previous next

Letter of instructions to Hon. John Slidell.

By Hon. R. M. T. Hunter.

Department of State, Richmond, September 23, 1861.
To the Hon. John Slidell, &c., &c., &c.:
Sir,—Along with this you will receive your letter of credence to the Government of France to which the President desires you to present yourself as soon as possible. Our claims for recognition as an independent people have been made much stronger by events which have occurred since they were first presented by our Commissioners. But before reinforcing those claims, you will not fail to place the Confederate States in their true position before the Government of France. You will show that they are not to be considered as revolted provinces or rebellious subjects seeking to overthrow, by revolutionary violence, the just authority of a lawful sovereign, but, on the contrary, they stand before the world as organized parties, maintaining their right to self-government, with sufficient strength to make good their claim, and so organized as to be morally and politically responsible for their actions. Their first union was formed by a compact between sovereign and independent States, upon covenants and conditions expressly stipulated in a written instrument called the Constitution. In that union the States constituted the units or integers, and were bound to it only because the people of each of them acceded to it in their separate capacities, through the acts of their representatives. That confederacy was designed to unite under one government two great and diverse social systems, under one or the other of which all the States might be classified. As these two social systems were unequally represented in the common government, it was sought to protect one against a warfare which might be waged by the other through the forms of law, by carefully defined restrictions and limitations upon the power of the majority in the common government. Without such restrictions and limitations, it is known historically that the union could not [456] have been formed originally. But the dominant majority, which at last proved to be sectional in its character, not only used the machinery of a government which they wielded to plunder the minority, through unequal legislation in the shape of protective tariffs and appropriations made for their own benefit, but proceeding from step to step they waged through the forms of law a war upon the social system of the slaveholding States and threatened, when fully armed with political power, to use the Government itself to disturb the domestic peace of those States. Finding that the covenants and conditions upon which the Union was formed were not only persistently violated, but that the common government itself, then entirely in the hands of a sectional majority, was to be used for the purposes of warring upon the domestic institutions which it was bound by express stipulations to protect, eleven of the slaveholding States felt it to be due to themselves to withdraw from a Union, when the conditions upon which it was formed either had been or were certainly about to be violated. They were thus compelled to withdraw from a government which not only abdicated its duty to protect the domestic institutions of fifteen States, but on the one hand threatened those institutions with war, and on the other withheld from the people interested in them the means of self defence. The eleven Confederate States were thus forced, in self defence, to abandon a Union whose ends were thus perverted, not from any passion for novelty, or from any change of purpose, but to attain, under a new Confederacy of more homogeneous materials and interests, the very ends and objects for which the first was formed. It was amongst the first of these objects to obtain a government whose authority should rest upon the assent of the governed, and whose action should represent also their will. It was for the sacred right of self-government that they have been forced to take up arms, and not to escape the just obligations incurred under the compact upon which the first Union was formed. On the contrary, one of the first acts of the Government of the Confederate States was to send commissioners to the President of the United States, to adjust amicably and fairly all questions of property and responsibility which had been jointly acquired or incurred by all the States when embraced in the same Union. The Government of the United States refused to receive these commissioners, the authority of their Government was denied, their people were denounced as Rebels, and threatened with coercion at the point of the sword. On the part of the Confederate States, the war in its inception was one of self defence, and it has been waged since by them with no other [457] end than to maintain their right to self-government. It is in the name of the sacred right of self-government, that the Confederate States appear before the tribunal of the nations of the earth, and submit their claims for a recognized place amongst them. They approach His Imperial Majesty of France with the more confidence as he has lately championed this great cause in the recent Italian question so much to the glory of himself and the great people over whom he rules. In asking for this recognition, the Government of the Confederate States believes that it seeks for no more than it offers in return. The establishment of diplomatic relations between nations tends to the protection of human intercourse by affording the means of a peaceful solution of all difficulties which may arise in its progress, and by facilitating a mutual interchange of good offices for the purpose of maintaining and extending it. In this, all nations have an interest, and the advantages of such an intercourse are mutual and reciprocal. The only preliminary conditions to the recognition of a nation, seeking an acknowledged place in the world, would seem to be the existence of a sufficient strength within the government to support and maintain it, and such a social and political organization as will secure its responsibility for its international obligations. It will be easy to show that the Government of the Confederate States of America is fully able to meet the requisitions of these tests. When we look to the undeveloped capacities, as well as the developed strength of the Confederate States, we cannot doubt that they are destined to become the seat of a great empire at no distant day. The eleven Confederate States already comprise 733,144 square miles of territory, with a population of 9,244,000 people. If to this we add the three States of Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky, all of which will probably find themselves constrained, as well by interest as inclination, to unite their fortunes with the Confederate States, then these will embrace a territory of 830,000 square miles, with a population of twelve and a half millions of people. This estimate excludes a large territory not yet organized into States, and which, in the end, will probably fall into the Southern Confederacy.

