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[197]. 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[198], and his friend Thurlow Weed might describe the words as "badinage," in a letter to the London Times[199], 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:

     "Seward, however, consoled himself with the clever remark, 
     that there is no great difference between an elected 
     president of the United States and an hereditary monarch. The 
     latter is called to the throne through the accident of birth, 
     the former through the chances which make his election 
     possible. The actual direction of public affairs belongs to 
     the leader of the ruling party, here as well as in any 
     hereditary principality.

     "The future President is a self-made man and there is 
     therefore as little doubt of his energy as of his proverbial 
     honesty ('honest old Abe'). It is also acknowledged that he 
     does not lack common sense. But his other qualities for the 
     highest office are practically unknown. His election may 
     therefore be readily compared with a lottery. It is possible 
     that the United States has drawn the first prize, on the 
     other hand the gain may only have been a small one. But 
     unfortunately the possibility is not excluded that it may 
     have been merely a blank."

The first paragraph of this quotation reports Seward's opinion; the second is apparently Schleiden's own estimate. Two weeks later Schleiden sent home a further analysis of Lincoln:

     "He makes the impression of a natural man of clear and 
     healthy mind, great good-naturedness and best intentions. He 
     seems to be fully conscious of the great responsibility which 
     rests upon him. But at the same time it appears as if he had 
     lost some of his famous firmness and resoluteness through the 
     novelty of the conditions which surround him and the hourly 
     renewed attempts from various sides to gain influence over 
     him. He is therefore at present inclined to concede double 
     weight to the superior political experience of his Secretary 
     of State[200]."

This was written on March 4, and the situation was correctly described. Seward led for the moment, but his supremacy was not unchallenged and soon a decision was called for that in its final solution was to completely overthrow his already matured policy towards the seceding States. Buchanan had been pressed by South Carolina to yield possession of federal property in that State and especially to withdraw Federal troops from Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour. After some vacillation he had refused to do this, but had taken no steps to reinforce and re-supply the weak garrison under the command of Major Anderson. On March 5, Lincoln learned that Sumter would soon have to be yielded unless reinforcements were sent. There followed ten days of delay and indecision; then on March 15 Lincoln requested from each member of his Cabinet an opinion on what should be done. This brought to an issue the whole question of Seward's policy and leadership.

For Seward's policy, like that of Buchanan, was one of conciliatory delay, taking no steps to bring matters to an issue, and trusting to time and a sobering second thought to bring Southern leaders and people to a less violent attitude. He sincerely believed in the existence of an as yet unvoiced strong Union sentiment in the South, especially in those States which were wavering on secession. He was holding communications, through intermediaries, with certain Confederate "Commissioners" in Washington, and he had agents in Virginia attempting to influence that State against secession. To all these Southern representatives he now conveyed assurances quite without warrant from Lincoln, that Sumter would be evacuated, acting solely in the belief that his own "policy" would be approved by the President. His argument in reply to Lincoln's call for an opinion was positive against reinforcing Fort Sumter, and it seemed to meet, for the moment, with the approval of the majority of his Cabinet colleagues. Lincoln himself made no pertinent comment, yet did not commit himself.

There the matter rested for a time, for the Confederate Commissioners, regarding Seward's policy of delay as wholly beneficial to the maturing of Southern plans, and Seward "as their cat's-paw[201]," did not care to press for a decision. Moreover, Seward had given a personal pledge that in case it were, after all, determined to reinforce Sumter, notification of that determination would at once be given to South Carolina. The days went by, and it was not until the last week of March that Lincoln, disillusioned as to the feasibility of Seward's policy of conciliation, reached the conclusion that in his conception of his duty as President of the United States he must defend and retain Federal forts, or attempt to retain them, for the preservation of the Union, and decided to reinforce Fort Sumter. On March 29, the Cabinet assembled at noon and learned Lincoln's determination.

