On May 11, 1863 Lord Richard Lyons, the British Minister visited President Abraham Lincoln to present a formal announcement "that her son, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, is about to contract a matrimonial alliance with her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandra of Denmark." The President's response to the bachelor minister was brief: "Lord Lyons, go thou and do likewise."1 Usually, diplomacy was a very serious business for President Lincoln. In his message to Congress on July 4, 1861, President Lincoln wrote: "On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men - to lift artificial weights from all shoulders - to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all - to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life."2
President-elect Lincoln's experience in foreign policy was very limited. He had never been out of the country and intended to rely on his designated Secretary of State, William H. Seward, to handle foreign relations. In the first months of his administration, Lincoln admitted that he had "given so little attention to foreign affairs and being so dependent upon other people's judgment, and that he felt the necessity of 'studying up' on the subject as much [as] his opportunities permitted.'"3 Seward's son, Frederick W. Seward, wrote about an incident in February 1861: "On his home from St. John's Church, the first Sunday after his arrival in Washington, Mr. Lincoln had said to my father: 'Governor Seward, there is one part of my work that I shall have to leave largely to you. I shall have to depend upon you for taking care of these matters of foreign affairs, of which I know so little, and with which I reckon you are familiar."4 Seward biographer John M. Taylor wrote that Seward's background well fitted him for his new responsibilities: "Seward...had an alert and facile mind, skilled both in assessing people and in analyzing political developments. He had a deep knowledge of history and was well versed in the writings of America's statesmen, especially Jefferson....His two extended trips to Europe and the Middle East were two more than most men - Lincoln included - had made in his day." Taylor, noted however that Seward also had some deficiencies as the nation's top diplomat: "He liked to talk and was not always discreet in conversation."5 Seward's self-confidence sometimes was interpreted as bluster.
Former New York Senator Seward had a tough job - at home and abroad. The Union's relationships with Europe during the Civil War were as much a function of Europe's internal problems and the ambitions of its leaders as it was the problems of diplomacy. Those relations were also a function of Republican leaders who thought they deserved a prestigious diplomatic postings to Europe. President Lincoln and Secretary Seward needed to act quickly since there were still in place many Buchanan-era diplomats of questionable loyalty to the Lincoln Administration. Seward biographer Thornton Kirkland Lothrop wrote: "To purge our diplomatic and consular service of all persons whose loyalty was uncertain was, however, his most urgent duty; in many cases it was not enough that our representatives abroad should 'speak only the language of truth and loyalty, and of confidence in our institutions and destiny,' but it was of the utmost consequence that they should be persons selected with especial regard to their ability and fitness for the posts assigned."6
In a power play Seward briefly tried to reject his appointment shortly before President Lincoln's inauguration. Having accepted it, Seward took hold swiftly. Frederick W. Seward wrote: "On the morning after his appointment to be Secretary of State, my father sent for Mr. Hunter, and requested that a complete list of all the officers, clerks, and employees should be brought to him. Then inquiry was made as to which ones were trustworthy and loyal to the Union and which were disaffected or openly disloyal. It was not difficult to select them, for Washington had so long been a Southern city and so many of its officials were in sympathy with the Secessionists, that outspoken disunion sentiments were freely avowed. In fact all the departments contained many whom it was believed only remained in order to use their positions to give aid or information to the opponents of the Government."7
Finding a Job for Carl Schurz
One of the most troubling dilemmas for the Lincoln Administration was what to do with German-American leader Carl Schurz who expected a prominent job in a European capital - probably in Sardinia. "Confidently expecting news of his nomination, Schurz did not allow Lincoln to forget him," wrote Schurz biographer Hans L. Trefousse. "On the day after the inauguration, as one of the spokesmen for the radicals, he came to the White House at seven o'clock in the morning to make sure of [Salmon P.] Chase's inclusion in the cabinet, a visit unquestionably designed to remind the President of his own claims as much as those of the Ohioan. He received congratulations on the supposed appointment and was confidently looking forward to a trip to Italy." But Schurz had opposition from fellow German-American Gustave Koerner, a close Lincoln ally who had served as lieutenant governor of Illinois. So Lincoln and Seward stalled Schurz for domestic and international political reasons.8
The wait was painful for the would-be diplomat. Schurz wrote his wife in mid-March: "Yesterday I received congratulations from all sides upon my appointment as minister to Sardinia. The news was even telegraphed to the newspapers, but I have had no official information. Yet I do know that evening before last Lincoln said to Horace Greeley and Senator Grimes that he considered the appointment a very fitting one and that he was strongly disposed to make it. The only necessary preliminary would be a consultation with Seward. He also told others that he would give me what I desired."9 On March 13, Schurz wrote his wife that he was also being considered for Minister to Brazil: "If Lincoln brings the matter up I shall insist upon Sardinia, without however definitely refusing the other mission. The salary is $12,000 and Rio de Janeiro is said to be very beautiful. Still, I am sure that Lincoln designs me for Sardinia. He will at least not dispose of that mission without first consulting me."10
Secretary of State Seward thought that Schurz's radical background as a young man in Germany would make him unwelcome in European capitals and thus tried to shift Schurz's focus to Latin America. Schurz was adamant and tried to use anti-Seward Republicans to support his diplomatic nomination. The President wanted to keep both German-Americans and the Secretary of State happy by offering a diplomatic posting to Latin America. The dilemma became a political embarrassment for the president; the New York Herald observed that "next to the difficulty about Fort Sumter, the question as to what is to be done about Carl Schurz seems to bother the administration more than anything else." Schurz insisted on a first-class posting in a meeting with Secretary Seward and President Lincoln on the evening of March 20.11
Schurz tried to "speed up matters," according to biographer Hans L. Trefousse. "He became ever more friendly with Charles Sumner, the chairman of the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations, and was a welcome guest at the White House. Sitting with Lincoln the balcony while the Marine Band was playing on the south lawn, he watched the President kiss numerous babies. After Lincoln retired, he went into the library to play the piano until the President came down and took him to tea." Schurz kept threatening to leave town and the President kept urging him to stay. With Postmaster General Montgomery Blair's help, the posting of Kentucky abolitionist Cassius Clay was shifted to Russia and Schurz was duly awarded the Spanish post. Schurz was overjoyed; the Spanish government was not, but Spain did not protest the appointment in time to block it. Trefousse wrote that President Lincoln had to balance pacification of Schurz with the risks of aggravating a major European power: "Anxious to placate his supporter and the German-Americans, he finally sent him to Spain, the one European country which, because of its ever-increasing involvement in the Caribbean, could not afford to create additional complications with the United States."12
Schurz returned to Washington after visiting Wisconsin - with new ambitions. "Carl Schurz was here today," Lincoln aide John Hay wrote in his diary on April 26. "He spoke with enthusiasm of his desire to mingle in this war. He has great confidence in his military powers, and his capability of arousing the enthusiasm of the young. He contemplates the career of a great guerilla chief with ardent longing. He objects to the taking of Charleston & advises forays on the Interior States."13 After meeting with Secretary Seward to confirm his appointment to Madrid, "Schurz stepped across to the White House to call on his friend the President. Lincoln offered him a chair," wrote Lincoln scholar Jay Monaghan. "The tall, near-sighted German sat down and shook back his long hair. Lincoln looked at the hatchet-faced man with the stooped shoulders of a scholar and an ambition to lead light horse. The President smiled, then began the conversation by apologizing for his own ignorance. He had been able to devote 'so little attention to foreign affairs' and felt the necessity of 'studying up.' Lincoln hoped that the German would watch public opinion abroad and 'whenever anything occurs to you that you want to tell me personally, or that you think I ought to know, you shall write me directly.'"14
Loyal Republican politicians and journalists received many of Lincoln's important diplomatic postings. Massachusetts Congressman Charles Francis Adams was posted to England, former New Jersey Senator William L. Dayton went to France and Kentucky abolitionist Cassius Clay to Russia. Seward biographer John Taylor wrote; "The new diplomatic appointees were the standard mix of men of ability and political hacks....Although the more important posts were filled with able men, many a political debt was paid off in the State Department."15 The able Adams himself noted: "The Republican party had been so generally in opposition that but few of its prominent members had had any advantages or experience in office. And, in the foreign service especially, experience is almost indispensable to usefulness. Mr. Seward himself came into the State Department with no acquaintance with the forms of business other than that obtained incidentally through his service in the Senate. He had not had the benefit of official presence abroad, an advantage by no means trifling in conducing the foreign affairs. A still greater difficulty was that, with the range of selection to fill the respective posts abroad, hardly any person could be found better provided in this respect than himself. Moreover, the President, in distributing his places, did so with small reference to the qualifications in this particular line. It was either partisan service, or geographical position, or the length of the lists of names to commendatory papers, or the size of the salary, or the unblushing pertinacity of personal solicitations, that wrung from him many of his appointments. Yet, considering the nature of all these obstacles, it must be admitted that most of the neophytes acquitted themselves of their duty with far more of credit than could have been fairly expected from the commencement."16
Problems with Europe
Secretary Seward soon had bigger problems than ambitious Republicans. Foreign intervention was critical to the success of the Confederacy. European governments were ambitious to intervene in the American Civil War. Historian James M. McPherson wrote: "Most European observers and statesmen believed in 1861 that the Union cause was hopeless. In their view, the Lincoln administration could never reestablish control over 750,000 square miles of territory defended by a determined and courageous people."17 Assistant Secretary of State Frederick W. Seward later wrote: "Early in the war, we learned through the Legation at St. Petersburg that an understanding had been effected between the governments of Great Britain and France that they should take one and the same course on the subject of the American war, including the possible recognition of the rebels....This alliance for joint action might dictate its own terms. From a joint announcement of neutrality, it would be but a step to join mediation or intervention; and it was hardly to be anticipated that the Washington Government, struggling with an insurrection which had rent the country asunder, would be willing to face also the combined power of the two great empires of Western Europe. To the mind of the French and English statesmen the project was even praiseworthy. It would stop the effusion of blood and increase the supply of cotton. It would leave the American Union permanently divided; but that was a consummation that European statesmen in general would not grieve over."18 As McPherson noted: "The principal goal of Confederate foreign policy in 1862 was to win diplomatic recognition of the new Southern nation by foreign powers."19
The cotton trade was a mutual concern for the Confederates and the British. About four-fifths of England's cotton came from the South. In hopes of prompting European intervention, the Confederacy quickly began an informal cessation of cotton exports but their embargo was ill-timed. "When the Civil War began in April 1861, most of the bumper 1860 crop had already been exported," noted historian Dean B. Mahin. "The only way to accelerate the arrival of a diplomatically useful 'cotton famine' in Europe was to restrict cotton exports from the Confederacy in 1861 and 1862."20 When the Confederacy tried to reverse course and export cotton, the Union navy was better positioned to blockade the South and continue to starve Europe of southern cotton.
