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Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 1863

Friday 4th

4 December 1863

Sunday 6th

6 December 1863
5 December 1863
Saturday 5th

Some arrears of correspondence took up much of my time. The Consuls once more draw pretty largely upon it. At three I had an engagement at the Foreign Office by appointment; so I walked down to Whitehall. Lord Russell received me very civilly. My object was to communicate to him a Despatch from Mr Seward proposing some new action in the way of prevention of the abuses of neutrality which have been practised in this war. He suggests either legislation, or a treaty stipulation or else the withdrawal by Great Britain of its recognition of belligerency. This was designed as a confidential communication of his Lordship should prefer it in that form. He said that he could neither give an individual nor an official opinion on this proposal just now. The government was awaiting the issue of the lawsuit to understand the extent of its powers under the existing law. The questions had been argued with great ability on both sides. it was for the Court to give judgment. I said that could come soon then, for I understood there would be a decision on Thursday. He replied that this was a mistake. Sir George Grey had told him this morning that the Judges were divided, two and two. Consequently they had concluded to put off any declaration for some time. So that perhaps a way might be discovered to reconcile the differences, before then. I then referred to the handsome conduct of the Governor General of Canada and Lord Lyons in the warning us of the plot of the rebels to attack Johnson’s Island, which had put a stop to an excitement that might otherwise have been very dangerous. I threw out the idea of the possibility of adopting some such legislative measure to check these border hazards as that accepted by us in 1838. Mr Seward had sent me a copy of the act, which at his request I gave him for examination. We then talked more freely of the nature514 of this policy of the rebels, systematically abusing the neutral position of a country, which admitted and characterized as a wholly new feature in the history of a nation. I alluded to the late escape of the vessel at Sheerness as a singular proof of the audacity of these people. He seemed to assent, and added that the Admiralty had sold the vessel as one of four decayed ones no longer wanted. It has been brought for nine thousand pounds by a man who was often a purchaser in the same way. Hence there was no suspicion of bad faith, until quite lately. Cause had then arisen for doubt of the intentions in fitting it up, whereupon orders had been sent to detain her. This led to the sudden departure of the Vessel. I remarked that my information went to the extent of implicating parties in the government employ. He said that the workmen who had been carried off in her had all been dismissed. He did not know of any connivance. I did however, and intimated so, at the same time adding that I could not betray my authority. His Lordship then seemed to muse for a moment, and opened the pamphlet copy of the Diary of an Officers of the Alabama, which I had sent him, to the page which alleged connivance of the same kind at the time of her escape. I remarked upon the coincidence in that testimony with the statement in the Deposition of Yonge. I clearly perceived that he was dissatisfied with the position of Britain on this case, and yet puzzled how to amend it. He went so far as to concede that as an Englishman he considered the interests of the country on the ocean as much exposed by tolerating such practices. I took advantage of this admission to point out the fact that America was swarming with energetic and desperate men who would like nothing better than to have their hands untied, so as to be able to serve the cause of any belligerent that might turn up. The true cause of all the embarrassment is to be found in that precipitate step of recognition of these parties as belligerents, which greeted me on my first reaching these shores. With these as a fulemun all the rest has followed. I alluded to it only through the passage I read of Mr Seward’s Despatch. I did however more directly point out the motive which animated all these proceedings, which was to involve the two countries in a war. He assented at once and515 added the remark that he feared there were Englishmen too animated with the same motive. To which I joined that luckily the countries were so widely separated by the ocean that we could hope to defeat such schemes. Were we separated by the ocean that we could hope to defeat such schemes. Were we separated only as France is, a war would have been inevitable. Much other talk of the same kind followed, and I took my leave. It is on the whole the most satisfactory interview I have ever had. There was little or no constraint on his part, and an appearance of reliance on a good understanding which if it can be kept up will make the remainder of my mission comparatively easy. I left it about four o’clock and walked home. As I was passing along the lower end of Trafalgar Square, my eyes fell upon a poster of a newspaper on which was printed in large letters, Great Federal Victory. Defeat of General Bragg at Chattanooga. Loss of forty guns and five thousand prisoners. These things do not somehow elate me. They have the effect only of soothing my nerves into perfect calm. I did not buy a paper, neither did I walk very faster to get home on the contrary! moved more deliberately. Henry had opened the telegram just before he left for St Leonard’s. It was a confirmation of the abridgement in the poster. Thus the problem of the possession of Tennessee seems to be solved, and one more of Jefferson Davis’s predictions falls into the lost limbo of vanities. Dined with Sir William and Lady Ouseley, by invitation. Miss Lampson was there spending the day, and Mr Bankhead and Sir Henry Bulwer were the only guests. Three old diplomats with one new one. Two who have retired on their pensions and the other two who are still at work. Mr Bankhead was Secretary of Legation and Sir W G Ouseley Attaché to Sir Charles Vaughn at Washington nearly forty years ago, when I was a youth in the Presidential mansion with my father. Sir Henry Bulwer was Minister at Washington about twelve years ago under the Presidency of General Taylor, where he concluded the Treaty known by his name. Thus for once I fell into company with three Englishmen all whom could talk of America from personal knowledge, and with clear ideas. Thus we got on very well. I was more impressed with Sir Henry’s ability in conversation than with that of any person I have met since I have been here.516

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=DCA63d339