Charles Francis Adams in Regard to the Trent Affair
(January 10, 1862)
Suspected and Disloyal Persons
Case of Mason, Slidell, Macfarland and Eustis.--#4
O.R.--SERIES II--VOLUME II [S# 115]
LEGATION OF THE UNITED STATES,
London, January 10, 1862.
Hon. WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State, Washington.
SIR: Though not yet favored with any information from the Department respecting the course of the proceedings between the two Governments in regard to the case of the Trent at Washington I am bound to believe from what I see in the newspapers that the difference has been settled by the release of the captives.
It is with great satisfaction that I gather from the abstract of the correspondence which has been communicated by telegraph that the Government has adhered to the principle for which it has so long contended and in the recognition of which the whole civilized world will now concur. Considering the remarkable unanimity which has been shown in the judgment of the merits of this case throughout Europe the step that has been taken will meet with very general approbation. The satisfaction expressed in this city everywhere, excepting among the small society of the Confederate emissaries and the party which habitually looks to war as an attractive pastime, stands in remarkable contrast with the feelings which animated almost everybody only six weeks ago. Not many, however, have yet opened their eyes to the conviction of the fact that the apparent victory of Great Britain involves in reality the necessary surrender of one of her most odious assumptions of power over the ocean. In this light it is not difficult to comprehend the policy of France which sacrifices no consistency whilst it more surely places a new ligature around the maritime supremacy of its great rival.
A consequence of this result is probably a continuance of the mission with which the Government has honored me for some time longer. But the questions immediately arise how long and under what promise of future usefulness? In order to answer these it is necessary to take a brief survey of the ground we occupy. Parliament is summoned to assemble for the dispatch of business on the 6th of February. I have reason to believe that arrangements predicated upon a particular contingency had been made to bring on an early discussion of the American difficulty with a view to press a direct interference with the blockade and a recognition of the Confederate States. I regret to learn that the first of these measures has found favor in some quarters from which I had hoped better things. The only question to consider is whether the settlement of the case of the Trent will have much effect in altering the presentation of the programme or in preventing its adoption.
It is too early to determine what may be the degree of the reaction in popular opinion but there is no reason to doubt it will be considerable. Besides which the position of the ministry has been so much fortified by its success as to place its continuance at least for another year almost beyond doubt. It will therefore be in a situation to act with firmness and independence should it be inclined to resist any hasty movements. Whether that inclination does or does not exist is the problem. If I were to judge from the temper shown in certain presses believed to be prompted by the prime minister I should augur a very unfavorable result. On the other hand I think I had a right to infer from the language of Lord Russell in our very latest conference that there was no disposition to embarrass us so long as there was a reasonable prospect of our success. Besides this so marked has been the late development of a disinclination to a war with the United States among the quiet and religious citizens of the middle classes, and particularly when its practical effect would be the establishment of a slave-holding oligarchy with which they have no sympathy whatever, that any policy entered into with an apparent desire to revive that measure for the benefit of the latter would scarcely meet with a second response like the last. From all these considerations I am inclined to conclude that without the occurrence of any new disturbing matter the probabilities are rather in favor of the continuance of diplomatic relations for some time to come.
Yet so doubtful do I regard it that I cannot help wishing for the occurrence of some decisive event in the war which would completely turn the current of opinion in our favor. It is not for me to interfere in any manner with the course of the operations in the field. I am well aware of the difficulties in the way of action and entertain too lively a recollection of the consequences of the disaster at Bull Run to favor precipitation anywhere. At the same time I cannot fail to perceive the force of the argument constantly pressed here in a community which measures military results by the sole standard of success of the apparent inability to command it. I feel that one clear victory at home might perhaps save us a foreign war, and so feeling it can scarcely be wondered at if I look forward to it with more than ordinary anxiety. An advance into the rebellious States would be as productive of sensible results in Parliament here as on the spot itself, whilst a decided triumph would put a more effective stop to Confederate operations in England than all the labors of orators and statesmen and philosophers of both countries combined.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS.
Source: "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion"
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