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France and America

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1187, p. 154.

February 7, 1863


We gave last week a summary of the despatch addressed by M. Drouyn de Lhuys, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, to M. Mercier, the French Minister at Washington, suggesting proposals of peace to the Federal Government. The following is a full translation of the document:--

To M. Mercier, Minister Of The Emperor At Washington.
Paris, Jan. 9, 1863.

Sir,--If in forming the project of endeavouring by the offer of our good offices to shorten the duration of hostilities which are desolating the American Continent we had not above all things been guided by the friendship for the United States which animates the Government of the Emperor, the small success of our overtures might have diminished the interest we feel in the incidents of this struggle. But the sentiment we have obeyed is too sincere to allow indifference to obtain entrance into our minds, or to prevent us from being painfully affected by the continuance of the conflict. We cannot regard without profound regret this more than civil war, which may be compared with the most terrible intestine commotions of the old republics, and the disasters of which multiply in proportion to the resources and the courage displayed by each of the belligerents.

His Majesty's Government have fully examined, therefore, the objections made to us when we suggested the idea of a friendly mediation, and we have asked ourselves if they are really of a kind to exclude as premature all attempts at reconciliation.

On the one hand, the repugnance of the United States to admit the intervention of foreign influence has been pointed out to us; and, on the other, the hope which the Federal Government has not abandoned of obtaining a solution by force of arms.

Assuredly, Sir, there is nothing in recurring to the good offices of one or several neutral Powers incompatible with the legitimate pride of a great nation; and purely international wars do not alone furnish us with examples of the useful part played by mediators. We conceive, moreover, that in offering to place ourselves at the disposition of the belligerents for the purpose of facilitating between them negotiations, the basis of which we abstained from prejudicing, we rendered to the patriotism of the United States the regard more than ever due to it now, after so many fresh proofs of moral force and energy. We are not less prepared, in the desires we entertain in favour of peace, to make allowance for the susceptibilities of national sentiment, and we in nowise dispute the right of the Federal Government to decline the co-operation of the great maritime Powers of Europe. But is this co-operation the only means of shortening the war which offers itself to the Washington Cabinet? And if the latter thinks it ought to reject all foreign intervention, might it not honourably accept the idea of direct negotiations with the authority which represents the South?

The Federal Government, we know, does not despair of giving a more active impulse to hostilities: sacrifices have not exhausted its resources, still less its perseverance or its firmness. The duration of the struggle, in fact, has not shaken its confidence in the ultimate success of its efforts. But the opening of negotiations between the belligerents does not necessarily imply the immediate cessation of hostilities. Negotiations for peace are not always the result of a suspension of arms; on the contrary, they more frequently precede the establishment of a truce. Have not Plenipotentiaries often been known to assemble, exchange communications, agree upon all the essential clauses of treaties--nay, even decide the question of peace or war--while the military leaders continued the struggle and endeavoured to the last moment to mollify the conditions of peace by the force of arms? To take only one instance in the history of the United States--the negotiations which established their independence commenced long before hostilities had ceased in the New World, and the armistice was only established by the instrument of the 30th of November, 1782, which, under the title of Provisional Articles, contained by anticipation the principal clauses of the final treaty of 1783.

Nothing, therefore, would prevent the United States' Government--without renouncing the advantages it may anticipate from the continuation of the war--from entering into negotiations with the Southern Confederates, supposing the Confederates themselves are willing. Representatives, or commissioners of the two sides, could meet at a given place, which it might be desirable to declare neuter for that purpose. The complaints of both might be examined at this meeting. Instead of the accusations at present interchanged between North and South, a discussion of the interests which divide them would be substituted. They would determine, by regular and comprehensive deliberation, whether these interests are definitively irreconcilable; whether separation is an extremity which can no longer be avoided; or whether the recollections of a common existence and the ties of every kind which have made North and South one and the same Federal State and raised it to such a height of prosperity are not more powerful than the causes which have induced the two populations to take up arms.

A negotiation, the object of which was thus determined, would not carry with it any of the objections urged against a diplomatic intervention of Europe; and without giving rise to the same hopes as the immediate conclusion of an armistice, it would exercise a favourable influence upon the progress of events. Why, therefore, should not a suggestion which pays all deference to the feelings of the United States obtain the approbation of the Federal Government? Persuaded as we are that it is in conformity with their real interests, we do not hesitate to recommend it to their attention; and, not having desired to make any ostentatious parade of influence in the proposed mediation of the maritime Powers, we should rejoice, without the slightest feeling of amour propre, at the opening of negotiations summoning the two populations to discuss the relation of their differences without the co-operation of Europe. I beg of you to assure the Washington Cabinet of this in recommending to its wisdom counsels that are dictated by the most sincere interest in the prosperity of the United States. You are authorised, moreover, to leave with Mr. Seward a copy of this despatch, if he wishes to have one.

Drouyn de Lhuys.
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