Thursday, March 2, 2017

Diary of John Hay: November 22, 1863

This evening Seward read to the President a despatch from Cash Clay, in which he discussed the whole field of American politics — European diplomacy — and the naval improvements of the century. This man is certainly the most wonderful ass of the age. He recently sent a despatch to Seward, criticising in his usual elusive and arrogant style, the late Oration of Sumner on Foreign Relations, concluding in regular diplomatic style by saying: — “You will read this to Mr. Sumner, and if he desires it, give him a copy.”

Seward says: — “It is saddening to think of the effect of prosperity on such a man. Had not we succeeded, and he prospered, he would always have been known as a brave, sincere, self-sacrificing and eloquent orator. I went all the way to Kentucky to see and to encourage him. It is prosperity that has developed that fearful underlying vanity that poisons his whole character.”

I asked Mr. Seward if he heard of the three revolutions of Matamoras, of which we have been talking to-day. He said: — “Yes! I have received a despatch about it from Govr Banks. I am surprised that a man so sagacious and cautious should have been on the brink of doing so imprudent a thing.”

“He was about to fire on them then?” said the President.

“Yes!” said Seward. “Our consul at Matamoras asked for protection, and he brought his guns to bear on the Castle for that purpose. I wrote to him at once that that would be war; that if our consul wanted protection he must come to Brownsville for it. Firing upon the town would involve us in a war with the Lord knows who.”

“Or rather,” said the President, “the Lord knows who not.”

I happened to mention the Proclamation of Emancipation, and Seward said: — “One-half the world are continually busying themselves for the purpose of accomplishing Proclamations and Declarations of War, etc., which they leave to the other half to carry out. Purposes can usually better be accomplished without Proclamations. And failures are less signal when not preceded by sounding promises.

“The slave States seem inclined to save us any further trouble in that way,” he continued. “Their best men are making up their minds that the thing is dead. Bramlette has written an admirable letter in answer to some slaveholders who ask him how he, a pro-slavery man, can support a war whose result will be the abolition of slavery. He tells them the war must be prosecuted, no matter what the result; that it will probably be the destruction of slavery, and he will not fight against it, nor greatly care to see the institution ended.”

The President added, as another cheering incident from Kentucky, that Jerry Boyle has asked for permission to enlist three thousand negroes for teamsters, paying them wages and promising them freedom.

The President is very anxious about Burnside.

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 125-8; For the whole diary entry see Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and letters of John Hay, p. 124-5.

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