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Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 1865

Monday 13th

13 February 1865

Wednesday 15th

15 February 1865
14 February 1865
Tuesday 14th

Cold and cloudy. Received a letter from my Wife at Nice. They have the cold wind there too. But the report is on the whole favorable, and cheered me. Wrote a reply, and was busy in details No news yet of the Canada. At three, went to the Foreign Office in compliance with a desire signified to me in a note, from Lord Russell. He said he wished to communicate to me the result of the deliberations of the Cabinet upon affairs in America. With respect to the questions in Canada, the opinion was that the action of Lord Menk, the instructions of Mr Cardwell, the measures of the Legislature, and the cause of the Judicial tribunals were sufficient to dispose of them in a satisfactory manner. In regard to the other points involving alleged violations of the mutability of this Kingdom by Agents of the Confederates, it had been decided to address a letter to Messr Slidell, Mason and Mann, the same persons with whom he had had some correspondence of a few weeks ago, with a view to their informing their principals at Richmond of the sentiments of the British government. He took the Despatch out of his pocket and said he would read it to me, which he accordingly did. The substance of it was that they regarded205 the various attempts to carry on war from this country as well as the new pretensions advanced on the subject of neutral rights as of so intolerable a character, as to require not merely a protest but a demand that they should be abandoned. The tone was guarded, moderate but on the whole pretty firm. After he had finished. I said I had been gratified in hearing the letter. His Lordship said he had sent this letter to Lord Carley, yesterday to be delivered to Mr Slidell in Paris. He proposed to furnish me with a copy for my government, and also to send a duplicate to Washington in order that through such channels of communication as were established between that place and Richmond it might be forwarded to the Insurgent authorities. I observed that of course I could not speak for my government. I did not however for myself perceive any objection. It might indeed by that the people at Richmond would refuse to receive any thing offend through us as a channel. He said that he had already placed it in the hands of their recognized agents, here. I replied that this indeed would render such a proceeding of no effect. It had always been a cause of surprise to me that such a measure had not been adopted long ago. The cause of the rebels, so far as I could discover, had no precedent in history. It seemed to me in the highest degree permissions tolerate it. For it was establishing a practice, which hereafter all feeble nations would only be too glad to follow, and strong ones to countenance. A country not having any seaboard could thus enjoy an opportunity to harass the commerce of a great maritime power almost with impunity. His Lordship said their Vessells could be taken. Yes, I replied. But the policy was to build vessels not to fight, but to run. They were made swift enough to overtake the feeble and to outstrip the strong. In contending with them, every government necessarily took the chances greatly against itself. Moreover, I said I had regretted the facilities that had thus been furnished, because the example would be hereafter eagerly caught up by many of the adventurous and unprincipled class in America, who would like nothing better than a chance to rush out upon the ocean, and depredate on the rich commerce of other nations. These people it would be very hard for our government to keep in check. If, for example, Great Britain had, as most people expected, become involved in a war last year on account of Denmark, I did206 not entertain a doubt that in two months, Prussia would have been fitting out fast Steamers in the port of New York. And we should not have been able to stop them. His Lordship candidly enough admitted that the idea had occurred to him at the time, and had contributed materially to cool his order for war. This was an admission that would have delighted Mr Cobden who has always maintained that the career of the Alabama put Great Britain under heavy bonds to keep the peace. I remarked upon the effect of the late trial of Mr Rumble in convincing me that the United States stood no chance of justice in any Court from a British jury. This could not but be productive of a similar state of things in America. His Lordship confessed that people here had taken sides in our quarrel to as great an extent almost as we had ourselves. In the case of the Iron clads, he had asked the Attorney General, if he felt confident of getting a verdict, should the prosecution be pressed. He had answered in the affirmative, provided one or two sympathizers with the confederates should not get upon the jury. In consideration of that chance, the government had though it more prudent to settle the matter by buying them up. Here was another significant confession. The sum of the matter is this. That Great Britain has suffered her people to