Robert M. (Robert Milligan) McLane.

Reminiscences, 1827-1897 online

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China were most unsatisfactory, as the
Imperial Commission at Canton, through
whom all diplomatic intercourse with China
was conducted, had successfully resisted all
his efforts to maintain diplomatic intercourse
or enlarge the commercial privileges secured
by Treaty. Sir George Bonham, then British
Plenipotentiary and Governor of Hong Kong,
as well as M. de Bourbalon, the French
Minister, had been equally unfortunate. Yet,
the Imperial Commission at Canton, without
refusing to acknowledge their Treaty right,
contrived nevertheless to reduce all inter-
course to these commercial transactions,
practically ignoring the Treaty stipulations
between China and the Treaty Powers.


Soon after I reached China, Sir John
Bowring succeeded Sir George Bonham as
the British Plenipotentiary, and it was there-
fore in connection with the former that I
determined to visit all the Ports open to
foreign commerce, and if possible to open
communications with the Imperial Govern-
ment at Pekin. China, which had been
absolutely withdrawn from the observation
and influence of European nations, and
apparently quite indifferent to all political
movements at home, seemed now aroused
from its sleep of ages, and was being shaken
to its inmost recesses by a revolutionary
disturbance. The English war which opened
the Empire to the commerce of Western
Nations in 1840 gave little insight to its
political condition, and nothing but the
actual incident of the Taping -Wang revolt
was known or understood by Europeans.
This chief was a vulgar villain who rallied
the lowest of the population in one of the
interior provinces in the South-Western part
of the Empire, and announced himself as
'' Generalissimus " called by God to restore
the Chinese Nationality, and destroy the
Manchoo Tartar race.


He had received at Canton a translation
of the Bible from an American Missionary,
and he denominated himself the younger
brother of Jesus Christ, assuming the title
of Emperor under the name of " Tisnte "
(Celestial Virtue). He preached in the open
squares and market houses of the towns, and
declared that God had revealed to him the
true story of the Creation, (as stated in the
Bible), and his scheme of salvation (as related
in the New Testament), representing himself
to be charged with the duty of exterminat-
ing and killing all who would not believe
his word ; and gathering together all be-
lievers over whom his elder brother Christ
would come and govern in the new Empire
which he was to establish. However in-
credible it may seem, the Chinese mind
readily accepted this material idea of God
and the Creation ; and, swarming as China
was with secret societies, robbers and pirates,
it was not difficult to overthrow the mere
handful of Tartars who represented the force
and authority of the Imperial Government.
China had been for ages the scene of con-
stantly recurring revolutions, and prior to
the establishment of the Tartar Dynasty in

1644 A.D. not less than fifteen changes of
dynasties had occurred, accompanied with
bloody civil wars.

Europe knew little or nothing of China
prior to the thirteenth century ; the most
extreme difference of opinion was entertained
concerning it, some regarding the people as
simple but intelligent and domestic, others
as low, debased, and ignorant. The truth
seems to be that the Chinese were like all
other people, mixed, good and bad. Their
peculiar feature was their material, rational-
listic character and high civilization intel-
lectually. The absolute nature of their
Government was based upon the authority
of the family, at the head of the whole
being the Emperor. With the Chinese,
Heaven is the origin of all Government,
and their philosophy or religion is a pure
fatalism. Here is found the pure idea of
a King by Divine Right, whose power is
absolute. It is delegated to the Ministers
of State, who delegate again administrative
powers to officers of Government, down to
the lowest degree, which is the heads of
families. The Aristocracy of the country is
the literary class, and the Emperor chooses


all his civil officers from this class, and
every Chinaman can present himself for one
of the three literary classes to which he is
appointed after examination. The Town
Government of China is as popular as in
New England, every man being a voter and
eligible for the town council. The literary
aristocracy is not hereditar3^ The Royal
Family and that of Confucius alone possess
the hereditary principle. This Absolute
Government is, therefore, in one sense, a
Popular Government. The entire civil and
military administration of the Empire is
centred in Pekin, and controlled and directed
by Imperial Councils there. The Viceroys
receive their instructions from the Imperial
Council at Pekin, and in their turn supervise
their local administrations down to the town
councils and heads of families. The funda-
mental principle taught by Confucius, and
accepted as the religion and philosophy of
the Empire, is that all men, the most
elevated in rank as well as the most humble
and obscure, are equally bound to perform
their duty and elevate one's self. Self im-
provement, guided by human reason which
we have all received from Heaven for our

