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Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 1863

Thursday 23d.

23 April 1863

Saturday 25th

25 April 1863
24 April 1863
Friday 24th

The news from America is not propitious to the attempt to take Charleston. So we are destined to fail in all our grand undertaking so long and loudly proclaimed beforehand. Last evening America was under discussion in both Houses of Parliament, and I was pretty fiercely attached on all sides. The only material statement to me came from Lord Russell who not only misrepresented my letter but stigmatized it as unwarrantable, and added that a representation should be made concerning it not come but to the government at Washington. This may or may not imply a necessity for withdrawing me from the mission. I know not that I should have any thing to regret in this, as I fancy the popular feeling in America would attribute this conduct to the indignation created by my exposure of the frauds that are perpetrated here in the blockade breaking. But I cannot give Lord Russell much credit either for fairness or manliness towards me in this mode of proceeding. I worked hard on my private letters. Presently came a note from Lord Russell asking me to see him at three o’clock at the foreign Office. This seemed to indicate a change of policy. I was to be consulted after all. Accordingly I went. He opened the subject at once. He said that much difficulty had given out of this letter. But as Lord Palmerston thought it was probable that it might be but a single case and not involve any practice, he had suggested that it might be advisable to see me about it, prior to his being possible called to say something about it in the evening’s debate. I said I had regretted that he had not himself done me the favor to ask the same question before making his own speech last night. I might perhaps have been able to rectify some impressions that were erroneous. He said that the case was one he could not help noticing. Here was a letter taken down into the city, and handed about to be seen by every body, as a sort of advertisement that such privilege was granted to favored persons to the exclusion of others. It could not fail to create offence and to call for notice. I here interposed and remarked that this very observation showed his imperfect knowledge of the facts. The letter had not been written for publication. It was348 drawn from me by the application of two American citizens who had come out to buy goods to take to Mexico, and when the capture of the Peterhoff had cut off from the chance of insurance, unless I would give some assurance that they would not be taken by our vessels. I though it would be fair to them to give them a protection against the risk of being confounded with the rebels or their associates. So I authorized them to make it known to the Directors at Lloyd’s. He had done so as he thought with proper precautions. But an ingenious trick of one of the parties, in reading it aloud so slow that the words were taken down by a person in league had been the means of securing a copy that had been at once sent to the press. It was thought that a great opportunity was given to make trouble, and hence the deputation and the outcry. This was the true way the letter had reached publicity. His Lordship said he had heard nothing of this. His impressions had been received from the Deputation. I then went on to ask him or what authority he had rested in making the statement reported in the newspapers this morning, that I had undertaken to grant a license to a British ship. He denied that he had said so. It was not reported correctly— It might have been a ship only. I there repeated my question even as to that. He said that he did not know even if he said that. Here again I regretted that I had not had the opportunity to state the case in season. The roads had gone out in all the papers, and yet in point of fact I had never mentioned or alluded to a ship in the whole affair. My letter referred exclusively to persons and the property they had with them. I thought they were entitled to any aid I could give them to save them form the risk of harsh treatment by our own naval officers who would naturally suspect people bound on such an errand. To them suspicion would be a serious question. It would not attach to them merely as smugglers, but as traitors furnishing supplies to the rebels. His Lordship in reply to my question whether this action merited the epithet unwarrantable, which he had applied to it349 then fell back in his customary way on the law Officers of the crown. Their report had come to his hands just before he made his speech, and it had pronounced my act unwarrantable. I asked if they had been fully possessed of the facts. He said he could not tell. Their position was that I had no right to make a favor in trade. I replied that the trade was not mine to give. They enjoyed that right under the general law of the realm. They were not English people but my own countrymen, one a native, the other naturalized. Was it affirmed that I could not give them in a case of danger to them from the navy of our own nation a certificate to show who they were and what they were doing? I had always supposed this was the business of a minister to a foreign nations to aid and protect his countrymen. It was for this reason I had felt aggrieved by his language. His Lordship fell back upon the preference to trade and the law offices of the crown. He had not their opinion with him, but so it read. He would however report to Lord Palmerston the substance of what I had said as correctly as he could, and it would be for him to judge how far it affected the question. I then turned to two other little subjects which I had to dispose of, asked about Lady Russell’s evening on behalf of Mrs Adams and took my leave. It struck me that he was embarrassed throughout by the consciousness that he had made an erroneous statement which he is not magnanimous enough to correct as publicly as he gave it forth. In all to gain an advantage to his own position which inspires distrust not less than contempt. He has been driven to say this of me by the fear of popular opinion which mistakes the question. He mistakes it himself and lets me bear the brunt of the charge which he knows not to be true. Of course I can expect no reparation. It remains to be seen what the course will be in making the reference to Washington. Possibly it may lead to my recall, a result in itself perhaps not to be deprecated in view of the gradually darkening horizon around the relations between the two countries. I drove directly home, and sat350 down at once to write a report of this conversation to Washington. We barely succeed in getting it copied by half past seven, the latest minute before sending the Despatch bag. We had Mr Pike, Mr Tucker and Mr H. Emmons to dine with us.

Cite web page as:

Charles Francis Adams, Sr., [date of entry], diary, in Charles Francis Adams, Sr.: The Civil War Diaries (Unverified Transcriptions). Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2015. http://www.masshist.org/publications/cfa-civil-war/view?id=DCA63d114