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Chapter 25:

Grant and Gladstone.

Grant and Gladstone achieved each his highest elevation at about the same time. The British Premier went into office in December, 1868, the American President in March, 1869. The elections which gave them place occurred within a few weeks of each other. There was even a further parallel. Gladstone had grown into the position of a Liberal by successive conversions, while Grant, from a man without pronounced political preferences, had gradually become a decided Republican. The new Government in England looked to the new people in America as likely to become allies. Sumner was known personally to the prominent members of the Liberal party, and Motley from his literary reputation was welcome to the cultivated classes. There was, it is true, a shade of distrust because of Sumner's speech delivered only a month before Motley's appointment; still the reception of the new Minister was more than friendly; there seemed a feeling that now was the time to begin a new era and cultivate a sincerer amity. I remember in my own conversations with Forster, Lord Halifax, and other prominent Liberals, a very decided effort on their part to prove that the action of the British Government during the war had not been so hostile as Americans supposed. They especially claimed that the recognition of belligerency had not the significance attached to it on this side of the ocean. Doubtless their eagerness was partly because they knew the stress Motley had laid upon the [222] recognition in his communications with Lord Clarendon—stress in which, as I have already shown, he exceeded his instructions.

The speedy interruption of negotiations after Motley's insubordination became known was doubtless remarked by the British Cabinet, and in the autumn, when I returned to Washington, I received a letter from Lord Halifax, so full of significance that I laid it before the President and Mr. Fish. It was followed by others all breathing the kindest spirit on the part of the English authorities. My answers were submitted to the President, and when I returned to England the next year I told Lord Halifax that I had shown his letters to General Grant. He admitted having written them with the hope that they would be seen by the President and his Government. About this time also I wrote an article on ‘Our Relations with England,’ which appeared simultaneously in Harpers' Magazine in New York and McMillan's in London. This paper, bearing the signature of an officer at the Executive Mansion who had so recently served in the American Legation at London, was recognized as sanctioned by the Administration. It was of course read in advance by both the President and the Secretary of State, and was intended to indicate the good feeling of Grant's Government and its desire for amicable relations with England.

It had now become very desirable that this feeling should be generally known, both because of the rejection of the Clarendon-Johnson treaty in April, and the effect of Mr. Sumner's speech demanding consequential damages; as well as because of what only those in interior circles knew, the purport of Motley's first communication to the British Foreign Office. It was also important to neutralize the outgivings in society, for word had been brought from several sources to the State Department that the tone of the Minister's conversations was at variance with his instructions. [223]

In the first months of Grant's Administration Sir John Rose, then the Canadian Premier, was in Washington acting as commissioner under a previous treaty to settle certain disputed points between the United States and Canada; and in this international character he often met the Secretary of State. Fish from the first had conceived the idea of an arrangement between the two countries almost identical with that which in the end was arrived at. On this account, perhaps, he was all the more dissatisfied with Motley's course, though he bore with him until it became indispensable to appoint a successor.

In conversation with Rose, who was a shrewd, longheaded man, the idea was thrown out that an accommodation between the two countries was practicable. Fish said that England had on two occasions shown great tact, and even wisdom, in sending special envoys to negotiate with the United States; that the Americans had been pleased with the compliment and especially gratified by the selection of Lord Ashburton and Lord Elgin as plenipotentiaries. Not, he said, that Americans thought more of lords than of other men, but they knew that the English did, and that therefore it was a compliment for the English Government to send a peer to Washington. Rose took the idea at once; and then Fish developed the points on which he thought the two Administrations might agree. He said he was sure that an expression of regret on the part of England for the escape of the Alabama would be indispensable. He was the last man, he declared, who would consent to the humiliation of his own country, and the last to ask of another statesman what he would himself refuse under similar circumstances; but this he thought England might fairly concede, and the weight of the concession in the subsequent discussions would be enormous. He also suggested arbitration, and indicated the line on which he thought negotiations might proceed. Rose left for England shortly afterward and soon returned armed with [224] authority to discuss more definitely the informal propositions he had conveyed. He was in America in the autumn and early winter of 1870 for this purpose.

At first negotiations went on without the apparent intervention of Thornton, the accredited British Minister. Rose, it is true, communicated to the Minister all that occurred; but the preliminaries were purposely contrived so that the Governments should not be compromised if the matter fell through. Nothing would necessarily appear on the records of the Legation. But when all was arranged, and Rose's course had been approved by telegraph from London, Thornton went to the State Department officially. The four letters stipulating for a Joint High Commission, which were afterward published with the treaty, were drawn up and signed by him and Fish. They were dated so as to give the appearance of the compact having been made in the usual way, between the envoy and the State Department, but the arrangements made were in reality those of Fish and Rose.