This was a sharp blow to Seward's prestige in the Cabinet; it also threatened his "peaceful" policy. Yet he did not as yet understand fully that either supreme leadership, or control of policy, had been assumed by Lincoln. On April 1 he drafted that astonishing document entitled, "Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration," which at once reveals his alarm and his supreme personal self-confidence. This document begins, "We are at the end of a month's administration, and yet without a policy either domestic or foreign." It then advocates as a domestic policy, "Change The Question Before The Public From One Upon Slavery, Or About Slavery, for a question upon Union or Disunion." Then in a second section, headed "For Foreign Nations," there followed:

     "I would demand explanations from Spain and France, 
     categorically, at once.

     "I would seek explanations from Great Britain and Russia, and 
     send agents into Canada, Mexico and Central America to rouse 
     a vigorous continental spirit of independence on this 
     continent against European intervention.

     "And, if satisfactory explanations are not received from 
     Spain and France.

     "Would convene Congress and declare war against them.

     "But whatever policy we adopt, there must be energetic 
     prosecution of it.

     "For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue 
     and direct it incessantly.

     "Either the President must do it himself, and be all the 
     while active in it, or

     "Devolve it on some member of his Cabinet. Once adopted, 
     debates on it must end, and all agree and abide.

     "It is not in my especial province;

     "But I neither seek to evade nor assume responsibility[202]."

Lincoln's reply of the same day, April 1, was characteristically gentle, yet no less positive and definite to any save one obsessed with his own superior wisdom. Lincoln merely noted that Seward's "domestic policy" was exactly his own, except that he did not intend to abandon Fort Sumter. As to the warlike foreign policy Lincoln pointed out that this would be a sharp reversal of that already being prepared in circulars and instructions to Ministers abroad. This was, indeed, the case, for the first instructions, soon despatched, were drawn on lines of recalling to foreign powers their established and long-continued friendly relations with the United States. Finally, Lincoln stated as to the required "guiding hand," "I remark that if this must be done, I must do it.... I wish, and suppose I am entitled to have, the advice of all the Cabinet[203]."

This should have been clear indication of Lincoln's will to direct affairs, and even to Seward would have been sufficient had he not, momentarily, been so disturbed by the wreck of his pacific policy toward the South, and as yet so ignorant of the strength of Lincoln's quiet persistence. As it was, he yielded on the immediate issue, the relief of Sumter (though attempting to divert reinforcements to another quarter) but did not as yet wholly yield either his policy of conciliation and delay, nor give up immediately his insane scheme of saving the Union by plunging it into a foreign war. He was, in fact, still giving assurances to the Confederate commissioners, through indirect channels, that he could and would prevent the outbreak of civil war, and in this confidence that his ideas would finally control Lincoln he remained up to the second week in April. But on April 8 the first of the ships despatched to the aid of Sumter left New York, and on that day Governor Pickens of South Carolina was officially notified of the Northern purpose. This threw the burden of striking the first blow upon the South; if Southern threats were now made good, civil war seemed inevitable, and there could be no peaceful decision of the quarrel.

The reinforcements did not arrive in time. Fort Sumter, after a day and a half of dogged fighting, was surrendered to the enemy on April 13 - for as an enemy in arms the South now stood. The fall of Sumter changed, as in a moment, the whole attitude of the Northern people. There was now a nearly unanimous cry for the preservation of the Union by force. Yet Seward still clung, privately, to his belief that even now the "sober second thought" of the South would offer a way out toward reunion without war. In official utterances and acts he was apparently in complete harmony with the popular will to reconquer the South. Davis' proclamation on marque and privateering, of April 17, was answered by the Lincoln blockade proclamation of April 19. But Virginia had not yet officially seceded, and until this occurred there seemed to Seward at least one last straw of conciliation available. In this situation Schleiden, Minister for Bremen, came to Seward on the morning of April 24 and offered his services as a mediator[204].