In March 1861, the Confederacy dispatched three would-be diplomats to Europe. "There was a basis for believing cotton diplomacy would be effective," wrote Lincoln scholar Charles Segal. "Trade was a key factor in British-American relations and cotton was vital to England's economy. British aristocracy, reflecting the bent of Europe's ruling classes, sympathized with the Confederacy; they believed the war between the states would sever permanently the American Union. British and French manufacturers looked to their respective governments to protect their interests."21 While the Confederacy was determined to open diplomatic relations with Britain and France, Secretary of State 4. Seward was determined to prevent it. On May 13, Britain proclaimed its neutrality in the American Civil War - a possible prelude to recognition. Segal wrote: "What was at issue in this international rumpus was that Lincoln and Seward wanted the British to be neutral for the Union and not against it."22
British Foreign minister John Russell looked for an opportunity to inject himself into the American conflict. Historian Howard Jones wrote that "the threat of slave insurrections in the South emerged as a major factor encouraging British intervention in the war. Russell had shown interest in a mediation, if invited, even before the fighting had begun. A civil war, he and other British contemporaries knew, usually left the divided nation so vulnerable that outside powers often yielded to temptation and intervened out of self-interest. In the United States, the danger loomed as particularly real because of the war's racial underpinning. Not only would a servile war undermine the cotton economy for years, but it could develop into a racial conflict that shook the foundation of the entire republic and even spread beyond American borders to hurt other nations."23
British journalist William Howard Russell wrote on April 8, "On returning to my hotel, I found a note from Mr. Seward, asking me to visit him at nine o'clock. On going to his house, I was shown to the drawing room, and found there only the Secretary of State, his son, and Mrs. Seward. I made a parti carre for a friendly rubber of whist, and Mr. Seward, who was my partner, talked as he played, so that the score of the game was not favourable. But his talk was very interesting. 'All the preparations of which you hear mean this only. The Government, finding the property of the State and Federal forts neglected and left without protection, are determined to take steps to relieve them from that neglect, and to protect them. But we are determined in doing so to make no aggression. The President's inaugural clearly shadows out our policy. We will not go beyond it - we have no intention of doing so - nor will we withdraw from it. After a time Mr. Seward put down his cards, and told his son to go for a portfolio which he would find a drawer of his table. Mrs. Seward lighted the drop light of the gas, and on her husband's return with the paper left the room. The Secretary then lit his cigar, gave one to me, and proceeded to read slowly and with marked emphasis a very long, strong, and able dispatch, which he told me was to be read by Mr. Adams, the American minister in London, to Lord John Russell. It struck me that the tone of the paper was hostile, that there was an undercurrent of menace through it, and that it contained insinuations that Great Britain would interfere to split up the Republic, if she could, and was pleased at the prospect of the dangers which threatened it."
"At all the stronger passages Mr. Seward raised his voice, and made a pause at their conclusion as if to challenge remark or approval. At length I could not help saying, that the dispatch would, no doubt, have an excellent effect when it came to light in congress, and that the Americans would think highly of the writer; but I ventured to express an opinion that it would not be quite so acceptable to the Government and people of Great Britain. This Mr. Seward, as an American statesman, had a right to make but a secondary consideration. By affecting to regard Secession as a mere political heresy which can be easily confuted, and by forbidding foreign countries alluding to it, Mr. Seward thinks he can establish the supremacy of his own Government, and at the same time gratify the vanity of the people. Even war with us may not be out of the list of those means which would be available for re-fusing the broken Union into a mass once more. However, the Secretary is quite confident in what he calls 're-action.' 'When the Southern States,' he says, 'see that we mean them no wrong - that we intend no violence to persons, rights, or things - that the Federal Government seeks only to fulfill obligations imposed on it in respect to the national property, they will see their mistake, and one after another they will come back into the Union.' Mr. Seward anticipates this process will at once begin, and that Secession will all be done and over in three months - at least, so he says. It was after midnight ere our conversation was over."24
Seward's belligerent attitude toward England was well noted abroad.
Historian Richard N. Current noted: "There is, to begin with, the Duke of Newcastle incident. According to the Duke, Seward told him at a Washington dinner party in November 1860: If I am to be secretary of state, it will 'become my duty to insult England, and I mean to do so.' When the British took this as a threat, Seward denied having said it. Then, two years later, he remembered having said something like that, but insisted he had only meant that he must somehow counteract the Democratic charge that the Republicans were pro-British."25 Lincoln reined in Seward when necessary. He had Seward notify the British that "the President is solicitous to show his high appreciation of every demonstration of consideration for the United States which the British government feels itself at liberty to make. He instructs me, therefore, to say that the prompt and cordial manner in which you were received...is very gratifying to this government.'"26
But there may have been method in Seward's madness toward Britain. Historian Brian Jenkins wrote that "especially in his attitude toward the crucially important British, Seward was governed by three considerations. First, as a politician, he recognized the need to retain the confidence of his countrymen. One well-traveled way was to parade an 'energetic and vigorous resistance to English injustice.' In short, and not to put too fine a point on it, he intended to appeal to that large reservoir of anglophobia in the United States. Second, he was determined to exhibit absolute confidence in the permanence of the Union." And, third, Jenkins believed that dissolution of the United States was a dangerous precedent for the British union.27 Seward looked for audiences before which to parade his belligerence, but British attitudes toward Americans tended to be negative. Historian Gordon H. Warren wrote: "While some Britons thought well of the United States - and lauded its high literacy rate, humane laws, small standing army, and the practicality and generosity of its people - offensive opinions still dominated public thinking. British travelers, who were generally well-to-do, did not differentiate between Northerners and Southerners except by attributing to them varying degrees of rudeness."28
One key to U.S.-British relations was the experienced and able British minister in Washington, Lord Richard Lyons. Historian Craig L. Symonds wrote: "Lyons was not particularly impressed by the new administration, reporting privately in London that 'Mr. Lincoln has not hitherto given proof of his possessing any natural talents to compensate for his ignorance of everything but Illinois village politics.'"29 Historian Gordon H. Warren wrote of Lyons: "The minister had flaws, but he was not incompetent and he was at least as qualified as his recent predecessors....Unfortunately for relations between the two countries, Lyons's dispatches produced deep unrest and a sense of impending disaster within the London cabinet, and persuaded high civilian and military officials that war with the United States was almost a certainty."30 In an August 12, 1861 dispatch to British Foreign Minister Lord Russell, Lord Lyons wrote:
Considerable embarrassment has been felt by the Government of the United States in determining what do, during the war, with slaves captured by the United States armies, or taking refuge with them. The uncompromising Abolitionist Party desired that Slaves should be declared ipso facto free; and that every encouragement should be held out to the Slaves in the South to fly from their masters to the protection of Northern troops. The opposite Party maintained that, notwithstanding the war, the law should be maintained, and fugitive Slaves be in all cases restored to their masters. A temporary solution of the difficulty was devised by General Butler and very generally acted upon. This officer declared 'Slaves' to be 'contraband of war,' and as such, liable to seizure by the army.
Congress passed an act, which was confirmed by the President on the 6th instant, confiscating all Slaves employed by their masters against the Government of the United States; and the Secretary of War on the 8th instant, issued instructions to the army on the subject.31
The Trent Incident
Belligerence took a concrete form in the early fall 1861. On October 12, two would-be Confederate diplomats left Charleston for Havana, Cuba. On board were James Mason of Virginia, bound for England, and John Slidell of Louisiana, bound for France. At Havana, the two boarded a British ship, the Trent while at another port Captain Charles Wilkes heard about the two diplomats and resolved to capture them. On November 8, Captain Charles Wilkes and his ship, the U.S. San Jacinto stopped the Trent on November 8 and the Confederate emissaries were taken into Union custody. Historian John Taylor wrote: "The location of the Confederate commissioners was no secret, and an American naval officer made plans to do something about them. Capt. Charles Wilkes of the San Jacinto was a veteran of the Old Navy; after more than four decades of service, his reputation was that of an insubordinate, impulsive, overzealous, and yet fairly efficient' officer."32
Lincoln scholar Charles Segal wrote: "While Wilkes under international law, had the belligerent right to search the Trent for contraband, he had no right to make an arrest at sea. He could have ordered the Trent into port for adjudication by a prize court, but this he did not do. Instead, he violated the rights of a neutral nation by seizing Mason and Slidell."33 Historians Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen wrote: "Wilkes's unauthorized (and unwise) act threatened to do what the Rebels themselves had been unable to accomplish, namely, to bring in Britain as a Confederate ally."34 Slidell and Mason were imprisoned at Fort Warren in Boston and the Trent continued on to England where news of Wilkes' actions caused a diplomatic storm. American public opinion was strongly supportive of Wilkes' unauthorized acts.
Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln may have briefly shared his constituents' glee, but within hours of receiving the news, he realized that Mason and Slidell had to be surrendered."35 President Lincoln had to balance public opinion with private diplomacy. Lincoln scholar William Lee Miller observed: "Although avoiding war was mandatory, it was also quite important to let the air out of the balloon of truculent American jubilation slowly - not to puncture it abruptly. American pride could be assuaged by showing that seen as we yielded, we achieved something at the same time - we brought Great Britain over to our view on freedom of the seas."36 Whether or not the Lincoln Administration authorized the actions of Captain Wilkes was crucial to resolving the crisis. In a letter to Charles Sumner, British leader John Bright proposed a moderate American approach to his country: "You would not have authorized such an act against a friendly nation, calculated to rouse hostile feelings against you; you repudiate any infraction of international law; the capture of the Commissioners is of no value when set against the loss of that character for justice and courtesy which you have always sustained; and you are willing to abide by the law as declared by impartial arbitration."37
The British government reacted to Wilkes' action with great seriousness. Historian Philip Van Doren Stern noted Prime Minister Palmerston and Foreign Minister Russell were the architects of Britain's policies toward the United States: "The fact that they were part of a Coalition Government, which could easily be turned out of office, made them wary about taking chances. This, of course, worked for the benefit of the North. Both had been born in the eighteenth century; both brought to their work a lifetime of experience in getting along with the men who ruled the nations of the world; both had held practically every high post in the British Government."38 Palmerston was anti-slavery and anti-intervention but that was not the perception in America where Russell was perceived as more inclined to the North than Palmerston.
