Thursday, March 23, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Wednesday, May 13, 1863

The last arrival from England brings Earl Russell's speech on American affairs. Its tone and views are less offensive than some things we have had, and manifest a dawning realization of what must follow if England persists in her unfriendly policy. In his speech, Earl R., in some remarks relative to the opinions of the law officers of the Crown on the subject of mails captured on blockade-runners, adroitly quotes the letter of Seward to me on the 31st of October, and announces that to be the policy of the United States Government, and the regulation which governs our naval officers. It is not the English policy, nor a regulation which they adopt, reciprocate, or respect, but the tame, flat concession of the Secretary of State, made without authority or law. The statement of Earl R. is not correct. No such orders as he represents have issued from the Navy Department. Not a naval officer or district attorney has ever been instructed to surrender the mails as stated, nor is there a court in the United States which would regard such instructions, if given, as good law. It is nothing more nor less than an attempted abandonment, an ignominious surrender, of our undoubted legal rights by a Secretary of State who knew not what he was about. The President may, under the influence of Mr. Seward, commit himself to this inconsiderate and illegal proceeding and direct such instructions to be issued, but if so, the act shall be his, not mine, and he will find it an unhappy error.

But Seward has been complimented in Parliament for giving away to our worst enemy his country's rights, — for an impertinent and improper intermeddling, or attempt to intermeddle, with and direct the action of another Department, and the incense which he has received will tickle his vanity.

Sumner tells me of a queer interview he had with Seward. The first part of the conversation was harmonious and related chiefly to the shrewd and cautious policy and management of the British Ministry, who carefully referred all complex questions to the law officers of Her Majesty's Government. It might have been a hint to Seward to be more prudent and considerate, and to take legal advice instead of pushing on, wordy and slovenly, as is sometimes done. Allusion was made to Mr. Adams and his unfortunate letter to Zerman.1 Our Minister, Mr. Adams, was spoken of as too reserved and retiring for his own and the general good. Sumner said, in justification and by way of excuse for him, that it would be pleasanter and happier for him if he had a Secretary of Legation whose deportment, manner, and social position were different, — if he were more affable and courteous, in short more of a gentleman, — for he could in that case make up for some of Mr. A.'s deficiencies. At this point Seward flew into a passion, and, in a high key, told Sumner he knew nothing of political (meaning party) claims and services, and accused him of a design to cut the throat of Charley Wilson, the Secretary of Legation at London. Sumner wholly disclaimed any such design or any personal knowledge of the man, but said he had been informed, and had no doubt of the fact, that it was the daily practice of Wilson to go to Morley's, seat himself in a conspicuous place, throw his legs upon the table, and, in coarse language, abuse England and the English. Whatever might be our grievances and wrong, this, Sumner thought, was not a happy method of correcting them, nor would such conduct on the part of the second officer of the Legation bring about kinder feelings or a better state of things, whereas a true gentleman could by suavity and dignity in such a position win respect, strengthen his principal, and benefit the country. These remarks only made Seward more violent, and louder in his declarations that Charley Wilson was a clever fellow and should be sustained.

I read to Attorney-General Bates the letters and papers in relation to mails on captured vessels, of which he had some previous knowledge. He complimented my letters and argument, and said my position was impregnable and the Secretary of State wholly and utterly wrong.

Mr. Seward sent me to-day a letter from Lord Lyons concerning the Mont Blanc and the Dolphin, and wished me to name some person at Key West to arbitrate on the former case, the vessel having been restored and the parties wanting damages. I named Admiral Bailey for this naval duty, but took occasion to reiterate views I have heretofore expressed, and especially in my letter yesterday that these matters belonged to the courts and not to the Departments.

Hear of no new move by Hooker. I am apprehensive our loss in killed and prisoners was much greater in the late battle than has been supposed.

1 Zerman was a Mexican in partnership with Howell, an American.

The firm fitted out a vessel to trade with Matamoras. Mr. Adams, being satisfied of their good faith, gave them assurances of immunity from interference on the part of the United States Navy, and this discrimination against Englishmen engaged ostensibly in the same trade, was sharply criticized in the British Parliament.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 299-302

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