The territory of the Confederate States, as they now stand, embraces all the best varieties of climate and production known to the temperate zone. In addition to this, it produces the great staples of cotton, sugar, tobacco and rice, to say nothing of naval stores, which are now exported from it, and of provisions which it is capable of producing in excess of the wants of its people. This vast region already enjoys through its rivers a great system of water communication, [458] and 8,844 miles of railroad running for the most part transversely to these rivers diversify and multiply the channels of commerce to such an extent as to promise a speedy development of the vast resources of the new empire. If peace were now established it is not extravagant to suppose that the exports of the Confederate States would, within a year, reach the value of $250,000,000. With a crop of 4,500,000, or, perhaps, even 5,000,000 bales of cotton, most of which would be exported, together with its tobacco, sugar, rice, and naval stores, it would easily send abroad the value just named. But without reference to its undeveloped capacities you may show that they have exhibited strength enough to maintain their independence against any power which has as yet assailed them. The United States commenced this struggle with vast odds in their favor. The military and naval establishments were in their hands; they were also in possession of the prestige and machinery of an old and established government. Many of the forts and strongholds of the Confederate States were in their hands; they had most of the accumulated wealth of the country and nearly all the manufactories of the munitions of war, and even of the necessaries of life. Add to all these advantages the greater population of that Union, and it is easy to see that the self supporting power of the new Confederacy has been exposed to the severest tests and rudest trials. And yet the Confederate armies have conquered in every pitched battle, and that with great odds against them. At Bethel and Manassas, in Virginia, and at Springfield, in Missouri, the United States troops have been routed at great loss and without dispute. The foothold which the United States troops at first acquired within the Confederate States is being rapidly lost, and the United States Government has given manifest evidences of its fears that its seat of government may be wrested from it. This exhibition of strength on the part of the Confederate States, which was so unexpected by its enemies, proves that its morale is greater even than its physical resources for the purposes of this struggle.

Without an army and with a new government, whose necessary establishments were all to be formed in the midst of a civil war, the Confederate States not only manifested their military superiority in the first pitched battles, but have already placed more than two hundred thousand men in the field who are armed, equipped and regularly supplied by the necessary establishments. These sprang into existence almost by the spontaneous efforts of the people, and came into the field faster even than the Government could prepare for [459] them. But voluntary contributions and aid supplied all deficiencies until the necessary military establishments were formed. It would seem then that the new Confederacy has given all the evidence, in proof of its power to maintain its independence, which could reasonably be asked. That its organization is such as to ensure its responsibility for the discharge of international duties will also appear upon an impartial examination of the question.

The action of the Confederate States in their separation from the old Union presents within itself the evidence of their persistency of purpose, and affords a guaranty for the stability of their institutions, so far as these may be dependent upon their own will. They have preserved the same form of government which their forefathers established, with the exception of such changes alone as would make its machinery more suitable for the ends and purposes for which it was created. It was not to change, but to preserve the ends and purposes for which the original constitution was adopted, that they separated from a union which had ceased to respect them. They have neither changed their form of government nor the objects for which it was framed; they have only changed the parties to the Confederacy to secure a faithful execution of the compact upon which alone they were willing to unite. The former Union had failed to accomplish its original ends for the want of a homogeneous character in the parties to it; and having left it for that cause, there can be no reason to expect its reconstruction with the same discordant elements whose jarring had destroyed it before. The whole course then of the Confederate States argues a consistency of purpose and promises a stability for the government which they have formed, which, together with the resources already exhibited by them, give a reasonable assurance of their entire responsibility for the discharge of all their duties and obligations, domestic and international. A people who present themselves under such circumstances for a recognized place amongst nations would seem to be entitled to the grant of such a request. They do not seek for material aid, or assistance, or for alliances, defensive and offensive. They ask nothing which can endanger the peace or prosperity of those who may grant it. They desire only to be placed in a position in which their intercourse with the rest of the world may be conducted with the sanction of public law, and under the protection of agents whose authority is recognized by nations. They seek the moral influence which the act of recognition may give them, and nothing more. If it be manifest that the war of conquest now waged against them cannot succeed, then the [460] act of recognition is a mere question of time. If the fact be as stated, the tendency of the act of recognition would be to prevent the further continuance of an unnecessary war and the useless effusion of blood. It may well be doubted, if under such circumstances the nation which thus refuses to throw the moral weight of its influence in the scale of peace, does not share in some of the responsibilities for the continuance of an unnecessary war, which it might have done something to conclude without risk or injury to itself.

Indeed, it may be said without exaggeration that France has a deep material and political interest in the establishment of the independence of the Confederate States. It is the event of all others which would give the most satisfactory solution to the great question of cotton supply for the manufacturing nations of Europe. That the great source of the production of this raw material which enters so largely into the manufacturing industry of Europe has been found in the Confederate States of America is an undoubted fact. That this will continue to be the case for a long time to come is in every way probable, for no other country presents the same combination of soil, climate and trained labor which is all essential to the successful production of cotton. If our country is to be the great source for the supply of this article so indispensable to the manufacturing industry of the world, the nations of the earth have the deepest interest in placing it in a position of independence and impartiality in regard to the distribution of the raw material for which the demand is so immense. If any one country is to have a virtual monopoly of the supply of raw cotton, then the world would have the deepest interest in opening it to the easy and equal access of all mankind. Such would be the case, if the depository of this great interest should be found in a country on the one hand strong enough to maintain its neutrality and independence, and on the other committed by its interests to the policy of Free Trade and an untrammeled intercourse with all the world. Such would be the precise position of the Confederate States when once their independence was achieved; and as a proof that this would be the natural tendency of their policy, we have only to look to their early legislation which reduced the duties on imports to the lowest rates consistent with their necessities for revenue, and opened their coasting trade to the free and equal competition of all mankind. Nor is cotton the only great staple of which the Confederate States are likely to become not the sole, but one of the chief depositories upon terms of equality to all the world. Tobacco, sugar, rice and naval stores are to be added to the catalogue [461] of their rich and important products. Nature has thus made it to their interest to buy where they can purchase cheapest, and to sell in as many markets as possible. To do this, as they will deal more in raw produce than in manufactures, they will seek to take in return the commodities of the rest of the world on the payment of the lowest duties consistent with their revenue wants. They will then virtually stand as the customers, and not as the rivals, of the commercial and manufacturing nations of Europe.

But there is another point of view in which the independence of the Confederate States would more peculiarly interest France. The immense development of her navy in a few years past, has shown not only that her capacity for asserting her equality on the seas has not been properly appreciated heretofore, but also that this relative capacity has been increased by the use of steam. In this view, the further development of her commercial marine, and an easy access to a cheap and certain supply of coal, iron, and naval stores, have become matters of primary importance to her. The commerce of the Confederate States, when disembarrassed of the enormous protective tariffs to which it was subjected under the former Union, together with the almost inexhaustible supply of cheap coal, iron and naval stores which it could furnish, present the means for a further and vast development of the commercial and naval marine of France. She could then find as cheap ships, or as cheap raw material for the building of ships, as could be commanded by any European nation. Depots of coal for her steam marine in these States could be made at less cost, and be of more convenient access for use on a large portion of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, than if they had been found originally in mines in France. That these are no new considerations for the French government, is shown by the interest which it exhibited in the negotiations by which a French company would have secured the great water line in Virginia, through which, when completed, the richest and most inexhaustible supplies of bituminous coal to be found perhaps in the world, would have been transported from its native depositories in the west, to the shores of the Chesapeake in the east. Nothing but the occurrence of civil war prevented the completion of this arrangement between this French company and the Virginia Legislature, by which France would have secured a certain and almost inexhaustible supply of cheap coal, iron and timber.