regeneration and the perfection of our nature
and destiny, is believed to be the first duty
of a man. In my personal, as in my diplo-
matic intercourse with Chinese officials, I
experienced a certain courtesy of manner and
speech ; but their desire to avoid intercourse
was always apparent, even when Treaty
obligations imposed it upon them. The truth
was, that all the intercourse they permitted
themselves to hold with Western Nations
was imposed upon them by war, and the
Treaties which resulted therefrom.

Here are some extracts of my Chinese
letters and despatches which will furnish an
interesting account of my stay in China, and
my efforts to open communication with the
Viceroys and superior officers at Pekin.
Here follow Despatches :
No. I. Hong Kong, March 20, i854.
No. 2. Macao, April 8, 1854.

Cofl. Macao, April 9, 1854.
No. 3. U.S. Leg., on board the U.S.
St. Susquehana^ Hong Kong,
April 20, 1854.
A. U.S. Leg., Canton, April 1 5, 1864.
No. 4. U.S. Leg., Shanghai, May 4, 1864.

I spent some months in Paris on my
return from China, and was well received
by the Emperor and Empress ; the latter
recognizing most graciouly the kindness
extended by me to the French Missionaries
in China, a special report having been
made thereof by the French Minister, M.
de Bourbolon. The Emperor himself, at
this early day of his reign, manifested an
unfriendly political feeling towards the United
States. In his intercourse with me he com-
plained that we had not cordially seconded
his efforts to extend commercial relations
with China ; which he attributed to our
jealousy of Great Britain, with whom he
admitted he had formed a close and friendly
alliance, which he said it was his wish to
extend and cement. In this connection he
remarked that this alliance would render
France and England irresistible on the
ocean. It was evidently in his mind to
have me understand how important this was
in view of the future commercial relations
between the Eastern and Western Nations
of the world. In my reply I managed to let
him understand that in the United States
this alliance between France and Great

Britain had already been noted, and would
cool our traditional friendship for France,
without extinguishing the traditional hostility
of Great Britain to France. I had a con-
versation with the French Minister of
Foreign Affairs a few days later, in which
I called his attention to the Emperor's ob-
servations, and he did not hesitate to confirm
the impression made upon my mind by the
Emperor. At the request of our Minister to
France, Mr. John Y. Mason, I wrote an
informal, unofficial account of these conver-
sations to our Secretary of State, Mr. Marcy.
I remained several months in Paris
before returning to the United States, and
when I met Governor Marcy he thanked me
for the manner in which I replied to the
Emperor, and added that he had no regret
that we declined to co-operate with Great
Britain and France in their hostility to
China at the point of the sword. Our
Minister, Mr. Mason, was then very ill, and
not likely to recover ; and both Mr. Marcy
and Mr. Pierce urged me to continue in
the Mission to China, and the latter was
good enough to say that, if Mr. Mason had
to retire, or if he died, I should be trans-

ferred to the French Mission. Mr. Mason,
notwithstanding his illness, was a great
favorite in France, and no one was better
able than he to resist the unfriendly feeling
of the Emperor towards our country, and
I so assured the President and Governor

I adhered to my desire to retire from
the Chinese Mission, and recommended the
President to appoint as my successor Dr.
Parker, the actual Secretary of Legation,
who had been in the Legation since the
negotiation of our Treaty by Mr. Gushing
opened our diplomatic intercourse with
China. The President made this appoint-
ment, and certainly no living man was better
qualified for the work than he, who had
been for years in China as a medical mis-
sionary help since our diplomatic intercourse
was opened.