In the Trent crisis, both governments acted deliberately, but English newspapers were less restrained than the Palmerston government. "Abraham Lincoln," editorialized the London Morning Chronicle, "has proved himself a feeble confused, and little minded mediocrity. Mr. Seward, the firebrand at his elbow, is exerting himself to provoke a quarrel with all Europe, in that spirt of senseless egotism that induces the Americans, with their dwarf fleet and shapeless mass of incoherent squads they call an army, to fancy themselves the equals of France by land and of Great Britain by sea. If the Federal states could be rid of these two mischief-makers, it might yet redeem itself in the sight of the world."39
Still, the risk of war was great. Historian Richard Carwardine wrote: "Only slowly, while Britain ordered naval and military reinforcements to Canada and the eastern Atlantic, did Lincoln come to appreciate the depth of the crisis. Once more he benefited from regular discussions with Sumner, whose friendship with the English Liberal reformers, John Bright and Richard Cobden, made the senator a barometer of British opinion. There was real risk, Sumner knew that the hysteria of the 'Rule Britannia' political class might force Palmerston to act in defense of British honor."40 Lincoln scholar Jay Monaghan wrote: "Lincoln listened to the popular acclaim of Charles Wilkes and decided that it would be unwise to release the prisoners. Yet William H. Russell, Lord Lyons, all the diplomats, insisted among themselves that the men must be given up or England would fight."41
President Lincoln had already dispatched several private emissaries to Europe, including New York Cardinal John Hughes, General Winfield Scott, and Albany editor Thurlow Weed, all of whom were close to Secretary Seward. Weed was anxious to help but ignorant of American policy. His grandson, Thurlow Weed Barnes, wrote: "Despatches concerning the Trent affair which were to go out to Lord Lyons for transmission to our government were forwarded by Lord John Russell to the Queen, at whose request Prince Albert, though then dangerously ill, reviewed them carefully. In an unofficial conversation with Lord Lyons, before any message reached this country, Mr. Seward intimated that everything would depend upon the wording of it; and it is easy to see that this was the literal truth; for, had England called for the release of Slidell and Mason in insolent or aggravating language, it would have been impossible for the American Secretary of State, acting for a proud, sensitive, and excited nation, to comply."42
Prince Albert's prudence was vital in achieving a resolution of the conflict. Lincoln scholar Jay Monaghan wrote that mood in Britain grew belligerent: "Both parties in Parliament were against war now the crisis had come, but popular clamor could not be ignored. Seward had talked so long and so belligerently that the average Englishman believed, without waiting for confirmation, that the American government sanctioned the capture. This belief increased with a rumor from France. Old General Scott was reported as saying that the American cabinet had planned the capture to excite a war. He, Scott, had come to enlist France on the Northern side, humiliate England, and take Canada."43
President Lincoln needed to defuse the diplomatic situation without demoralizing northern opinion, which strongly approved of the affront to the British government. Historian Philip Van Doren Stern observed, "The Trent Affair did not become explosive until news of it reached England. Adams, who was out of town on November 27, when word arrived, hurried back to London. He could learn nothing except what he read in the papers, for the State Department had not sent him any information and did not do so for days. When Russell called upon him for an explanation, he had to admit that he had not yet heard from Washington. Perhaps, he intimated hopefully, the fact that he had not been advised meant that Wilkes had acted without orders."44 Meanwhile, Secretary Seward was working behind the scenes to mollify the British government. Seward biographer Frederic Bancroft noted: "In a confidential despatch of November 27th Seward informed Adams that Wilkes had acted without instructions, and that, as Lord Lyons had not referred to the incident, 'I thought it equally wise to reserve ourselves until we hear what the British government may have to say on the subject.' Three days later he wrote that 'we think it more prudent that the ground taken by the British government should be first made known to us here, and that the discussion, if there must be one, shall be had here.'"45
American Minister Charles Francis Adams recalled, "Four dispatches were drawn up on the same day, the 30th of November, three of them addressed to the British minister at Washington, Lord Lyons, and one to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. All of them distinctly anticipated an immediate rupture, and made provision for the event. One of these, very carefully prepared, instructed Lord Lyons to protest against the offensive act, and in the case the Secretary of State should not voluntarily offer redress by a delivery of the men, to make a demand of their restoration. The second directed Lord Lyons to permit of no delay of an affirmative answer beyond seven days. Should no such answer appear within that time, his lordship was formally instructed to withdraw with all his legation and all the archives of the legation, and to make the best of his way to London. The fourth letter, address to the Admiralty, contained instruction to prepare all the naval officers stationed in America for the breaking out of hostilities." 46
The President wanted freedom to resolve the crisis peacefully. Congress, which returned to work at the beginning of December, presented a problem for President Lincoln. Historian David P. Crook wrote: "A respectable number of Congressmen were willing to give the administration a free hand over Trent, but a majority preferred that Congress should not abdicate its high functions during a war crisis. For his part Lincoln did not welcome a contentious debate in Congress which might embarrass negotiations, and Sumner labored successfully to stall discussion in the Senate. Nor did the President desire unnecessary cabinet deliberations."47 The Lincoln administration response inevitably played out in the public. Historian Philip Van Doren Stern wrote: "When Americans saw how violent British opinion was, stock prices went down and gold went up. Apprehension replaced the wild enthusiasm that had originally greeted Wilkes' action."48 Historian Gordon H. Warren wrote: "American officials, at every level, like their Canadian and British counterparts, worried over the condition of Atlantic coastal defenses. Every available gun was an obsolete smoothbore, not help against ironclad warships. The largest and most important commercial city, New York, lay open to a hostile fleet."49
Canadian foreign minister Alexander T. Galt came to Washington and met with President Lincoln and former Massachusetts Congressman George Ashmun on December 4. Galt "said that while we held the most friendly feelings to the U[nited] S[tates], we thought from the indications given of the views of the Govern[nmen]t & the tone of the press, that it was possibly their [the American] intention to molest us, & that the existence of their enormous armed force might be a serious peril hereafter. [The] P.[resident] replied that the press neither here nor in England, as he had the best reason to know, reflected the real views of either Gov[ernmen]t." Galt concluded his memorandum: "The impression left on my mind has been that the President sincerely deprecates any quarrel with England, and has no hostile designs upon Canada, and his statement that his views were those of all his Cabinet is partly corroborated by the statement made to me by Mr. Seward that he [Seward] should be glad to see Canada placed in a position of defence."50
Historian Gordon H. Warren wrote: "Galt said Ottawa saw the administration's actions and the tone of the press as indicating a desire to molest his country. Answering that the press did not reflect his opinion, Lincoln denied ever hearing a cabinet member express hostile sentiments toward Canada. He pledged as 'a man of honor' that neither he nor any of his cabinet had any desire to disturb Britain's rights in North America. When Ashmun interrupted to say that the Trent affair might cause difficulty, the president replied vaguely that the 'matter could be arranged.'" 51 Galt left the White House optimistic that war could be averted.
On December 15, Seward received word from the British government that it regarded the Trent affair a serious violation of international law. That day, Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning recorded in his diary that while he was visiting President Lincoln. "Mr Seward came in with despatches stating that the British Cabinet had decided that the arrest of Mason and Slidell was a violation of International law, and that we must apologize and restore them to the protection of the British flag. I don't believe England has done so foolish a thing and so told the Prest: & Secy, but if she is determined to force a war upon us why so be it. We will fight her to the death."52 Lincoln scholar Jay Monaghan wrote: "For ten days the British crisis kept Washington in suspense. People forgot McClellan's inactivity to predict fabulous victories over the British navy. Other people were sure that the nation was on the verge of collapse."53
On December 19, Britain formally presented its complaints and on December 23, a Cabinet meeting discussed the American response. The tone of the British demands - which had been softened by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, shortly before he died - helped encourage a conciliatory response from the Lincoln Administration. Albert had drafted the Queen's comments to her government. The Queen wrote; "This draft was the last the beloved Prince ever wrote; he was very unwell at the time, and when he brought it in to the Queen he said: 'I could hardly hold my pen."54 President Lincoln recalled: "Seward studied up all the works ever written on international law, and came to cabinet meetings loaded to the muzzle with the subject. We gave due consideration to the case, but at that critical period of the war it was soon decided to deliver up the prisoners. It was a pretty bitter pill to swallow, but I contented myself with believing that England's triumph in the matter would be short-lived, and that after ending our war successfully we would be so powerful that we could call her to account for all the embarrassments she had inflicted upon us."55 Seward managed to position the American response as an acknowledgment of neutral rights which the United States had always espoused. Historian Phillip G. Henderson wrote: "Seward noted that by siding with Britain in this affair, he was actually defending traditional American doctrines of the freedom of the seas that had been set forth in protest against British violations of neutrality at sea during Madison's administration. Although Secretary Chase and other members of the cabinet were unhappy with the prospect of heeding Seward's advice to release the envoys, they conceded that Seward had made such a powerful argument in favor of such action that they were in agreement that it should be carried out."56
On December 21, Senator Browning recorded that he "went to the Presidents and had a long private interview with him in relation to the affair of the Trent with England He told me that the despatches from England had not yet been delivered by Lord Lyons, but were with held for a few days at Mr Sewards request, but that he had an inkling of what they were, and feared trouble. I told him I was anxious a rupture should be avoided at present if it could be done without humiliation and dishonor, in which he expressed his full concurrence, and we both agreed that the question was easily susceptible of a peaceful solution if England was at all disposed to act justly with us, and suggested that it was a proper case for arbitration. I also said that as some of the rights of neutrals according to the principles of international law have long been in dispute between us and England say to England to make here statement of what the law of Nations is which shall govern this case, and all cases similarly circumstanced now, and forever hereafter, and we will agree to it. The President replied that the same thoughts had occurred to his mind and that he had reduced the propositions to writing He then took from his desk and read me a very able paper, which he intends, at the proper time, shall go as a letter from the Secretary of State to Lord Lyons (it now has that form) and in which both the foregoing propositions are stated with great force and clearness, and very much more in detail than I have given them."57
On December 23, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner wrote English politician John Bright: "The President himself will apply his own mind carefully to every word of the answer, so that it will be essentially his; & he hopes for peace."58 Historian Burton J. Hendrick wrote: "As chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Sumner had considerable claims to Lincoln's confidence, and spent a part of nearly every day with him discussing the Trent question. Sumner saw clearly the issues involved. From the first he was for a peaceful settlement, not only because England has justice on its side, but because he knew that a military conflict would sink his country in disaster."59
Historian David P. Crook wrote: "Press rumors in the days before Christmas gave considerable publicity to 'the Lincoln Play,' but its fatal defects were becoming increasingly obvious. It proposed a policy of procrastination which would, at the least, have caused high exasperation in England. Russell, who had been going over in his mind 'the possible evasive answers of Mr. Seward,' had written to Lyons on December 7 to emphasize that 'What we want is a plan Yes, or a plain No to our very simple demands, and we want that plain Yes or No within seven days of the despatch." The British, however, were trying to give the Lincoln administration space to maneuver. Crook wrote: "Lyons had been carefully briefed. He was not to present the formal demand at his first interview, but to 'prepare' Seward unofficially, and to ask him to settle with the President and his cabinet what course they would pursue."60
Events came to a head on a bright and cool Christmas day that was best chronicled by Attorney General Edward Bates. Historian Burton J. Hendrick observed that the Cabinet was considering "the future of the United States. A stark alternative confronted the council: refusal to accept the British demand meant that, in addition to subduing the South, American army and naval forces would be compelled to add the British Empire to its foes."61 Seward had decided on his course of action but it was still unclear whether the rest of the cabinet would agree with him. Revelations of British feelings about the Trent crisis came as a revelation to hard-line members of the Lincoln cabinet. Bates recalled the four-hour cabinet meeting on December 25: "The instructions of the British Minister to Lord. Lyons were read. They are sufficiently peremptory, and without being very specific as to the precise elements of the wrong done, the 'affront' to the British flag, the point on which the British confidently claim that the law of Nations was broken by us, is that Capt Wilkes did not bring in the Trent, the Steamer for adjudication, so that the matter might be judged by a prize court, and not by the Capt, on his quarter deck."
Then was read a draft of answer by the Secretary of State -
But before treating of that, I wish to note down several matters of interest that occurred in the session, tending to explain and give color to various parts of the transaction.
Genl Cameron said that his Assistant Mr. Scott had rec'd a letter from Mr. Smith (our agent in England for bringing soldiers' to the effect - i.e. that Mr. Smith had rec'd information from respectable sources in London, that Commander Williams, the British mail agent on board the Trent, had declared that the whole matter, and measures of the capture had been arranged at Havanna by the Commissioners, Slidell and Mason themselves, and our Capt Wilkes'.
This might seem incredible, if it stood alone, but that something of the sort was variously reported and believed, in well informed circles in England, is a fact, shown by other corroborative facts. For during the session, Senator Sumner (who as chairman of the Committee of Foreign relations) was invited in, to read some letters which he had just rec'd from England - from the two celebrated M. Ps. John Bright and Richard Cobden - One of those letters - Bright's I think - states, as news of the day, that at Havanna sic Slidell and Mason dined with Capt Wilkes on Board his ship San Jacinto and then and there arranged for the capture, just as it was, in fact, done!...
I must doubt the truth of this statement in as much as it seriously implicates Capt. Wilkes.62
Bates continued: "But, on the part of Mason and Slidell the policy is obvious and they could bring on a rupture between us and England - actual war or even a threatening quarrel - they would gain by a single stroke more than they could hope to accomplish by years of negotiation.
These letters tend to show that in England there is about one feeling - all against us - about the capture. The passions of Mr. Bull are thoroughly aroused about his dignity and the honor of his flag.
The opposition Lord Derby relied upon it, as a fit occasion, to force a ministerial crisis, and the administration. Lord. Palmerston, Russell were, or had to be, quite as warm in assuming to be the special guardians of the national honor! So the whole nation is of one mind and must have satisfaction.
2 The French government fully agrees with England that seisure of Slidell and Mason, as made (i.e. without bringing the Trent, for adjudication) was a breech of the laws of nations. And this appears by the instructions sent to Mr. Mercier, the minister here, who has furnished Mr. Seward with a copy.
Partly by the letter of instructions, but mainly by letters our own minister, Mr. Dayton, and divers private letters, it appears that France is in a very bad condition in regard to trade and finance, oweing in a large measure as the French suppose, to our blockade (which besides the cotton trade cuts off the whole commerce of Boardeaux in wines, fruits, and silks with New Orleans, Mobiel and Charleston - In short, if England can pick a quarrel with us, on the pretence of this seisure, France will join with England in forceiably opening the blockade and consequently acknowledgeing the Confederate States of America and that is war. And we cannot afford such a war.
"The first and immediate effect would be, to withdraw all our forces, land and naval from the southern coast - The suspension of all our revenue from customs. The distruction of our foreign commerce. The probable capture of our sea ports - and ills innumerable - The scene would be reversed! The southern coast would be open and the northern blockaded.
"In such an event, it would be small satisfaction to us to believe, as I do, that it would be sure to light up the torch of war allover Europe, the effects of which upon christendom I am no wise enough to forsesee.
In such a crisis, with such a civil war upon our hands, we cannat hope for success in a super added war with England, backed by the assent and countenance of France. We must evade it - with as little damage to our own honor and pride as possible. Still we must avoid it now and for the plain reason that now we are not able to meet it. Three months hence if we do half our duty upon the sea coast and upon the Miss-issippi, the case may be very different. And happily for us it is that in yielding to the necessity of the case we do but reaffirm our old principles and carry out into practice the tr[a]ditional policy of the country, as is clearly shown by Mr. Seward in quotations from Mr. Sect. of State, Madisons instructions to our minister to England, Monroe, in 1804.
In his comprehensive but disjoined report, Bates wrote: "Mr. Seward's draft of letter to Lord Lyons was submitted by him and examined and criticised by us with (apparently, perfect candor and frankness;) all of us were impressed with the magnitude of the subject and believed that upon our decision depended the dearest interest, probably the existence of the nation."
In waiving the question of legal right - upon which all Europe is against us, and also many of our own best jurists urged the necessity of the case: that to go to war with England now, is to abandon all hope of suppressing the rebellion: as we have not the possession of the land nor any support of the people of the South. The maratine superiority of Britain would sweep us from all the southern waters! Our trade would be utterly ruined and our treasury bankrupt - In short, that we must not have war with England.
There was great reluctance on the part of some of the members of the cabinet - and even the President himself - to acknowledge these obvious truths: but all yielded to the necesity, and unanimously concurred in Mr. Sewards letter to Lord. Lyons, after some verbal and formal amendments. The main fear I believe, was the displeasure of our own people - lest they should accuse us of timidly truckling to the power of England.
I know not how it happened, but a rumor is currant and pretty extensively believed, that I had much more to do with bringing about the arrangement than the facts would warrant! For instance - as soon as Mr. Sewards letter was published, came Baron Geolt, Prussian minister, with his congratulations upon the result, and in, terms almost direct imputed to me the main views and arguments of Mr. Sewards letter - for which, by he way, he had no better warrant than some similarity of thought expressed by me in previous conversations with him - And since then, the Bremen minister Mr. Schleiden, has talked to me in the same way. Both of them expressed great satisfaction at what they called the honorable settlement of the affair, and said that was the general feeling of the foreign ministers.
"Some representatives of the press also, have gotten the erroneous idea of my supposed influence in the matter. They say that I had difficulty in bringing over two or three members. Coffey tells me this. He heard a prominent letter writer talking in that way to Gov Curtin of Pa. Of course I make no attempt to correct or explain these things the attempt would make the matter worse, and would be a bad precedent.63
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase reported his own observations in his diary that night: "In my judgment, the case stands precisely thus: In taking the rebel Envoys and their Secretaries from the 'Trent,' without invoking or proposing to invoke the sanction of any judicial tribunal, Capt. Wilkes clearly violated the Law of Nations, and in that very principle which the United States have ever most zealously maintained. Great Britain, therefore, has a right to ask from us a disavowal of the act, and the restoration of the person to the condition in which they were taken; and, if this right be insisted on, it is our duty, however disagreeable, to do what is thus asked...
"It is gall and wormwood to me. Rather than consent to the liberation of these men, I would sacrifice everything I possess. But I am consoled by the reflection that while nothing but severest retribution is due to them, the surrender, under existing circumstances, is but simply doing right; simply proving faithful to our own ideas and traditions under strong temptations to violate them; simply giving to England and to the world the most signal proof that the American Nation will not, under any circumstances, for the sake of inflicting just punishment on Rebels, commit even a technical wrong against neutrals."64
Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning, a longtime friend of President Lincoln, went to the White House for Christmas dinner and recorded in his diary: "After the Company had all left the Prest told me they had a cabinet meeting about British affairs to day, and had agreed not to divulge what had occurred, but that there would be no war with England. That whilst the cabinet was in session the French Minister sent them a letter he had just received from his government saying that the European powers were against us on the question of international law, and desired that we should settle the Controversy amicably. Also Sumner sent three letters which he had just recvd from England, one from Bright and two from Cobden, both of whom are our friends, and both urging a settlement, and both saying that the dispositions of the English are friendly - that England does not want war with us, and that if this trouble is settled they will not interfere in our domestic troubles, but leave us to deal with the rebellion as we think proper - "65
Frederick Seward recalled: "After the other gentlemen had retired, the President said: 'Governor Seward, you will go on, of course, preparing your answer, which, as I understand, will state the reasons why they ought to be given up. Now I have a mind to try my hand at stating the reasons why they ought not to be given up. We will compare the points on each side."
