previous next

Doc. 236.-letter of Cassius M. Clay to the London times.

To the Editor of the Times :--
Sir: Allow me your journal to make a few remarks upon the complications of the United States of America, which, I am surprised to find, are so little understood this side of the Atlantic.

1. “What are we fighting for?” “We, the people of the United States of America,” (to use the language of our Constitution,) are fighting to maintain our nationality and the principles of liberty upon which it was founded; that nationality which Great Britain has pledged herself, both by past comity and the sacred obligations of treaty, to respect; those great principles of liberty, that all power is derived from the consent of the governed; trial by jury, freedom of speech, and the press; that “without law there is no liberty” --which we inherited from Great Britain herself, and which, having been found to lie at the base of all progress and civilization, we desire to perpetuate for ourselves and the future of all nations. The so-called “Confederate States of Americarebel against us--against our nationality, and against all the principles of its structure. Citizens of the United States--of the one Government (not of Confederated States, as they would have the world believe — but of “us, the people,” ) they propose, not by common legal consent, but by arms, to sever our nation into separate independencies. Claiming to “be let alone,” they conspire against us; seize by force our forts, stores, and arms; appropriate to themselves our mints, moneys, and vessels at sea; capture our armies, and threaten even the capital at Washington!

The word “secession” is used to cover up treason and delude the nations. They stand to us in the relation of one “people:” the idea of “State sovereignty” is utterly delusive. We gave up the old “confederation” to avoid just such complications as have now occurred. The States are by our Constitution deprived of all the rights of independent sovereigns, and the National Government acts not through State organizations, but directly upon the citizens of the States themselves — to that highest of power, the right of life and death. The States cannot keep an army, or navy, or even repel invasion, except when necessity will not allow time for national action; can make no treaty, nor coin money, nor exercise any of the first great essential powers of “sovereignty.” In a word, they can no more “secede” from the Union than Scotland or Ireland can secede from England.

The professed friends of the independence of nations and popular rights, they have not only overthrown the Constitution of.the United States, but the constitution of the “Confederate States,” themselves, refusing in every case to refer their new usurpations to the votes of the people, thus making themselves doubly traitors to both the States and the nation. The despotic rulers over four millions of enslaved Africans, they presume to extend over us, the white races of all nations, the same despotism, by ignoring the political rights of all but their own class, by restrictions upon the popular franchise, by the suppression of the freedom of speech and of the press, by the terrorism of “Lynch-law,” or tyrannical enactments, backed by standing armies, to crush out the independence of thought, the ineradicable instincts of our world-wide humanity — with the atrocious dogma that negro slavery is the only basis of conservatism and progressive civilization; and that the true solution of the contest of all time between labor and capital is that capital should own the labor, whether white or black.

The success of such demands would send the tide of barbarism not only over the millions of the New World and the isles of the western oceans, but roll it back over England and emancipated Europe, and blot out from history this the greatest glory of our times.

2. “But can you subdue the revolted States?” Of couse we can. The whole of the revolted States (2,173,000) have not as much white population as the single State of New York (3,851,563) by 1,500,000 people. If all the slave States were to make common cause, they have only 8,907,894 whites, with 4,000,000 slaves, while the Union has about 20,000,000 of homogeneous people, as powerful in peace and war as the world has seen. Intelligent, hardy, and “many-sided,” their late apparent lethargy and weakness was the self-possession of conscious strength. When they had made up their minds that force was necessary, they moved upon Washington with such speed, numbers, and steadiness as is not surpassed in history. We have the money, (at a lower rate of interest than ever before,) the men, and the command [341] of the seas, and the internal waters. We can blockade them by sea, and invade them by land, and close up the rebellion in a single year, if we are “let alone!” For the population of the slave States is divided, perhaps equally, for and against the Union--the loyal citizens being for the time overawed by the organized conspiracy of the traitors, while the North is united to a man, the late allies of the South--the democratic party--being now more earnest for the subjugation of the rebels than the republicans.

3. “But can you govern asubjugatedpeople and reconstruct the Union?” We do not propose to “subjugate” the revolted States--we propose to put down simply the rebel citizens. We go to the rescue of the loyal Unionists of all the States. We carry safety, and peace, and liberty to the Union-loving people of the South, who will of themselves (the tyranny overthrown) send back their representatives to Congress, and the Union will be “reconstructed” without a change of a letter in the Constitution of the United States. Did England subjugate Ireland and Scotland? Are the united kingdoms less homogeneous than of old, before the wars against rebellion? So will the United States rise from the smoke of battle with renewed stability and power. In turn, now let us ask the British public some questions.