When the National Convention was called
to nominate a Democratic Candidate for
the Presidency in i856, I was chosen a
delegate, and, as Chairman of the National
Committee appointed in 1862, I called the
Convention to order. The contest for the
nomination was between Messrs. Pierce,

Douglas, and Buchanan, and was most in-
teresting ; for during the four years of
Mr. Pierce's Administration the Slavery
question had been the constant source of
contention, terminating in the adoption of
the principle of non-interference by Congress
with slavery in the territories which, prior
to that time, had been subject to the Mis-
souri Compromise adopted when Missouri
was admitted into the Union. Mr. Buchanan,
who had been influential in Congress at
that time, adhered to this mode of settling
the question. Mr. Douglas adopted the mode
of settlement proposed by General Gass in
Congress, by which the power to legislate
upon the question was left to the people of
the Territor}^ Mr. Pierce had accepted this
mode of settling the question, and had signed
the laws for the Government of Kansas and
Nebraska which embodied it. The Southern
Delegates were almost equally divided upon
this mode of settlement, but a large majority
of Northern Delegates were in favor of the
principle of non-intervention by Congress, to
which finally Mr. Buchanan gave his adhesion
and support, so that all three of the can-
didates endorsed the principle upon which

1 38

the legislation in the Kansas and Nebraska
Acts was founded. The Southern Delegates
who were opposed to this mode of settle-
ment, although they voted, some for one
and some for another of the three candidates,
made earnest efforts to induce the Conven-
tion to declare it was the duty of Congress
to protect the slave-holder in his slave pro-
perty ; but they were not successful, and
when Mr. Buchanan was nominated by the
necessary vote of the two thirds of the Con-
vention, it was with the declaration that the
principle of non-intervention with slavery
by Congress should be maintained ; there
being a minority of the Convention opposed
to such declaration composed of Northern
Democrats who were of opinion that Con-
gress ought to prohibit slavery in the Ter-
ritories, and Southern Democrats, who were
of opinion that Congress ought to protect
the slave-holder in his slave property.

These two sections of the Democratic
Party adhered to these extreme views ; the
Northern section uniting with the Republican
Party that extinguished the old Whig Party
and nominated General Fremont in opposi-
tion to Mr. Buchanan in i856 on the issue

of Congressional prohibition of slaver}^ in
the Territories. The Southern section, though
remaining in the Democratic Party to support
Mr. Buchanan for the Presidency, revolted
four years later, and nominated Mr. Breckin-
ridge of Kentucky, in opposition to Mr.
Douglas, the regularly nominated candidate ;
which division of the Democratic Party in-
sured the election of Mr. Lincoln, and pre-
cipitated the secession of certain Southern
States, resulting in civil war with all its
direful consequences.

In 1869, Mr. Buchanan appointed me
Minister to Mexico, under circumstances very
gratifying to me, but also very embarrassing.
Mexico, always greatly disturbed, was in
actual revolution, the army and the church
having united to overthrow the constitutional
government ; the latter having possession of
almost all the sea ports on the Pacific and
on the Gulf of Mexico, while the former
were in possession of the City of Mexico
and most of the interior cities and country.
The President Commonfort and Chief Justice
Juarez were driven from the country ; the
latter, in virtue of the Constitution, becom-
ing President in the absence of the President.


In 1859, General Miramon, who was at the
head of the Government, insulted Mr. For-
syth, and the latter left the country and
returned to the United States. Juarez, who
had been able to return to Mexico, continued
the war in support of the Constitution, and
occupied the city of Vera Cruz. Nearly all
the other seaports, and several of the most
important States of Mexico, acknowledged
the Constitutional Government, and the war
was confined to the country between the
capital city of Mexico and Vera Cruz, Juarez
being actually beseiged in the latter city.

Mr. Buchanan explained to me that he was
not willing to recognize Miramon, but that
he did not intend to resent the insult to
our Minister by asking Congress to declare
war, and that body would not take that
course at that time ; he proposed therefore
to nominate another Minister with instruc-
tions to go to Mexico in a ship of war, and
to recognize Juarez, if the Minister, in his
discretion, should think he held sufficient
authority in the country to be entitled to
recognition, and if not, then to remain on
the ship of war until the case could be
reported to the President for further instruc-

tions. After conference with several Senators
I accepted the Mission.

