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Mr. Seward entered upon his duties as Secretary of State on the 5th of March, 1861. His son, Frederick W. Seward, was appointed Assistant Secretary on the 6th.
William Hunter, who had been in the Department of State since May, 1829, was retained as chief clerk, and subsequently made second Assistant Secretary, which office he still holds.1 At different times during his life he was the acting Secretary of State.
Of the subordinates in the department who began with Mr. Seward, nearly all continued to the close of his second term, eight years. The correspondence2 occurring at the termination of their official relations with Mr. Seward discloses something of the spirit in which the duties of the department were discharged by all, even the humblest, of its officers during those eventful years, as well as the appreciation they received from their venerated and distinguished chief.
While despising political cant about "economy," Mr. Seward conducted the affairs of the department with an inexpensiveness that attracted the notice of Congress. Its sphere of duties was at the same time greatly enlarged.
Mr. Seward's coadjutors abroad were well chosen for their ability and patriotism, —such men as Charles Francis Adams, Henry S. Sanforcl, William L. Dayton, Anson Burlingame, George P. Marsh, J. Lothrop Motley, Thomas Corwin, Carl Schurz, and John Bigelow. Their despatches 3 to the Secretary of State, as published by Congress, bear ample proof of the fidelity and industry which characterized this important branch of the public service during the war. Mr. Seward never failed to acknowledge and commend the zealous and faithful manner in which they seconded his efforts to maintain just and peaceful relations between the United States and all the nations of the world. His consular system, which at an early period became self-sustaining, was perfected and made an important branch of foreign intercourse.
1 1883* , 2 see post, page 614.
3 See Diplomatic Correspondence, as published by Congress, 1861-1869, 21 vols.
With notable exceptions, the ministers abroad were inclined to regard the success of their government despairingly. Their despatches to Mr. Seward, reflecting the general sentiment at foreign courts, were full of criticisms on the conduct of the war, and weighed down with gloomy forebodings of its final result. Mr. Seward, on the other hand, never despaired. Patiently, and with great ability, he answered the doubting epistles of his correspondents, explaining what to them was dark or seemingly unwise, and re-inspiring them with hope of the salvation of the Union; at the same time furnishing them with facts and arguments to counteract the plots and misrepresentations of its enemies.
Never for a moment himself doubting the triumph of the Republic, it was with deep regret that he saw any indulgence of despondency among those who represented it in foreign lands. Grave apprehensions of foreign interference were more rife abroad than at home. These Mr. Seward labored constantly to allay, while with no less assiduity he sought to remove all grounds for such disheartening fears.1
John Adams, during the Revolutionary War, encountered among his foreign correspondents doubts of the success of the cause of independence not unlike those Mr. Seward so often had occasion to remove or allay. In a letter to the Count de Vergennes, dated July, 1780, Mr. Adams says: "Most people in Europe have wondered at the inactivity of the American army for these two years past; but it is merely from want of knowledge or attention." After our defeat on Long Island, in 177G, Mr. Adams rebuked the despondency of his friends in very similar language to that used by Mr. Seward. Mr. Adams says: "The panic which is spread on this occasion is weak and unmanly; it excites my shame and indignation. But it is wearing off. If our whole army had been cut to pieces, it would have been shameful to have been so intimidated as some are or pretend to be. Congress I hope will stand firm."
The duties of the Department of State, as we have intimated, were very arduous during the war. Mr. Seward alludes to this in one of his despatches, when he says: —
i See despatch to Mr. Wood, April 22, 1862, page 815.
"You can readily imagine bow vast a machinery has been created in the War Department, in the Navy Department, and in the Treasury Department respectively. The head of each is a man of busy occupations, high responsibilities, and perplexing cares. You would hardly suppose that a similar change has come over the modest little State Department of other and peaceful days; but the exactions upon it are infinite, and out of all that offers itself to be done, I can only select and do that which cannot be wisely or safely left undone."
Mr. Seward, during his administration, negotiated forty-four treaties ; among which were those for the suppression of the slave trade, with Great Britain in 1862; for the acquisition of Alaska, with Russia, in 1867; extending our relations with China, in 1868; to facilitate the construction of a canal across the Isthmus, and to secure the interests of the United States therein, with Nicaragua, in 1867; to secure the rights of naturalized citizens in various countries, in 1868. Three important treaties failed to receive the approval of the Senate: one for the annexation of the Danish islands, one for the cession of the Bay of Samana in San Domingo, and the other for the construction of a canal across the Isthmus of Darien.
Believing with Lord Bacon that only nations that are liberal of naturalization are fit for empire, Mr. Seward claimed before the governments of Europe, for all persons not convicted or accused of crime, an absolute political right of self-expatriation and a choice of new national allegiance, with all its exemptions and privileges. On these principles he negotiated a number of treaties regulating naturalization.
After an experience of nearly ten years, the following tribute to the wisdom and sagacity which negotiated the treaty with Germany in 1868, among others, is found in the annual message of President Hayes of December 3, 1877.
"Numerous questions in regard to passports, naturalization and exemption from military service have continued to arise in cases of emigrants from Germany who have returned to their native country. The provisions of the treaty of February 22, 1868, however, have proved to be so ample and so judicious that the legation of the United States at Berlin has been able to adjust all claims arising under it, not only without detriment to the amicable relations existing between the two governments, but it is believed without injury or injustice to any duly nat
ilized American citizen. It is desirable that the treaty originally made with the
>rth-German Union in 1868, should now be extended, so as to apply equally to
the states of the Empire of Germany."
Mr. Seward, in 1856, thus describes the Department of State as it then was : 2 —
4' It is the depository of the seals of the Republic. It directs and regulates the merely executive operations of government at home, and all its foreign relations. Its agents are numbered by the hundred, and they are dispersed in all civilized countries of the world. From the chief here in his bureau to the secretaries of legation in South America, Great Britain, France, Russia, Turkey, and China, there is not one of these agents who has ever rebuked or condemned the extension or aggrandizement of slavery. There is not one who does not even defend and justify it. There is not one who does not maintain that the flag of the United States covers with its protection the slaves of the slaveholding class on the high seas."
Mr. Seward had been in office but a few days when formal overtures were made to him by the secessionists for negotiations toward a settlement of existing difficulties.
The commissioners representing the secessionists at first asked for an unofficial interview with the Secretary of State. This he promptly declined. They subsequently presented at the Department a sealed communication to which he replied in a "Memorandum "2 reviewing their case with entire frankness, while explicitly repudiating their positions. The subject of "the evacuation or reinforcement of Fort Sumter" was closely connected with these quasi negotiations, and became a matter of grave dispute.
Mr. Seward expressed his opinion thereon at length in a confidential paper submitted to the President in Cabinet Council,3 on the 15th of March, 1861.
It was during the darkest clays of the Rebellion, when thickening disasters were befalling our armies in the field, and treason was active at Washington and in the North, with rebel emissaries and their allies plotting mischief on the Canadian border, and our foreign relations in their most critical condition, that Napoleon communicated, in an autograph letter, his intention to intervene in the contest with all the strength he could command. Mr. Seward replied to this threat in decided but becoming language.
He furthermore conceived the idea of sending to Europe, in an unofficial capacity, three representative and influential men to meet the impending danger of foreign intervention. He chose for this
1 See vol. iy. page 265.
2 See page 610. s See page 606.