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Chapter 46:

Grant and Romero.

no account of General Grant's career would be complete that left out a relation of his intimacy with Mathias Romero, so long the Mexican Minister to the United States; —an intimacy that began in public and international affairs of the highest consequence to their respective countries, and reached into their private relations, that connected them in business and diplomacy, that was marked by instances of generous feeling and personal appreciation on both sides, and lasted till death broke the bonds which had attached them for more than twenty years. Their friendship was the more remarkable because Grant, as a rule, was not fond of foreigners; in the early part of his prominence he was not at all a cosmopolitan, and with rare exceptions all through life he confined his intimacies to men of his own nationality. His own peculiarities were so marked and his identity with his country-people so strong that he could not readily share the feeling of those of an entirely different race, nor throw himself into the situation of men bred under entirely different institutions. But Romero, though of the Latin blood, was an American and a republican, the representative of a country that had been attacked at the same time, and, as Grant believed, in the same interest as the Union; and these circumstances first created and then fostered a very genuine sympathy between them.

General Grant first met Romero in the autumn of 1864, while the national armies were lying at City Point investing [392] Richmond. The Mexican Minister arrived at the headquarters with his countryman, General Doblado, bringing letters from the Secretary of State; and the two foreigners spent several days in the camp of the General-in-Chief. Grant paid them every courtesy and sent me with them to visit first General Meade at the front of the Army of the Potomac, and afterward General Butler, who commanded the Army of the James. The peculiar interest which Grant had always felt in the success of the Republic in Mexico made him especially glad to receive these representatives of the Republic. He assured them of his sympathy and good wishes, discussed the situation in their country very fully, and interchanged views upon the steps that should be taken to hasten the expulsion of the French and Maximilian.

After this Grant and Romero were not thrown together until four or five months later, when the end of the Southern Rebellion enabled the victorious general to convert some of his views in regard to Mexico into action. When Grant arrived in Washington, after the surrender of Lee, Romero promptly called on him, and Grant informed the Minister of the purport of his orders to Sheridan, for the cavalry general had been sent at once to the Rio Grande to watch the Mexican frontier. From this time the Northern soldier and the Southern diplomatist worked in harmony. Grant, as I have earlier shown, was extremely annoyed at the delay in the action of our own Government and thought the French Emperor should have been notified at once to withdraw his troops from Mexico. He had many conferences with the Mexican Minister on the subject; even expressing a desire to go at the head of an army himself and assist the Mexicans in driving out the invader. Doubtless the patriots got new courage when they heard through their representative how stanch a friend they had in the head of the Union armies, and their efforts were redoubled with the knowledge of his sympathy and the hope of his support. [393]

I was present at many of the conversations of these allies, and had especial charge of those of their papers which Grant was unwilling to expose to ordinary official inspection. Some of them it would hardly be proper even now to make public. Romero furnished Grant with constant information from his own Government and country, and many an intercepted dispatch have I translated, predicting or discussing events in Europe as well as in Mexico that were thought likely to affect the destiny of the neighboring State; letters describing the failing health of Napoleon III, the anxieties of Carlotta, the manoeuvres of Maximilian, and even the intrigues in the United States which complicated our own politics with those of Mexico.

When at last the end of the feeble empire came Grant often told me his views. He was very stern, and thought that the pretender to a throne should be punished as severely as any other traitor. Because Maximilian was of royal blood did not lessen his offense, and that he was of foreign origin intruding his ambitions into a country where he was unwelcome heightened in Grant's eyes the enormity of his crime. He more than once said in my hearing that Maximilian ought to die; and he told me that he made the opinion known to Romero, who he supposed found means to communicate it to his Government; not of course in official documents, for diplomatists are not in the habit of entrusting such secret matters to public dispatches; they have other channels than those accessible to Congressional resolutions. But although neither Grant nor Romero chose to commit himself by recorded expressions, Grant always believed that his tacit condemnation of the invader had its weight. It is certain that had he raised a finger Maximilian would have been saved. But it was pollice verso; the thumb was turned breastward.