Schleiden's idea was that an armistice be agreed upon with the South until the Northern Congress should meet in July, thus giving a breathing spell and permitting saner second judgment to both sides. He had consulted with his Prussian colleague, who approved, and he found Seward favourable to the plan. Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, was then at Richmond, and to him, as an old friend, Schleiden proposed to go and make the same appeal. Seward at once took Schleiden to see Lincoln. The three men, with Chase (and the Prussian Minister) were the only ones in the secret. Lincoln's first comment was that he was "willing to make an attempt of contributing to the prevention of bloodshed and regretted that Schleiden had not gone to Richmond without consulting him or Seward." Lincoln further stated that "he did not have in mind any aggression against the Southern States, but merely the safety of the Government in the Capitol and the possibility to govern everywhere," a concluding phrase that should have enlightened Schleiden as to Lincoln's determination to preserve the Union. Lincoln said he could neither authorize negotiations nor invite proposals, but that he would gladly consider any such proposals voluntarily made. Schleiden asked for a definite statement as to whether Lincoln would recall the blockade proclamation and sign an armistice if Davis would recall the letters of marque proclamation, but Lincoln refused to commit himself.

This was scant encouragement from the President, but Seward still thought something might result from the venture, and on that evening, April 24, Schleiden started for Richmond, being provided by Seward with a pass through the Union lines. He arrived on the afternoon of the twenty-fifth, but even before reaching the city was convinced that his mission would be a failure. All along his journey, at each little station, he saw excited crowds assembled enthusiastic for secession, bands of militia training, and every indication of preparation for war. Already, on that same day, the Virginia secession ordinance had been published, and the State convention had ratified the provisional constitution of the Southern Confederacy. Schleiden immediately notified Stephens of his presence in Richmond and desire for an interview, and was at once received. The talk lasted three hours. Stephens was frank and positive in asserting the belief that "all attempts to settle peacefully the differences between the two sections were futile." Formal letters were exchanged after this conference, but in these the extent to which Stephens would go was to promise to use his influence in favour of giving consideration to any indication made by the North of a desire "for an amicable adjustment of the questions at issue," and he was positive that there could be no return of the South to the Union.

On the afternoon of April 27 Schleiden was back in Washington. He found that three days had made a great change in the sentiment of the Capitol. "During my short absence," he wrote, "many thousands of volunteers had arrived from the North. There was not only a feeling of security noticeable, but even of combativeness." He found Seward not at all disposed to pursue the matter, and was not given an opportunity to talk to Lincoln; therefore, he merely submitted copies of the letters that had passed between him and Stephens, adding for himself that the South was arming because of Lincoln's proclamation calling for volunteers. Seward replied on April 29, stating his personal regards and that he had no fault to find with Schleiden's efforts, but concluding that Stephens' letters gave no ground for action since the "Union of these States is the supreme as it is the organic law of this country," and must be maintained.

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[205]." 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[206]." 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[207], 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[208]." 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[209]."

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[210].

Seward's draft was not merely a "remonstrance"; it was a challenge. Its language implied that the United States desired war, and Seward's plan was to have Adams read the despatch to Russell, give him a copy of it, and then discontinue diplomatic relations so long as Russell held either official or unofficial intercourse with the Southern Commissioners. This last instruction was, indeed, retained in the final form of the despatch, but here, as elsewhere, Lincoln modified the stiff expressions of the original. Most important of all, he directed Adams to consider the whole despatch as for his own guidance, relying on his discretion. The despatch, as amended, began with the statement that the United States "neither means to menace Great Britain nor to wound the sensibilities of that or any other European nation.... The paper itself is not to be read or shown to the British Secretary of State, nor any of its positions to be prematurely, unnecessarily, or indiscreetly made known. But its spirit will be your guide[211]." Thus were the teeth skilfully drawn from the threat of war. Even the positive instructions, later in the despatch, as to the Southern Commissioners, need not have been acted upon by Adams had he not thought it wise to do so. But even with alterations, the American remonstrance was so bold as to alarm Adams. On first perusual he wrote in his diary, June 10, "The Government seems almost ready to declare war with all the powers of Europe, and almost instructs me to withdraw from communication with the Ministers here in a certain contingency.... I scarcely know how to understand Mr. Seward. The rest of the Government may be demented for all I know; but he surely is calm and wise. My duty here is in so far as I can do it honestly to prevent the irritation from coming to a downright quarrel. It seems to me like throwing the game into the hands of the enemy[212]."

