of perpetual war. We do not go into any argument of fact or of law in support of the positions we have thus assumed. They are simply the suggestions of the instinct of self-defence, the primary law of human action, not more the law of individual than of national life. This government is sensible of the importance of the step it takes in declining to receive the communication in question. It hopes and believes, however, that it need not disturb the good relations which have hitherto subsisted between the two countries which, more than any other nations, have need to live together in harmony and friendship. We believe that Great Britain has acted inadvertently, and under the influence of apprehensions of danger to her commerce, which either are exaggerated or call for fidelity on her part to her habitual relations to the United States, instead of a hasty attempt to change those relations. Certainly this government has exerted itself to the utmost to prevent Great Britain from falling into the error of supposing that the United States could consent to any abatement of their sovereignty in the present emergency. It is, we take leave to think, the common misfortune of the two countries that Great Britain was not content to wait before despatching the instruction in question, until you had been received by her Majesty's government, and had submitted the entirely just, friendly, and liberal overtures with which you were charged. Although the paper implies, without affirming, that the insurgents of this country possess some belligerent rights, it does not name, specify, or indicate one such right. It confines itself to stating what the British government require or expect the United States to do. Virtually, it asks us to concede to Great Britain the principles laid down in the declaration of the congress held at Paris in 1856. It asks indeed a little less, certainly nothing more or different from this. The British government ask this of us to-day, the 15th of June, in ignorance of the fact that we had, so early as the 25th of April, instructed you to tender, without reservation, to Great Britain our accession, pure and simple, to that declaration. We have all the while, since that instruction was sent forth, been ready, as we now are ready, to accede to the declaration, where and whenever Great Britain may be ready and willing to receive it. The argument contained in the instruction seems, therefore, to have been as unnecessary and irrelevant as it is unacceptable. Lord Lyons thinks that his instructions do not authorize him to enter into convention with us here. You will inform the government of Great Britain of the fact, and, if they prefer, you will enter into the convention at London. Of course it is understood that the concessions herein made do not affect or impair the right of the United States to suppress the insurrection as well by maritime as by land operations, and for this purpose to exclude all commerce from such of the ports as may have fallen into the hands of the insurgents, either by closing the ports directly or by the more lenient means of a blockade, which we have already adopted. It is thus seen that, in the present case, there is only an embarrassment resulting from the similar designs of the two governments to reach one common object by different courses without knowledge of each others dispositions in that respect. There is nothing more. We propose, as a nation at peace, to give to Great Britain as a friend what she as a neutral demands of us, a nation at war. We rejoice that it happens so. We are anxious to avoid all causes of misunderstanding with Great Britain; to draw closer, instead of breaking, the existing bonds of amity and friendship. There is nothing good or great which both nations may not expect to attain or effect if they may remain friends. It would be a hazardous day for both the branches of the British race when they should determine to try how much harm each could do the other. We do not forget that, although thus happily avoiding misunderstanding on the present occasion, Great Britain may in some way hereafter do us wrong or injury by adhering to the speculative views of the rights and duties of the two governments which she has proposed to express. But we believe her to be sincere in the good wishes for our welfare, which she has so constantly avowed, and we will not, therefore, suffer ourselves to anticipate occasions for difference which, now that both nations fully understand each other, may be averted or avoided. One point remains. The British government while declining, out of regard to our natural sensibility, to propose mediation for the settlement of the differences which now unhappily divide the American people, have nevertheless expressed, in a very proper manner, their willingness to undertake the kindly duty of mediation, if we should desire it. The President expects you to say on this point to the British government, that we appreciate this generous and friendly demonstration; but that we cannot solicit or accept mediation from any, even the most friendly quarter. The conditions of society here, the character of our government, the exigencies of the country, forbid that any dispute arising among us should ever be referred to foreign arbitration. We are a republican and American people. The Constitution of our government furnishes all needful means for the correction or removal of any possible political evil. Adhering strictly as we do to its directions, we shall