1. “Where should British honor place her in this contest?” We overthrow that political element in America which has all through our history been the studied denouncer and real hater of the British nation, while we have been always from the beginning the friends of England. Because, though under different forms of government, we had common sympathies, and a common cause, and, therefore, a common interest. England was the conservator of liberty in Europe — the old world; we in the new. If the “Confederate States” are right, then is England wrong. If slavery must be extended in America, then must England restore it in the West Indies, blot out the most glorious page of her history, and call back her freedmen into chains! Let her say to the martyrs of freedom from all the nations who have sought refuge and a magnanimous defence on her shores, return to your scaffold and your prison-house; England is no more England. Let the Times cease to appeal longer to the enlightened opinion of the world: nay, let the statues of the great dead, through which I passed in reverence yesterday, to the Houses of her political intelligence, be thrown from their pedestals, when England shall forget the utterances of her Chathams, her Wilberforces, and her Broughams — that natural justice is the only safe diplomacy and lasting foundation of the independence of nations.

2. “What is the interest of England now?” If we may descend to such inferior appeals, it is clearly the interest of England to stand by the Union of the States. We are her best consumer; no tariff will materially affect that fact. We are the best customer of England; not because we are cotton-growers or cotton-spinners, agriculturists or manufacturers, but because we are producers and manufacturers, and have money to spend. It is not the South, as it is urged, but the North who are the best consumers of English commerce. The free white laborer and capitalist does now, and always will, consume more than the white master and the slave. The Union and the expansion of the States and the republican policy make us the best market for England and Europe. What las the world to gain--England, France, or any of the powers to gain — by reducing the United States to a Mexican civilization?

3. “Can England afford to offend the great nation which will still beThe United States of America,’ even should we lose part of the South?” Twenty millions of people to-day, with or without the slave States, in twenty years we will be 40,000,000! In another half century we will be one hundred millions. We will rest upon the Potomac, and on the west banks of the Mississippi River, upon the Gulf of Mexico. Our railroads will run four thousand miles upon a single parallel, binding our empire, which must master the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Is England so secure in the future against home revolt or foreign ambition as to venture now in our need to plant the seeds of revenge in all our future?

If Ireland, or Scotland, or Wales shall attempt to secede from that beneficent government of the United Kingdom which now lightens their taxation and gives them security and respect at home and abroad, shall we enter into a piratical war with our race and ally, and capture and sell in our ports the property, and endanger the lives of peaceable citizens of the British empire all over the world? I enter not into the discussion of details. England, then, is our natural ally. Will she ignore our aspirations? If she is just, she ought not. If she is honorable and magnanimous, she cannot. If she is wise, she will not.

Your obedient servant,

C. M. Clay, United States Minister Plenipotentiary, &c., to St. Petersburg. Mortley's, London, May 17.

The reply of the times.

We call attention to the letter of Mr. Clay, Minister from the United States to St. Petersburg. This lively letter-writer proposes six questions--three relating to his own country, three relating to England. The first question he is more successful in asking than answering--“What are we fighting for?” “We are fighting,” says Mr. Clay, “for nationality and liberty.” We can understand a fight for nationality between different races, but a fight for nationality between men of the same nationality is to us, we candidly confess it, an inexplicable enigma; nor can we better understand how a people, fighting to put down rebellion, to force their fellow-citizens to remain in a Confederacy which they detest, and to submit [342] to institutions which they repudiate, can be called the champions of liberty. If the South seriously threatened to conquer the North, to put down trial by jury, freedom of the press, and representative government, the contest must be for liberty; but, as this is not so, the introduction of such topics is mere rhetorical amplification. “Can you subdue the revolted States?” “Of course we can,” says Mr. Clay. So on that point there is no more to be said. “Can you reconstruct the Union when one-half of it has conquered the other?” “Nothing easier,” says Mr. Clay. The victim of to-day will become the confederate of to-morrow: the traitor will be cast out, and the Union firmer than ever — witness the happy results of the conquest of Ireland by England, repeated over and over again, and always repeated in vain.

Having answered the questions which he supposes to be addressed to him by England, Mr. Clay becomes the questioner, and asks us where our honor would place us in this contest. Clearly by the side of the Union, because, he says, if slavery be extended in America, it must be restored in the West Indies. If any one doubts the force of this demonstration we are sorry for it, for Mr. Clay has no other to offer. Our examiner next asks us to consider our interest. Clearly, he says, it is to stand by the Union, because they are our best customers, and because, though they have done all they can, since the separation of the South gave them the power, to ruin their trade with us, they will, in spite of their own hostile tariff, remain our best customers.