Adams, a sincere admirer of Seward, was in error as to the source of American belligerent attitude. Fortunately, his judgment of what was wise at the moment coincided with that of Lincoln's - though of this he had no knowledge. In the event Adams' skilful handling of the situation resulted favourably - even to the cessation of intercourse between Russell and the Southern Commissioners. For his part, Lincoln, no more than earlier, was to be hurried into foreign complications, and Seward's "foreign war panacea" was stillborn.

The incident was a vital one in the Northern administration, for Seward at last realized that the President intended to control policy, and though it was yet long before he came to appreciate fully Lincoln's customary calm judgment, he did understand the relation now established between himself and his chief. Henceforth, he obeyed orders, though free in suggestion and criticism, always welcome to Lincoln. The latter, avowedly ignorant of diplomacy, gladly left details to Seward, and the altered despatch, far from making relations difficult, rendered them simple and easy, by clearing the atmosphere. But it was otherwise with Foreign Ministers at Washington, for even though there was soon a "leak" of gossip informing them of what had taken place in regard to Despatch No. 10, they one and all were fearful of a recovery of influence by Seward and of a resumption of belligerent policy. This was particularly true of Lord Lyons, for rumour had it that it was against England that Seward most directed his enmity. There resulted for British diplomats both at Washington and in London a deep-seated suspicion of Seward, long after he had made a complete face-about in policy. This suspicion influenced relations greatly in the earlier years of the Civil War.

On May 20, the day before Seward's No. 10 was dated, Lyons wrote a long twelve-page despatch to Russell, anxious, and very full of Seward's warlike projects. "The President is, of course, wholly ignorant of foreign countries, and of foreign affairs." "Seward, having lost strength by the failure of his peace policy, is seeking to recover influence by leading a foreign war party; no one in the Cabinet is strong enough to combat him." Britain, Lyons thought, should maintain a stiff attitude, prepare to defend Canada, and make close contacts with France. He was evidently anxious to impress upon Russell that Seward really might mean war, but he declared the chief danger to lie in the fact of American belief that England and France could not be driven into war with the United States, and that they would submit to any insult. Lyons urged some action, or declaration (he did not know what), to correct this false impression[213]. Again, on the next day, May 21, the information in his official despatch was repeated in a private letter to Russell, but Lyons here interprets Seward's threats as mere bluster. Yet he is not absolutely sure of this, and in any case insists that the best preventative of war with the United States is to show that England is ready for it[214].

It was an anxious time for the British Minister in Washington. May 22, he warned Sir Edmund Head, Governor of Canada, urging him to make defensive preparation[215]. The following day he dilated to Russell, privately, on "the difficulty of keeping Mr. Seward within the bounds of decency even in ordinary social intercourse[216] ..." and in an official communication of this same day he records Washington rumours of a belligerent despatch read by Seward before the Cabinet, of objections by other members, and that Seward's insistence has carried the day[217]. That Seward was, in fact, still smarting over his reverse is shown by a letter, written on this same May 23, to his intimate friend and political adviser, Thurlow Weed, who had evidently cautioned him against precipitate action. Seward wrote, "The European phase is bad. But your apprehension that I may be too decisive alarms me more. Will you consent, or advise us to consent, that Adams and Dayton have audiences and compliments in the Ministers' Audience Chamber, and Toombs' [Confederate Secretary of State] emissaries have access to his bedroom[218]?"

Two interpretations are possible from this: either that Seward knowing himself defeated was bitter in retrospect, or that he had not yet yielded his will to that of Lincoln, in spite of the changes made in his Despatch No. 10. The former interpretation seems the more likely, for though Seward continued to write for a time "vigorous" despatches to Adams, they none of them approached the vigour of even the amended despatch. Moreover, the exact facts of the Cabinet of May 21, and the complete reversal of Seward's policy were sufficiently known by May 24 to have reached the ears of Schleiden, who reported them in a letter to Bremen of that date[219]. And on the same day Seward himself told Schleiden that he did "not fear any longer that it would come to a break with England[220]." On May 27 Lyons himself, though still suspicious that an attempt was being made to separate France and England, was able to report a better tone from Seward[221].

