Memoir of John Lothrop Motley, v2
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
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JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY.
By Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
1860-1866. AEt. 46-52.
RESIDENCE IN ENGLAND.--OUTBREAK OF THE CIVIL WAR.--LETTERS TO THE LONDON
"TIMES."--VISIT TO AMERICA.--APPOINTED MINISTER TO AUSTRIA.--LADY
HARCOURT'S LETTER.--MISS MOTLEY'S MEMORANDUM.
The winter of 1859-60 was passed chiefly at Oatlands Hotel, Walton-on-
Thames. In 1860 Mr. Motley hired the house No. 31 Hertford Street, May
Fair, London. He had just published the first two volumes of his
"History of the Netherlands," and was ready for the further labors of its
continuation, when the threats, followed by the outbreak, of the great
civil contention in his native land brought him back from the struggles
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the conflict of the
His love of country, which had grown upon him so remarkably of late
years, would not suffer him to be silent at such a moment. All around
him he found ignorance and prejudice. The quarrel was like to be
prejudged in default of a champion of the cause which to him was that of
Liberty and Justice. He wrote two long letters to the London "Times," in
which he attempted to make clear to Englishmen and to Europe the nature
and conditions of our complex system of government, the real cause of the
strife, and the mighty issues at stake. Nothing could have been more
timely, nothing more needed. Mr. William Everett, who was then in
England, bears strong testimony to the effect these letters produced.
Had Mr. Motley done no other service to his country, this alone would
entitle him to honorable remembrance as among the first defenders of the
flag, which at that moment had more to fear from what was going on in the
cabinet councils of Europe than from all the armed hosts that were
gathering against it.
He returned to America in 1861, and soon afterwards was appointed by Mr.
Lincoln Minister to Austria. Mr. Burlingame had been previously
appointed to the office, but having been objected to by the Austrian
Government for political reasons, the place unexpectedly left vacant was
conferred upon Motley, who had no expectation of any diplomatic
appointment when he left Europe. For some interesting particulars
relating to his residence in Vienna I must refer to the communications
addressed to me by his daughter, Lady Harcourt, and her youngest sister,
and the letters I received from him while at the Austrian capital. Lady
"He held the post for six years, seeing the civil war fought out and
brought to a triumphant conclusion, and enjoying, as I have every
reason to believe, the full confidence and esteem of Mr. Lincoln to
the last hour of the President's life. In the first dark years the
painful interest of the great national drama was so all-absorbing
that literary work was entirely put aside, and with his countrymen
at home he lived only in the varying fortunes of the day, his
profound faith and enthusiasm sustaining him and lifting him above
the natural influence of a by no means sanguine temperament. Later,
when the tide was turning and success was nearing, he was more able
to work. His social relations during the whole period of his
mission were of the most agreeable character. The society of Vienna
was at that time, and I believe is still, the absolute reverse of
that of England, where all claims to distinction are recognized and
welcomed. There the old feudal traditions were still in full force,
and diplomatic representatives admitted to the court society by
right of official position found it to consist exclusively of an
aristocracy of birth, sixteen quarterings of nobility being
necessary to a right of presentation to the Emperor and Empress.
The society thus constituted was distinguished by great charm and
grace of manner, the exclusion of all outer elements not only
limiting the numbers, but giving the ease of a family party within
the charmed circle. On the other hand, larger interests suffered
under the rigid exclusion of all occupations except the army,
diplomacy, and court place. The intimacy among the different
members of the society was so close that, beyond a courtesy of
manner that never failed, the tendency was to resist the approach of
any stranger as a 'gene'. A single new face was instantly remarked
and commented on in a Vienna saloon to an extent unknown in any
other large capital. This peculiarity, however, worked in favor of
the old resident. Kindliness of feeling increased with familiarity
and grew into something better than acquaintance, and the parting
with most sincere and affectionately disposed friends in the end was
deeply felt on both sides. Those years were passed in a pleasant
house in the Weiden Faubourg, with a large garden at the back, and I
do not think that during this time there was one disagreeable
incident in his relations to his colleagues, while in several cases
the relations, agreeable with all, became those of close friendship.
We lived constantly, of course, in diplomatic and Austrian society,
and during the latter part of the time particularly his house was as
much frequented and the centre of as many dancing and other
receptions as any in the place. His official relations with the
Foreign Office were courteous and agreeable, the successive Foreign
Ministers during his stay being Count Richberg, Count Mensdorff, and
Baron Beust. Austria was so far removed from any real contact with
our own country that, though the interest in our war may have been
languid, they did not pretend to a knowledge which might have
inclined them to controversy, while an instinct that we were acting
as a constituted government against rebellion rather inclined them
to sympathy. I think I may say that as he became known among them
his keen patriotism and high sense of honor and truth were fully
understood and appreciated, and that what he said always commanded a
sympathetic hearing among men with totally different political
ideas, but with chivalrous and loyal instincts to comprehend his
own. I shall never forget his account of the terrible day when the
news of Mr. Lincoln's death came. By some accident a rumor of it
reached him first through a colleague. He went straight to the
Foreign Office for news, hoping against hope, was received by Count
Mensdorff, who merely came forward and laid his arm about his
shoulder with an intense sympathy beyond words."