My father heartily assented. The mutual confidence between the two had now grown so great, that each felt the other would ask approval of nothing that was not sound. On the next day [December 26] the Cabinet reassembled. The Secretary of State again read his reply. There were some expressions of regret that the step was necessary, but it was adopted without a dissenting voice. The council broke up reassured on the point that war with England was averted, but not without misgivings as to the temper in which the people would receive the decision. The President expressed his approval.66
The Cabinet approved the release of the Confederate diplomats. Ferris wrote: "As Bates stated, everyone present 'yielded to the necessity, and unanimously concur[r] in Mr. Sewards letter to Ld. Lyons, after some verbal and formal amendments.' Then after clerks had worked overnight in the State Department to produce copies of his lengthy revised note, Seward called Lyons to his office early on December 27."67 Frederick Seward recalled: "When the others were gone, my father alluded to their conversation of the day before. 'You thought you might frame an argument for the other side?' Mr. Lincoln smiled and shook his head. 'I found I could not make an argument that would satisfy my own mind,' he said, 'and that proved to me your ground was the right one.'" Young Seward added: "This was characteristic of Lincoln. Presidents and kings are not apt to see flaws in their own arguments. But fortunately for the Union, it had a President at this time who combined a logical intellect with an unselfish heart."68
Senator Sumner wrote to one of his English friends on December 31: "On reaching Washington for the opening of Congress, I learned from the Presdt. & from Mr Seward, that neither had committed himself on the Trent affair, & that it was absolutely an unauthorized act. Seward told me that he was reserving himself in order to see what view England would take. It would have been better to act on the case at once & to make the surrender in conformity with our best precedents; but next to that was the course pursued. Nothing was said in the message, - nor in conversation. Lord Lyons was not seen from the day of the first news until he called with his Letter from Ld Russell. The question was not touched in the cabinet. It was also kept out of the Senate, that there might be no constraint upon the absolute freedom that was desired in meeting it. I may add, that I had cultivated with regard to myself the same caution."69 Sumner quoted President Lincoln as saying: "I never see Lord Lyons. If it were proper, I should like to talk with him that he might hear from my lips how much I desire peace. If we could talk together he would believe me."70
President Lincoln himself later recalled: "Seward studied up all the works ever written on international law and came to cabinet meetings loaded to the muzzle with the subject. We gave due consideration to the case, but at that critical period of the war it was soon decided to deliver up the prisoners. It was a pretty bitter pill to swallow, but I contented myself with believing that England's triumph in the matter would be short-lived, and that after ending our war successfully, we would be so powerful that we could call her to account for all the embarrassments she had inflicted upon us."71
Two days after Christmas, noted Frederick Seward, "there were several guests at dinner at our house, among them Mr. and Mrs. [John J.] Crittenden, and Anthony Trollope, the novelist. Afterward came friends who, hearing rumors of a decision in the Trent matter, desired to have them verified, and to thank the Secretary for extricating the country from its dilemma. Coupled with their compliments, however, were many regrets, that the act must inevitably doom him to unpopularity, since the people would resent the loss of their prisoners, and would deem themselves humiliated by their surrender. 'It was too bad that he must sacrifice himself.'"72 The senior Seward briefed key senators and they agreed on the course taken by the Lincoln Administration. Those included New York Senators Ira Harris and Preston King, Illinois Senator Browning and Massachusetts Senator Sumner. Ferris wrote that Seward "read them the documents pertaining to the Trent affair which he was about to release to the newspapers. Included among those documents were the British ultimatum, his own reply thereto, Thouvenel's dispatch on the subject, Seward's reply to that, and, finally, the secretary's conciliatory instruction regarding the seizure of Mason and Slidell which he had sent on November 30 to Adams at London. When Seward finished reading all these papers, the assembled senators apparently 'all agreed with him' that the captured Southern diplomats 'should be given up.'"73
On December 28, the Confederate diplomatic duo were handed over to British officials. Historian Phillip G. Henderson noted "As the Trent affair makes clear, while Lincoln was clearly in charge of his cabinet, he was willing, indeed eager, to draw upon the talents and good ideas of those who served in the cabinet, often refining and improving their contributions."74 Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote: "It was in the strategic interests of neither [country] to be swept into war. But rational action follows only from rational thought, and for that the decision-makers on both sides can take credit. Of these, none was more responsible than Lincoln for the preservation of a wary peace. Throughout he was a restraining influence, dampening rather than stoking the fires of chauvinism....He readily listened and deferred to those from whom he could learn, notably Sumner and a now statesmanlike Seward, who well knew when and when not to be bellicose, and who enjoyed good personal relations with Lord Lyons."75 Historian Michael Burlingame noted: "The Palmerston government waived the demand for reparations and an apology, viewing the release of Mason and Slidell as a gesture sufficiently conciliatory to end the crisis."76
Seward clearly knew when to threaten war and when to make peace. Historian Burton J. Hendrick wrote: "The Trent episode made clear that Seward had other resources of diplomacy than menacing threats against the most powerful nations of Europe. Perhaps his skillful behavior when confronted with the contingency he had apparently so long hoped for sheds a new light upon the motives which had inspired these explosive moments.77 Seward promoted a belligerent image of the United States, which was in turn accepted in the top councils of Britain. Hendrick noted that Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin complained about "the thorough conviction entertained by the British ministry that the United States are ready to declare war against England...it is impossible not to admire the sagacity with which Mr. Seward penetrated into the secret feelings of the British cabinet and the success of his policy of intimidation, which the world at large supposed would be met with prompt resentment, but which he, with deeper insight into the real policy of that cabinet, foresaw would be followed by submissive acquiescence in his demands."78 Seward's belligerence and Lincoln's prudence effectively kept France and England out of the war.
They also knew how to massage communiations. Communications scholar Richard B. Kielbowicz wrote that "the State Department learned that telegraphic speed combined with journalistic enterprise could disrupt diplomacy's deliberative pace and formal protocol."79 He wrote: "When the administration finally crafted an answer, the state Department embargoed all telegraph reports mentioning the Trent affair until the formal correspondence was safely on its way to England. On Friday, December 27, the United States agreed to surrender the Confederate emissaries and gave the British diplomat a letter, written by Seward and debated by the cabinet, for transmission to London."80
"Amidst the wild excitement created by this international interlude, the President alone maintained an imperturbable calmness and composure," wrote U.S. Marshall Ward Hill Lamon, a close Lincoln friend. "From the very first moment he regarded the capture of the Commissioners as unwise and inexpedient. He was heard to say repeatedly that it would lead to dangerous complications with England. 'Unfortunately,' said he, 'we have played into the hands of that wily power, and placed in their grasp a whip with which to scourge us.' He went on to say further that the 'Trent' affair had occurred at the most inopportune and critical period of the war, and would greatly tend to its prolongation by creating a genuine bond of sympathy between England and the insurgent States."81
Historian David P. Crook wrote: "One long-term result of the Trent crisis was to stimulate northern propaganda campaigns abroad. Efforts were made in particular to counteract the enmity of the upper classes in England by appeals to middle and working class opinion. The affair also lent weight to the emancipation program of the Radical Republicans. The war must have a clearer character, that of an antislavery crusade, if overseas opinion was to support it."82
Cotton and the Confederacy
Both Union victories and the Union blockade helped stymie English support for the Confederacy. The blockade, though leaky at first, strengthened and slowed Confederate trade. Historian James M. McPherson noted that Union military victories at the beginning of 1862 led France and England to back off their planned intervention in the conflict. McPherson wrote: "Charles Francis Adams, American minister to Britain, reported that, as a consequence of Union victories, 'the pressure for interference here has disappeared.' His son Henry Adams, private secretary to the minister, added that 'the talk of intervention, only two months ago so loud as to take a semi-official tone, is now out of the minds of everyone."83
Secretary Seward tried to pacify Europe on the subject of cotton exports. Historian Dean B. Mahin wrote: "During the winter of 1861-62 Seward assured Britain and France that a significant volume of cotton would soon be exported to Europe through Confederate ports captured by Union forces. Lincoln thought that the United States should 'show the world we were fair in this matter, favoring outsiders as much as ourselves.; Although he was 'by no means sure that [the planters] would bring their cotton to the port after we opened it, it would be well to show Europe that it was secession that distressed them and not we.'"84 Historian Hendrick noted: "The Declaration of Paris, to which Great Britain and the United States subscribed, had declared that a blockade to be respected, must be 'effective.'"85 Historian Richard Striner wrote that "the cotton embargo of the South was beginning to succeed in the summer of 1862: the British warehouse supplies were exhausted and a major 'cotton famine' was creating unemployment in the British textile industry. Pro-Confederate sentiment was growing in parliament, and one thing alone held it back: the long-standing anti-slavery feelings of the British electorate. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation - so politically risky at home - could bring tremendous benefits abroad. But, would the moment arrive soon enough to avert a Confederate diplomatic coup?."86
Historian Christopher J. Olsen wrote: "Without British intervention, the Union blockade slowly strangled Southern exports and imports, and eventually crippled the Confederacy's ability to pay for the war and meet some basic needs. The blockade was a daunting task, of course, given the Confederacy's size and long coastline..."87 Fortunately for the Union, British officials abided by inventive constructions of admiralty law that supported American seizures of vessels breaking the blockade.88 The British foreign ministry assented to the American interpretation of "continuous voyage." Burton Hendrick noted that although the loose and leaky Union blockade technically violated the Treaty of Paris, it was a convenient precedent for the British in case they needed in wartime to declare a loose blockade of Europe.89
British-American relations faced another crisis in the summer of 1862 when Confederate victories seemed to tip the war in their favor. Britain and France seemed on the verge of some kind of intervention. In September, the Confederate defeat at Antietam and President Lincoln's Draft Emancipation Proclamation a few days later stalled the British from making any formal moves to help the Confederacy. Once Britain and France saw the Civil War as a war against slavery, intervention was improbable even though France continued to entertain such possibilities during the fall of 1862. Historian James M. McPherson wrote: "The French asked Britain to join in a proposal for a six-month armistice in the American war during which the blockade would be lifted, cotton exports would be renewed, and peace negotiations would begin. France also approached Russia, which refused to take part in such an obviously pro-Confederate scheme. On November 12 the British cabinet also rejected it after two days of discussion in which Secretary for War Sir George... Lewis led the opposition to invention."90 Such intervention would have less violent but equally injurious to Union interests.
