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

Diary of George Mifflin Dallas, United States Minister to England 1856 to 1861

1861. February 2.—A slight solace to one’s anxieties about home is found in the circumstances brought by successive steamers during the week. 1. The proposition of Mr. Crittenden, or “The Border States,” seems growing into favour. 2. There was a large minority on the question of secession before next 4th of March in the Georgia Convention. 3. The Alabama members of Congress have been instructed not to quit, but to wait further advices. 4. The South Carolina Commissioner, Colonel Hayne, has suspended his demand for the evacuation of Fort Sumter. 5. Charleston is suffering greatly from want of supplies. 6. Major Anderson is universally applauded. 7. Virginia has adopted as satisfactory the compromise of Crittenden. 8. Financial affairs are improving; the United States stock rose one per cent.

There would seem to be a most extraordinary departure from the chivalric honour in public life which has heretofore characterized Southern gentlemen in the disloyal treachery with which Cobb, Floyd, Thomson, Thomas, and Trescott have pursued secession in the very penetralia of Mr. Buchanan’s Cabinet. Nothing can relieve them from the charge of deceit and treachery but their having apprised the President, on entering his counsels, that, instead of recognizing as paramount their allegiance to the Union, they were governed by “a higher law” of duty to Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi, Maryland, and South Carolina respectively.

Persigny, recently appointed to the Ministry of the Interior in Paris, made a popularity-seeking plunge at his outset in relaxing restrictions on the Press. Suddenly he has turned a corner; giving, three days ago, an “avertissement” to the Cormier de Dimanche, and arbitrarily ordering the offensive writer, Ganeseo, out of the Kingdom. He says that Ganeseo is a foreigner, and cannot be allowed to criticise the principle of the Imperial Government.

1861. January 20.—….The news from home during this week has been deplorable. On the l0th inst. the President sent a message to Congress which depicts the state of things in the gloomiest colours. South Carolina, at Charleston, has fired repeated volleys at a United States transport carrying troops for Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, and has compelled her to retire. The Brooklyn, a second-class screw steamer of fourteen guns, and the revenue cutter Harriet Lane are about to convoy the troops back again to Charleston on board the Star of the West, and we may expect our next news to announce a bloody fight, possibly a bombardment of the city. Seward has made a speech in the Senate which the Times calls “grand and conciliatory,” but which obviously asserts a determination to enforce the laws. Servile insurrection, too, seems contemplated in Virginia, some twenty-five barrels of gunpowder having been disinterred from secret hiding-places.

1861. January 16. — I have been kept for a week, and am still, in a state of great anxiety about the dangerous political excitements at home. The President has taken an attitude less friendly to the secessionists. This has been owing, it would seem, to the occupation of Fort Moultrie and the seizure of a revenue cutter, in the harbour of Charleston, by the South Carolina authorities. General Floyd, as Secretary of War, had pledged his honour to Governor Pickens that there should be no change in the status of the fortifications in the harbour.

Major Anderson, in command, with prudent strategy, shifted his little garrison of twenty men from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. The South Carolina Commissioners at Washington protested, alleging breach of faith. Floyd demanded orders to Anderson to go back. The President declined. Governor Pickens sent militia into Fort Moultrie and seized a United States cutter. Floyd resigned on 29th of December, and his resignation was quietly accepted on the 31st by the President, who appointed Postmaster-General Holt to conduct the department until a successor was named. The President has addressed Congress, announced his determination to protect the property and collect the revenue of the United States with all the power at his disposal, and is said to have directed the frigate Brooklyn to be held in readiness at Norfolk, while two revenue cutters are proceeding to Charleston harbour, on board which a new Collector, McIntyre, of Pennsylvania, will exact the duties on imports. In the interim reinforcements are being sent to Southern garrisons, as a determination to seize them has shown itself in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina. These facts, if well founded, place the country in imminent risk of civil war; and if, at the bottom of the whole, there exist, as Mr. Daniel, our Minister to Turin, vehemently assured me on Monday last was the case, an immense majority in the South who desire disunion and have been preparing to accomplish it for twenty years, it would seem that a sanguinary convulsion is unavoidable. Perhaps a large movement of militia, similar to the one made by Washington in 1794 against our Whiskey Insurrection, would overawe the disaffected and restore tranquillity. Certainly, South Carolina has taken, by capturing forts and cutters, a more decisively insurrectionary character than could be attributed to the disorderly riots of Pennsylvania.