Miss Motley, the historian's youngest daughter, has added a note to her
"During his residence in Vienna the most important negotiations
which he had to carry on with the Austrian Government were those
connected with the Mexican affair. Maximilian at one time applied
to his brother the Emperor for assistance, and he promised to accede
to his demand. Accordingly a large number of volunteers were
equipped and had actually embarked at Trieste, when a dispatch from
Seward arrived, instructing the American Minister to give notice to
the Austrian Government that if the troops sailed for Mexico he was
to leave Vienna at once. My father had to go at once to Count
Mensdorff with these instructions, and in spite of the Foreign
Minister being annoyed that the United States Government had not
sooner intimated that this extreme course would be taken, the
interview was quite amicable and the troops were not allowed to
sail. We were in Vienna during the war in which Denmark fought
alone against Austria and Prussia, and when it was over Bismarck
came to Vienna to settle the terms of peace with the Emperor. He
dined with us twice during his short stay, and was most delightful
and agreeable. When he and my father were together they seemed to
live over the youthful days they had spent together as students,
and many were the anecdotes of their boyish frolics which Bismarck
1861-1863. AEt. 47-49.
LETTERS FROM VIENNA.
Soon after Mr. Motley's arrival in Vienna I received a long letter from
him, most of which relates to personal matters, but which contains a few
sentences of interest to the general reader as showing his zealous
labors, wherever he found himself, in behalf of the great cause then in
bloody debate in his own country:
November 14, 1861.
. . . What can I say to you of cis-Atlantic things? I am almost
ashamed to be away from home. You know that I had decided to
remain, and had sent for my family to come to America, when my
present appointment altered my plans. I do what good I can. I
think I made some impression on Lord John Russell, with whom I spent
two days soon after my arrival in England, and I talked very frankly
and as strongly as I could to Palmerston, and I have had long
conversations and correspondences with other leading men in England.
I have also had an hour's [conversation] with Thouvenel in Paris. I
hammered the Northern view into him as soundly as I could. For this
year there will be no foreign interference with us. I don't
anticipate it at any time, unless we bring it on ourselves by bad
management, which I don't expect. Our fate is in our own hands, and
Europe is looking on to see which side is strongest,--when it has
made the discovery it will back it as also the best and the most
moral. Yesterday I had my audience with the Emperor. He received
me with much cordiality, and seemed interested in a long account
which I gave him of our affairs. You may suppose I inculcated the
Northern views. We spoke in his vernacular, and he asked me
afterwards if I was a German. I mention this not from vanity, but
because he asked it with earnestness, and as if it had a political
significance. Of course I undeceived him. His appearance
interested me, and his manner is very pleasing.
I continued to receive long and interesting letters from him at intervals
during his residence as Minister at Vienna. Relating as they often did
to public matters, about which he had private sources of information, his
anxiety that they should not get into print was perfectly natural. As,
however, I was at liberty to read his letters to others at my discretion,
and as many parts of these letters have an interest as showing how
American affairs looked to one who was behind the scenes in Europe, I may
venture to give some extracts without fear of violating the spirit of his
injunctions, or of giving offence to individuals. The time may come when
his extended correspondence can be printed in full with propriety, but it
must be in a future year and after it has passed into the hands of a
younger generation. Meanwhile these few glimpses at his life and records
of his feelings and opinions will help to make the portrait of the man we
are studying present itself somewhat more clearly.
LEGATION of THE U. S. A., VIENNA, January 14, 1862.
MY DEAR HOLMES,--I have two letters of yours, November 29 and
December 17, to express my thanks for. It is quite true that it is
difficult for me to write with the same feeling that inspires you,--
that everything around the inkstand within a radius of a thousand
miles is full of deepest interest to writer and reader. I don't
even intend to try to amuse you with Vienna matters. What is it to
you that we had a very pleasant dinner-party last week at Prince
Esterhazy's, and another this week at Prince Liechtenstein's, and
that to-morrow I am to put on my cocked hat and laced coat to make a
visit to her Imperial Majesty, the Empress Mother, and that to-night
there is to be the first of the assembly balls, the Vienna Almack's,
at which--I shall be allowed to absent myself altogether?
