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London; Saturday, January 31, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1186, p. 115.

January 31, 1863

LONDON: SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 1863.
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We have to record another diplomatic incident in the history of the American War. The Emperor of the French has caused a despatch of importance to be sent by his Foreign Minister to M. Mercier, who represents France at Washington. It has been called "officious" by the French journals, and it remains to be seen in which of the two senses attaching to the word the Americans will interpret the interference--"officious" implying, according to their own Noah Webster, "kind and obliging," and also "intermeddling in affairs with which one has no concern." Certainly, so far as externals go, there is nothing in the despatch of M. Drouyn de Lhuys to offend the most sensitive nation in the world. The Emperor does not offer mediation, he does not even offer to interfere; but he dwells upon his friendship for the United States--upon the pain he feels in witnessing the raging war; declares that he takes all susceptibilities into account, and merely makes suggestions for a negotiation. He does not ask that the war may be discontinued while such negotiation is in [sic] in progress. On the contrary, he reminds the North that soldiern [sic] soldiers may go on fighting while civilians are debating, and that the cessation of strife may be contemporaneous with the adjustment of terms. But he urges that conferences might be advantageously held between the belligerents, who, instead of mutually accusing one another, might discuss the questions which separate them. This, he represents, would involve no humiliation, would exclude the idea of alien pressure of any kind, and would simply be a practical investigation into reciprocal grievances.

If the Emperor had to do anything, it is difficult to say that he could have done less or put his points more graciously. There has not been time to hear how the despatch (a copy of which was to be left with Mr. Seward, if desired, according to usage) has been received in America, and it is very hard to speculate upon the course which the strangely-constituted mass called the American people will take upon any given subject. The American organs here are uninstructed, and are of course fumbling in the dark while compelled to say something; but, not knowing what to say that may not be repudiated by the next mail, their trumpets give a very uncertain sound, for they themselves know not whether to blow the signal for battle. But, on the whole, it appears to be thought that the proposal of the Emperor will be declined, partly on a ground to which his Majesty himself adverts, and partly on a plea which, obstinate and pedantic as it is, represents an idea that is not altogether to be treated with disrespect. The ground alluded to by the Emperor is the hope and belief of the North that it is conquering the South, or will be able to do so. His Majesty is too courteous to point out the futility of this notion, or to represent that the North, having been beaten in nearly every important engagement, and its armies at this moment recoiling from two disastrous attempts upon the principal strongholds of the South, the signs of the war cannot be read favourably for the Federals, even by the most resolute of their prophets. He passes this by, and he also abstains from dwelling upon the second difficulty. The North declares the Confederates to be "rebels," and is enraged at Europe's recognising them as belligerents; and as the doing this must be the first step towards a pacific conference it does not seem very probable that Mr. Lincoln or his Cabinet (two distinct agencies, as the President is unceremoniously told by some of his subjects) will venture upon a measure much more rational than popular. So that although, as we have said, anything like prediction as to the course of the American people would be very hazardous, there does not seem to be any great likelihood of the olive-branch appearing in a French hand.

We have also to hear what the South has to say. President Davis has been again addressing his people, and his tone is, as usual, temperate but resolute. He complains that the European Powers have refused to recognise privateering, and thereby have prevented the Confederates from availing themselves of the results of their naval prowess, and he affects to regard this step as a sort of declaration against the South. But he points with justifiable exultation to the successes of the Confederates, and adds that their enemies are now feeling the pressure and hardship which the Slave States have borne so bravely. His note is naturally one of continued defiance. Supposing that Washington should be moved by the representations of the Emperor--and we may here observe that some of the Northern journals think that it would not disgrace the Federals to be the first to suggest proposals--it is perfectly certain that in the present temper of the South the very first demand upon the subject of slavery would be one that would set the still powerful Abolitionist party in a red flame. The slaves of the States in revolt are as free as a piece of paper can make them, and it is said that a great number of Virginian slaves have actually availed themselves of the notification of New-Year's Day. At all events, some three millions and a half of slaves have been proclaimed free men. The very first article to be submitted to Conference by the South must run in this way:--"The proclamation to be rescinded, the negroes to be formally restored to slavery, and all blacks who may have availed themselves of the decree to be given up to the authorities of their respective States." Will the Abolitionists bear that? For assuredly nothing less will satisfy the victorious Confederates; and, unless the Washington plenipotentiaries--if such persons can exist--enter the Conference-room unprepared to assent to this article they had better stay at home. It may be that the South would concede a good deal in return for this article, and for a second which should reaffirm the desirability of slavery and re-enact it for the Confederate States; for it would be absurd to suppose that the "Chivalry" are not as tired of the fratricidal war as the "Yankees;" but is it possible for the Abolition party to concede this stultification of themselves, this retractation of all that they have been so clamorously saying for the last eleven months?

Finally, we may observe that, with recent successes and even in the face of the disaster at Murfreesboro', the tone of the South has become firmer and firmer, and it is even more emphatic than ever in its exultation at the prospect of being freed from the yoke of what it calls the greedy, hard, usurious Yankee. In a word, the South is bent upon the experiment of standing alone, and it is impossible to refuse to it the right of trying that experiment. If the Conference can act upon the principle of separation, it is, of course, the natural method of terminating a hideous strife; but, if not, we fear that the Imperial suggestions are not worth the paper on which they are written; unless, as is not impossible, they may be intended for rejection, and this rejection may be intended to be regarded as a vindication of another step of a different nature.

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