For a fortnight I have been ill and really unfit for duty, yet have been absent from the Department but a single day, the only day I have lost in Washington since March 4,1861. But for the illness of Mr. Faxon, Chief Clerk, I should have abstained a day or two from labor. Fatigued and exhausted, I have not felt able to jot down current events from day to day.
With some effort, though with indifferent health, I have drawn up a communication to Mr. Seward on the subject of letters of marque. But after the council to-day he read a dispatch from Mr. Adams, communicating two letters from Earl Russell, which are insolent, contemptuous, and mean aggression if not war. It is pretty evident that a devastating and villainous war is to be waged on our commerce by English capital and English men under the Rebel flag with the connivance of the English Government, which will, and is intended to, sweep our commerce from the ocean. Only by a decided, firm, and resolute tone can the country be rescued, and I am by no means certain that will be sufficient. We are in no condition for a foreign war. Torn by dissensions, an exhausting civil war on our hands, we have a gloomy prospect, but a righteous cause that will ultimately succeed. God alone knows through what trials, darkness, and suffering we are to pass. There is a disinclination to look these troubles which threaten us boldly in the face. I felt oppressed, as did the others. A long vista of direful calamities opens before us. Mr. Seward is earnest to get out privateers to catch the Alabama and the blockade-runners. The President thinks they should try that policy. Chase has lately favored it. I have no faith in it as against the Rebels, who have no commerce to be injured, but if we are to have a conflict with England, letters of marque and every means in our power must be put in requisition against that faithless nation. I have, therefore, doubts about sending the letter which I have prepared.
Earl Russell gives us to understand the English Government do not intend to interpose to prevent the Rebels from building, buying, and sending out from England cruisers, semi-pirates, to prey upon our commerce. In plain language, English capital is to be employed in destroying our shipping interests. If we are silent and submissive, they will succeed, and we shall waken to our condition when our vessels and merchant seamen are gone.
The condition of affairs opens a vast field. Should a commercial war commence, it will affect the whole world. The police of the seas will be broken up, and the peaceful intercourse of nations destroyed. Those governments and peoples that have encouraged and are fostering our dissensions will themselves reap the bitter fruits of their malicious intrigues. In this great conflict, thus wickedly begun, there will be likely to ensue an uprising of the nations that will shatter existing governments and overthrow the aristocracies and dynasties not only of England but of Europe.
I close my book and this month of March with sad and painful forebodings. The conduct and attitude of Great Britain, if persisted in, foreshadow years of desolation, of dissolution, of suffering and blood.
Should April open, as we hope, with success at Charleston and Vicksburg, there will be a change in the deportment and conduct of England. Her arrogance and subtle aggression will be checked by our successes, and by that alone. She has no magnanimity, no sense of honor or of right. She is cowardly, treacherous, and mean, and hates and fears our strength. In that alone is our security.
SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 249-51