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Instructions to Hon. James M. Mason--letter from Hon. R. M. T. Hunter, Secretary of State, C. S. A.

[The following letter has never been published, so far as we are aware, and will be read with pleasure as an important link in the history of the Confederacy.]

Department of State, Richmond, September 23, 1861.
To the Honorable James M. Mason, Etc., Etc.:
Sir — The President desires that you should proceed to London with as little delay as possible, and place yourself, as soon as you may be able to do so, in communication with the Government. The events which have occurred since our commissioners had their first interview with Lord John Russell have placed our claims to recognition in a much stronger point of view; but in presenting the case once more to the British Government, you ought again to explain the true position in which we appear before the world. We are not to be viewed as revolted provinces or rebellious subjects, seeking to overthrow the lawful authority of a common sovereign. Neither are we warring for rights of a doubtful character, or such as are to be ascertained only by implication. On the contrary, the Union from which we have withdrawn was founded upon the express stipulations of a written instrument which established a government whose powers were to be exercised for certain declared purposes and restricted within well defined limits. When a sectional and dominant majority persistently violated the covenants and conditions [232] of that compact, those States whose safety and well-being depended upon the perfomance of these covenants were justly absolved from all moral obligation to remain in such a Union. And when the government of that Union, instead of affording protection to their social system, itself threatened not merely to disturb the peace and the security of its people, but also to destroy their social system, the States thus menaced owed it to themselves and their posterity to withdraw immediately from a Union whose very bonds prevented them from defending themselves against such dangers. Such were the causes which led the Confederate States to form a new Union, to be composed of more homogeneous materials and interests. Experience had demonstrated to them that a union of two different and hostile social systems under a Government in which one of them wielded nearly all the power, was not only illassorted, but dangerous in the extreme to the weaker section whose scheme of society was thus unprotected.

Prompted by these teachings, eleven sovereign States, bound together by the tie of a common social system and by the sympathies of identical interests, have instituted a new Confederacy and a new Government, which they justly hope will be more harmonizing in its operation and more permanent in its existence. In forming this Government they seek to preserve their old institutions and to pursue through their new organic law the very ends and purposes for which, as they believe, the first was formed. It was because a revolution was sought to be made in the spirit and ends of the organic law of their first union by a dominant and Sectional majority, operating through the machinery of a government which was in their hands and placed there for different purposes, that the Confederate States withdrew themselves from the jurisdiction of such a government and established another for themselves. Their example, therefore, furnishes no precedent for the overthrow of the lawful authority of a regular government by revolutionary violence, nor does it encourage a resort to factious tumult and civil war by irresponsible bodies of men. On the contrary, their union has been formed through the regular action of the sovereign States composing the Confederacy, and it has established a government competent to the discharge of all its civil functions and entirely responsible; both in war and peace, for all its actions. Nor has that Government shown itself unmindful of the obligation which its people incurred whilst their States were members of the former union. On the contrary, one of their first [233] acts was to send commissioners to the Government at Washington to adjust amicably all subjects of difference and to provide for a peaceable separation and a fair satisfaction of the mutual claims of the two Confederacies. These commissioners were not received, and all offers for a peaceful accommodation were contemptuously rejected. The authority of our Government itself was denied, its people denounced as rebels, and a war was waged against them, which, if carried on in the spirit it was proclaimed, must be the most sanguinary and barbarous which has been known for centuries among civilized people. The Confederate States have thus been forced to take up arms in defence of their right to self-government, and in the name of that sacred right they have appealed to the nations of the earth, not for material aid or alliances, offensive and defensive, but for the moral weight which they would derive from holding a recognized place as a free and independent people. In asking for this they feel that they will not receive more than they will give in return, and they offer, as they think, a full equivalent for any favor that may thus be granted them. Diplomatic relations are established mainly to protect human intercourse and to adjust peaceably the differences which spring from such intercourse or arise out of the conflicting interests of society. The advantages of such an intercourse are mutual, and in general, as between nations, any one of them receives as much as it gives, to say nothing of the well being of human society which is promoted by placing its relations under the protection and restraints of public law. It would seem, then, that a new Confederacy asking to establish diplomatic relations with the world ought not to be required to do more than to present itself through a government competent to discharge its civil functions and strong enough to be responsible for its actions to the other nations of the earth. After this is shown, the great interests of peace and the general good of society would seem to require that a speedy recognition should follow. It cannot be difficult to show in our case a strict compliance with these, the just conditions of our recognition as an independent people. If we were pleading for favors we might ask and find more than one precedent in British history for granting the request that we be recognized for the sake of that sacred right of self-government for which we are this day in arms, and which we have been taught to prize by the teachings, the traditions and the example of the race from which we have sprung. But we do not place ourselves before the bar of nations to ask for favors; we seek for what we believe to [234] be justice not only to ourselves, but justice to the great interests of peace and humanity. If the recognition of our independence must finally come and if it be only a work of time, it seems to be the duty of each of the nations of the earth to throw the moral weight of its recognition into the scale of peace as soon as possible. For, to delay, will only be to prolong