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Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 1865

Wednesday 22d.

22 February 1865

Friday 24th

24 February 1865
23 February 1865
Thursday 23d.

On opening the newspapers this morning I found that by a later arrival, the accounts had come of the peace conference, including the publication of Mr Seward’s Despatch to me. In Richmond the report of the committee was received with affected indignation by Mr Davis. I say affected, because he could not but have known beforehand what the result would be. There was a public meeting and a spasmodic excitement designed to stimulate once more the fainting spirit of the south. It requires something more than big words to do this. Military success might do it for a time. At noon I went to see Lord Russell by appointment at his own house in Chesham place. Found him upstairs in the highest story in a small dressing room fitted up as a writing room for the emergency. I infer from this that he must have been rather seriously indisposed. I explained my objects. One was to communicate portions of Mr Sewards despatch on the peace, but I had been anticipated by teh publication in the morning papers. He said he had not seen it, and took up the Times, in which I pointed it out to him. My main motive was to direct his attention to the passage explaining the nature of the only rebel proposition. It was to substitute a foreign question on which an agreement might be reached for the domestic one. This illustrated the intriguing character of these people, who on the one hand were stimulating as to a foreign war, and on the other were proposing to foreign nations to resist our aggression as a consideration for aid to be furnished to them. From this I passed to the other Despatch of Mr Seward which contained copies of two intercepted Despatches of Mr Slidell at Paris. It appeared from these that some proposal had been made by him though M Drouyn de l’Huys to Lord Cavley, for a modification of their policy of closing the British ports to captures in order to save neutral property. The Despatches gave no clear idea of its nature or of the reception it met with. I opened the matter without asking any direct question in order that his Lordship might explain or not as he pleased. He at once took the lead. The proposal had been received, and considered. IT implied a recognition of the right of any naval officer to adjudicate on his quarter deck what was or was not neutral property which was so at variance with the established law of nations, that he thought it wholly inadmissible form the outset. But to make the matter sure the usual reference had been made to the Law officers of the Crown. Their report had made a complete dissection of the scheme and declared it216 utterly untenable. Accordingly an answer to that effect had been sent through Lord Cowley. What the French government had done about it, he did not know. But he presumed no other view could have been taken of it. I said I did not doubt that such must have been the result. I then read to him that part of Mr Seward’s Despatch suggesting as a proper remedy for all the rebel attempts to carry on a measure had been under consideration, but that the Lord Chancellor had been of opinion that the difficulties in the way were insurmountable. My objects have been accomplished, I was about to go, when his Lordship remarked that he had expected a different communication. He thought I might have been charged with the duty of giving notice of the termination of the reciprocity Treaty. I replied that I had indeed received the papers and the instructions to give the notice. But I was not to do so until after the day of the expiration of the ten years agreed upon, which would not come until the 17th of next month. His Lordship said that the subject had been under consideration of the Cabinet yesterday. He could not be present but their conclusion had been sent to him. Both as to the arrangement of 1817 for disarmament on the lakes and as to the reciprocity Treaty of 1852, it was thought advisable to turn the interval of notice to some account by considering what might be settled in their place. His Lordship was not disposed to question the expediency of the course proposed as to armament. It was in a measure justified by the events that had occurred on the border. But any increase of armament on our side necessary would involve some corresponding defensive preparation on theirs. It was therefore desirable that the extent of it should not be left indefinite. So also with the reciprocity Treaty. There were many portions of it which seemed to be so useful for both countries, that it was not unadvisable to lose them entirely. With regard to such as had executed dissatisfaction, perhaps such modifications might be made as would remove objections. To this end, he desired me to communicate these views of the Cabinet to my government. I said I would do so with pleasure. These steps had been take in America mainly to quiet the extensive alarms spread among the border population by the aggressive enterprises of the rebels. Now that the government of Canada was exerting itself with vigor and success, and the offenders were about to be surrendered, I entertained217 a firm belief that an end would be put to all such atrocious operations. Should such prove to be the case, the panic would subside. It might then be found that there was no need of any change in the old arrangement of 1817. It has proved exceedingly beneficial for half a century, and I saw no reason why it should not continue so far an equal period hereafter. With regard to the reciprocity Treaty I believed it had been a very favorable arrangement in many respects. To us in the eastern section of the Union, it had created a trade with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The objections to it had come from the west. But I had lately seen a report from the Chamber of Commerce of Detroit, in which the advantages of it to that region had been strongly set forth. I believed that the feeling which prompted the adoption of the notice was temporary and had little connection with the merits of the Treaty. So soon as Congress had adjourned I had no doubt that the government would be disposed to consider all these questions in the most favorable manner. In spite of all the alarm indicated in the speeches of Lord Derby and his friends in the House of Peers the other night I would affirm that it had no design to pounce upon Canada for any reason. His Lordship laughed, and said it was amusing to see how people in a legislative body would gradually lash themselves up into a passion about nothing at all. I assented. It was just so in our Congress. I then took my leave, I certainly perceive a growing improvement in my relations with Lord Russell. Never at any time unfriendly there has nevertheless been more or less of a shade of serve and stiffness which denoted the presence of caution and distrust. This may have been partly owing to a sense of divided counsels in the Cabinet and the consequent duty of reserve. Be this as it may, there is a change. He talks much more frankly, and in that style of quiet confidence which marks good will. This may be partly due to increasing trust in the policy of the government at home, partly to my conduct since I have been here. In that event it might be a question of conscience to me whether I should hazard the loss of the latter advantage to my country by withdrawing my service. I certainly shall do no such thing if the President appreciates it enough to desire me to remain. If he do not, the responsibility must be his, not mine. I had a small company of gentlemen to dine to meet General Barlow. It consisted of my Secretaries, Sir Henry Holland, Sir W. Gore Ouseley, M. Barreda, Sir Emerson Tennent, Mr Shaw Lefevre and Captain Douglas Galton. They remained until so late an hour218 that I could not go to Lady Russell’s evening as I had promised. I did however succeed in getting to a nearer place Miss Burdett Coutt’s, before half the people were gone. Met there not many acquaintances. Mrs Ford, Mrs Tait, Mr Arthur Kinnaird and a few more. Home by midnight.

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=DCA65d054