British Ministers in London were not so alarmed as was Lyons, but they were disturbed, nevertheless, and long preserved a suspicion of the American Secretary of State. May 23, Palmerston wrote to Russell in comment on Lyons' despatch of May 2: "These communications are very unpleasant. It is not at all unlikely that either from foolish and uncalculating arrogance and self-sufficiency or from political calculation Mr. Seward may bring on a quarrel with us[222]." He believed that more troops ought to be sent to Canada, as a precautionary measure, but, he added, "the main Force for Defence must, of course, be local" - a situation necessarily a cause for anxiety by British Ministers. Russell was less perturbed. He had previously expressed appreciation of Adams' conduct, writing to Lyons: "Mr. Adams has made a very favourable impression on my mind as a calm and judicious man[223]," and he now wrote: "I do not think Mr. Seward's colleagues will encourage him in a game of brag with England.... I am sorry Seward turns out so reckless and ruthless. Adams seems a sensible man[224]." But at Washington Lyons was again hot on the trail of warlike rumours. As a result of a series of conversations with Northern politicians, not Cabinet members, he sent a cipher telegram to Russell on June 6, stating: "No new event has occurred but sudden declaration of war by the United States against Great Britain appears to me by no means impossible, especially so long as Canada seems open to invasion[225]." This was followed two days later by a despatch dilating upon the probability of war, and ending with Lyons' opinion of how it should be conducted. England should strike at once with the largest possible naval force and bring the war to an end before the United States could prepare. Otherwise, "the spirit, the energy, and the resources of this people" would make them difficult to overcome. England, on her part, must be prepared to suffer severely from American privateers, and she would be forced to help the South, at least to the extent of keeping Southern ports open. Finally, Lyons concluded, all of this letter and advice were extremely distasteful to him, yet he felt compelled to write it by the seriousness of the situation. Nevertheless, he would exert every effort and use every method to conciliate America[226].

In truth, it was not any further belligerent talk by Seward that had so renewed Lyons' anxiety. Rather it was the public and Press reception of the news of the Queen's Proclamation of Neutrality. The Northern people, counting beyond all reasonable expectation upon British sympathy on anti-slavery grounds, had been angrily disappointed, and were at the moment loudly voicing their vexation. Had Seward not already been turned from his foreign war policy he now would have received strong public support in it. But he made no effort to utilize public excitement to his own advantage in the Cabinet. In England, Adams was able to report on June 14 that Russell had no intention of holding further interviews with the Southern Commissioners[227], but before anyone in Washington could learn of this there was general knowledge of a changed tone from the Secretary of State, and Lyons' fears were considerably allayed. On June 15, occurred that interview between Seward, Lyons, and Mercier, in which Seward had positively refused to receive the Queen's Proclamation, but had throughout evinced the greatest courtesy and goodwill. Lyons so reported the conversation[228]. June 15 may, in fact, be taken as the date when Lyons ceased to be alarmed over an immediate war. Possibly he found it a little difficult to report so sudden a shift from stormy to fair weather. June 21, he wrote that the "lull" was still continuing[229]. June 24, he at last learned and described at length the details of Lincoln's alteration of Despatch No. 10[230]. He did not know the exact date but he expressed the opinion that "a month or three weeks ago" war was very near - a misjudgment, since it should be remembered that war seemed advisable to one man only - Seward; and that on this issue he had been definitely cast down from his self-assumed leadership into the ranks of Lincoln's lieutenants.

Lyons was, then, nearly a month behindhand in exact knowledge of American foreign policy toward England, and he was in error in thinking that an American attack on England was either imminent or intended. Nevertheless, he surely was excusable, considering Seward's prestige and Lincoln's lack of it, in reporting as he did. It was long, indeed, before he could escape from suspicion of Seward's purposes, though dropping, abruptly, further comment on the chances of war. A month later, on July 20, he wrote that Seward had himself asked for a confidential and unofficial interview, in order to make clear that there never had been any intention of stirring agitation against England. Personally, Seward took credit for avoiding trouble "by refusing to take official cognizance of the recognition [by England] of the belligerent rights of the South," and he asked Lyons to explain to Russell that previous strong language was intended merely to make foreign Powers understand the intensity of Northern feeling[231].

Lyons put no faith in all this but was happy to note the change, mistakenly attributing it to England's "stiff tone," and not at all to the veto of the President. Since Lyons himself had gone to the utmost bounds in seeking conciliation (so he had reported), and, in London, Russell also had taken no forward step since the issue of the Queen's Proclamation - indeed, had rather yielded somewhat to Adams' representations - it is not clear in what the "stiff tone" consisted.

Indeed, the cause of Seward's explanation to Lyons was the receipt of a despatch from Adams, dated June 28, in which the latter had reported that all was now smooth sailing. He had told Russell that the knowledge in Washington of the result of their previous interviews had brought satisfaction, and Russell, for his part, said that Lyons had "learned, through another member of the diplomatic corps, that no further expression of opinion on the subject in question would be necessary[232]." This referred, presumably, to the question of British intention, for the future, in relation to the Proclamation of Neutrality. Adams wrote: "This led to the most frank and pleasant conversation which I have yet had with his lordship.... I added that I believed the popular feeling in the United States would subside the moment that all the later action on this side was known.... My own reception has been all that I could desire. I attach value to this, however, only as it indicates the establishment of a policy that will keep us at peace during the continuance of the present convulsion." In reply to Adams' despatch, Seward wrote on July 21, the day after his interview with Lyons, arguing at great length the American view that the British Proclamation of Neutrality in a domestic quarrel was not defensible in international law. There was not now, nor later, any yielding on this point. But, for the present, this was intended for Adams' eye alone, and Seward prefaced his argument by a disclaimer, much as stated to Lyons, of any ill-will to Great Britain:

     "I may add, also, for myself, that however otherwise I may at 
     any time have been understood, it has been an earnest and 
     profound solicitude to avert from foreign war; that alone has 
     prompted the emphatic and sometimes, perhaps, impassioned 
     remonstrances I have hitherto made against any form or 
     measure of recognition of the insurgents by the government of 
     Great Britain. I write in the same spirit now; and I invoke 
     on the part of the British government, as I propose to 
     exercise on my own, the calmness which all counsellors ought 
     to practise in debates which involve the peace and happiness 
     of mankind[233]."

Diplomatic correspondence couched in the form of platform oratory leads to the suspicion that the writer is thinking, primarily, of the ultimate publication of his despatches. Thus Seward seems to have been laying the ground for a denial that he had ever developed a foolish foreign war policy. History pins him to that folly. But in another respect the interview with Lyons on July 20 and the letter to Adams of the day following overthrow for both Seward and for the United States the accusations sometimes made that it was the Northern disaster at Bull Run, July 21, in the first pitched battle with the South, which made more temperate the Northern tone toward foreign powers[234]. It is true that the despatch to Adams was not actually sent until July 26, but internal evidence shows it to have been written on the 21st before there was any news from the battle-field, and the interview with Lyons on the 20th proves that the military set-back had no influence on Seward's friendly expressions. Moreover, these expressions officially made were but a delayed voicing of a determination of policy arrived at many weeks earlier. The chronology of events and despatches cited in this chapter will have shown that the refusal of Lincoln to follow Seward's leadership, and the consequent lessening of the latter's "high tone," preceded any news whatever from England, lightening the first impressions. The Administration at Washington did not on May 21, even know that England had issued a Proclamation of Neutrality; it knew merely of Russell's statement that one would have to be issued; and the friendly explanations of Russell to Adams were not received in Washington until the month following.

In itself, Seward's "foreign war panacea" policy does not deserve the place in history usually accorded it as a moment of extreme crisis in British-American relations. There was never any danger of war from it, for Lincoln nipped the policy in the bud. The public excitement in America over the Queen's Proclamation was, indeed, intense; but this did not alter the Governmental attitude. In England all that the public knew was this American irritation and clamour. The London press expressed itself a bit more cautiously, for the moment, merely defending the necessity of British neutrality[235]. But if regarded from the effect upon British Ministers the incident was one of great, possibly even vital, importance in the relations of the two countries. Lyons had been gravely anxious to the point of alarm. Russell, less acutely alarmed, was yet seriously disturbed. Both at Washington and in London the suspicion of Seward lasted throughout the earlier years of the war, and to British Ministers it seemed that at any moment he might recover leadership and revert to a dangerous mood. British attitude toward America was affected in two opposite ways; Britain was determined not to be bullied, and Russell himself sometimes went to the point of arrogance in answer to American complaints; this was an unfortunate result. But more fortunate, and also a result, was the British Government's determination to step warily in the American conflict and to give no just cause, unless on due consideration of policy, for a rupture of relations with the United States. Seward's folly in May of 1861, from every angle but a short-lived "brain-storm," served America well in the first years of her great crisis.