All this is fully stated in regard to the resources of Virginia, in a letter of Alfred Paul, French Consul at Richmond, to Mr. Thouvenel, Minister of Foreign Affairs, France, dated June 5th, 1860, and as it [462] may be well to recall the attention of the government to it, a copy will be sent you. In the enumeration of the resources of Virginia which would be thus opened to France, he says: ‘In coal and iron, Virginia excels all the other States of the Union. The fact is recognized— admitted.’

He thus specifies the advantages which France would derive from the proposed connection which was about to be formed with Virginia: ‘1st. Facilities for obtaining the raw materials in France at first hand, and cheaper, which would enable French industry to encounter foreign competition with superior advantages. 2nd. A considerable diminution in the expenses of the purchase and expedition of tobacco for the government factories. 3d. The arrival, the introduction of our produce by a shorter and cheaper route into the South, the West, and the centre of the United States. 4th. A relative augmentation in the movement of our commercial marine. 5th. Rapid and advantageous provisions of copper, machine oil, tar, bacon, and salt pork of the West, and building timber for our naval arsenals. 6th. Cheapness of coal for our different maritime stations. 7th. An immense opening in the great West of the United States for French merchandise. 8th. The probability of seeing Norfolk become an entrepot for the productions of French industry and commerce, to be distributed in part in Central and South America by vessels, taking them to complete their cargoes.’

The establishment of the independence of the Confederate States would secure to France large supplies of coal, iron and naval stores in exchange for her manufactures and other products beyond almost all the probable chances of war. Committed as these Confederate States would be to the policy of Free Trade by their interests and traditions, they would naturally avoid war and seek for peace with all the world. It may almost be said that to secure the independence of these States, is to secure the independence of the great commercial and manufacturing nations of Europe in regard to the supplies of cotton and tobacco, and to give France such an independent source for the supply of cheap coal, iron and naval stores as to place her more nearly on terms of equality with Great Britain in building up a navy and merchant marine. The European nations might then be said to be independent, so far as their supplies are concerned, because they would be dependent only on a country whose interests would open its markets to the cheap and easy access of all the world, and which would have every inducement to preserve the peace. But the independence of these States is essential to the certainty of supply and the [463] ease of access to their markets which are so important to the manufacturing and commercial nations of the earth. If it were possible for the United States to subdue the Confederates and subject them once more to their government, then France would have much cause for apprehension in regard to the future condition of her commerce and manufactures. The non-slaveholding States would undoubtedly use their control over the markets and staples of the South to secure a supremacy in commerce, navigation and manufactures. There are, also, political considerations, connected with this question, which cannot be uninteresting to the Government of France. By the establishment of a great Southern Confederacy, a balance of power is secured in North America, and schemes of conquest or annexation on the part of a great and overshadowing empire would probably no longer disturb the repose of neighboring nations.

Heretofore the South has desired the annexation of territory suitable to the growth of her domestic institutions in order to establish a balance of power within the government that they might protect their interests and internal peace through its agency. This reason no longer exists, as the Confederate States have sought that protection by a separation from the Union in which their rights were endangered. But with the establishment of something like a balance of power between the two great and independent Confederacies, the disputes would precede the annexations and probably do much to prevent them.

Certain it is that the Southern Confederacy would have every reason to preserve peace both at home and abroad, and would be prevented, both by its principles and interests, from intervention in the domestic affairs and government of other nations. The power of that Confederacy would undoubtedly be felt not as a disturbing, but as a harmonizing influence amongst the nations of the earth. There is yet another question of great practical importance to us and to the world which you will present on the first proper occasion to His Imperial Majesty's Government. It was declared by the Five Great Powers at the Conference of Paris, that ‘blockades to be binding, must be effectual,’ a principle long since sanctioned by leading publicists, and now acknowledged by nearly all civilized nations.

You will be furnished with abundant evidence of the fact that the blockade of the coasts of the Confederate States has not been effectual or of such a character as to be binding, according to the declaration of the Conference at Paris. Such being the case, it may, perhaps, be fairly urged that the Five Great Powers owe it to their own consistency [464] and to the world to make good a declaration thus solemnly made. Propositions of such gravity and emanating from sources so high may fairly be considered as affecting the general business relations of human society, and as controlling in a great degree the calculations and arrangements of nations, so far as they are concerned, in the rules thus laid down. Men have a right to presume that a law thus proclaimed will be uniformly enforced by those who have the power to do so, and who have taken it upon themselves to watch over its execution; nor will any suppose that particular States or cases would be exempted from its operation under the influence of partiality or favor. If, therefore, we can prove the blockade to have been ineffectual, we perhaps have a right to expect that the nations assenting to this declaration of the Conference at Paris will not consider it to be binding. We are fortified in this expectation not only by their own declaration, but by the nature of the interests affected by the blockade. So far at least it has been proved that the only certain and sufficient source of cotton supply has been found in the Confederate States. It is probable that there are more people without than within the Confederate States who derive their means of living from the various uses which are made of this important staple. A war, therefore, which shuts up this great source of supply from the general uses of mankind is directed as much against those who transport and manufacture cotton as against those who produce the raw material. Innocent parties who are thus affected may well insist that a right whose exercise operates so unfavorably on them shall only be used within the strictest limits of public law. Would it not be a movement more in consonance with the spirit of the age to insist that amongst the many efficient means of waging war, this one should be excepted in deference to the general interests of mankind, so many of whom depend for their means of living upon a ready and easy access to the greatest and cheapest cotton market of the world. If, for the general benefit of commerce, some of its great routes have been neutralized so as to be unaffected by the chances of war, might not another interest of a greater and more world-wide importance claim at least so much consideration as to demand the benefit of every presumption in favor of its protection against all the chances of war, save those which arise under the strictest rules of public law? This is a question of almost as much interest to the world at large as it is to the Confederate States. No belligerent can claim the right thus to injure innocent parties by such a blockade, except to the extent that it can be shown to furnish the legitimate, or, perhaps, [465] we might go still further and say the necessary, means to prosecute the war successfully. If it has become obvious, as would now seem to be the case, that no blockade which they can maintain will enable the United States to subdue the Confederate States of America, upon what plea can its further continuance be justified to third parties who are so deeply interested in a ready and easy access to the cheapest and most abundant sources of cotton supply.

In presenting the various views contained in this letter of instructions, you will say that they are offered as much in the general interests of humanity as in our own. We do not ask for assistance to enable us to maintain our independence against any power which has yet assailed us. The President of the Confederate States believes that he cannot be mistaken in supposing it to be the duty of the nations of the earth, by a prompt recognition, to throw the weight of their moral influence against the unnecessary prolongation of the war.

Whether the case now presented be one for such action, he is, perhaps, not the most impartial judge. He has acquitted himself of his duty to other nations when he has presented to their knowledge the facts, to which their only sure access is through himself, in such a manner as will enable them to acquit themselves of their responsibilities to the world, according to their own sense of right. But whilst he neither feels nor affects an indifference to the decision of the world upon these questions which deeply concern the interests of the Confederate States, he does not present their claim to a recognized place amongst the nations of the earth from the belief that any such recognition is necessary to enable them to achieve and secure their independence.

Such an act might diminish the sufferings and shorten the duration of an unnecessary war, but with or without it he believes that the Confederate States, under the guidance of a kind and overruling Providence, will make good their title to freedom and independence, and to a recognized place amongst the nations of the earth.

When you are officially recognized by the French Government, and diplomatic relations between the two countries are thus fully established, you will request an audience of His Imperial Majesty for the purpose of presenting your letters accrediting you as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Confederate States, near His Imperial Majesty, and in that capacity you are empowered to negotiate such treaties as the mutual interests of both [466] countries may require, subject, of course, to the approval of the President and the co-ordinate branch of the treaty making power.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,

Archive office, war Department, Washington, D. C., March 10th, 1879.
The above is a correct copy of a letter contained in a book belonging to the records of the State Department of the Confederate States, which book is in the possession of the Treasury Department, and was loaned to this office for this purpose.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
John Slidell (2)
R. M. T. Hunter (2)
Thouvenel (1)
A. P. Tasker (1)
Alfred Paul (1)
Archive (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
March 10th, 1879 AD (1)
September 23rd, 1861 AD (1)
June 5th, 1860 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: