Thurlow Weed.

Life of Thurlow Weed including his autobiography and a memoir online

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DENTIALS. — The Trent Affair. — Earl Russell. — Count de
MoENY. — Pkince Napoleon. — Letter from Secretary Seward.

1 86 1. — Having shown when and why I declined foreign mis-
sions, it seems proper that I should foUow up the narrative
with an event of more recent occurrence. I will now, therefore,
relate when, and how, and under what peculiar circumstances
I did finally go abroad in a semi-official character.

Late in October, 1861, it was deemed important by the ad-
ministration that some gentlemen of intelligence and experience,
possessing a good knowledge of all the circumstances which
preceded and occasioned the Rebellion, should be sent abroad to
disabuse the public mind, especially ia England and France,
where numerous and active agents of secession and rebellion
had long been at work in quarters too ready to accept versions
unfavorable to the North. Simultaneously I arrived at Wash-
ington, and was informed by the Secretary of State that the
late Edward Everett of Boston, and Archbishop Hughes of
New York, J. P. Kennedy of Baltimore, and Bishop McIlvaine
of Ohio had been invited to accept this mission, but that he
was embarrassed by the declension of Messrs. Everett and Ken-
nedy. Mr. Everett, having formerly been our minister at the
Court of St. James, did not feel at liberty to accept an unoffi-
cial position ; Mr. Kennedy did not feel able to abandon his
business and go abroad without compensation. The four gen-
tlemen thus selected were informed by the Secretary of State
that their actual expenses 6nly would be paid. The Secretary
then asked me to suggest two suitable persons to supply these
vacancies. I named Mr. Winthrop of Boston and Mr. Ewing
of Ohio. 'He thought well of both, and said he would imme-


diately suggest their names to the President and cabinet. Arch-
bishop Hughes, Bishop Mcllvaiuc, and Secretary Chase were to
dine that day with Sotretary Seward. I told him that I would
drop in after his guests had left in the evening. I called at
nine o'cloek and found the Archbishop, who had been informed
that I was expeeted, waiting for me. And now I learned,
greatly to my surprise and regret, that the Archbishop had de-
cliaed. Of the four gentlemen designated Bishop jNlcllvaine
alone had accepted. The Secretary, after I came in, resumed
the conversation and renewedly urged the Archbishojj to accept.
But he persisted in his declination, repeating, as I inferred, the
reasons previously given for declining. The conversation was
interrupted by a servant who ushered Baron von Gerolt, the
Prussian minister, into the pailor. The Secretary seated him-
self with the baron upon a sofa in the ante-room, and I took
advantage of the interruption to urge the Archbishop with great
earnestness to withdraw his declination. He reiterated his rea^
sons for declining. I told him that I had alreatly listened at-
tentively to all he had said, and that while I knew he always
had good and sufficient reasons for wluitever he did or declined
to do, he had not yet chosen to state them ; and that while I
did not seek to know more than he thou^^ht proper to avow, I
must again apixal to him as a loyal citizen, devoted to the
Union, and capable of rendering great service at a crisis of im-
minent danger, not to ])ersist in his refusal unless his reasons
for doing so were insurmountable. After a long pause he
placed his hand upon my shoulder, and, in his impressive man-
ner and clear, distinct voice, said, "Will you go with me?" I
replied, " 1 have once enjoyed the gi-eat happiness of a voyage
to Europe in your company, and of a tour through Ireland,
England, and France under your protection. It was a privilege
and a pleasure which I shall never forget. I would cheerfully
go with you now as your secretary or your valet, if that would
give to the government the benefit of your services." And here
the conversation rested until Baron von Gerolt toolc his leave.
When Governor Seward returned the Archbishop rose and said,
" Governor, 1 have changed my mind, and will accept the ap-
pointment with this condition, that he," placing his hand again
upon my shoulder, "goes -with me as a colleague. And as you
want us to sail next Wednesday, I shall leave for New York by


636 A UTOBIOGRAPHY. [1861.

the first train in the morning. I lodge at the convent at
Georgetown, and I will now take my leave. So good-night and
good-by." I accompanied the Archbishop to his carriage where,
after he was seated, he said with a significant gesture, " This
programme is not to be changed."