My old friend “Betsey Bonaparte” and her son have enlisted Berryer and Legrand in a trial to come of on the 25th inst., before the Court of First Instance in Paris, asserting the validity of the marriage of Jerome in Baltimore in 1803, and claiming to share in the property he has left. If the marriage be sustained, the necessary result would be the illegitimacy of Prince Napoleon and Princess Mathilde. Here is fine garbage for Imperial scandal! and “Betsey” is not one, though she can’t lack much of eighty, to shrink in the pursuit of money or to be scared by a crown.

1861. January 8.—South Carolina, it appears, adopted her Ordinance of Secession on the 19th of December, unanimously. It has been hailed with exultation in most of the Southern States. Mr. Mason rather intimates that the movement is designed to compel adequate concessions from the North, or to form a basis upon which the confederacy may be reconstructed.

The first article of Blackwood’s Magazine for this month, “The Political Year,” is one of much ability. Its purpose is to depreciate the present government by special attacks on Mr. Gladstone and Lord John Russell. In the concluding paragraph I find the following: “The last news from America announces that, Lord John Russell having complained of the inactivity of the American cruisers in the suppression of the slave-trade, Mr. Dallas informed his Lordship, in October last, that ‘the British Foreign Office had better mind its own business.’ He wound up by stating that ‘the government at Washington did not require to be continually lectured as to its duty by our Foreign Secretary.’ Can anything be more absurd? We have a Foreign Secretary who writes letters and gives good advice to all the world, and who, at one time, cannot get his effusions answered, at another time gets snubbed for them, yet again finds them quoted as authorizing rebellion, and always finds himself doing more harm than good.” It is true, that, on the 24th of November, I read, as instructed, a despatch from General Cass, dated the 27th of October, to Lord John Russell. His Lordship did not like it; said that all Christendom had condemned the slave-trade, and he had a right to speak against it. I merely remarked that perhaps the serenity of the State Department at Washington would not be disturbed by one or two exhortations, but that his Lordship must be aware that too frequent recurrences in diplomatic correspondence to the obligations of humanity imply a neglect of them by those addressed, and cannot but be unacceptable. When I reported this matter to the Secretary of State, I added: “English statesmen generally have a complacent and irrepressible sense of superior morality, and are apt, without really meaning incivility, to be prodigal of their inculcations upon others.” Here is the basis of Blackwood’s remarks.

1861. January 5.—….Mr. Motley, the historian, called and spent an hour in chat. I expressed my great delight with his recently issued work, the “Dutch Republic.” Told him I had noted two new spellings, Escorial and Burghley; the first he said was unquestionably correct, the second he took from the Lord Treasurer’s uniform mode of signing his name, though it was spelled very variously. In the course of conversation he avowed the opinion that Walsingham, not Burghley, was the great Minister of Queen Elizabeth, and he thought that Elizabeth had taken to herself merit and glory which really belonged to the British people generally. We turned over the distressing condition of American politics. He is for saving the Union at almost any sacrifice; but I thought I could perceive that he entertained the theory that, maintaining the name, the flag, and the Constitution, we should be happier and equally great without the cotton States. He is inveterately hostile to slavery. Now that his two volumes are making him famous, he proposes to be presented with his wife and daughter at Court. Of course I shall be proud to gratify his wish in that respect. I think he remembers that the literary fame of Washington Irving made him chargé at this Court and subsequently Minister at Madrid. Lincoln can give me no more acceptable successor. The foundations for such an appointment are more broad, more durable, and in every way more satisfactory than those of mere political partisanship.

1860. December 29.—Dates and news from New York to the 15th inst. General Cass had resigned. Governor Dickinson is mentioned as his successor. So we go, from one unfit to another more so. My country, my country, whither in the intoxication of your liberty are you plunging!

Skating for several days on the Serpentine; ice three or four inches thick. The wind has veered to the southeast, and a thaw may be expected.