Secretary of State Seward consistently rebuffed any suggestions of European involvement in setting the Civil War. Historian Hans L. Trefousse noted: "The repeated setbacks of Union armies strengthened pro-Confederate movements abroad, and Great Britain especially seemed to be edging closer to recognition of the Southern Government. Only July 18, Confederate sympathizer William Lindsay's motion for mediation was discussed in the House of Commons. Although it was not acted upon, when on August 4 Lincoln received news of the debate, he could hardly overlook the fact that friends of the Confederacy had cited his disallowance of Frémont's and Hunter's orders as proof of their contention that slavery was not an issue in the American Civil War. Long standing arguments for antislavery measures to prevent foreign interference were reinforced."91
After President Lincoln issued the Final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the note from the British Charge d'Affaires, William Stuart,to the British Foreign Minister was brief: "I have the honor to enclose a Proclamation of the President of the United States, which was dated yesterday and published this morning, declaring the prospective emancipation of slaves on the 1st of January next, 'within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States." Stuart was much more voluble four days later in describing an order of suspension Habeas Corpus, which he called an "unprecedented usurpation of power." Two days later, he reported that Secretary of State Seward "authorized me to inform Your Lordship that the United States Government would be ready to conclude a convention with Great Britain for the purposes of enabling Her Majesty's Government to transport from this country such of the Negroes who have lately been, or who may become, emancipated, as may be found willing to emigrate to Her Majesty's West Indian or other tropical possessions."92
In London, the response was mixed. "British officials reacted in predictable fashion to the Emancipation Proclamation; they expressed alarm over the ever-heartening fierceness of the war and supported intervention as an act of humanity," wrote historian Howard Jones.93 Lord Palmerston, Britain's Prime Minister, disdained the Emancipation Proclamation. "It is not easy to estimate how utterly powerless and contemptible a government must have become which could sanction such...trash.'"94 The London Morning Post took a similar position: "Abraham Lincoln, finding his authority waning, even where it is still nominally recognised, has determined to vindicate it where it is entirely ignored. He has failed to subjugate the Southern States by his legions, and in his extremity has decided on effecting his purpose by a scratch of his pen."95 Historian Richard Allen Heckman concluded that "British newspapers with conservative and moderate persuasions were generally hostile to the Emancipation Proclamation. Liberal newspapers, although more sympathetic to anti-slavery forces, manifest[ed] serious objections to the methods and motives of the Union government in its attempt to end slavery....Many of the reactions to the Proclamation took the form of personal attacks upon the Chief Executive."96 Certainly, the London Times was not persuaded of President Lincoln's wisdom. It called the Emancipation Proclamation Mr. Lincoln's "last card." The Times warned that a slave uprising might ensue. It editorialized that "when blood begins to flow and shrieks come piercing through the darkness, Mr. Lincoln will wait until the rising flames tell that all is consummated, and then he will rub his hands and think that revenge is sweet."97
Lincoln understood that the Emancipation Proclamation would be a two-edged sword in relations with the British government. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote that "the idea that the Proclamation would work as a kind of talisman to ward off the unwelcome attentions of the British and the French had far less importance for Lincoln than is often assumed. 'It would help somewhat,' he admitted to the Chicago clergymen, 'though not so much I fear, as you and those you represent imagine.' If anything, Lincoln had to fear more that the British would intervene because of an emancipation proclamation than they would without one."98 Nevertheless, the impact in England was significant. 'The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us here than all our former victories and all our diplomacy," wrote the son of the U.S. Minister in England. "It is creating an almost convulsive reaction in our favor all over this country."99 Lord Russell and Lord Palmerston pushed a French proposal for intervention, but at a British cabinet meeting on November 11, 1862, they were virtually alone in their support. And even Palmerston's support was half-hearted; the proposal was rejected. Historian Howard Jones wrote of the British decision not to intervene: "The key consideration was British concern over antagonizing the Union. Indeed, neither side on the intervention issue in England highly opposition to slavery as its chief motive. But even though slavery did not emerge as a moral consideration in the heated British deliberations over intervention, it nonetheless remained a dominant force in the background by threatening to stir up a major political fallout from any ministerial decision supporting the slaveholding South and by encouraging the ever-present fear of slave uprisings caused by emancipation."100
Historian Dean B. Mahin wrote: "Lincoln and Seward would certainly have rejected any offer of British or joint mediation as summarily as they subsequently rejected a unilateral offer of French mediation. There was no chance that Lincoln would have accepted an armistice. Suspension of the blockade for six months would have eliminated all the advantage the Union had derived from its massive blockade efforts in 1861 and 1862."101 In early December 1862, Charleston Consul Robert Bunch had written to Lyons: "Your Lordship is aware that the measure indicated by the so-called Emancipation Proclamation of Mr. Lincoln is to go into full effect on the 1st of January next. There are those who apprehend a rising of the Negroes in the seceded states at or about that time. Personally I do not share these apprehensions, which I believe to be chimerical, at any rate so far as cities or large towns are concerned. But there is always a possibility of insurrection, whether remote the possibility may appear."102
The machinations of the British government were hard to follow. Historian Burton J. Hendrick wrote "the publication of Spencer Walpole's Life of Lord John Russell in 1889....made clear a hitherto unknown fact; that Lord John Russell was the prime mover for recognition of Southern independence in August-November, 1862." Although Palmerston often did favor the South, Hendrick wrote, "Russell, from the firing of the first gun, looked upon the American Union as a thing of the past....To bring the struggle to a close as quickly as possible and end the useless shedding of blood, as well as toe end the suffering in England directly caused by it, was, in Russell's mind, his chief duty as a statesman."103 Russell, like Palmerston, came to understand that continued efforts to meddle in the Civil War would have the fall of their government."104
Throughout the Civil War, President Lincoln was careful to cultivate official and private opinion in England and elsewhere in Europe. "Lincoln recognized more and more the potential positive impact of emancipation on foreign affairs. In September 1861 the Union minister in Spain, Carl Schurz, assured Seward that a White House declaration against slavery would unite Europe against the South. Early the following year Schurz returned to the United States and talked with the president about using an antislavery pronouncement to block foreign intervention," wrote historian Howard Jones.105 "Lincoln carefully selected careful agents to work on public opinion in England. Thurlow Weed, prominent journalist, was one; Robert J. Walker, financier and governor of Kansas, another; Henry Ward Beecher, famous clergyman, and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom's Cabin fame, a third," wrote historian Roy F. Nichols.106 President Lincoln told New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in February 1863 that "the emancipation policy" was "not having yet effect so much good here at home as had been promised or predicted." The President noted, however that the Emancipation Proclamation "had helped us decidedly in our foreign relations."107
Although the British government and British press acted badly toward the American government, Mr. Lincoln had his supporters in the London Emancipation Society formed in the winter of 1862-63. Mr. Lincoln also had prominent political admirers in England, including John Bright and Richard Cobden. New Jersey Congressman (James M. Scovel recalled traveling to England in 1863: "By a sea-coal fire, late in a November night, Mr. Cobden gave me his opinion of Abraham Lincoln: 'This century has produced no man like Lincoln. Here is a man who has risen from manual labor to the presidency of a great people. To me he seems to be the man God has raised up to give courage and enthusiasm to a people unused to war, fighting what seems to me to be a doubtful battle in the greatest conflict of modern times. I like Mr. Lincoln's intense veneration for what is true and good. His conscience and his heart are ruled by his reason."108
President Lincoln found common cause with England in restraining the slave trade. A treaty of cooperation against the slave trafficking was passed by the U.S. Senate on April 24, 1862. Lincoln biographers Nicolay and Hay wrote of the anti-slave trade treaty with Britain: "No less to fulfill the dictates of propriety and justice than for its salutary influence on the opinion of foreign nations....[the president] secured the passage of 'An act to carry into effect the treaty between the United States and Her Britannic Majesty for the suppression of the African slave trade,' approved July 11, 1862. That this action betokened more than mere hollow profession and sentiment is evinced by the fact that under the prosecution of the Government, the slave-trader Nathaniel P. Gordon was convicted and hanged in New York on the 21st of February, 1862, this being the first execution for such crime under the laws of the United States, after their enforcement had been neglected and their extreme penalty denied for forty years."109
This treaty was an important event in Ango-American relations and an important event in the eradication of the slave trade. Historian David P. Crook wrote: "By providing for a peacetime right of search under strictly prescribed conditions, the treaty resolved a problem which had bedevilled Anglo-American relations for half a century: how to permit the Royal Navy to destroy the slave trade on the high seas while preserving immunity for American neutral rights."110 Historian Howard Jones noted: "The pact was primarily attributable to the White House effort to block British intervention on behalf of the South, but it also fitted nicely with the rapidly developing shift in the Union's policy toward slavery....The British had long sought such a treaty from the United States, and now the moral basis of the projected move had meshed with the realistic needs of the war to necessitate a sharper definition of the Union's position on slavery."111
The treaty also involved an elaborate charade on Seward's part, according to historian A. Taylor Milne, in which Seward appeared to lead the negotiations and then quibble with the British: "It was made to appear that Seward opened the negotiation on March 22  by writing to Lyons inviting him to sign a Slave Trade treaty, a draft of which he enclosed. Actually this was the identical, printed, British draft, with the formal headings reversed in red ink Lyons played his part by replying with an objection to a clause limiting the duration of the treaty to ten years, but did not desire 'to obstruct or retard the progress of the negotiation.'" Seward and Lyons engaged in a show of contentious negotiation to demonstrate that they were aggressively protect each country's interest rather than collaborating to achieve a common objective.112 The charade made the treaty more palatable with Congress where Radical Republicans were suspicious of Seward's handling of foreign relations. When the Senate ratified the treaty, Seward exclaimed: "Good God! The Democrats have disappeared. This is the greatest act of the administration."113 Seward's enthusiasm was justified. By allowing British warships to board American ships to search for slaves, the treaty had a dramatic effect on the importation of slaves in Cuba where newly imported slaves dropped from 30,473 in 1859-1860 to 143 in 1864-1865.114
British public opinion was not monolithic. Lincoln's policies had important grass roots supporters. President Lincoln commented in February 18t3 that "there were three parties in England: an aristocratic party, which cannot be sorry to see the Republic break up; a class allied to the South through trade relations; and a third, larger, or if not larger, of more import, which sympathizes warmly with the cause of the North."115 At the end of December 1862, the workingmen of Manchester, who had been disastrously affected by the shortage of cotton, addressed a petition to President Lincoln: "As citizens of Manchester, assembled at the Free-Trade Hall, we beg to express our fraternal sentiments toward you and your country. We rejoice in your greatness as an outgrowth of England, whose blood and language you share, whose orderly and legal freedom you have applied to new circumstances, over a region immeasurably greater than our own. We honor your Free States, as a singularly happy abode for the working millions where industry is honored.
One thing alone has, in the past, lessened our sympathy with your country and our confidence in it; we mean the ascendancy of politicians who not merely maintained Negro slavery, but desired to extend and root it more firmly.
Since we have discerned, however, that the victory of the free north, in the war which has so sorely distressed us as well as afflicted you, will strike off the fetters of the slave, you have attracted our warm and earnest sympathy. We joyfully honor you, as the President, and the Congress with you, for many decisive steps toward practically exemplifying your belief in the words of your great founders: 'All men are created free and equal.' You have procured the liberation of the slaves in the district around Washington, and thereby made the centre of your Federation visibly free. You have enforced the laws against the slave-trade, and kept up your fleet against it, even while every ship was wanted for service in your terrible war. You have nobly decided to receive ambassadors from the Negro republics of Hayti and Liberia, thus forever renouncing that unworthy prejudice which refuses the rights of humanity to men and women on account of their color. In order more effectually to stop the slave-trade, you have made with our Queen a treaty, which your Senate has ratified, for the right of mutual search. Your Congress has decreed freedom as the law forever in the vast unoccupied or half unsettled Territories which are directly subject to its legislative power. It has offered pecuniary aid to all States which will enact emancipation locally, and has forbidden your Generals to restore fugitive slaves who seek their protection. You had entreated the slave-masters to accept these moderate offers; and after long and patient waiting, you, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, have appointed to-morrow, the first of January, 1863, as the day of unconditional freedom for the slaves of the rebel states.