Returning to the parlor I found Secretary Seward, as I an-
ticipated, embarrassed and depressed. No explanation was
needed. His position in the cabinet and with Congress was
giving him and his friends much annoyance. He was charged
by radical members of both, and by the radical press, with a
want of energy and courage, although in point of fact he had
been steadily and zealously in favor of the largest army and the
largest appropriations of money for war .purposes from the be-
ginning. The country was rife with personal slanders against
him ; leading senators were determined to drive him out of the
cabinet. For wisdom and firmness in counsel and hard mental
and physical labor day and night, he was aU but literally stoned
and scourged. Altogether, his position was one of extreme
embarrassment. I was much more obnoxious to the same class
of Republicans. Three members of the cabinet (Messrs. Chase,
Welles, and Blair), together with several distinguished members
of Congress, were politically and personally my enemies. Sec-
retary Chase had fair reasons for his hostility, for I had stren-
uously and steadily opposed him in his aspirations for the presi-
dency. Leading radical journals were bitterly hostile to me,
I had incurred the displeasure of these classes early in the Re-
bellion by insisting that there was a strong loyal sentiment in
Western Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, and throughout North
Carolina, — a sentiment which, if cherished and protected, would
narrow the boundaries of rebellion. I had sustained what was
known as the " Border State proposition " in Congress, — a
proposition which, if adopted, would have gone far to divide
and weaken the South ; and, worse than all, I had maintained
from the beginning that the war ought to be prosecuted for
the maintenance of the government and the preservation of the
Union, holding and declaring at the same time that slavery
would be deservedly destroyed as the only adequate penalty and
punishment for a wanton and wicked rebellion against the best
form of government in the world. Perhaps no other man, who
had enjoyed for thirty years or more so largely the confidence


of his part}', had ever become so suddenly obnoxious to the rul-
ing sentiment of that party. Secretary Seward, therefore, ap-
prehended, as he had abundant reasons for apprehending, that
in superadding my offenses to his own responsibilities, they
woidd inevitably sink him. I felt this keenly, and determined
to return to New York and relieve him by persuading the Arch-
bishop to go without me. The Seeretary informed me that he
should be in New York on the following ^Sldinlay morning, two
days before the time fixed for the departure of the commis-
sioners. I remained in Washington attending to other duties
till the afternoon of the next day, but had no further conver-
sation with tlie Secretary on that subject. On my arrival at
Albany I found the following letter from the Archbishop : —

New York, October 29, 1861.

My deab Mr. Weed, — I cannot " condescend " to appoint you to
either of the offices. wliich you so humbly suggested in a wliisper the
other evening at Washington. But I do hereby appoint yini. with or
without the consent of the Senate, to be my friend (as you ahvays
have been) and my companion in our brief visit to Europe.

The more I reflect upon tln' subject the more I am convinced that,
whether surrcssfiJ or not, the purpose is niiiikt'il. in actual circum-
stances, by large, enlightened, and very wise statesmanship.

I have engaged a state-room for you next to ray own on the Africa,
which sails on tlie 6th proximo.

We shall have time enough to talk on the way about matters and
things. I remain, very sincerely,

Your obt-diL'iit servant,

John, Archbishop of New York.

I returned to New York on M(>nd;iy morning, ]iieii;ire(l for
either contingency. I found the Archbishop inflexible, and after
he frankly explained to me liis rea.sons for insisting upon my
accompanj'ing him, I did not feel at liberty to disappoint him.
Secretary Seward came on from Washington on the Sunday
night train, and immediately after breakfast the Archbishop
called upon him at the Astor House, as did Mr. R. i\I. Blatch-
ford and the late Mr. R. B. Mintum, to whom, with myself,
the Secretary read his instructions and then handed them to
the Archbishop, with which he took his leave. Mr. Minturn
then quite warmly expressed his gratification upon my appoint-
ment, to which Secretary Seward replied, " Mr. Weed goes