unnecessarily the sufferings of war. If then our Government can be shown to be such as has been here described, we shall place ourselves in the position of a people who are entitled to a recognition of their independence. The physical and moral elements of our Confederacy, its great, but undeveloped capacities, and its developed strength as proved by the history of the conflict in which we are now engaged, ought to satisfy the world of the responsible character of the Government of the Confederate States. The eleven States now confederated together cover seven hundred and thirty-three thousand one hundred and forty-four square miles of territory and embrace nine millions two hundred and forty-four thousand people. This territory, large enough to become the seat of an immense power, embraced not only all the best varieties of climate and production known to the temperate zone, but also the great staples of cotton, tobacco, sugar and rice. It teems with the resources, both moral and physical, of a great empire, and nothing is wanted but time and peace for their development. To these States there will probably be added hereafter Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky, whose interests and sympathies must bind them to the South. If these are added, the Confederate States will embrace eight hundred and fifty thousand square miles of territory and twelve and a half millions of people, to say nothing of the once common Territories west of these States, which will probably fall into the new Confederacy. Is it to be supposed that such a people and with such resources can be subdued in war when subjugation is to be followed by such consequences as would result from their conquest? If such a supposition prevails anywhere, it can find no countenance in the history of the contest in which we are now engaged. In the commencement of this struggle, our enemies had in their possession the machinery of the old Government. The naval, and, for the most part, the military establishments, were in their hands. They had, too, most of the accumulated capital and nearly all the manufactories of arms, ordnance and of the necessaries of life. They had all the means of striking us hard blows before we could be ready to return them. And yet in the face of all this we have instituted [235] a government and placed more than 200,000 men in the field with an adequate staff and commissariat. A still larger number of men are ready to take the field if it should become necessary, and experience has shown that the only limit to the disposition of the people to give what may be required for the war is to be found in their ability. The enemy, with greatly superior numbers, have been routed in pitched battles at Bethel and Manassas in Virginia, and their recent defeat at Springfield, Missouri, was almost as signal as that of Manassas. The comparatively little foothold which they have had in the Confederate States is gradually being lost, and after six months of war, in which they employed their best resources, it may truly be said they are much further from the conquest of the Southern States than they seemed to be when the struggle commenced. The Union feeling which was supposed to exist largely in the South, and which was known to us to be imaginary, is now shown in the true light to all mankind. Never were any people more united than are those of the Confederate States in their purpose to maintain their independence at any cost of life and treasure, nor is there a party to be found anywhere in these States which professes a desire for a reunion with the United States. Nothing could prove this unanimity of feeling more strongly than the fact that this immense army may be said to have taken the field spontaneously and faster almost than the Government could provide for its organization and equipment. But the voluntary contributions of the people supplied all deficiencies until the Government could come to their assistance, as it has done, with the necessary military establishments. And what is perhaps equally remarkable, it may be said with truth, that there has been no judicial execution for a political offence during the whole of the war, and so far as military offences are concerned our prisons would be empty if it were not for a few captured spies. Under these circumstances it would seem that the time has arrived when it would be proper in the Government of Great Britain to recognize our independence. If it be obvious that the Confederate States cannot be conquered in this struggle, then the sooner the strife be ended the better for the cause of peace and the interests of mankind. Under such circumstances, to fail to throw the great moral influence of such a recognition into the scale of peace, when this may be done without risk or danger, may be to share in the responsibility for the longer continuance of an unnecessary war. This is a consideration which ought, perhaps, to have some weight [236] with a nation which leads so largely, as does that of Great Britain, in the progress of Christian civilization. That the British people have a deep political and commercial interest in the establishment of the independence of the Confederate States must be obvious to all. Their real interest in that event is only a little less than our own. The great question of cotton supply, which has occupied their attention so justly and so anxiously for some years past, will then be satisfactorily settled. Whilst the main source of cotton production was in the hands of such a power as that of the late United States and controlled by those who were disposed to use that control to acquire the supremacy in navigation, commerce and manufactures over all rivals, there was just cause for anxiety on the part of nations who were largely dependent upon this source of supply for the raw material of important manufactures. But the case will be far different when peace is conquered and the independence of the Confederate States is acknowledged. Within these States must be found for years to come the great source of cotton supply. So favorable a combination of soil, climate and labor is nowhere else to be found. Their capacity for increased production has so far kept pace with the increased demand, and in time of peace it promises to do so for a long while to come. In the question of the supply of this great staple there is a world-wide interest, and if the nations of the earth could choose for themselves a single depository for such an interest, perhaps none could be found to act so impartially in that capacity as the Confederacy of Southern States. Their great interest is and will be, for a long time to come, in the production and exportation of the important staples so much sought by the rest of the world. It would be long before they would become the rivals of those who are largely concerned in navigation, manufactures and commerce. On the contrary, these interests would make them valuable customers and bind them to the policy of free trade. Their early legislation, which has thrown open their navigation, foreign and coasting, to the free competition of all nations, and which has imposed the lowest duties on imports consistent