[Footnote 197: See ante, p. 80.]

[Footnote 198: Barnes, Life of Thurlow Weed, II, p. 378. Seward to Weed, December 27, 1861.]

[Footnote 199: Ibid., p. 355. Weed's letter was on the Trent affair, but he went out of his way to depict Seward as attempting a bit of humour with Newcastle.]

[Footnote 200: Schleiden, a native of Schleswig, was educated at the University of Berlin, and entered the Danish customs service. In the German revolution of 1848 he was a delegate from Schleswig-Holstein to the Frankfort Parliament. After the failure of that revolution he withdrew to Bremen and in 1853 was sent by that Republic to the United States as Minister. By 1860 he had become one of the best known and socially popular of the Washington diplomatic corps, holding intimate relations with leading Americans both North and South. His reports on events preceding and during the Civil War were examined in the archives of Bremen in 1910 by Dr. Ralph H. Lutz when preparing his doctor's thesis, "Die Beziehungen zwischen Deutschland und den Vereinigten Staaten waehrend des Sezessionskrieges" (Heidelberg, 1911). My facts with regard to Schleiden are drawn in part from this thesis, in part from an article by him, "Rudolph Schleiden and the Visit to Richmond, April 25, 1861," printed in the Annual Report of the American Historical Association for 1915, pp. 207-216. Copies of some of Schleiden's despatches are on deposit in the Library of Congress among the papers of Carl Schurz. Through the courtesy of Mr. Frederic Bancroft, who organized the Schurz papers, I have been permitted to take copies of a few Schleiden dispatches relating to the visit to Richmond, an incident apparently unknown to history until Dr. Lutz called attention to it.]

[Footnote 201: This is Bancroft's expression. Seward, II, p. 118.]

[Footnote 202: Lincoln, Works, II, 29.]

[Footnote 203: Ibid., p. 30.]

[Footnote 204: For references to this whole matter of Schleiden's visit to Richmond see ante, p. 116, note 1.]

[Footnote 205: U.S. Messages and Documents, 1861-2, p. 82. This, and other despatches have been examined at length in the previous chapter in relation to the American protest on the Queen's Proclamation of Neutrality. In the present chapter they are merely noted again in their bearing on Seward's "foreign war policy."]

[Footnote 206: Quoted by Lutz, Am. Hist. Assn. Rep. 1915, p. 210.]

[Footnote 207: U.S. Messages and Documents, 1861-2, p. 80. This despatch was read by Seward on April 8 to W. H. Russell, correspondent of the Times, who commented that it contained some elements of danger to good relations, but it is difficult to see to what he could have had objection. - Russell, My Diary, I, p. 103. ]

[Footnote 208: Russell Papers.]

[Footnote 209: Bancroft, Seward, II, p. 169.]

[Footnote 210: Yet at this very time Seward was suggesting, May 14, to Prussia, Great Britain, France, Russia and Holland a joint naval demonstration with America against Japan because of anti-foreign demonstrations in that country. This has been interpreted as an attempt to tie European powers to the United States in such a way as to hamper any friendly inclination they may have entertained toward the Confederacy (Treat, Japan and the United States, 1853-1921, pp. 49-50. Also Dennet, "Seward's Far Eastern Policy," in Am. Hist. Rev., Vol. XXVIII, No. 1. Dennet, however, also regards Seward's overture as in harmony with his determined policy in the Far East.) Like Seward's overture, made a few days before, to Great Britain for a convention to guarantee the independence of San Domingo (F.O., Am., Vol. 763, No. 196, Lyons to Russell, May 12, 1861) the proposal on Japan seems to me to have been an erratic feeling-out of international attitude while in the process of developing a really serious policy - the plunging of America into a foreign war.]

