CHAPTER IV. BRITISH SUSPICION OF SEWARD
This adventure to Richmond by the Minister of Bremen may be regarded as Seward's last struggle to carry out his long-pursued policy of conciliatory delay. He had not officially sent Schleiden to Richmond, but he had grasped eagerly at the opening and had encouraged and aided Schleiden in his journey. Now, by April 27, hope had vanished, and Seward's "domestic policy," as set forth in his "Thoughts for the President's Consideration" on April 1, was discredited, and inevitably, in some measure, their author also. The dates are important in appreciating Seward's purposes. On April 27, the day of Schleiden's return to Washington, there was sent to Adams that "sharp" despatch, taking issue with British action as foreshadowed by Dallas on April 9, and concluding by instructing Adams to lose no time in warning Russell that such action would be regarded by the United States as "injurious to its rights and derogating from its dignity." It appears, therefore, that Seward, defeated on one line of "policy," eager to regain prestige, and still obsessed with the idea that some means could yet be found to avert domestic conflict, was, on April 27, beginning to pick at those threads which, to his excited thought, might yet save the Union through a foreign war. He was now seeking to force the acceptance of the second, and alternative, portion of his "Thoughts for the President."
Seward's theory of the cementing effect of a foreign war was no secret at Washington. As early as January 26 he had unfolded to Schleiden this fantastic plan. "If the Lord would only give the United States an excuse for a war with England, France, or Spain," he said "that would be the best means of re-establishing internal peace." Again, on February 10, he conversed with Schleiden on the same topic, and complained that there was no foreign complication offering an excuse for a break. Lyons knew of this attitude, and by February 4 had sent Russell a warning, to which the latter had replied on February 20 that England could afford to be patient for a time but that too much "blustering demonstration" must not be indulged in. But the new administration, as Lincoln had remarked in his reply to Seward on April 1, had taken quite another line, addressing foreign powers in terms of high regard for established friendly relations. This was the tone of Seward's first instruction to Adams, April 10, in the concluding paragraph of which Seward wrote, "The United States are not indifferent to the circumstances of common descent, language, customs, sentiments, and religion, which recommend a closer sympathy between themselves and Great Britain than either might expect in its intercourse with any other nation." True, on this basis, Seward claimed a special sympathy from Great Britain for the United States, that is to say, the North, but most certainly the tone of this first instruction was one of established friendship.
Yet now, April 27, merely on learning from Dallas that Russell "refuses to pledge himself" on British policy, Seward resorts to threats. What other explanation is possible except that, seeking to save his domestic policy of conciliation and to regain his leadership, he now was adventuring toward the application of his "foreign war panacea" idea. Lyons quickly learned of the changed tone, and that England, especially, was to hear American complaint. On May 2 Lyons wrote to Russell in cypher characterizing Seward as "arrogant and reckless toward Foreign Powers." Evidently Seward was making little concealment of his belligerent attitude, and when the news was received of the speeches in Parliament of the first week in May by which it became clear that Great Britain would declare neutrality and was planning joint action with France, he became much excited. On May 17 he wrote a letter home exhibiting, still, an extraordinary faith in his own wisdom and his own foreign policy.
"A country so largely relying on my poor efforts to save it
had [has] refused me the full measure of its confidence,
needful to that end. I am a chief reduced to a subordinate
position, and surrounded by a guard, to see that I do not do
too much for my country, lest some advantage may revert
indirectly to my own fame.
"... They have misunderstood things fearfully, in Europe,
Great Britain is in danger of sympathizing so much with the
South, for the sake of peace and cotton, as to drive us to
make war against her, as the ally of the traitors.... I am
trying to get a bold remonstrance through the Cabinet before
it is too late."
The "bold remonstrance" was the famous "Despatch No. 10," of May 21, already commented upon in the preceding chapter. But as sent to Adams it varied in very important details from the draft submitted by Seward to Lincoln.