1860. December 25. — Christmas. Fahrenheit stood this morning eighteen degrees below freezing point. A rare degree of cold in England, exceeding any we have felt during our residence in London.

Mr. Cobb resigned the Treasury on the 10th instant. He will greatly strengthen the secession movement in Georgia. A dissolution of the Union seems imminent, and, should it occur, will attest and perhaps permanently establish the supremacy of abolitionism; for it will be seen that by the withdrawal of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, let alone the other slave-holding States, Lincoln and the Republican party will at once be placed in an overwhelming Congressional majority, and have a clear field to push their principles to extreme practice. Markoe and Hutchinson, writing on the same day, agree in drawing a most melancholy picture of the condition of the country, politically and financially.

1860. December 23. —The Arabia brings the news that Secretary Cobb has resigned. He goes then to join the Disunionists, who, in Georgia, object to joint, but are in favor of separate, secession. Mr. Cobb is forty-five years of age; before he becomes sixty, he will have discovered that a good cause is really only injured by violence, and best promoted by calm and steady action; he will then have become, for he has ample ability, a safe American statesman.

The news in no respect diminishes the gloom of affairs in the United States. The situation is deplorable already, and worse is in prospect. I think it at once proper and becoming to manifest sympathy with my countrymen in their present trials. I have, therefore, declined Mr. Bates’s invitation to the New-Year festivities at Sheen. It is impossible to be merry when one’s country is gasping for breath.

China news is highly interesting. The first Napoleon has been always condemned by the British press for despoiling the academies and temples of Italy of their treasures of art, which he collected in his gallery of the Louvre. Still, they vindicated the burning of our Capitol and White House in 1814 by Ross; they bombarded the superb private residence of Prince Woronzow at Odessa; and here they are again, this time conjointly with the French, avowedly plundering and carrying off the ornaments and comforts of an imperial summer palace! War necessarily leads to excesses, which every effort should be made to restrict as much as possible. What conceivable benefit to the cause in which they are engaged could the allies derive from purloining pictures, statuary, and articles of novelty? But such are the two heads of European civilization. The French have made a separate convention, after the Treaty of Peace, bargaining for liberty to carry off coolies (hem!), for a recognition of Catholicism throughout China, and an indemnity of twelve millions of dollars! Pretty well for Louis Napoleon, and better, considering his looting, for Marshal Montauban.

1860. December 19.—The message of the President was sent in to Congress on the 4th instant. I got it yesterday. The President has been weighed down by the vast load he carries; his sagacity, firmness, and patriotism have given way under the appalling condition of the country and the violence in his Cabinet. He argues too much, becomes inconsistent, and does vastly more harm than good. His propositions of compromise, as stated, he must know to be impracticable. The Northern States never will repeal their Personal Liberty statutes while the Fugitive Slave Law remains in its present shape. They profess not to be opposed to the Constitution, but to this statutory form of carrying it into execution. It undoubtedly has provisions capable of amendment. These provisions may not make it unconstitutional, but may shock the feelings of many and render it odious. In order to save the Union, the Committee in the House, composed of one from each State, should report on this point, first, an amendment of the law, and, second, the repeal of the acts founded on it. There should be no concession asked except upon compensatory ground; no victory should be awarded to either section. The idea of restoring the old Missouri line, itself a palpable violation of the Constitution, is a weak suggestion. . . .

1860. December 3.—The news brought by the steamer from America is exciting. The political storm rages fiercely in the South, taking a reckless direction for secession, and produces a financial panic which cannot pass away without effecting a widespread ruin. The successful Republican party at the Presidential election are striving to appease and propitiate, but having, during the canvass, taken the “irrepressible conflict” ground, and having had the aid of the Garrisonian Radicals, who denounce the Constitution as a “League with hell,” it seems natural that the South should regard their defeat as involving a destruction of their property and rights. If I could perceive among the leading men in the agitation of the South any staid, judicious statesmen, I should think the Union lost. I see only such uniformly violent, effervescing, and unsuccessful ranters as Yancey, Rhett, Keitt, Toombs, and I conclude that the local movements will yet be settled by the ballast near the keelson of the ship.