Saturday, October 8, 2016

John Stuart Mill to John L. Motley, October 31, 1862

Saint-Virain, Avignon,
October 31, 1862.

My Dear Sir: Allow me to thank you most warmly for your long and interesting letter, which, if it had been twice as long as it was, would only have pleased me more. There are few persons that I have only seen once with whom I so much desire to keep up a communication as with you; and the importance of what I learn from you respecting matters so full of momentous consequences to the world would make such communication most valuable to me, even if I did not wish for it on personal grounds. The state of affairs in America has materially improved since you wrote by the defeat of the enemy in Maryland and their expulsion from it, and still more by Mr. Lincoln's antislavery proclamation, which no American, I think, can have received with more exultation than I did. It is of the highest importance, and more so because the manifest reluctance with which the President made up his mind to that decided step indicates that the progress of opinion in the country had reached the point of seeing its necessity for the effectual prosecution of the war. The adhesion of so many governors of States, some of them originally Democrats, is a very favorable sign; and thus far the measure does not seem to have very materially weakened your hold upon the border slave States. The natural tendency will be, if the war goes on successfully, to reconcile those States to emancipating their own slaves, availing themselves of the pecuniary offers made by the Federal government. I still feel some anxiety as to the reception to be given to the measure by Congress when it meets, and I should much like to know what are your expectations on that point.

In England the proclamation has only increased the venom of those who, after taunting you so long with caring nothing for abolition, now reproach you for your abolitionism as the worst of your crimes. But you will find that whenever any name is attached to the wretched effusions, it is always that of some deeply dyed Tory — generally the kind of Tory to whom slavery is rather agreeable than not, or who so hate your democratic institutions that they would be sure to inveigh against you whatever you did, and are enraged at being no longer able to taunt you with being false to your own principles. It is from these also that we are now beginning to hear, what disgusts me more than all the rest, the base doctrine that it is for the interest of England that the American Republic should be broken up. Think of us as ill as you may (and we have given you abundant cause), but do not, I entreat you, think that the general English public is so base as this. Our national faults are not now of that kind, and I firmly believe that the feeling of almost all English Liberals, even those whose language is most objectionable, is one of sincere regret for the disruption which they think inevitable. As long as there is a Tory party in England, it will rejoice at anything which injures or discredits American institutions; but the Liberal party — who are now, and are likely to remain, much the strongest — are naturally your friends and allies, and will return to that position when once they see that you are not engaged in a hopeless, and therefore, as they think, an irrational and unjustifiable, contest. There are writers enough here to keep up the fight and meet the malevolent comments on all your proceedings by right ones. Besides Cairnes and Dicey and Harriet Martineau and Ludlow and Hughes, besides the “Daily News” and “Macmillan” and the “Star,” there are now the “Westminster” and the “London Review,” to which several of the best writers have now gone over; there is Ellison of Liverpool, the author of “Slavery and Secession,” and editor of a monthly economical journal, the “Exchange”; and there are other writers, less known, who, if events go on favorably, will rapidly multiply.

Here in France the state of opinion on the subject is most gratifying. All liberal Frenchmen seem to have been with you from the first. They did not know more about the subject than the English, but their instincts were truer. By the way, what did you think of the narrative of the campaign on the Potomac in the “Revue des Deux Mondes” of October 15, by the Comte de Paris? It looks veracious, and is certainly intelligent, and in general effect likely, I should think, to be very useful to the cause. I still think you take too severe a view of the conduct of our government. I grant that the extra-official dicta of some of the ministers have been very unfortunate. But as a government, I do not see that their conduct is objectionable. The port of Nassau may be all that you say it is, but the United States also have the power, and have used it largely, of supplying themselves with munitions of war from our ports. If the principle of neutrality is once accepted, our markets must be open to both sides alike, and the general opinion in England is (I do not say whether rightly or wrongly) that if the course adopted is favorable to either side, it is to the United States, since the Confederates, owing to the blockade of their ports, have so much less power to take advantage of the facilities extended equally to both. Then, again, if the Tuscarora was ordered away, the Sumter was so, too. What you mention about a seizure of arms by our government must, I feel confident, have taken place during the Trent difficulty, at which time alone, neither before nor after, has the export of arms to America been interdicted. It is very possible that too much may have been made of Butler's proclamation, and that he has more wrong in phraseology than substance. But with regard to the watchword said to have been given by Pakenham at New Orleans, I have always hitherto taken it for a mere legend, like the exactly parallel ones which grew up under our eyes in Paris, in 1848, respecting the socialist insurrection of June. What authority there may be for it I do not know; but if it is true, nothing can mark more strongly the change which has taken place in the European standard of belligerent rights since the wars of the beginning of the century, for if any English commander at the present time were to do the like, he could never show his face in English society (even if he escaped being broken by a court martial); and I think we are entitled to blame in others what none of us, of the present generation at least, would be capable of perpetrating.

You are perhaps hardly aware how little the English of the present day feel of solidarité with past generations. We do not feel ourselves at all concerned to justify our predecessors. Foreigners reproved us with having been the great enemies of neutral rights so long as we were belligerents, and for turning round and stickling for them now when we are neutrals; but the real fact is, we are convinced, and have no hesitation in saying (what our Liberal party said even at the time), that our policy in that matter in the great Continental war was totally wrong. But while I am anxious that liberal and friendly Americans should not think worse of us than we really deserve, I am deeply conscious and profoundly grieved and mortified that we deserve so ill, and are making in consequence so pitiful a figure before the world, with which if we are not daily and insultingly taxed by all Europe, it is only because our enemies are glad to see us doing exactly what they expected, justifying their opinion of us and acting in a way which they think perfectly natural, because they think it perfectly selfish.

If you kindly favor me with another letter here, it is desirable that it should arrive before the end of November. After that time my address will be Blackheath Park, Kent.

I am, my dear sir,
Very truly yours,
J. S. Mill.

SOURCE: George William Curtis, editor, The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley in Two Volumes, Library Edition, Volume 2, p. 286

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