[Footnote 211: U.S. Messages and Documents, 1861-2, p. 88. The exact facts of Lincoln's alteration of Despatch No. 10, though soon known in diplomatic circles, were not published until the appearance in 1890 of Nicolay and Hay's Lincoln, where the text of a portion of the original draft, with Lincoln's changes were printed (IV, p. 270). Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy in Lincoln's Cabinet, published a short book in 1874, Lincoln and Seward, in which the story was told, but without dates and so vaguely that no attention was directed to it. Apparently the matter was not brought before the Cabinet and the contents of the despatch were known only to Lincoln, Seward, and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Sumner.]

[Footnote 212: C.F. Adams, "Seward and the Declaration of Paris," p. 21. Reprint from Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, XLVI, pp. 23-81.]

[Footnote 213: F.O., Am., Vol. 764, No. 206. Confidential.]

[Footnote 214: Russell Papers. This letter has been printed, in part, in Newton, Lyons, I, 41.]

[Footnote 215: Lyons Papers.]

[Footnote 216: Ibid., Lyons to Russell, May 23, 1861.]

[Footnote 217: F.O., Am., Vol. 764, No. 209, Confidential, Lyons to Russell, May 23, 1861. A brief "extract" from this despatch was printed in the British Parliamentary Papers, 1862, Lords, Vol. XXV. "Correspondence on Civil War in the United States," No. 48. The "extract" in question consists of two short paragraphs only, printed, without any indication of important elisions, in each of the paragraphs. ]

[Footnote 218: Bancroft, Seward, II, p. 174. ]

[Footnote 219: Lutz, "Notes." The source of Schleiden's information is not given in his despatch. He was intimate with many persons closely in touch with events, especially with Sumner, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and with Blair, a member of the Cabinet.]

[Footnote 220: Ibid., Schleiden to Republic of Bremen, May 27, 1861.]

[Footnote 221: Bancroft, Seward, II, p. 179, sets the date as June 8 when Seward's instructions for England and France show that he had "recovered his balance." This is correct for the change in tone of despatches, but the acceptance of Lincoln's policy must have been immediate. C.F. Adams places the date for Seward's complete change of policy much later, describing his "war mania" as lasting until the Northern defeat of Bull Run, July 21. I think this an error, and evidence that it is such appears later in the present chapter. See Charles Francis Adams, "Seward and the Declaration of Paris," Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, XLVI, pp. 23-81.]

[Footnote 222: Russell Papers.]

[Footnote 223: Lyons Papers, May 21, 1861.]

[Footnote 224: Ibid., Russell to Lyons, May 25, 1861.]

[Footnote 225: F.O., Am., Vol. 765, No. 253.]

[Footnote 226: Ibid., No. 263, Lyons to Russell, June 8, 1861.]

[Footnote 227: See ante, p. 106.]

[Footnote 228: See ante, p. 102. Bancroft, Seward, II, p. 181, using Seward's description to Adams (U.S. Messages and Documents, 1861-2, p. 106) of this interview expands upon the Secretary's skill in thus preventing a joint notification by England and France of their intention to act together. He rightly characterizes Seward's tactics as "diplomatic skill of the best quality." But in Lyons' report the emphasis is placed upon Seward's courtesy in argument, and Lyons felt that the knowledge of British-French joint action had been made sufficiently clear by his taking Mercier with him and by their common though unofficial representation to Seward.]

[Footnote 229: Russell Papers. To Russell.]

[Footnote 230: Ibid, To Russell. Lyons' source of information was not revealed.]

[Footnote 231: Ibid., To Russell.]

[Footnote 232: U.S. Messages and Documents, 1861-2, p. 110.]

[Footnote 233: Ibid., p. 118. To Adams.]

[Footnote 234: C.F. Adams, "Seward and the Declaration of Paris." p. 29, and so argued by the author throughout this monograph. I think this an error.]

[Footnote 235: The Spectator, friend of the North, argued, June 15, 1861, that the Queen's Proclamation was the next best thing for the North to a definite British alliance. Southern privateers could not now be obtained from England. And the United States was surely too proud to accept direct British aid.]