The Brooklyn^ commanded by Captain
Farragut, was assigned to the service of
my Legation, and placed subject to my
orders. Captain Farragut reported to me
at Vera Cruz, whither I had gone in a
passenger steamship the Tennessee^ plying
between Vera Cruz and New Orleans. I
sent Captain Farragut on a mission to
General Robles, who commanded the Mexican
army operations against Vera Cruz, Miramon
himself being in the city of Mexico. I had
known Robles in Washington when he was
there as the Mexican Minister to the United
States. I authorized him to assure Robles
that I would recognize Juarez as the legiti-
mate chief magistrate of Mexico, but before
doing so, I desired, if possible, to restore
peace to the country which would promptly
result from my recognition and its acceptance
by Miramon. Farragut performed his mission
promptly, and Robles assured him he would
gladly bring about this result, and that he
appreciated the friendly spirit in which I
sought to restore friendly relations be-
tween Mexico and the United States, and

thereby relieve Mexico of much suffering and
possible anarchy.

Unfortunately the military and clerical
party greatly distrusted the intention of the
Government of the United States, and the
people of Mexico were easily excited to
believe that we meditated the annexation
of their country, with or without their con-
sent. It was well known that Mr. Buchanan
himself desired the immediate purchase of
Lower California, and the passion of our
people for the acquisition of territory was
well calculated to inspire their want of con-
fidence in us. I had great difficulty in
overcoming the fears and distrust of even
the Constitutional Government at Vera Cruz,
for Mr. Buchanan urged the purchase of
Lower California, and President Juarez, with
singular determination, refused to cede a
foot of territory, whatever might be the
consequences. I was fortunate, however, in
gaining his confidence and good-will, and
in bringing him to desire the friendship
and commerce of the United States, which
I thought would result more certainly from
intimate commercial relations than from the
acquisition of territory, and the mingling of

our sturdy population with the Indians and
Mexicans who then inhabited Lower Cali-
fornia and the Nothern States of Mexico.
I proposed to open ways of communica-
tion between the Gulf of Mexico and the
Gulf of California, and between the points
of the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico ;
establishing bonded warehouses at the termini
thereof, with the right to protect these ways
of communication and these bonded ware-
houses, in common with Mexico, at the
same time establishing a reciprocity of trade
between the two Republics. A Treaty of this
nature was negotiated and received the
sanction of both President Buchanan and
President Juarez. It was ratified by the
Senate of the United States ; however
the Southern advocates of actual annexation
of Mexican Territory, combining with the
ultra-protective and manufacturing advocates
from New England, opposed it, and con-
tinued its discussion until the extreme dif-
ference entertained on the general question
of slavery culminated in civil war and seces-
sion. Nevertheless the best men in the
Senate were committed to the support ot
the Treaty. The Senate Committee of

Foreign Affairs, who recommended its rati-
fication by that body, was composed of some
notable men. Mason, of Virginia : Seward,
of New York : Slidell, of Louisiana : Douglas,
of Illinois, were on that Committee, and
voted to report it favorably. Mr. Buchanan
greatly regretted the failure of the Senate to
ratify this Treaty which, he believed, would
establish commercial intimacy between the
two Republics, and prepare the way for the
admission of all the Mexican States into our
Union. I was requested to visit Washington
to make explanations to the Senate Committee
of Foreign Affairs, and I never returned to
Mexico. My interest in the Mission termi-
nated with the failure of the Senate to ratify
this Treaty, and the imminence of the Civil
War made me unwilling to leave my country
and family at that time.

I saw much of Mr. Buchanan during these
four months preceding the inauguration of
Mr. Lincoln, and so I did of the leading
men of both Parties, and I am sure that no
man of either Party was more true and loyal
to the Constitution of the United States than
he was, but it was not a moment when either
Party would accept the Constitution. On the

one side was the theory of the ''higher law",
and on the other the spirit of revolution
against the fanaticism which substituted this
"higher law" for the Constitution, which
was our bond of Union. Mr. Buchanan desi-
red to adopt the policy which General Jackson
adopted thirty years before, when South
Carolina nullified a Law of Congress, and
he asked Congress to give him the neces-
sary provisions and processes of law which
would enable him to execute the law upon
individuals, and thus avoid the coercion of

