Our Foreign Relations
New-York Daily Tribune, June 3, 1861
Whoever reads attentively the recent debate on American affairs in the House of Lords will find it difficult to detect therein any trace of that ill will toward our Government or disposition to aggravate our intestine troubles which is popularly supposed to animate the councils of the Western European Powers. That there are Britons high in rank and station who would see without profound regret the dismemberment and ruin of the Great Republic, we cannot doubt; that a kindred impulse is rife though latent among the dignitaries and courtiers of most monarchies, we believe; but that any of the Great Powers is disposed or likely to take any position or step calculated to disturb our international amity, we do not credit. On the contrary, the tone of the debate aforesaid, and of European official utterances generally, is marked by eminent dignity, moderation, and anxiety to give no just cause of offense to our Government or People.
Has this evident desire to maintain amicable relations with us been fairly met on this side of the water? We think not. In many quarters a disposition to take offense at trifles and aggravate slight differences into causes of serious quarrel has been manifested. Some of our valorous cotemporaries have seemed to think that, since we are in for a fight anyhow, we might as well make a job of it, and polish off Great Britain, France, Spain, and perhaps two or three others, before we return to our plows, our anvils, and our ledgers. We dissent from this view altogether, insisting that we shall first finish up the little matter we have in hand, and then, if we have other accounts to settle, proceed with them seriatim, until the last shall have been fully adjusted.
A good deal of not unnatural feeling has been excited among us by the language of Lord John Russell importing that our Government and that of Jeff. Davis are to be accorded respectively the rights of "belligerents." We do not consider his expression felicitous, and we are confident that, if the subject were now to come up originally, different language would be chosen. But consider well the circumstances under which that language was uttered.
The doctrine that a government in fact is to be regarded by foreign powers as a government of right is emphatically of American origin. Up to this year, we have steadfastly commended and adhered to it. By virtue of it, we were among the first to recognize the independence of the South American republics, of Mexico and of Texas. By virtue of it, our Minister at the French Court was the first to recognize the Republic of 1848. Respect for it paralyzed the tongues which would have gladly pleaded for a manly American protest against the bloody and perfidious Napoleonic usurpation of December, 1851. In virtue of it, we gave an early and emphatic recognition to the new Kingdom of Italy, in contravention of the historical rights of the Pope, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and a baker's dozen of sovereign princes. By virtue of it, should the People of Hungary or of Ireland at any time declare themselves independent and expel the officials and the troops of their hereditary rulers, we shall undoubtedly and promptly recognize their separate Nationality and sovereignty. The right and wrong of their quarrel with those rulers is a matter with which we profess to have absolutely nothing to do. We simply state the American doctrine on this point, without caring to argue it. Having bravely and determinedly upheld it in the face of the Holy Alliance and in contempt of all the time-honored canons of European diplomacy, we cannot creditably repudiate it at the very first instance in which it is brought to bear on ourselves, and when all the world seems to be coming round to the position on which we formerly stood alone.
Now look at the case in its main aspects, as it was known in Europe at the moment when Lord John made his demonstration, premising that a foreign minister is not at liberty to discriminate between the late and the present of our quadrennial Administrations. He must deal with our Government as a unit subsisting in perpetuity, and having the sole guardianship of its own consistency.
In December last, the little State of South Carolina professed to secede from, and sever all connection with, the American Union. She thereupon seized the Federal arms and munitions on deposit in the Arsenal at Charleston, the Federal custom-houses within her boundaries—whereof that at Charleston must alone have cost several hundred thousand dollars—the money in the Federal Sub-Treasury, &c., &c.—and went to collecting revenue from imports in those stolen customhouses in her own name exclusively, and for her own benefit. Of the forts in Charleston harbor, she seized all but the strongest, and closely invested that, planting battery after battery in ever-narrowing circles around it, and repelling by force the only two attempts ever made to replenish its slender stock of provisions. She arrested the U. S. Collector at Georgetown for high treason in attempting to continue the collection of revenue for the Union. The Federal Judge, Collector, &c., at Charleston renounced the service of the Union and entered that of the State. All these doings went on openly, ostentatiously, within two days' journey, by mail, of the Federal Metropolis, within three days' steam of New-York; yet not a precept was issued, not a musket leveled, in behalf of the repudiated authority and violated laws of the Nation. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas, rapidly followed suit, stealing a million dollars from the Mint at New-Orleans, capturing all the forts and arsenals within their limits, save Fort Pickens and the inaccessible island strongholds within the geographical limits of Florida, seizing several Federal vessels and the Navy-Yard at Pensacola, while fully one-third of our little Army, hitherto employed in the defense of the inland frontiers of Texas, was first demoralized and then subjected to a capitulation by its traitorous commander, Twiggs, and even the stipulations made with him in its favor, were ultimately repudiated by his Confederate villains, who thus robbed the troops of their arms, and compelled them to surrender as prisoners of war.