commit most flagrant violations of neutrality, because the government is powerless to do its burnden duty. It dares neither to appeal to the Courts to enforce the existing law, nor to Parliament to enact a more stringent one. Passed by the unanswerable logic of our representations, it has at this late moment had recourse to the only alternative an appeal to the power on the ocean which it first recognized and afterward absolutely created. We shall never see what effect this will produce. As I took my leave, his Lordship alluding to that said, that now the letter had been seat, the next thing was what should follow in case no attention was paid to it. I replied, that it would be almost equally convenient to us whether they stop in their career, or he go on. On the whole, I felt encouraged by this communication, first because it internally is a confession of past offences secondly, because it indicates a preservance in the policy of neutrality in our struggle. This had become in my mind a subject of some anxiety of late from the fact of two simultaneous communi­207cations made to me yesterday from very different sources. In my haste to make up the arrears in which I am constantly falling in this record, I omitted to mention that I had had a visit from the Prince of Joinville, the object of which was to convey through me to Mr Seward the information he had received from friends in France. It was to the effect that he was certainly preparing at Cherburg, a fleet of vessels of great power. It would be ready to sail at a moment’s warning. The person who was to command it was a person whom he named. There was no object visible on this side of Europe for which such an array could be destined. Hence the inference was that that it could be only to meet an emergency across the water. In his belief, Napoleon could not endure the idea that a republic should show itself capable of sustaining itself. The example pressed too forcibly back on his own position. He had reason to suspect that he was making overtures to the British government to establish a cooperation in the event of some opening for dissatisfaction with us either on the side of Canada or that of Mexico, or both. There was a powerful party here which was ready to subserve this purpose, from their hostility ot us. But the Ministry was steady. Lord Russell was friendly, and he did not think there was any danger of a change unless it should come from some act of course. He had great confidence in me, and he hoped I would apprize Mr Seward of what I might think useful in his communication. I thanked the Prince for the interest he took in our affairs, and promised that I would convey the information. Making all proper allowance for his natural bias against Napoleon, and for the fact that his sources of knowledge could only be secondary, there was yet full enough in what he said to make me uneasy. Singularly enough I got at the same time, a letter from Jesus Teran, the Mexican agent whom I meet with here last year as representing the interest of the republicans under Juarez, who writes from Madrid, informing me of suspected movements in Paris of the same kind, on the ground of our hostility to the French influence in Mexico. With regard to Napoleon, it is no new idea with me to suppose him malignant towards the United States. The Mexican expedition had no other end or aim. But though it might procrastinate our struggle, I do not perceive that in his situation any effort that he might initiate alone would be likely to seriously impair our power.208 A joint movement with Great Britain would be another matter. Without securing that, the Prince freely affirmed that the Emperor would not venture. The great point is then to keep every thing steady at this centre. I am well aware that this government entertains so very little confidence in the Emperor, that it will not readily consent to play any game of his proposing. Hence the sudden withdrawal of Lord Russell from the inception of the Mexican scheme. I fancy his feeling on that subject has not been charged by any subsequent, experience in that quarter. It was as a proof of this that I was most pleased by his communication of this day. So far as it went it showed approximation to us rather than alienation. Least of all, was it indicative of the disposition to pick a quarrel without which the scheme, if there is one, most naturally fall to the ground, Any how my line is for the present clear. It is to accept this demonstration in a friendly sense, to avoid multiplying causes of offence,and in the mean time to place the government in a situation fully to survey the field, and adapt its measures to the emergency. Dined today with Mr Thomas Baring. General Barlow, Mr Bacon, Messr Hodgson & Forster of the House of commons, Mr Holland, Mr Hibbert and Sir William Alexander. It was social and merry, which is not the common custom. Incidentally there came not many scraps of knowledge of the corruption in Parliamentary elections, very edifying to American cars. I shall not commit them to paper. After dinner we sat in the picture gallery, and I told Mr Forster of my afternoon’s experience.

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=DCA65d045