abroad as a volunteer, and at his own expense." Mr. Minturn
at first regarded this as a joke, but, upon learning that the Sec-
retary was in earnest, he left the room abruptly. I turned the
conversation for a few minutes, and then left also. I found
Mr. Minturn walking in the haU in front of my door, more
than usually disturbed. He followed me into my room, and
handed me a check for |1,000, remarking that I would find a
credit at Baring Brothers, in London, to meet my expenses, as
long as the interests of the country required me to remaia there.
Mr. Blatchford, when left alone with the Secretary, made some
inquiries which disturbed him so much that he came down and
protested against my leaving the coimtiy under circumstances
so humiliating. Meantime Mr. Seward departed by a special
train for Washington. I realized painfully the perplexities of
my position. Between' my promise to the Archbishop, the rebuff
of the Secretary, and a reasonable degree of self-respect, it was
difficult to determine what I ought to do. I did not doubt that
when the fact that I was to go abroad in a highly important
and confidential capacity became known at Washington, a^ storm
would be raised which would constrain the Secretary to disavow
the appointment, as he might do with justice and truth, for,
as I have already stated, it was demanded by Archbishop Hughes
as the condition upon which he himself consented to go. I re-
marked to Mr. Blatchford that Mr. Seward had been so often
assailed, and so long held responsible for all my alleged short-
comings, that he had become impatient and nervous, so much
so that it, needed only this feather to break the camel's back.
Mr. Blatchford, however, was not appeased, and immediately
sat down in my room and wrote, if I. may judge by his excited
manner, a very earnest letter to the Secretary. This letter was
mailed immediately, and reached Governor Seward whUe at
breakfast the next morning. A few hours afterward Mr. Blatch-
ford received a telegram from the Secretary, informing him
that my credentials would reach New York by special messen-
ger in time for the steamer. This changed the whole aspect
of the question, and proved quite as gratifying to my friends
Blatchford and Minturn as to myself.

In due time my letter to Earl Russell, accrediting me unoffi-
cially to the English government, to the Hon. Charles Francis
Adams, our minister to England, to Hon. WiUiam L. Dayton,

1 1 1 1 1


our minister to France, and to the Prince Napoleon, were re-
ceived. They were ooui'hed in language as strong and gen-
erous as confidence and friendship could inspire. The cloud,
therefore, which lowered for a few days over me revealed its
silver lining, and I departed, resolved, under the auspices of a
kind Providence, in which I trusted, not to disappoint the ex-
pectations of my friends. How far I was successfid in this
resolution, and what occurred during the eventful and trying
period of my sojourn in England and France, will constitute
other chapters in this narrative. It is sufficient for my pres-
ent purpose to say that I was greatly and strangely favored by
circumstances. The doors of princes and of potentates were
opened for me in unexpected and unusual ways. The steamer
which followed us, an-iving out two days after we landed,
brought intelligence of the taking of Messrs. Mason and SlideU
from under the British flag. This occasioned throughout Eng-
land a miiversal and indignant war-cry. On the following day,
breaking through all the usual forms of diplomacy, tlrrough an
accidental channel I was tendered an audience by Earl Russell
at Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Hill, his country residence,
and subsequently was received by the Duke of Argyll, Milnor
Gibson, Count de Morny, and other distinguished officials in
London and Paris, as a representative of my coimtry, without
ever having an opportunity, with a single exception, of present-
ing my letters of instruction. From Prince Napoleon, to whom
I delivered (iovemor Seward's letter, 1 received marked at-
tentions. The Prince, differing widely and boldly from the
Emperor, was a warm friend of our government, and sought
occa.^i -J to serve us. Our foreign ministers in London, Paris,
and Brussels received me with a cordiality and tuated me
with a eonsidei-ation which is pleasantly and gratefully remem-
bered. The letters to Earl Rnssell, etc., ete., not having been
delivered, are now preserved as souvenirs for my descendants.
The Trent affair agitated England greatly. Her people were
angrily excited, and their government profoundly anxious for
a peaceful sfjlution of the difficulty. Meantime, as there were
but two steamers a month in the winter, and no cable, infor-
mation was waited for impatiently. Our friends were disap-
pointed and alarmed by the ominous reticence of the Secretary
of State, and under this pressure I wrote him a letter, express-

640 A UTOBIOGRAPHY. [1862,

ing regret that he did not keep Mr. Adams privately advised
of the progress and probabilities of that aU-absorbing question, .
to which I received the following reply : —

Washington, March 7, 1862.

My dear Weed, — I thought I had as much industry as any-
body around me, and with it a little versatility. But I know nobody,
and never did know that one man who could do all you seem to think
I neglect to do, as weU as all the labor I actually perform. You
knew when you left here how much I had to do outside of my own
proper department, how Httle time official considtations and audiences
leave me to work at all. But all this seems now forgotten, and you
insist that I should have written private notes to Mr. Adams while
the Trent affair was pending. How unreasonable ! Our first knowl-
edge that the British government proposed to make it a question of
offense or insult, and so of war, reached me on a Thursday. The
Thursday following I ascertained how this government would act upon
it, and the reply went from my hands the same day.

I am under the necessity of consulting the temper of parties and
people on this side of the water quite as much as the temper of par-
ties and people in England. If I had been as tame as you think
would have been wise in my treatment of affairs with that country,
I should have had no standing in my own. I am willing to let my
treatment of the British nation go on record with the treatment of
this nation by the British ministry, and abide the world's judgment
of the question on which side justice, forbearance, and courtesy have
been exercised.

I shall seem just as much reserved in this as in other letters. I
know of things intended to be done, and expected to be done, but I
cannot certainly know that they will be successfully done, much less
how soon. If I promise them, and promise them speedily, and the
agents relied upon fad, I shall be reproached for false prophecies, as
I was last summer.

I hope Harriet has recovered. Indeed, if things are half as well
in England as it seems to me here that they ought to be, I trust that
you have given her the benefit of the Italian spring.

Everybody writes me that you have done everything well, and that
your services have been exceedingly useful. I rejoice in your suc-
cess, and congratulate you upon having deserved and gained the con-
fidence of the wise and good at home and abroad, by labors devoted
to the salvation of the Union, with so much manifestly resting upon
you. Faithfully yours,

William H. SewAed.

Thuelow Weed, Esq., London.


In 1862, while in London, I was sitting at the Legation with
Mr. Moran, its secretary, when a plain, elderly gentleman, in
modernized Quaker costume, came in and was introduced to
me as Mr. Fox, our consul at Falmouth. Before he left the
room to see our minister, Air. Adams, I asked him if he knew
how near he came to losing his official head a year ago. In
replying that he had no such knowledge, he added that he un-
derstood that he had had some narrow escapes in former times,
but that since the Rebellion broke out he had been so busy in
trying to show his countrymen that in a war to extend and
strengthen slavery their sympathies should be with the North,
that he had not thought about being removed. He then added
that it was not so much for the emolument as for the pleasure
of serving the American government that he desired to retain
the office which his father received from George Washington.
He was evidently much gratified at the incident I related, and
invited me very cordially to visit him.





The Queen and America. — How a War with England and France
WAS averted. — An Interview bet^veen Mr. Weed and Earl Rus-
sell IN Relation to the Trent Affair. — Kxnd Offices op Mr.
M'CuLLAGH Torrens. — State Secrets. — Queen Victoria's Efforts
TO preserve Peace between England and America. ■ — Suggestions
FROM the French Government twice discountenanced. — The
Dispatch demanding the Surrender of Mason and Slidell modi-
fied BY Prince Albert.

1 861-1862. — During the darkest days of the Rebellion the
danger of war with France and England was most imminent.
Antecedents and traditions led us to hope for sympathy in
France, and to apprehend hostility in England. So far as the
French government was concerned that hope was utterly disap-
pointed. Nor did the friendly feeling which we looked for among
the French people exist. With one exception the Emperor and
those associated with him in the government were against us.
That exception was the Prince Napoleon. He was our firm
friend, and for that reason was out of favor. In England the
commercial cities, the capitalists, and as a rule the aristocracy,
were against us. In the manufacturing districts we had friends
whose representatives in Parliament stood by us faithfully on
aU questions. But the Trent affair occurring at a most critical
moment united " all England " in a cry for war. Our firmest
friends in and out of Parliament were dismayed. All felt and
said that unless the Confederate commissioners. Mason and Sli-
dell, were released, war was inevitable. While that question was
pending Messrs. Cobden, Bright, Forster, Kinnaird, and other
members of Parliament were powerless and speechless. Our
ministerial friends, the Duke of Argyll and Milnor Gibson, were

At that most critical moment Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens ren-
dered us services which entitle him to the affection and grati-


tude of the American people. I was introduced to him the
morning after my an-ival in London, early in December, 1861,
by ^Ir. Peabody, at whose bank a large number of panic-struck
Americans had assembled. Mr. Torrens, when I retired, met me
at the door of the banking-house, remarking that my arrival in
London was opportune, and that I must see Earl Russell imme-
diately. I replied that our minister, Mr. Adams (then the
right man in the right place ), would present me to the minister
as soon as practicable. "That will not do," rejoined Mr. Tor-
rens. " Time presses ; you must see the Earl to-morrow ;" add-
ing that he would arrange an audience and inform me of the
time and place that evening. I was surprised at the warm in-
terest manifested by an Englishman and a stranger, and doubt-
ful of the propriety of anticipating the kind intentions of Mr.
Adams ; but that gentleman relieved my doubts on this point
by advising me to avail myself of Mr. Torrens' timely offer.

I dined that day with the late Sir J. Emerson Tennent, meet-
ing a large and what proved to be a war party of gentlemen,
among whom was the colonel of a regiment which was to leave
London the next morning to embark at Liverpool for Canada.
The colonel was toasted, and in response made a brief but ex-
citing war speech, dwelling with much effect upon the duty of
Englishmen to resent the insiUts to their flag. I was seated at
the table next to Lord Clarenee Paget, of the admii-alty, who
informed me that their preparations for wai- were active and
formidable, and that for the first time since 1815 they were
working double-handed, night and day, in the dock-yards. Re-
turning from dinner to my hotel in Hanover Square I found
Mr. Torrent, who direeted me to leave London the next morn-
ing at eleven o'clock, and drive to Pembroke Lodge, Rielimond
Hill, Earl Russell's coimtry seat.

I foimd the minister quite alone, and was courteously re-
ceived. Conversation for the first ten or fifteen minutes was
embarrassed by an evident determination on the part of the
minister to ignore all other questions until the honor of Eng-
land should be satisfied by the surrender of Mason and Slidell.
Gradually, however, the restraint passed away, and his lordship
explaine<l the circumstances which led to the Queen's proclama-
tion giving belligerent rights to the icbel States. It was evi-
dent that even if his sympathies were not with the South, he


had come to the conclusion that we were the aggressors. I
endeavored to correct that impression by calling his attention
to two or three undeniable facts upon which the whole merits of
the question turned. After an hour and a half lunch was an-
nounced, and the conversation became general.

In the drawing-room, after the Earl had conversed aside with
Lady Russell for a few minutes, thanking him for the time he
had spared me, I was taking leave, when Lady 'Russell inter-
posed, saying, "You must not go without seeing the lodge
grounds," in walking through which her ladyship pointed out
the various objects and localities with which history had made
me familiar. In the course of our walk she remarked that
ladies of course knew nothing of state secrets, but that they
had ears, and sometimes heard things which might not have
been intended for them ; adding, that it would probably relieve
my anxiety to know that in our difficulties the sympathies of
the Queen were with our governmeijt ; that her majesty remem-
bered the attentions extended to her son, the Prince of Wales,
and would do everything in her power to prevent a rupture with

With this gleam of hope I returned well Satisfied with my
visit to Pembroke Lodge, and grateful to Mr. Torrens for the
prompt and thoughtful service he had rendered. But that gen-
tleman was not content with one good turn. He was constantly
at work in our cause. The " Daily News," next to " The Times,"
was the most influential journal in England. The "News"
espoused our cause boldly and warmly. Many of its best and
ablest American articles were written by Mr. Torrens.

Some weeks after Parliament met there was a vacancy for
Finsbury; Mr. Torrens, a member of the previous Parliament,
had not been returned. He now offered for Finsbury and was
chosen, when his sphere of usefulness was much enlarged. His
efforts in behalf of our government and Union, in and out of
Parliament, were constant, and continued until the war was

While waiting with intense solicitude for the decision of our
government upon the demand of England for the surrender of
Mason and Slidell, I .received from the Hon. Arthur Kinnaird,
M. P., in the strictest confidence, positive evidence that the
Queen had, at the right moment, caused the dispatch demanding


the surrender of JIason and Slidell to be so far modified in lan-

Online LibraryThurlow WeedLife of Thurlow Weed including his autobiography and a memoir → online text (page 62 of 64)