This apparent harshness, however, was due to public considerations, not to hostility toward an individual. Grant [394] believed it necessary to show European monarchists that they could not with impunity attempt to set up institutions on this continent menacing to our own; he thought the blow offered to Mexico was in reality meant for this country; and he considered that no such effectual lesson could be taught imperial enemies of this republic and of all republics, as the punishment of a princely offender. He had been lenient, as the world knows, to his own countrymen when they had rebelled, and never in his career was he cruel with any personal reason; but now, as in the Wilderness and in the Valley of Virginia, grave public considerations overcame the natural softness of his nature. Such action may be as truly magnanimous in the original meaning of the word, as the clemency that is more admired; and had Grant not possessed the quality of a Brutus he would not have achieved what he did for his country and his own renown. But there are few Americans with whom it is necessary to defend his action toward the unfortunate Maximilian.

When the Mexican Republic was reestablished, Romero was recalled to a place in the Home Government—a fitting reward of his services, which were indeed the most arduous, and perhaps the most effectual rendered to his country in her time of trial. For this representative had the true diplomatic talent; he perceived the influence of General Grant at this crisis, as well as his sympathies, and did his best to increase the one and avail himself of the other. The intimacy he established with the victorious General was of vast importance to his own country, and the use he made of it was both patriotic and legitimate. General Grant not only shared but enjoyed the intimacy, and was anxious that it should be turned to the account of Mexico. Romero had been constantly recognized as the Mexican representative by our own Government, but of course he exchanged no courtesies with the Ministers of France and Austria and England; his diplomatic consequence was therefore lessened, but Grant took every [395] opportunity to show him deference and attention, and thus enhance his consequence; and Grant's own position was so peculiar at this time that any civilities from him possessed unusual importance. Before Romero left the United States he had the gratification of presenting the family of the Mexican President, Juarez, at Grant's house. The French Minister, with his wife, was present on this occasion, and Grant took pains to treat his republican guests with significant distinction; a fact doubtless reported to the Tuileries by the imperial envoy.

As soon as Grant was elected President he opened a correspondence through me with Romero, who had now returned to his own country; the nature of this I have elsewhere described; but during the period of Grant's two administrations Romero remained in Mexico, and each was engaged in the affairs of his own nation. They exchanged no direct communications for eight years.

Subsequently, however, the Mexican was again sent to the United States as Minister, and then resumed his intimacy with General Grant. In 1880 the ex-President paid a visit to Mexico and Romero took pains to ensure him such a reception as it was fitting the re-established Republic should pay to the man who had been its stanch and powerful friend when it most needed friends. While in that country General Grant conceived the idea of developing the resources of Mexico in her own interest and that of the United States, and on his return to the North Romero naturally became interested in such views and plans. At this time General Grant organized a company in New York for the purpose of building a railroad from the City of Mexico to the frontier of Guatemala, with branches both to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific; he even returned to Mexico to make the necessary arrangements with the Government there. Romero was connected with this enterprise. His relations at home enabled him to procure important concessions [396] from the Governor of one of the Mexican States, and these he transferred to the company of which Grant was President. But neither the General nor the Envoy was improperly interested in the business. Their connection was patriotic and public, and pure in every way. The enterprise proved unsuccessful at the time, but I never heard that any one was injured financially by the temporary failure.

During this period, while General Grant was pressing upon the business community and upon statesmen the importance of developing both political and commercial relations with Mexico, President Arthur appointed him Commissioner to negotiate a treaty of commerce with that country. Romero was appropriately designated by the Mexican Government to meet him, and the two were thus associated in a work conceived in the fairest spirit to both countries, and which both believed would result in large benefits to the United States and Mexico. The treaty, however, met with opposition from parties in each country who thought their own prospects would not be benefited by the prosperity of all. Accusations were made of personal and illicit advantages sought by both Grant and Romero, which both repudiated. Indeed it is within my personal knowledge that the appointment of Commissioner was unexpected to Grant, and for a while he hesitated whether to accept or refuse the position. His relations with Arthur were not agreeable at the time; he was displeased with the President's course, and had criticized his Administration freely. He always thought the offer was made to please or placate him at a time when he was indignant at other actions of the President. He accepted the appointment from public motives purely.

The Government, however, showed scanty interest in the treaty, and exerted itself only feebly to procure its confirmation, while the opposition from interested quarters was persistent; General Grant himself had no longer power or patronage to exert or offer to stimulate support, and the [397] treaty never became international law. Its failure was a source of disappointment and mortification to Grant. He was pained to find that his influence was so insufficient and his views so unimportant with those who controlled affairs; and that neither the weight of his past services nor the gravity of his arguments, enforced by so wide and varied an experience, could bring his country to approve the policy that he proposed. He had many notions in regard to an American system on the American continent which one would suppose would have attracted the approbation both of statesmen and the country. His desire to increase the influence of the United States, to extend her territory, and to develop relations with all the sister republics was incessant: but the time seemed not ripe. He was not destined to achieve so much additional renown as the inauguration of a Continental policy would have insured. It was enough for one man to play the most important part in the salvation and reconstruction of the Union. But in the future, when some other statesman shall elaborate and carry out his views and accomplish the unity of relation and interest of all the American republics, it should be remembered that Grant foresaw the result and was anxious to bring it about in his time. Those who belittle his statesmanship will then, perhaps, recognize its far-reaching character and lofty intentions.

In all this Continental policy Romero was the worthy colleague of Grant. No diplomatist has ever been accredited to this country who established more intimate relations with the important personages of the State; who appreciated better the national institutions and character; who played the legitimate role of a foreign minister with greater skill or success. For he had everything against him; even for a while, it seemed, the indifference of our own State Department, certainly the listlessness of the people, the antipathy of race, and the difference of creed and language. [398] But he conquered some of these prejudices first in Grant himself, and then with Grant's aid was able to do a great work for his own country and to attempt the binding of the two republics with closer ligaments of mutual prosperity.

When General Grant fell into misfortune and for a while even his good name was assailed in many mouths, when he was tortured by the apprehension of absolute want, and hosts of rich and powerful and intimate friends of his prosperous hours forgot to enquire if he needed money—the man of another race was the first and almost the only one to offer pecuniary assistance. Those who had benefited by Grant's success—not only the men who like the whole country owed the existence of their wealth to the triumph of his arms, but others whose individual advancement and fortune were directly traceable to their connection with him —neglected to say, ‘General, can we help you?’ But Romero, the Mexican, came to him at once and insisted on lending him a thousand dollars. If he had not so insisted, General Grant would have suffered for want of money.

After this their relations became almost tender. Grant accepted the temporary assistance, and was grateful. Romero was much with him in the last summer the General spent at Long Branch, and when Grant became seriously ill, Romero was one of the first to whom he confided his situation. After this the latter was frequently by the side of the friend of his nation. He sat quietly by the sufferer for hours, anxious to indicate his sympathy, and Grant was always pleased to have him there. Romero even visited the dying General at Mount McGregor, and in the midst of his sufferings and anxieties the hero turned from his pains or his literary labor, to write when he could not talk, on Mexican affairs, and to manifest his interest even then in that country for which they had striven so earnestly together.

The faithful diplomatist followed his great coadjutor in the procession that conveyed the remains of Grant to their [399] last resting-place at Riverside. Nothing in the entire and varied story of the soldier-President is more characteristic, although exceptional, than this friendship begun in public and international affairs, continued into a personal intimacy, and lasting through disasters and successes alike unexampled in American history, down to the moment when the great shadow fell that divides in one moment the closest friends and leaves of the warmest affection nothing but a memory.

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