Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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You have a curious anomaly of a rebellion where people are trying to turn themselves backward into the Middle Ages.

September 25, 2013

Adams Family Civil War letters; US Minister to the UK and his sons.,The American Civil War

Henry Adams to Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

London, September 25, 1863

I do not think that the steady current of good news which we have had since the first of July, has turned our heads here, for as each successive steamer has piled it up, my dread has gone on constantly rising, for fear a change should again blast all our hopes. At this moment indeed I can see no place likely to furnish news at all. We have realized all our stakes except Charleston, which it is rather a pleasure to polish off by bits. From the tone of Mr. Lawley’s letter of 29 August and 7 September from Richmond, I infer that Lee cannot move again into Maryland, and will not move against Washington direct. What they can do now that Johnston’s retreat from Chattanooga has exposed such a wretched state of things in the west, I confess I am utterly puzzled to know. It appears that their leaders still keep up their tone and brag as loudly as ever of what is to be done in November, but I do much suspect that we have put a little spoke in that wheel; or perhaps I should say, we have taken one out. I suspect the English iron-clads constituted a main feature in any plan they may have invented, and the blow which we have inflicted upon them by our diplomacy may save another Gettysburg and Antietam. At any rate, the rats are moving more rapidly than ever, and some pretty large rats who hold offices are putting out feelers that puzzle me.

The news that will please you more than even a medium victory, will be that which must have reached America a few days before this letter, of the formal rupture between the Southern Government and the British, and the departure of Mr. Mason from England. I hardly know what more striking proof could be given of our individual triumph. There is something highly humorous to my mind in the recollection of Mr. Mason’s career on this side of the water, and of the two years English campaign that his forces have had with ours. With varying success we have battled and marched, but the battle of the iron-clads was our Gettysburg, and Mr. Mason has sullenly retreated before the frowning batteries of the Governor.

Yet, between ourselves, I am at a loss to understand why this step has been taken. Certainly I know none of the reasons which may have had a secret influence on Mr. Davis, but as I look at it, this movement of his is a blunder. Mr. Mason’s mere presence at this place has been a source of annoyance both to us and to the British Government. His departure will tend greatly to allay the dangers of our foreign affairs. Either England or France must take the brunt of our ill-will. Why should Mr. Davis aid our diplomacy by himself directing all our causes of alarm towards France, a nation whose power we have no real cause to fear, and away from England, with whom we are or have been on the very verge of war? For myself, I look forward to a possible war with France as by no means a cause of alarm to us. So sure as Napoleon proves so false to France as to take up the cudgels for monarchy against democracy, just so sure he will lose his throne. You at home have not known what is so terrible to all the Kings and Nobles here as the “Revolution.” You have a curious anomaly of a rebellion where people are trying to turn themselves backward into the Middle Ages. Here the Revolution is always trying to jump into the next century. And whatever France has been since 1789, republic, Empire, Kingdom or anarchy, she is always revolutionary to the core. She leads Europe whenever she moves. She is the head of civilization, and the great agent in the process of social progress. Whatever ruler she has, he must be true to the Revolution, “les principes de ’89,” if he is to keep his throne, and it is because every successive ruler has been false to those principles that he has fallen. But if Napoleon dares to attack us, he attacks the great embodiment of the Revolution, and we shall know how to shake a few of these crazy thrones for him, if he drives us to it. . . .

We had heard the details of your promotion question some time since. I am glad of your decision; I cannot doubt of its wisdom, and I applaud your magnanimity. Very true is it that promotion is not progress, and you and I have worked out that problem for ourselves at just about the same time, though by rather different paths. My ideas on such subjects have changed in two years more than I could have guessed, and I fancy, if we ever manage to get back to Quincy, we shall find that this scattering of our family has left curious marks on us. For my part I can only promise to be liberal and tolerant towards other people’s ideas; let them leave me equally to mine. . . .

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