Lastly comes the momentous question, “Can England afford to offend the United States?” “Certainly not,” says Mr. Clay, “for in half a century they will amount to a hundred millions of people, and will have railways four thousand miles long.” But is Mr. Clay quite sure that, if we should offend them now, the people of America will bear malice for half a century; and, if they do, is he quite certain that his hundred millions must all be members of one Confederacy, and that we may not then, as we might now, secure either half of the Union as our ally in a war against the other? Mr. Clay must really allow us to give our own version of the honor and interest of England. Our honor and interest is to stand aloof from contests which in no way concern us, to be content with our own laws and liberties, without seeking to impose them upon others, “to seek peace and insure it,” and to leave those who take to the sword to fall by the sword. In war we will be strictly neutral; in peace we will be the friends of whatever Power may emerge out of the frightful chaos through which Mr. Clay sees his way so clearly. And that neutrality which is recommended alike by our interest and our honor, we will not violate through fear — no, not of a hundred millions of unborn men. Let Mr. Clay and his countrymen look well to the present, and they will find enough to occupy their attention without troubling themselves with long visions of humiliation and retribution, which no man now alive will ever see accomplished.--London Times, May 20.

Minister Clay's letter.

In order to estimate the character and quality of the letter of the American Ambassador to St. Petersburg, which appeared in The Times of last Monday, and which naturally attracts a good deal of attention, it is necessary to consider who the writer is, what position he holds in public affairs, and why he wrote that letter.

Mr. Cassius M. Clay is a Kentucky man, and a relative of the late Henry Clay; but he has never followed the political track of his eminent relative. Henry Clay used to boast that it was by his doing that Kentucky was a slave State. At the time of its organization as a State, a majority of the inhabitants desired to emancipate their negroes, and encourage the immigration of free labor; but Mr. Clay discountenanced the notion, and used his influence with success, to induce his neighbors to follow the Southern practice in regard to the tenure of labor. To do this in such a country as Kentucky was to incur a very grave responsibility. The inhabitants have never taken heartily to Slavery with one accord; their soil and climate are favorable to the employment of white as well as free negro labor; they have seen, across the river, Ohio rising into high prosperity, while Kentucky made little or no progress; and there have been not a few citizens in Mr. Clay's State who have always felt that he was answerable for its inferiority in numbers, wealth, and intelligence, to the States on the opposite bank of the Ohio. Among those who have asserted the higher principles on which the State ought to have been organized, and on which it must have flourished beyond perhaps any other region in the Union, Mr. Cassius M. Clay. has been the most prominent. For a long course of years he has testified against the false policy of his State, at the risk of his life, and to the great injury of his fortunes. He has been hunted out of the State: he has been imprisoned, prosecuted, threatened, and brought within an inch of his life by Lynch law: and his property has been thrown into the Ohio, burnt, or broken up: but nothing could daunt his spirit, or silence his protests. His Southern habits of self-defence, and his Northern habits of political reasoning, have, on the whole, made him too strong for his enemies. He was an accursed Abolitionist; yet he has lived to come to Europe as an Ambassador. He never belonged to the small body of Abolitionists proper; but, though he carried pistols, and walked about in the style of the Kentucky giants, he was so far an Abolitionist that he early emancipated his own slaves, and has ever since fought a stout battle, by his own printing-press, public speaking, and whole course of life, on behalf of the liberties of whites and blacks, all over the Union. [343]

Such is the man who now, having just landed in England on his way to Russia, is evidently struck with surprise at the ignorance he meets with, or is led to infer from the tone of some of the newspapers on the great American question. The impulse was to write to The Times, to set the case clearly before us, and rectify some current mistakes. He has met with rather hard measure in return; but a few more days in England would have shown him that a somewhat closer and clearer statement of his case would have answered better with an audiance which he addresses on the very ground that it is critical instead of sympathetic.

It is certain, however, that The Times misapprehends Mr. Clay when it dismisses as mere rhetorical amplification his notice of trial by jury, liberty of the press, and representative government as objects of conflict between North and South. Mr. C. M. Clay has but too much reason to know what the systematic perversion of justice is, under the influence of the Southern oligarchy; and we ourselves need look no further than the condition of the Supreme Court, under Southern management, to be aware what the North has to do in upholding justice. Fair jury trial is not to be had in half the States: the coercion of the press is as bad as any thing Mr. C. M. Clay will find in Russia: and as for representative government, we need only point to the three-fifths suffrage of the slave States, and the virtual exclusion from the polls there of all “mean whites” whose opinions might be supposed likely to be inconvenient. Mr. Clay is certainly justified in saying that the free States are fighting for liberty under these and other forms, as the liberty and the forms have always and everywhere been crushed by Southern rule. But he must allow for Englishmen being unable to imagine, without due explanation, that such fundamental liberties as these are really to be fought for now in the great Republic. The successive Southern Governments of recent years have encroached more and more on these common rights, so that they are now actually in question; but Mr. Clay must remember that, while he has been contending for them at the risk of his life, and to the loss of his fortune, most of us have been supposing them the birthright of every white American, as of ourselves.

The paragraph of Mr. Clay's letter which cites the demands of the Southern Confederacy is certainly accurate. Every point of it may be proved by facts within the memory of most of us; and the one truth, that in every instance the Confederate authorities “have refused to refer their new usurpations to the votes of the people,” should be well considered by any Englishman whose mind is open to evidence in the case. The demands are essentially barbaric in such a country at such a date; and Mr. Clay is indisputably justified in saying that the great question of the war is whether this barbarism is or is not to be allowed to swamp the whole Republic. To smile at such a statement as a rhetorical feat is to manifest the ignorance which Mr. Clay proposes to rebuke and correct.

As for whether the North can repress the rebellion, everybody can judge whether Mr. Clay's confidence is rational or not. This may be decided by the facts of population and the comparative resources of food, stores, money, &c. We are not aware that anybody pretends that there is an approach to equality in the resources of the two sections — even if the Border States joined the South, and notwithstanding the enormous embezzlements by which the Federal treasury has been emptied. Mr. Clay's letter, however, confirms the largest estimates yet made of the strength of the loyal Federal element throughout the country. Perhaps the most valuable part of his letter is that which he occupies with a statement, not new to our readers, but too much needed generally, of the relation which the people individually bear to the Government, and with which the States have nothing to do. The real question is, who and how many the rebels are. A little time will show whether there are most Union men or Secessionists in the States over which Mr. Jefferson Davis professes to bear sway. If Mr. Clay is right in believing that any thing like half the citizens are loyal to the Union, they will soon have the means of declaring themselves, and the contest will be at an end. It is certainly true, as Mr. Clay points out, that the political party at the North which is answerable for the long domination of the Pro-Slavery faction at Washington, has become the most loyal of all parties since its Southern comrades took to rebellion.

Another valuable statement of Mr. Clay's is that there is no question of the “subjugation” of any State. Our contemporaries have been raising the difficulty, one after another, of what is to be done with a subjugated territory; and Mr. Davis, the leader of the aggressive party, who met with long-suffering to the last moment, now invites his followers to declare against “subjugation.” It is no question of territory or conquest at all. Rebels must return to their allegiance, or obtain terms which do not involve trouble to their loyal neighbors. They will probably have the choice of going away or living in peace and order under the laws. We believe Mr. Clay to be mistaken if he thinks the Constitution may remain precisely what it is. There must be amendments, by which the free States will be released from all implication with Slavery; and there are other points which will not be again sanctioned. But his general statement that the Constitution exists still for the whole country, and that there is no political adversary to subjugate, will be of great use to those who wish to understand the case.

The ignorant complaints of Mr. Lincoln's supposed indecision or apathy must come to an end, now that people are beginning to remember that he proclaimed a term of grace, during which the Secessionists might return to their [344] allegiance He had enough to do in the interval; and now the time for action has come. Meantime, a schism has taken place in each of the Border States, and in some others, which goes to confirm Mr. Clay's account of the strength of the loyalists wherever they have the means of asserting themselves. Considering this, and the command which the Union forces have, not only of the coasts, but of the Mississippi, it seems probable that the war will be a short one.

Mr. Clay may rely on England wishing and doing no injury to his country and Government; but, if his letter means that he expects us to take an active part, he will, of course, soon learn better. Our sympathies will, we trust, be found on the side of right, freedom, and civilization, but we shall not interfere in any way. Mr. Clay probably refers to privateering invitations to our countrymen, and by this time, lie must have heard of the Queen's Proclamation. If he means more, he had better have waited a few days to learn our policy. We do not “ignore” good “aspirations” on any hand; but aspirants must work out their own welfare, and there is every possible evidence before the world's eyes that the American people are abundantly able to do it.--London News, May 23.

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.
C. M. Clay (26)
Cassius M. Clay (7)
Henry Clay (3)
Jefferson Davis (2)
Edward Lynch (1)
Abraham Lincoln (1)
England (1)
Doc (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.
May 23rd (1)
May 20th (1)
May 17th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: