Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

FRANCE,

Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton.

No. 3..] DEPARTMENT of STATE, Washington, April 22, 1861.

SIR: You enter a very important foreign mission at a moment when our domestic affairs have reached a crisis which awakens deep solicitude. Throughout a period of eighty years law and order have prevailed, and internal peace and tranquillity have been undisturbed. Five months ago sedition showed itself openly in several of the southern States, and it has acted ever since that time with boldness, skill, and energy. An insurrectionary government, embracing seven members of this Union, has been proclaimed under the name of the Confederate States of America. That pretended authority, by means chiefly of surprise, easily seen here to have been unavoidable, although liable to be misunderstood abroad, has possessed itself of a navy yard, several fortifications and arsenals, and considerable quantities of arms, ordnance, and military stores. On the 12th of April, instant, its forces commenced an attack upon, and ultimately carried, Fort Sumter, against the brave and heroic resistance of a diminutive garrison, which had been, through the neglect of the former administration, left in a condition to prevent supplies and re-enforcements. Owing to the very peculiar construction of our system, the late administration, Congress, and every other department of the federal government, including the army and the navy, contained agents, abettors, and sympathizers in this insurrection. The federal authorities thus became inefficient, while large portions of the people were bewildered by the suddenness of the appearance of disunion, by apprehension that needless resistance might aggravate and precipitate the movement, and by political affinities with those engaged in it. The project of dismembering the Union doubtless has some support in commercial and political ambition. But it is chiefly based upon a local, though widely extended partisan disappointment in the result of the recent election of President of the United States. It acquired strength for a time from its assumed character of legitimate opposition to a successful party, while, on the other hand, that party could not all at once accept the fact that an administrative political issue had given place to one which involved the very existence of the government and of the Union. These embarrassments are passing away so rapidly as to indicate that far the greater mass of the people remain loyal as heretofore. The President improved the temporary misfortune of the fall of Fort Sumter by calling on the militia of the States to re-enforce the federal army, and summoning Congress for its counsel and aid in the emergency. On the other hand, the insurrectionists have met those measures with an invitation to privateers from all lands to come forth and commit depredations on the commerce of the country. To take care that the government of his Majesty the Emperor of France do not misunderstand our position, and through that misunderstanding do us some possible wrong, is the chief duty which you will have to perform at Paris. It would have been gratifying to the President if the movements to which I have alluded had taken such a course as to leave this government free from the necessity in any event of conferring upon them in the presence of foreign powers. In this age of social development, however, isolation even in misfortune is impossible, and every attempt at revolution in one country becomes a subject of discussion in every other. The agitators in this case have, perhaps, not unnaturally carried their bad cause before foreign states by an appeal for recognition of the independence they have proclaimed, and which they are committed to establish by arms. Prudence requires that we oppose that appeal. The President believes that you will be able to do this in such a manner as will at once comport with the high consideration for his Imperial Majesty which this government habitually entertains, and a due sense of the dignity and honor of the American people. The Emperor of France has given abundant proofs that he considers the people in every country the rightful source of all authority, and that its only legitimate objects are their safety, freedom, and welfare. He is versed in our Constitution, and, therefore, he will not need demonstration that the system which is established by the Constitution is founded strictly on those very principles. You will be at no loss to show also that it is perfectly adapted to the physical condition and the temper, spirit, and habits of the American people. In all its essential features it is the same system which was first built, and has since existed with ever renewed popular consent in this part of America. The people of this country have always enjoyed the personal rights guaranteed by the great statutes of British freedom, representation concurrent with taxation, jury trial, liberty of conscience, equality before the laws, and popular suffrage. The element of federation or union was early developed while the colonies were under the authority of, and during their revolutionary contest with, the British Crown, and was perfected afterwards by the establishment of the Constitution of the United States. Practically it has been voluntarily accepted by every State, Territory, and individual citizen of the United States. The working of the system has been completely successful, while not one square mile of domain that we at any time had occupied has ever been lost to us. We have extended our jurisdiction from the St. Mary's river to the Rio Grande, on the Gulf of Mexico, and in a wide belt from the Mississippi to the Pacific ocean. Our population has swollen from four millions to thirty-one millions. The number of our States has increased from thirteen to thirty-four. Our country has risen from insignificance to be the second in the world. Ileaving out of view unimportant local instances of conflict, we have had only two foreign wars, and the aggregate duration of them was less than five years. Not one human life has hitherto been forfeited for disloyalty to the government, nor has martial law ever been established except temporarily in case of invasion. No other people have ever enjoyed so much immunity from the various forms of political casualties and calamities. . While there is not now, even in the midst of the gathering excitement of civil War, one American who declares his dissent from the principles of the Constitution, that great charter of federal authority has won the approbation of the civilized world. , Many nations have taken it as a model, and almost every other one has in some degree conformed its institutions to the principles of this Constitution. The empire of France, and the new kingdom of Italy especially, are built on the same broad foundation with that of this federal republic, namely, universal suffrage. Surely we cannot err in assuming that a system of government which arose out of the free consent of the people of this country, which has been often reconsidered and yet continually upheld in preference to every other throughout a period of two hundred years, which has commanded the acceptance or the approval of all other nations, and to the principles of which even those who attempt to overthrow it adhere in the very heat of insurrection, must be regarded as one which is not only well adapted to the condition and character of the American people, but is even indispensable and inseparable from their national existence. Should it be answered that while all this has heretofore seemed true, yet that it is now disproved by the existing insurrection, you may truthfully reply that we must wait for that refutation until we see the end of the insurrection; that the insurrection proves in fact nothing else except that eighty years of peace is as much as human nature has the moderation to endure under circumstances the most conducive to moderation. The attempted revolution is simply causeless. It is, indeed, equally without a reason and without an object. Confessedly there is neither reason nor object, unless it be one arising out of the subject of slavery. The practice of slavery has been so long a theme of angry political debate, while it has all the time been, as it yet is, a domestic concern, that I approach it with deep regret in a communication which relates to the action of a representative of this government abroad. I refrain from any observation whatever concerning the morality or the immorality, the economy or the waste, the social or the unsocial aspects of slavery, and confine myself, by direction of the President, strictly to the point that the attempt at revolution on account of it is, as I have already said, without reason and without object. Slavery of persons of African derivation existed practically within all the European colonies which, as States, now constitute the United States of America. The framers of our government accepted that fact, and with it the ideas concerning it which were then gaining ground throughout the civilized world. They expected and desired that it should ultimately cease, and with that view authorized Congress to prohibit the foreign slave trade after 1808. They did not expect that the practice of African slavery should be abruptly terminated to the prejudice of the peace and the economy of the country. They therefore placed the entire control of slavery, as it was then existing, beyond the control of the federal authorities, by leaving, it to remain subject to the exclusive management and disposition of the several States themselves, and fortified it there with a provision for the return of fugitives from labor and service, and another securing an allowance of threefifths of such persons in fixing the basis of direct taxation and representation. The legislators of that day took notice of the existence of a vast and nearly unoccupied region lying between the western borders of the Atlantic States and the Mississippi river. A few slaves were found in the southwest, and none in the northwest. They left the matter in the southwest to the discretion of the new States to be formed there, and prohibited the practice of slavery in the northwestern region forever. Economical, moral, and political causes have subsequently modified the sentiments of that age differently in the two sections. Long ago slavery was prohibited by all the northern States, and, on the contrary, the increased production of cotton has resulted in fortifying the institution of slavery in the southern States. The accretions of domain, by purchase from Spain, France, and Mexico, brought regions in which slavery had either a very slight foothold, or none at all; and this new domain, as it should come under occupation, was to be constituted into new States, which must be either free States or slave States. The original States divided according to their own divers practices—the free States seeking so to direct federal legislation and action as to result in multiplying free States, and the slave States so to direct them as to multiply slave States. The interest became more intense because the several States have equal representation in the Senate of the United States. This controversy soon disclosed itself in the popular elections, and more distinctly than ever before in the recent canvass, which resulted in the accession of the present administration. It is now to be observed that, from the earliest agitation of the subject until that last election, the decisions of the people were practically favorable to the interest of the class which favored the extension of slavery, and yet their opponents always acquiesced. Under these circumstances the executive administration, the national legislature, and the judiciary, were for practical purposes in the hands of that party, and the laws, with the administration and execution of them, conformed to their own policy. The opposite class prevailed in the late election so far as to bring in the President and Vice-President, the citizens they had preferred, but no further— Congress and the judiciary remained under the same bias as before. The new President could not assume his trust until the fourth of March, 1861, and even after that time, as before, the laws and the execution of them must remain unchanged. He could not, without consent of his opponents in Congress, change either, nor appoint a minister or a ministerial officer, nor draw a dollar from the treasury even for his own defence or support. It was under these circumstances that, on the very day when the election closed and its result became known, four months before the new administration was to come in, the disappointed party took their appeal from the ballot-box to arms, and inaugurated their revolution. I need not further elaborate the proposition that the revolution is without a cause ; it has not even a pretext. “ It is just as clear that it is without an object. Moral and physical causes have determined inflexibly the character of each one of the Territories over which the dispute has arisen, and both parties after the election harmoniously agreed on all the federal laws required for their organization. The Territories will remain in all respects the same, whether the revolution shall succeed or shall fail. The condition of slavery in the several States will remain just the same whether it succeed or fail. There is not even a pretext for the complaint that the disaffected States are to be conquered by the United States if the revolution fail; for the rights of the States, and the condition of every human being in them, will remain subject to exactly the same laws and forms of administration, whether the revolution shall succeed or whether it shall fail. In the one case, the States would be federally connected with the new confederacy; in the other, they would, as now, be members of the United States; but their constitutions and laws, customs, habits, and institutions in either case will remain the same. It is hardly necessary to add to this incontestible statement the further fact that the new President, as well as the citizens through whose sus. frages he has come into the administration, has always repudiated all designs whatever and wherever imputed to him and them of disturbing the system of slavery as it is existing under the Constitution and laws. The case, however, would not be fully presented if I were to omit to say that any such effort on his part would be unconstitutional, and all his actions in that direction would be prevented by the judicial authority, even though they were assented to by Congress and the people. This revolution, thus equally destitute of just cause and legitimate object, aims, nevertheless, at the dismemberment of the federal Union, and, if successful, must end in the overthrow of the government of the United States. If it be true, as the consent of mankind authorizes us to assume, that the establishment of this government was the most auspicious political event that has happened in the whole progress of history, its fall must be deemed not merely a national calamity, which a patriotic government ought to try

« ForrigeFortsett »