It was at this time that Fish consulted Sumner, and the Senator laid down the impossible but indispensable stipulation that England should withdraw her flag from this continent as a preliminary to any further negotiation. Needless to say no such proviso appeared in the compact or was ever proposed to any British representative.

Rose returned to England, and immediately afterward Lord de Grey, Sir Stafford Northcote, and Professor Mountague Bernard, of Oxford University, together with Sir John MacDonald, at that time Canadian Premier, and Sir Edward Thornton were appointed commissioners on the part of Great Britain to settle all outstanding difficulties with the United States. Fish had suggested that Rose should be one of the commissioners, but Rose thought he could do better service in London. It was also at one time proposed that John Bright should join the British representation, but to this Fish objected, because he said Bright was so committed to the [225] American view that his action would have less weight in England. Lord de Grey, afterwards Lord Ripon, was a member of Gladstone's cabinet, and Northcote, afterward Lord Iddesleigh, belonged to the opposition. The American commissioners were the Secretary of State, General Schenck, the newly appointed Minister to England, Judge Nelson of the Supreme Court (a Democrat), ex-Attorney-General Hoar, and the actual law officer of the Government, Attorney-General Williams. It was at this juncture that the Administration requested its friends in the Senate to select another chairman for the Committee on Foreign Affairs, as Sumner's impracticable doctrines, as well as his refusal to speak to either the President or the Secretary of State made the treaty an impossibility if he remained in the place. Sumner was removed, and the negotiations proceeded successfully. In less than two months the British commissioners returned to London, carrying the treaty with them.

I had been sent to Spain by the State Department during this winter, and it was while I was absent from London that the British Commissioners started for America. After Motley's removal there was no American Minister in London until Schenck should arrive, but the Secretary of Legation, Mr. Moran, was acting Charge d'affaires. My own position was that of Consul-General, entirely without diplomatic functions, and without any right to know the secrets of the Legation. Moran, therefore, though my personal friend, very properly did not communicate to me what was going on; but as soon as I returned from Spain Lord Halifax called on me and told me of the negotiations. He asked me to his country house and afterward made a dinner in town that I might have an opportunity of meeting Mr. Gladstone. The Prime Minister then communicated to me his views on several of the points at issue. He particularly desired to indicate his anxiety for the success of the negotiations and his intention to do all in his power to further this end. He talked at [226] length and confidentially, and with the expectation that I would make known his opinions to the President. Of course I wrote them out that night and forwarded them to Washington. Forster and Halifax also communicated to me very fully their views, all of which I duly transmitted either to the President or the Secretary of State, or sometimes to the Assistant Secretary, Bancroft Davis, with whom, as well as with his two superiors, I was in close and constant correspondence. If nothing more, the messages I sent served to show how anxious Gladstone and his colleagues were to arrive at a happy understanding with America.

The treaty was promptly ratified by the Senate. Its stipulations provided that the principal points at issue should be submitted to a Tribunal of Arbitration composed of five members of different nationalities, to sit at Geneva. In December, 1871, the Tribunal met, and the parties to the dispute put in their statements. Bancroft Davis was the agent of the United States. William M. Evarts, Caleb Cushing, and Morrison R. Waite were counsel on the American side. In the American ‘case’ the question of consequential damages was proposed. The claims were not elaborately maintained, but the inquiry was made whether they could not be considered. At first their presentation met no disapproval in England. The claims themselves were scouted, and Sumner's original advocacy of them in the Senate had almost cost him the acquaintance of his warmest English friends; but it was supposed that they would be thrown out as a matter of course, and for nearly two months after the presentation of the ‘case’ the English people and Government offered no objection to the consideration of the claims. But after a while the Opposition party discovered that a weapon might be made of them against the Government, and the Tories set themselves diligently to work to injure the Administration by representing that it had yielded to outrageous Yankee insolence and ‘bluff.’ The press took up the cry and the whole [227] English nation soon fell into one of the most absurd and hysterical fits of passion that sober John Bull ever suffered from. The Liberals became frightened at the hubbub, and when Parliament met the Government felt that its fate was trembling. The press proclaimed that arbitration must not go on unless the claims were withdrawn, and such a storm was raised that the Government almost yielded. It was ‘On to Richmond’ over again.

But there were two parties to the question. The American Government held that the English had agreed to submit all the points at issue to the arbitrators. There was a solemn treaty which had been ratified and confirmed by the contending parties. If the English should now withdraw from the arbitration, America would hold that they had violated the treaty, and war might be the consequence. The greatest anxiety prevailed among those who knew how imminent the danger was. I was still in London and on intimate terms with the Minister, General Schenck, and I suppose as much in his confidence as it was proper I should be. How hard he worked to avert a war, how fertile he was in invention, how faithful to his country's interest, how dignified yet courteous in his attitude toward England, how anxious to discover some means of avoiding a rupture, nobody living knows better than I. No finer diplomatic services were ever rendered the United States; not even those of Adams during the Rebellion were more arduous or indispensable. A single false step, a maladroit expression, an ill-tempered or insufficient act, might have precipitated war.

For the feeling in England ran very high. At times it was positively offensive to Americans, especially official ones. More than once at clubs and dinners I had to resent remarks that no good American could listen to in silence, and yet I, too, in my sphere was bound to be courteous and reserved. But we had our friends. The members of the Government were as loyal as they dared to be; they were driven to bay [228] by their enemies, charged with deserting their own country, but they did not give up; they desired as earnestly as the Americans to avoid a war, and were undoubtedly anxious to fulfill the stipulations of the treaty. Mr. D'Israeli, to his credit be it said, did not one thing, uttered not one word to distress or embarrass the Government or to precipitate a rupture. He passed no harsh strictures on America just as he had refrained during the Rebellion itself from injurious or offensive utterances; in this more self-contained and politic than his great rival.

In the Government, if one may say so, Lady Waldegrave, whose husband, then Mr. Chichester Fortescue, had a seat in the Cabinet, carried herself manfully. She would not abandon hope when everybody else said hope was gone. She went about in society purposely to excite an influence favorable to peace, and her cleverness was great as well as her social influence. I remember more than once her language at her Sunday afternoons in Carlton Gardens, where the ablest and most distinguished men in London used to congregate; how she insisted that a way out of the difficulty could and must be found; that England and America must not differ seriously.

I doubt whether Americans except in Government circles knew how near we were to a tremendous conflict. The Government, of course, was greatly concerned, Grant and Fish especially so; for their glory would be lessened by the failure of arbitration. They were incessant in their efforts and anxieties. The labor, however, fell particularly on the State Department, and the Secretary of State at this time performed a patriotic service even greater than when he proposed and negotiated the treaty. He did not yield one iota of his country's dignity, and yet he skillfully piloted the ship of State among dangers such as it had not more than once incurred since America had been a nation. For surely there could be no greater evil to either country than for England [229] and America to go to war. The contest would have been bitterer and longer after, than during, the Rebellion. Perhaps with the South on our hands we could not have coped with England; but with the South as our partners the conflict would have been one of the most stupendous that the world has seen. This danger was avoided with dignity and credit by the skill and sagacity of the State Department and its servants, and the steady support and judgment of the President.

Arbitration went on. Some ingenious brain suggested that the arbitrators should decide without consulting England that the consequential claims were out of court, so that neither nation need recede from its contention; this proposition was adopted, and the firebrand lighted by Sumner was quenched before it kindled one of the mightiest conflagrations of modern times. Then all proceeded peacefully. The arbitrators awarded damages to America for what direct injuries the Alabama and her consorts had inflicted; England had already expressed her regret; a new proviso was inserted in the code of international law between England and America, and the two nations were friends.

Years afterward when Grant visited England Gladstone was out of power and it fell to the Tories to entertain the ex-President. They did it with good taste and ungrudging cordiality; but it was hard that the man who had made it possible for Grant to receive these honors in England should have no share in extending them. Everywhere the English people greeted Grant as the statesman who had initiated arbitration, as the warrior who preferred peace with England to war. Addresses teemed with plaudits on this account, and orators vied with each other in their enthusiastic comments; but Gladstone, who as much as Grant was entitled to the credit of arbitration, was in disfavor then; his enemies invited him to none of the banquets to the American soldier, and I do not remember that the ex-President and the ex-Premier ever [230] met except at the reception given to Grant at the house of the American Minister. There the crowd was so great that no especial conversation was possible, so that Grant never got a chance to see much of his great English compeer.

Among Gladstone's highest claims to honor hereafter will be the fact that he avoided war with America by consenting to atone for a national wrong, while the glory of settling peacefully a tremendous difference with to us at least the most important of modern nations will be Grant's greatest proof of statesmanship. For given all the honor they deserve to Fish and Schenck and Evarts and Bancroft Davis and Cushing and Waite—and no other Americans have earned equal credit in our day for any single act of civil life—still Grant was the head; it was for him always to decide. If he had been backward or uncertain, if he had failed in judgment or nerve or sagacity or decision—the achievement would have been impossible. If there were no other measure of his Administration worthy of praise, this one makes it well for America that Grant was President

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