with their necessary revenue wants, proves the natural tendency of their commercial policy. Under such circumstances, the supply of cotton to Great Britain would be as abundant, as cheap and as certain as if these States were themselves her colonies. The establishment of such an empire, committed, as it would be, to the policy of free trade by its interests and traditions would seem to be a matter of primary importance to the progress of [237] human industry and the great cause of human civilization. It would be of the deepest interest to such a government to preserve peace, and to improve its opportunities for the pursuit of the useful arts. The residue of the world would find here, too, sources of supply of more than one of the great staples in which manufactures and commerce are most deeply interested, and these sources would probably prove to be not only constant, as being little likely to be troubled by the chances of war, but also of easy access to all who might desire to resort to them. In presenting the great importance of this question to the Government of Great Britain in its connection with their material interests, you will not omit its bearing upon the future political relations between the old and the new world. With a balance of power established between the great Confederacies on the North American continent, the fears of a disturbance of the peace of the world from the desire for the annexation of contiguous territory on the part of a vast and overshadowing political and military organization will be dissipated. Under the former Union the slaveholding States had an interest in the acquisition of territory suitable to their institutions in order to establish a balance of power within the Government for their own protection. 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. It is manifest from the nature of its interests that the Southern Confederacy in entering as a new member in the family of nations would exercise not a disturbing but a harmonizing influence on human society, for it would not only desire peace itself, but to some extent become a bond of peace amongst others. In offering these views to the Government of Great Britain, you will be able to say with truth that you present a case precisely and entirely within the principles upon which it has acted since 1821,--principles so well stated by Lord John Russell in his dispaches upon the Italian question that they can not be better defined than in his own words. In his letter to Lord Cowley, of the 15th November, 1859, after adverting to the action of Great Britain in 1821 in regard to the declarations of the Congresses of Troppan and Laybach; in 1823 in regard to the Congress of Verona, and in 1825, 1827 and 1830 in the cases of the South American Republics, of Greece and of Belgium, he says: “Thus in these five instances the policy of Great Britain appears to have been directed by a consistent principle. She uniformly withheld her consent to acts of intervention by force to alter the internal [238] government of other nations; she uniformly gave her countenance, and if necessary her aid, to consolidate the de facto governments which arose in Europe or America.” To recognize the Confederate States as an independent power would be to give her countenance to consolidate a de facto government in America which is already supported by a force strong enough to defend it against all probable assaults. To withhold that recognition would certainly encourage the armed intervention of a government, now foreign to us, for the purpose of altering the internal government of the Confederate States of America In his letter of December 3d, 1859, to Lord A. Loftus, in regard to the controversy between Austria and her provinces, he says: “We, at least, are convinced that an authority restored by force of arms constantly opposed by the national wishes would afford no solid and durable basis for the pacification and welfare of Italy.” Is not this sentiment still more applicable to the contest now being waged between the United States and the Confederate States? Again, in his dispatch of November 26th, 1859, to Earl Cowley, he declared that “It would be an invidious task to discuss the reasons which, in the view of the people of Central Italy, justified their acts. It will be sufficient to say that since the peace of 1815 Her Majesty's predecessors have recognized the separation of the Spanish Colonies in South America from Spain; of Greece, from the dominion of the Sultan; and of Belgium from Holland. In the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, the reasons adduced in favor of these separations were not stronger than those which have been alleged at Florence, Parma, Modena and Bologna in justification of the course the people of those States have pursued.” Were the reasons “alleged” in the States of Florence, Parma, Modena and Bologna, whose people are thus assumed to be the judges in a matter so nearly touching their happiness as their internal government, at all stronger than those “alleged” by the people of the eleven sovereign States now confederated together for withdrawing from a Union formed by a voluntary compact upon conditions which were persistently violated and with covenants essential to their domestic repose openly threatened to be broken? But appended to this letter of instructions you will find more extended extracts from the letters here referred to, for your especial reference. 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 Her Britannic Majesty's Government. It was declared by the five great powers at the Conference [239] 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 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 universally maintained 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 declarations, 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, 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 in the world? If, for the general benefit of commerce, some of its great routes have been neutralized so [240] 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 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. Perhaps we had the right to expect, inasmuch as by the proclamation of Her Britannic Majesty neutrality had been declared as between the belligerents, that one of the parties would not have been allowed to close the ports of the other by a mere proclamation of blockade without an adequate force to sustain it. 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 mankind 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 discharged 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 [241] 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 British Government, and diplomatic relations between the two countries are thus fully established, you will request an audience of Her Majesty, for the purpose of presenting your letters accrediting you as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Confederate States near Her Majesty, and in that capacity you are empowered to negotiate such treaties as the mutual interests of both 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,

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