This process went on unresisted, unobstructed, in the face and eyes of an Executive half of whose Ministers were deep in the councils of the unequivocal traitors. But Congress also was in session throughout the three Winter months, and did nothing whatever to arrest it. Meantime, half our Embassadors in Europe were helping on the treason, introducing the emissaries of Jeff. Davis furtively to the ministers of foreign affairs with whom they maintained official relations, and Mr. C. J. Faulkner volunteered a formal assurance to the French Government that no forcible resistance to the progress and triumph of Secession would be made by the Federal Government!
Now we state but the most obvious, undeniable truth when we say that if Austria, or Great Britain, or Russia, had suffered herself in like manner, and without a shadow of resistance, to be divested of Hungary, of Ireland, of Poland, respectively, the other Great Powers would have assumed that the separation was tacitly conceded and final. Authority which does not even try to enforce obedience, power which does not differ practically from impotence, is not understood in Europe—and can we wonder? Suppose Ireland, a single fortress excepted, were to-day free from the presence of a British official or soldier, and had so remained unmolested, unmenaced, for months, would not her independence be acknowledged outright by our Government? How could the natural and urgent demand for such recognition be plausibly resisted?
But a new Administration was installed at Washington three months ago. What then? Was Fort Sumter promptly reenforced and provisioned? Was it even given out that it would be so soon as the necessary force could be collected? Nay; was an expedition at once set on foot—no matter how secretly—to achieve that end? Were loyal collectors appointed for Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New-Orleans, and Galveston, to replace those who had forfeited if not formally abjured their offices by plunging into treason? Was any attempt promptly made, or even promised, to enforce the revenue laws of the Union in the ports of the disloyal States? The facts are on record. They speak for themselves.
But it is said that Lord John Russell and M. Thouvenel should not have received, even unofficially, the emissaries of our Sepoys. How so? did not Mr. Seward, our own Foreign Minister, hold conference after conference with their counterparts accredited to Washington? The propriety, the policy of so doing, is not now in question. For our own part, we cannot deem it unwise to hear what your adversary has to propose or suggest before proceeding to extremities with him. But it must not be forgotten that if Mr. Jeff. Davis's envoys were liable to the treatment of traitors anywhere, it was at Washington, not at London or Paris; and that it ill became M. Thouvenel to refuse to receive Americans whom any Plenipotentiary at his Court commended to his distinguished consideration. We strongly suspect, though we do not know, that Messrs. Yancey and Mann were equally favored by Mr. Dallas at London.
What the Unionists of America ask of Europe is simply and only fair play. If with this we cannot thrash the Secessionists into good behavior—promptly, and thereby, conclusively—then we will frankly and heartily acknowledge their independence. They pretend to be accredited and sustained by the Eight Millions of Whites in the seceded States, and thence argue that they cannot be beaten. Their conclusion would be safe if their promises were true; but they are not. We feel sure that this War against the Union is the result of years of conspiracy and plotting—that it was fermented by systematic fraud and falsehood—that it has been swelled to its present formidable proportions by wholesale and persistent lying on the stump, lying through the newspapers, and lying by telegraph, until a great portion of the Southern People are utterly deluded and driven to frenzy by assertions that the North envies and hates them, is bent on their destruction by fire, famine, and slaughter, and is raising vast armies to steal their slaves, burn their houses, ravage their fields, and outrage their wives and daughters. Give us a fair chance to disabuse them, and then let them have a fair, peaceful election, and the South would give a Union majority to-morrow, as the election of last Winter clearly indicated. Deceived, maddened as they are, there is still a very large minority of the Southern People, and especially of the more intelligent and responsible classes, who still at heart "carry the flag and step to the music of the Union." Silenced by terrorism, compelled to vote for Secession at the point of the bowie-knife, to surrender their property to the horse-leech exactions of the traitors, and even to take up arms in support of treason, they yet sigh for the halcyon days of peace and security so "vilely cast away," and hope for their return through the triumph of the armies now mustering for the defense of the integrity of the Nation. All we ask of Europe is to be well let alone until we shall have had a fair opportunity to demonstrate that inflexible purpose of the American People not to be split up into half a dozen miserable Venezuelas and Nicaraguas, but to maintain the Republic in its entirety and with its recognized geographical limits as they appear on any reputable Atlas or globe. Let the Old World remain strictly neutral, refusing to lend money to either party, or to harbor the priveteers of either, and if we do not vindicate our right to be a great nation, we will agree to be content with the secondary position to which dismemberment must temporarily consign us. We ask but a clear field and no favor, and may God defend the Right!