The Congress failed to give him these
powers, and allowed events to drift on
until a state of war and anarchy over-
^vhelmed society, and left the Government
no alternative but to defend itself, and pre-
serve order by force of arms. The respon-
sibility for this civil war, which resulted
in the maintenance of the Union and the
modification of the Constitution of the
United States, rests wdth the extreme men
of both sections. The one determined at
all hazards to persist in the purpose of
abolishing slavery ; the other equally reso-
lute in its maintenance. South Carolina

precipitated the issue by the action of the
people in seceding from the Union and
resuming her condition as an Independent
Commonwealth, in which relation actual
hostilities soon commenced between the
State Government and that of the United
States, a condition of civil war, for which
no provision had been made in the Cons-
titution of the United States. State after
State, with more or less unanimity, fol-
lowed the example of South Carolina and
formed a Confederate Government at Mont-
gomery, Alabama, which assumed the res-
ponsibility and direction of war with the
United States. The war assumed vast pro-
portions, and was terminated in i865 by
the surrender of the Southern Armies to
those of the United States, and the action
of the people of the seceded States, in
resuming their political relations with the
United States, and amending their several
Constitutions, as w^ell as adopting Amend-
ments to the Constitution of the United
States which abolished slavery, and created
citizenship of the United States with a new
order of life between people of the several


I was associated with Senator Latham of
California in i863 as of counsel for the
grantees of the Western Pacific Road, and
visited Europe and Cahfornia. In Europe
I found the French Empire, which I had
known in its infancy, grown in splendour,
and power, and wealth, until it was with-
out a rival in Europe. The Emperor, I
thought, was as hostile as ever to the
Government and institutions of this country,
and he was then actually engaged in the
intrigue to establish an Empire in Mexico :
had it not been for Lord Clarendon's in-
fluence he would have recognized the Sou-
thern Confederacy in 1864. The Duke de
Persigny told me that the Duke de Morny
encouraged his inclination, and that it could
not have been resisted but for Lord Cla-
rendon's assurance that the best way to get
rid of the influence of the United States
was to let the civil war go on until it
had utterly destroyed our power, when he
would be able to establish an Empire on the
Gulf of Mexico. I convinced de Persigny,
but not de Morny, that the Emperor did
not understand the Mexican character any
better than he did this country. De Morny

was a great speculator, and both he and the
Emperor were interested in Mexican claims
and mines, and these influences prevailed
in misleading them both, as well as the
unfortunate Austrian Prince who was per-
suaded to play their desperate game in

About this period the rage of the Ra-
dical Anti-Slavery men in the United States
exceeded all bounds, to which the pro-slav-
ery statesmen of the South responded by
earnest appeals to the Southern people to
continue the war until the independence of
the Southern States was recognized. Jef-
ferson Davis, the President of the Southern
Confederacy, represented this sentiment,
and opposed all propositions looking to
peace ; while Lincoln, the President of the
United States, manifested his original desire
and disposition for peace on almost any
terms that secured a restoration of the
Union with the abolition of slavery. The
opinion of the people was in harmony with
Lincoln's views, and he was re-nominated
in June 1864, with Andrew Johnson of
Tennessee as Vice-President, by the Repu-
blican National Convention ; the extreme

Radical Republicans having already nomi-
nated, in May, John C. Fremont for Pre-
sident, with John C. Cochrane as Vice-

The Democratic National Convention
nominated, in August, in opposition to these
two tickets. General George B. MacLellan
and George H. Pendleton, respectively for
President and Vice-President ; declaring at
the same time that the war was a failure,
which injudicious declaration cemented the
Republicans, and assured an easy triumph
to their National Ticket. The Southern
vote being excluded, Lincoln received 292
votes, and MacLellan 21. The Congress,
which assembled in December, passed the
1 3th. Amendement which was substantially
the same as the ordinance of 1787 which
made Free Territory of Ohio and all the
States of the North West, thus terminating
the struggle for freedom after nearly a
hundred years of political contention.

The Administration, which was inaugu-
rated on the 4th of March with Lincoln
as President, was the Administration of
Johnson ; for Lincolm was assassinated April
14th and contemporaneous with this event
1 5o

was the collapse of the Civil War. The
Southern Armies, commanded by Lee and
Johnston, surrendering, the one to GrAnt,
and the other to Sherman, who consented

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Online LibraryRobert M. (Robert Milligan) McLaneReminiscences, 1827-1897 → online text (page 7 of 8)