CHAPTER IV. BRITISH SUSPICION OF SEWARD
The incidents narrated in the preceding chapter have been considered solely from the point of view of a formal American contention as to correct international practice and the British answer to that contention. In fact, however, there were intimately connected wth these formal arguments and instructions of the American Secretary of State a plan of possible militant action against Great Britain and a suspicion, in British Governmental circles, that this plan was being rapidly matured. American historians have come to stigmatize this plan as "Seward's Foreign War Panacea," and it has been examined by them in great detail, so that there is no need here to do more than state its main features. That which is new in the present treatment is the British information in regard to the plan and the resultant British suspicion of Seward's intentions.
The British public, as distinguished from the Government, deriving its knowledge of Seward from newspaper reports of his career and past utterances, might well consider him as traditionally unfriendly to Great Britain. He had, in the 'fifties, vigorously attacked the British interpretation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty and characterized Great Britain as "the most grasping and the most rapacious Power in the world"; he had long prophesied the ultimate annexation of Canada to the United States; he had not disdained, in political struggles in the State of New York, to whip up, for the sake of votes, Irish antagonism to Great Britain; and more especially and more recently he had been reported to have expressed to the Duke of Newcastle a belief that civil conflict in America could easily be avoided, or quieted, by fomenting a quarrel with England and engaging in a war against her. Earlier expressions might easily be overlooked as emanating from a politician never over-careful about wounding the sensibilities of foreign nations and peoples, for he had been even more outspoken against the France of Louis Napoleon, but the Newcastle conversation stuck in the British mind as indicative of a probable animus when the politician had become the statesman responsible for foreign policy. Seward might deny, as he did, that he had ever uttered the words alleged, and his friend Thurlow Weed might describe the words as "badinage," in a letter to the London Times, but the "Newcastle story" continued to be matter for frequent comment both in the Press and in private circles.
British Ministers, however, would have paid little attention to Seward's speeches intended for home political consumption, or to a careless bit of social talk, had there not been suspicion of other and more serious evidences of unfriendliness. Lyons was an unusually able and well-informed Minister, and from the first he had pictured the leadership of Seward in the new administration at Washington, and had himself been worried by his inability to understand what policy Seward was formulating. But, in fact, he did not see clearly what was going on in the camp of the Republican party now dominant in the North. The essential feature of the situation was that Seward, generally regarded as the man whose wisdom must guide the ill-trained Lincoln, and himself thinking this to be his destined function, early found his authority challenged by other leaders, and his policies not certain of acceptance by the President. It is necessary to review, briefly, the situation at Washington.
Lincoln was inaugurated as President on March 4. He had been elected as a Republican by a political party never before in power. Many of the leading members of this party were drawn from the older parties and had been in administrative positions in either State or National Governments, but there were no party traditions, save the lately created one of opposition to the expansion of slavery to the Territories. All was new, then, to the men now in power in the National Government, and a new and vital issue, that of secession already declared by seven Southern States, had to be met by a definite policy. The important immediate question was as to whether Lincoln had a policy, or, if not, upon whom he would depend to guide him.
In the newly-appointed Cabinet were two men who, in popular estimate, were expected to take the lead - Chase, of Ohio, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Seward, of New York, Secretary of State. Both were experienced in political matters and both stood high in the esteem of the anti-slavery element in the North, but Seward, all things considered, was regarded as the logical leading member of the Cabinet. He had been the favoured candidate for Republican Presidential nomination in 1860, making way for Lincoln only on the theory that the latter as less Radical on anti-slavery, could be more easily elected. Also, he now held that position which by American tradition was regarded as the highest in the Cabinet.
In fact, everyone at Washington regarded it as certain that Seward would determine the policy of the new administration. Seward's own attitude is well summed up in a despatch to his Government, February 18, 1861, by Rudolph Schleiden, Minister from the Republic of Bremen. He described a conversation with Seward in regard to his relations with Lincoln: