Wednesday, November 6, 2019

John M. Forbes to Senator Charles Sumner, September 8, 1863

Naushon, September 8, 1863.

I hear you are to speak on foreign relations, — a delicate subject for a man in your position.

May I give you a hint? I hear from good authority that great doubt exists whether the English government will consider our prima facie case made out against the ironclads, and if not they will make no attempt to stop them.

It will not do, therefore, to say that the letting out of these vessels means war between us and England, for your saying so may make your prophecy into its fulfillment!

Of course, we must tell the English people how much the going out of these vessels will increase the danger of war, and try to wake them up to this danger, but we cannot afford to go to war yet, even for this. We are in a sad state of want of preparation for a war with a naval people. We must gain time, must wait, and even when ready must still hope to avoid the fatal necessity.

It is a great point that the “Times” backs up the Emancipation Society's petition; it shows which way Palmerston wishes the public mind turned; but it is not conclusive, and the whole subject needs the greatest caution, as far from threats as from any indication that we will submit.

Forgive me for ever seeming to preach to an adept like yourself; but I have been there and know the sensitiveness of the British people (even decent ones) to threats, and also the readiness of the government to avail of any appearance of weakness on our part to push us. . . .

I delight in the President's plain letter to plain people!1

1 See page 73.

SOURCE: Sarah Forbes Hughes, Letters and Recollections of John Murray Forbes, Volume 2, p. 58-9

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