Heartily do we congratulate you and your country on this humane and righteous course. We assume that you cannot now stop short of complete uprooting of slavery. It would not become us to dictate any details, but there are broad principles of humanity which must guide you. If complete emancipation in some States be deferred, though only to a predetermined day, still in the interval, human beings should not be counted chattels. Women must have the rights of chastity and maternity, men the rights of husbands, masters the liberty of manumission. Justice demands for the black, no less than for the white, the protection of law - that his voice be heard in your courts. Nor must any such abomination be tolerated as slave-breeding States, and a slave market - if you are to earn the high reward of all your sacrifices, in the approval of the universal brotherhood and of the Divine Father. It is for your free country to decide whether any thing but immediate, and total emancipation can secure the most indispensable rights of humanity against the inveterate wickedness of local laws and local executives.
We implore you, for your own honor and welfare, not to faint in your providential mission. While your enthusiasm is aflame, and the tide of events runs high, let the work be finished effectually. Leave no root of bitterness to spring up and work fresh misery to your children. It is a mighty task, indeed, to reorganize the industry not only of four millions of the colored race, but of five millions of whites. Nevertheless, the vast progress you have made in the short space of twenty months fills us with hope that every stain on your freedom will shortly be removed, and that the erasure of that foul blot upon civilization and Christianity - chattel slavery - during your Presidency will cause the name of Abraham Lincoln to be honored and revered by posterity. We are certain that such a glorious consummation will cement Great Britain to the United States in close and enduring regards. Our interests, moreover, are identified with yours. We are truly one people, though locally separate. And if you have any ill-wishers here, be assured they are chiefly powerless to stir up quarrels between us, from the very day in which your country becomes, undeniably and without exception, the home of the free.
Accept our high admiration of your firmness in upholding the proclamation of freedom."116
President Lincoln responded to the petition several weeks later: "I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the address and resolutions which you sent to me on the eve of the new year.
When I came, on the fourth day of March, 1861, through a free and constitutional election, to preside in the government of the United States, the country was found at the verge of civil war. Whatever might have been the cause, or whosoever the fault, one duty paramount to all others was before me, namely, to maintain and preserve at once the Constitution and the integrity of the federal republic. A conscientious purpose to perform this duty is a key to all the measures of administration which have been, and to all which will hereafter be pursued. Under our form of government, and my official oath, I could not depart from this purpose if I would. It is not always in the power of governments to enlarge or restrict the scope of moral results which follow the policies that they may deem it necessary for the public safety, from time to time, to adopt.
I have understood well that duty of self-preservation rests solely with the American people. But I have at the same time been aware that favor or disfavor of foreign nations might have a material influence in enlarging and prolonging the struggle with disloyal men in which the country is engaged. A fair examination of history has seemed to authorize a belief that the past action and influences of the United States were generally regarded as having been beneficent towards mankind. I have therefore reckoned upon the forbearance of nations. Circumstances, to some of which you kindly allude, induced me especially to expect that if justice and good faith should be practiced by the United States, they would encounter no hostile influence on the part of Great Britain. It is now a pleasant duty to acknowledge the demonstration you have given of your desire that a spirit of peace and amity towards this country may prevail in the councils of your Queen, who is respected and esteemed in your own country only more than she is by the kindred nation which has its home on this side of the Atlantic.
I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the workingmen at Manchester and in all Europe are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow this government, which was built upon the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery, was likely to obtain the favor of Europe. Through the actions of our disloyal citizens the workingmen of Europe have been subjected to a severe trial, for the purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt. Under these circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterance upon the question as an instance of sublime Christina heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country. It is, indeed, an energetic and reinspiring assurance of the inherent power of truth and of ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity, and freedom. I do not doubt that the sentiments you have expressed will be sustained by your great nation, and, on the other hand, I have no hesitation in assuring you that they will excite admiration, esteem, and the most reciprocal feelings of friendship among the American people. I hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an augury that, whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exist between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make the, perpetual.117
In early April 1864, Mr. Lincoln visited with British anti-slavery activist George Thompson, whom he told: "Mr. Thompson, the people of Great Britain, and of other foreign governments, were in one great error in reference to this conflict. They seemed to think that, the moment I was President, I had the power to abolish slavery, forgetting that, before I could have any power whatever, I had to take the oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and execute the laws as I found them. When the Rebellion broke out, my duty did not admit of a question. That was, first, by all strictly lawful means to endeavor to maintain the integrity of the government. I did not consider that I had a right to touch the 'State' institution of 'Slavery' until all other measures for restoring the Union had failed. The paramount idea of the constitution is the preservation of the Union. It may not be specified in so many words, but that this was the idea of its founders is evident; for, without the Union, the constitution would be worthless. It seems clear, then, that in the last extremity, if any local institution threatened the existence of the Union, the Executive could not hesitate as to his duty. In our case, the moment came when I felt that slavery must die that the nation might live! I have sometimes used the illustration in this connection of a man with a diseased limb, and his surgeon. So long as there is a chance of the patient's restoration, the surgeon is solemnly bound to try to save both life and limb; but when the crisis comes, and the limb must be sacrificed as the only chance of saving the life, no honest man will hesitate."118 As President Lincoln was constrained by both law and public opinion to conduct the necessary surgery precipitously. Historian David P. Crook noted: "Fashion now denigrates the view that moral outrage against slavery significantly qualified the calculations of power politics." But, argued Crook, "Moral outrage against slavery strongly affected public sentiment in Britain, and cannot be lightly dismissed in an age when public sentiment exerted unprecedented sway over weak executives in foreign policy."119
Seward's focus continued to be avoiding any European intervention. Historian Dean B. Mahin wrote that in the summer of 1863, "Lincoln and Seward continued to worry about the possibility that some incident would shatter the fragile structure of U.S.-British accommodation. Welles though the orders restricting the Navy's use of Saint Thomas resulted from Seward's 'constant trepidation lest the Navy Department or some navy officer shall embroil us in a war, or make trouble with England.'"120 In the early autumn of 1863, Seward took Washington diplomats on a tour of the New York State to demonstrate the Union's economic struggle. Lincoln scholar Jay Monaghan wrote: "Each day's ride disclosed new wonders of wealth, rich farms, factories with whirring wheels, miles and miles of railroad trains trundling freight, rivers, lakes and canals filled with vessels...."121 According to Seward's son Frederick, "They visited New York and its vicinity, they went up the Hudson, then through the Valley of the Mohawk, then over the hills into Otsego County. They saw Albany, Schenectady, and Little Falls, visited Sharon Springs and Trenton Falls; they spent a night at Cooperstown and sailed on Otsego Lake. They went to Utica, Rome and Syracuse. They stopped at Auburn, visited Seneca Falls and Geneva, traversed Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, saw the mills and factories of Rochester, and the harbour of Buffalo swarming with lake craft, and having its elevators in full operation." Frederick Seward noted that "everyday's ride was a volume of instruction. Hundreds of factories with whirring wheels, thousands of acres of golden harvest fields, miles of railway trains laden with freight, busy fleets on rivers, lakes, and canals, all showed a period of unexampled commercial activity and prosperity."122 Secretary Seward charmed the diplomats and they ended the trip with a better appreciation of the secretary of state and the Lincoln administration.
Compared to his British counterparts, French Emperor Napoleon III was more anxious to intervene in the American conflict, but unwilling to do so alone. His conflict with Russia over Poland in early 1863 pushed Britain even farther away from intervention in the Civil War. Instead, Napoleon himself intervened in Mexico, installing the puppet Maximilian as the Emperor of Mexico, supported by French troops. Before Maximilian departed for Mexico, he visited Emperor Napoleon "to learn from Napoleon just what French support he could depend on in Mexico. M. Mercier hurried to Paris with a last-minute report of Lincoln's attitude. The Frenchman had talked with the President immediately before departing. Lincoln, according to Mercier, had intimated that Maximilian would be recognized by the United States, if Napoleon made no negotiations with the Confederacy. The Emperor beamed with pleasure," wrote Jay Monaghan.123
The Lincoln administration had good reason to distrust Napoleon; the English distrusted Napoleon as well. The Russians mistrusted everyone. The Lincoln administration successfully prevented the French government from further cooperation with Confederate diplomats and from immediate cooperation with Britain regarding intervention in the conflict. Meanwhile, the Lincoln government postponed a confrontation with France over Mexico until after the Civil War had been concluded. Historian Howard Jones wrote: "The threat of war with the Union...acted as a decisive restraint on Napoleon. Paradoxical as it seems," Napoleon "feared that recognition of the Confederacy meant a war with the Union in which he would have no allies. In late November 1863 he had told a British diplomat that such a war 'would spell disaster in the interests of France and would have no possible object.'"124
In Washington, the diplomatic corps did not have a high opinion of the President or the Union. The French minister was an undisguised proponent of the Confederacy. Baron Eduard de Stoeckl, the Russian minister in Washington during the entire Civil War, was contemptuous of President Lincoln, his supposed weakness and his unwillingness to compromise with the South. Lincoln biographer Benjamin Thomas wrote: "Throughout the war Stoeckl considered Lincoln well-meaning but weak, honest but under the dominance of others. May 11, 1861, Stoeckl wrote: "The more complicated the situation becomes the more feeble and undecided he [Lincoln] appears. He admits himself that his task is beyond his powers. Fatigue and anxiety have broken him down physically. As for Mr. Seward, he has not justified, since he has occupied the post of Secretary of State, the reputation that he enjoys. He is completely ignorant of international affairs, while his vanity is such that he does not wish to hear advice from anyone. His arrogance does more harm to the administration than the nullity of most of his colleagues."125
American foreign policy had its own rifts. Throughout the Civil War, Secretary Seward and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner vied for supremacy in the field of foreign affairs - especially where England was concerned. Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote of Sumner: "Having been abroad himself, he knew the necessity for having, especially at that time, the country represented by educated gentlemen, and Mr. Seward often found it a difficult matter to persuade him to consent to the appointment of some rural politician to a place of diplomatic importance. Objection was made to one nomination, on the ground that the person was a drunkard, and a leading Senator came one morning before the Committee to refute the charge. He made quite an argument, closing by saying: 'No, gentlemen, he is not a drunkard. He may, occasionally, as I do myself, take a glass of wine, but I assure you, on the honor of a gentleman, he never gets drunk.' Upon this representation the appointment was favorably reported upon and confirmed by the senate, but it was soon evident that the person was an incorrigible sot, and when it became absolutely necessary to remove him, it leaked out that he had retained and paid the Senator for vouching for his temperate habits."126
During 1861, noted historian Richard J. Carwardine, President Lincoln "benefited from regular discussions with Sumner, whose friendship with the English Liberal reformers, John Bright and Richard Cobden, made the senator a barometer of British opinion."127 Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote: "A curious friendship it was between these two strong men, having as many differences and contrasts as the remarkable and continued affection between Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens. Having said, 'Sumner thinks he runs me,' Lincoln had no fear of evil resulting from the Bostonian's so thinking, and even encouraged the thought. Very slowly had the President during '61 and '62 moved toward what Sumner urged at the beginning, emancipation of the slaves. To John Bright and to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, Sumner wrote that the President was slow, and conveyed the impression that under Sumner's steady prodding, which never ceased, the President in the end, would take the right action."128
Seward did not appreciate rivals for power and influence. Once when Seward was informed of the President quoting an opinion of Charles Sumner and favoring it as against Seward, Seward said, 'There are too many secretaries of State in Washington.'"129 Sumner was more stiff-necked, more self-righteous, more proper than Seward. He saw most issues through a moral lens whereas Seward was more pragmatic. He saw his connections to the English and his understanding of them superior to those of Seward and Charles Francis Adams, the envoy who had long been a political competitor of Sumner. Ironically, whereas Seward tended to favor compromise with the South and Sumner opposed it, Sumner favored compromise with England while Seward favored confrontation.)
Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, himself no admirer of Seward, worried about Sumner's influence in foreign affairs regarding an issue of maritime laws concerning the seizure of international mail. He wrote in his diary in April 1863: "Sumner called this evening at the Department. Was much discomfited with an interview which he had last evening with the President. The latter was just filing a paper as Sumner went in. After a few moments Sumner took two slips from the pocket, - one cut from the Boston Transcript, the other from the Chicago Tribune, each taking strong ground against surrendering the Peterhoff mail [in January 1863]. The President, after reading them, opened the paper he had just filed and read to Sumner his letter addressed to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy. He told Sumner he had received the replies and just concluded reading mine. After some comments on them he said to Sumner, 'I will not show these papers to you now; perhaps I never shall.' A conversation then took place which greatly mortified and chagrined Sumner, who declares the President is very ignorant or very deceptive. The President, he says, is horrified, or appeared to be, with the idea of a war with England, which he assumed depended on this question. He was confident we should have with England if we presumed to open their mail bags, or break their seals or locks. They would not submit to it, and we were in no condition to plunge into a foreign war on a subject of a little importance in comparison with the terrible consequences which must follow our act. Of this idea of a war with England, Sumner could not dispossess him by argument, or by showing its absurdity. Whether it was real or affected ignorance, Sumner was not satisfied.
I have no doubts of the President's sincerity, and so told Sumner. But he has been imposed upon, humbugged, by a man in whom he confides. His confidence has been abused; he does not - frankly confesses he does not - comprehend the principles involved nor the question itself. Seward does not intend he shall comprehend it. While attempting to look into it, the Secretary of State is daily, and almost hourly, wailing in his ears the calamities of a war with England which he is striving to prevent. The President is thus led away from the real question, and will probably decide it, not on its merits, but on the false issue, raised by the man who is the author of the difficulty.130
Senator Sumner had one distinct advantage over Secretary Seward - he had a far better relationship with Mrs. Lincoln than did Secretary Seward, who was despised by the first lady. "The Senator in his early fifties, was still austerely handsome and still a bachelor, the latter condition intriguing in itself. The fact that he allowed Mary Lincoln to enter his limited circle of confidants enhanced her image of herself as a cultivated woman," observed historians Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner. "It was gratifying to her that Sumner so readily laid aside his momentous concerns to join her at the opera; flattering that he came so often to relax in her drawing room, where he entertained her with anecdotes of his acquaintances in government and diplomacy, read her letters from foreign statesmen, or engaged her in earnest discussion of the works of Whittier, Longfellow, Emerson and the other New England savants who were his personal friends."131
Sumner's disadvantage was that President Lincoln could not relax in his presence without feeling Sumner's keen disapproval. With Seward, however, President Lincoln could relax completely. But with England, Seward was more publicly belligerent than was Sumner. Pennsylvania journalist Alexander K. McClure wrote: "The War of the Rebellion revealed to the people - in fact, to the whole world - the many sides of Abraham Lincoln's character. It showed him as a real ruler of men - not a ruler by the mere power of might, but by the power of a great brain. In his Cabinet were the ablest men in the country, yet they all knew that Lincoln was abler than any of them. Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State, was a man famed in statesmanship and diplomacy. During the early stages of the Civil War, when France and England were seeking an excuse to interfere and help the Southern Confederacy, Mr. Seward wrote a letter to our minister in London, Charles Francis Adams, instructing him concerning the attitude of the Federal government on the question of interference, which would undoubtedly have brought about a war with England if Abraham Lincoln had not corrected and amended the letter. He did this, too, without yielding a point or sacrificing in any way his own dignity or that of the country."132
Seward's bluster concerned and annoyed the British. British Prime Minister Lord Russell decided that Seward was "a vapouring blustering ignorant man."133 However, historian Norman B. Ferris denied that Seward was jingoistic or that President Lincoln had to restrain him. He noted that "it was Seward's 'ordinary habit' to read his most important diplomatic instructions 'to the president before sending them.' Even as Lincoln frequently sought Seward's advice about the wording of such documents as his inaugural addresses and emancipation proclamation, so Seward welcomed the President's concurrence before issuing important state papers." Seward, argued Ferris, has been maligned by contemporaries like Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, who were jealous of his influence with President Lincoln. Historians have built on the "myth of Seward's jingoism." Ferris wrote that "Seward realized that a war between the United States and a European power would not only 'set the world on fire,' but would probably also wipe out democracy or ever."134
Historian James A. Rawley wrote that Sumner took his criticisms public in 1863: "In Cooper Union, where Lincoln had won fame, he delivered a turgid address, lecturing England upon her duties with respect to intervention in a foreign war and slavery. Two days before this severe, schoolmasterish lecture, the British government had ordered detention of the powerful ironclad rams designed to break the blockade. Sumner had not known of the order, and when the news did reach American shores, he was subjected to a good deal of criticism." Rawley wrote: "Sumner both feared that Seward might provoke a war with France and hoped that Seward might be dismissed from the cabinet."135
American Minister Charles F. Adams had been relentless in pushing the British government to crack down on the manufacture in British ports of warships for Confederate use. Belatedly, the British cracked down and stopped the transfer of the Alexandra to Confederate hands. Seward's threat against England were actually a "masterpiece" of saber-rattling and quiet diplomacy, according to historian Burton J. Hendrick Seward instructed Adams to present a protest to the British foreign minister which ended that "it would be superfluous in me to point out to your Lordship that this is war" if the ram Alabama were allowed to sail. Hendrick wrote: "It was not Adams's threat, but the more subtle maneuvering of Seward that had persuaded the British government to change its policy." Hendrick wrote: "In addition to knowing when to threaten, when to bluster, when to prod, to hint, to instill suspicions and fears, Seward had another gift equally serviceable in diplomacy. He knew when to conciliate and when, without any loss in dignity, to yield."136
Seward's relations with Congress were never good but they worsened when his diplomatic correspondence was published and revealed some undiplomatic observations. While Senator Foreign Relations Chairman Sumner was at least cordial with President Lincoln, House Foreign Relations Chairman Henry Winter Davis was not. Davis was a major critic, saying "We are on trial before the nations of the world. Every despot in Europe curled his lips when the rebellion broke out, at the feeble, wretched vacillating, dilapidated government that undertook to restore its authority over this immense and magnificent region."137 Historian William C. Harris wrote that: "Davis and many other members of Congress were livid when they read the correspondence between Seward and Dayton, documents that were supplied to the House by Lincoln upon its request. Denouncing Seward's action as a sellout to France, Davis wanted his committee to make a blistering report to the House floor on the issue. But with the election campaign of 1864 beginning and the war at a critical juncture in Virginia and elsewhere, members of his own party blocked Davis's effort to embarrass the Lincoln administration." Davis lost the vote and voluntarily lost his position as House Foreign Affairs chairman. Harris wrote: "Davis' victory was short-lived. The Republican press overwhelmingly denounced the House's action, charging that the resolution had more to do with Davis's malevolence toward Lincoln and Seward, combined with bitter Democratic partisanship, than with the conduct of foreign affairs or the issue of the French in Mexico."138
Union problems with Europe continued through the end of the war. William C. Harris wrote: "Troubles with Great Britain and France in late 1864 and early 1865, after a two-year period of relative quiet, raised the specter of an American armed conflict with one or both of these European powers. Controversies flared up with Britain over Confederate raids from sanctuaries in Canada and with France over that country's intervention in Mexico."139 A particular concern were the increasingly desperate actions taken by Confederate agents operating out of British-held Canada. In dealing with the English, the French and Congress, President Lincoln and Secretary Seward were an effective team. Lincoln's "calm judgment, judicious view of U.S. priorities and interests, and extensive previous experience as an advocate and negotiator complemented Seward's greater knowledge of foreign countries and diplomatic practices and restrain Seward's initial tendencies to be indiscreet, impetuous, and temperamental," wrote historian Dean B. Mahin. "These two men of very different backgrounds and personalities forged one of the most effective partnerships in the history of U.S. diplomacy."140 Historian James A. Rawley wrote: "Growing in stature as the war persisted, the wily Seward became an effective and even distinguished diplomatist."141 Lincoln biographer David H. Donald overstated the case when he wrote: "It is a charming fancy to think of Lincoln as a 'diplomat in carpet slippers, applying homely common sense and frontier wisdom to the preservation of international peace. In fact, however, after curbing Seward's belligerent tendencies early in 1861, the President willingly left diplomacy to his able Secretary of State. In Lincoln's Collected Works there is notably little about foreign affairs, aside from routine diplomatic communications, which were of course written by Seward..."142
Historian Mahin observed: "Most of Abraham Lincoln's foreign policy was necessarily negative - to prevent or minimize foreign interference and to avoid foreign entanglements. But he also established a very positive international objective - to maintain and expand the role of the United States as a successful example of democratic government for all men everywhere."143 Indeed, the conduct of foreign relations was a subject often on President Lincoln's mind as was the American example of democracy for the world. When a British girl visiting the White Hosue expressed her support of him in 1863, he replied: "We have a good deal of salt water between us. When you feel kindly towards us we cannot, unfortunately, be always aware of it. But it cuts both ways. When you, in England, are cross with us, we don't feel it quite so badly."144
Featured Book (continued)
Howard Jones, Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War
(University of Nebraska Press, 2002).
Mahin, Dean B., One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War
(Brassey's, Inc, 1999).