Monday, August 29, 2016

John L. Motley to Baron von Bismarck, August 29, 1862

Legation of the United States of America, Vienna,
August 29, 1862.

My Dear Bismarck: I have been at this point now about eight months, and ever since I came here I have been most desirous of opening communications with you. But for a long time you seemed to be so much on the move between Berlin, Petersburg, and Paris that even if I should succeed in getting a letter to you, it appears doubtful whether I should be lucky enough to receive a reply.

Perhaps I shall be more successful now, for the newspapers inform me that you are in some watering-place in the south of France. So I shall write but a very brief note, merely to express my great desire to hear from you again, and my hope that in an idle moment, if you ever have such, you will send me a line to tell me of yourself, your prosperity, and of your wife and children.

Pray give my sincerest regards to Madame de Bismarck, and allow me to add those of my wife, although personally still unknown to you both, alas!

I don't know whether you have observed in any newspapers that I was appointed about a year ago minister plenipotentiary, etc., to this court. I arrived here from America about the beginning of November. I much fear that this is the very last place in Europe where I shall ever have the good luck of seeing you. Nevertheless, whether you remain in Paris or go — as seems most likely from all I can gather from private and public sources — to Berlin this autumn to form a ministry, in either case there is some chance of our meeting some time or other, while there would have been none so long as you remained in St. Petersburg. Pray let me have a private line from you; you can't imagine how much pleasure it will give me. My meeting with you in Frankfort, and thus renewing the friendship of our youth, will remain one of the most agreeable and brightest chapters in my life. And it is painful to think that already that renewed friendship is beginning to belong to the past, and that year after year is adding a fold to the curtain.

However, you must write to me, and tell me where we can all meet next summer, if no sooner. I wish you would let me know whether and how soon you are to make a cabinet in Berlin. Remember that when you write to me it is as if you wrote to some one in the planet Jupiter. Personally, I am always deeply interested in what concerns you. But, publicly, I am a mere spectator of European affairs, and wherever and whatever my sympathies in other times than these might be, I am too entirely engrossed with the portentous events now transacting in my own country to be likely to intermeddle or make mischief in the doings of this hemisphere, save in so far as they may have bearing on our own politics. You can say anything you like to me, then, as freely as when you were talking to me in your own house.

The cardinal principle of American diplomacy has always been to abstain from all intervention or participation in European affairs. This has always seemed to me the most enlightened view to take of our exceptional, and therefore fortunate, political and geographical position. I need not say how earnest we are in maintaining that principle at this moment, when we are all determined to resist to the death any interference on the part of Europe in our affairs.

I wish, by the way, you would let me know anything you can pick up in regard to the French emperor's intentions or intrigues in regard to our civil war.

Of course I don't suggest to you for an instant any violation of confidence, but many things might be said with great openness to you that would not, from reserve or politeness or a hundred other reasons, be said to an American diplomatist.

I suppose there is no doubt whatever that L. N. has been perpetually, during the last six months, provoking, soliciting, and teasing the English cabinet to unite with him in some kind of intervention, and that the English ministers have steadily refused to participate in the contemplated crime. Of course they know and we know that intervention means war with the United States government and people on behalf of the rebel slaveholders; but I have very good reason to know that the English government refuse, and that Lord Palmerston even ridicules the idea as preposterous. Not that the English love us. On the contrary, they hate us, but they can't understand how it will help the condition of their starving populations in the manufacturing districts to put up the price of cotton five hundred per cent., which a war with America would do, and to cause an advance in corn in the same proportion. There is no doubt whatever that the harvest in England is a very bad one, and that they must buy some thirty million sterling worth of foreign corn. On the other hand, the harvest in America is the most fruitful ever known since that continent was discovered.

Unless lunatics were at the head of affairs in England, they would not seize the opportunity of going to war with the granary of corn and cotton without a cause.

But it may be different with France. She is fond of la Gloire. And she is sending out an expedition to Mexico, although she seems likely to have her hands full in Italy just now. Moreover, L. N. is the heaven appointed arbiter of all sublunary affairs, and he doubtless considers it his mission to “save civilization” in our continent, as he has so often been good enough to do in the rest of the world.

What do you think is his real design? How far do you believe he has gone in holding out definite encouragement to the secessionist agents in France? Do you think he has any secret plot with them to assist them against us in the Gulf of Mexico? Will he attempt anything of this kind without the knowledge and connivance of England? I say no more except to repeat that you may give me, perhaps, a useful hint or two, from time to time, of what you hear and know. It is unnecessary for me to say that I shall keep sacredly confidential anything you may say to me as such.

I shall not go into the subject of our war at all, save to say that it is to me an inconceivable idea that any man of average intellect or love of right can possibly justify this insurrection of the slaveholders. The attempt to destroy a prosperous, powerful, and happy commonwealth like ours, merely that on its ruin might be constructed a slave-breeding, slave-holding confederacy, is one of the greatest crimes that history has recorded. In regard to the issue of the war I don't entertain the slightest doubt, if foreign interference is kept off. If the slaveholders obtain the alliance of France, the war will of course be indefinitely protracted. If we are left to ourselves, I think with the million of men that we shall have in the field in the course of the month of October, and with a fleet of twelve or fifteen first-class iron-clad frigates, which will be ready by that time, that the insurrection cannot hold out a great while longer. However, of that I am not sure. Time is nothing to God — nor to the devil either, as to that matter. We mortals, creatures of a day, are very impatient. The United States government is now fighting with the devil, for the spirit of this slave Confederacy is nothing less. How long it will take us to vanquish it I know not. But that it will be vanquished completely I entertain no doubt whatever. I don't expect you to accept my views, but I thought it as well to state them. I am more anxious about the next three months than about anything that can happen afterward. Let me, however, warn you — in case you take an interest in the progress of our affairs — not to believe in Reuter's telegrams as in the London “Times.” Their lies are stupendous, and by them public opinion all over Europe is poisoned. This is nothing to me. Their lies can't alter the facts — I have other sources of information. But when I see how the telegraph and the European press have been constantly worked for the interest of the secessionists, it does not surprise me to see the difficulty which honest people have in arriving at the truth, either in fact or in theory. Do you know your colleague, Mr. Dayton, United States Minister in Paris? Let me recommend him to you as a most excellent and honorable man. Renewing all our kindest regards to you and yours, believe me, my dear Bismarck, always most sincerely your old friend,

J. L. Motley.

SOURCE: George William Curtis, editor, The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley in Two Volumes, Library Edition, Volume 2, p. 271-6

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