It strikes me that there is likely to be left a fair field for us a
few months longer, say till midsummer. The Trent affair I shall not
say much about, except to state that I have always been for giving
up the prisoners. I was awfully afraid, knowing that the demand had
"Send us your prisoners or you'll hear of it,"
that the answer would have come back in the Hotspur vein--
'And if the Devil come and roar for them,
We will not send them."
The result would have been most disastrous, for in order to secure a
most trifling advantage,--that of keeping Mason and Slidell at Fort
Warren a little longer,--we should have turned our backs on all the
principles maintained by us when neutral, and should have been
obliged to accept a war at an enormous disadvantage. . . .
But I hardly dared to hope that we should have obtained such a
victory as we have done. To have disavowed the illegal transaction
at once,--before any demand came from England,--to have placed that
disavowal on the broad ground of principle which we have always
cherished, and thus with a clear conscience, and to our entire
honor, to have kept ourselves clear from a war which must have given
the Confederacy the invincible alliance of England,--was exactly
what our enemies in Europe did not suppose us capable of doing. But
we have done it in the handsomest manner, and there is not one
liberal heart in this hemisphere that is not rejoiced, nor one hater
of us and of our institutions that is not gnashing his teeth with
The letter of ten close pages from which I have quoted these passages is
full of confidential information, and contains extracts from letters of
leading statesmen. If its date had been 1762, I might feel authorized in
disobeying its injunctions of privacy. I must quote one other sentence,
as it shows his animus at that time towards a distinguished statesman of
whom he was afterwards accused of speaking in very hard terms by an
obscure writer whose intent was to harm him. In speaking of the Trent
affair, Mr. Motley says: "The English premier has been foiled by our much
maligned Secretary of State, of whom, on this occasion at least, one has
the right to say, with Sir Henry Wotton,--
'His armor was his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill.'"
"He says at the close of this long letter:
'I wish I could bore you about something else but American politics.
But there is nothing else worth thinking of in the world. All else
is leather and prunella. We are living over again the days of the
Dutchmen or the seventeenth-century Englishmen.'"
My next letter, of fourteen closely written pages, was of similar
character to the last. Motley could think of nothing but the great
conflict. He was alive to every report from America, listening too with
passionate fears or hopes, as the case might be, to the whispers not yet
audible to the world which passed from lip to lip of the statesmen who
were watching the course of events from the other side of the Atlantic
with the sweet complacency of the looker-on of Lucretius; too often
rejoicing in the storm that threatened wreck to institutions and an
organization which they felt to be a standing menace to the established
order of things in their older communities.
A few extracts from this very long letter will be found to have a special
interest from the time at which they were written.
LEGATION OF U. S. A., VIENNA, February 26, 1862.
MY DEAR HOLMES,--. . . I take great pleasure in reading your
prophecies, and intend to be just as free in hazarding my own, for,
as you say, our mortal life is but a string of guesses at the
future, and no one but an idiot would be discouraged at finding
himself sometimes far out in his calculations. If I find you
signally right in any of your predictions, be sure that I will
congratulate and applaud. If you make mistakes, you shall never
hear of them again, and I promise to forget them. Let me ask the
same indulgence from you in return. This is what makes letter-
writing a comfort and journalizing dangerous. . . The ides of March
will be upon us before this letter reaches you. We have got to
squash the rebellion soon, or be squashed forever as a nation. I
don't pretend to judge military plans or the capacities of generals.
But, as you suggest, perhaps I can take a more just view of the
whole picture of the eventful struggle at this great distance than
do those absolutely acting and suffering on the scene. Nor can I
resist the desire to prophesy any more than you can do, knowing that
I may prove utterly mistaken. I say, then, that one great danger
comes from the chance of foreign interference. What will prevent
Our utterly defeating the Confederates in some great and conclusive
Our possession of the cotton ports and opening them to European
A most unequivocal policy of slave emancipation.
Any one of these three conditions would stave off recognition by
foreign powers, until we had ourselves abandoned the attempt to
reduce the South to obedience.
The last measure is to my mind the most important. The South has,
by going to war with the United States government, thrust into our
hands against our will the invincible weapon which constitutional
reasons had hitherto forbidden us to employ. At the same time it
has given us the power to remedy a great wrong to four millions of
the human race, in which we had hitherto been obliged to acquiesce.
We are threatened with national annihilation, and defied to use the
only means of national preservation. The question is distinctly
proposed to us, Shall Slavery die, or the great Republic? It is
most astounding to me that there can be two opinions in the free
States as to the answer.
If we do fall, we deserve our fate. At the beginning of the
contest, constitutional scruples might be respectable. But now we
are fighting to subjugate the South; that is, Slavery. We are
fighting for nothing else that I know of. We are fighting for the
Union. Who wishes to destroy the Union? The slaveholder, nobody
else. Are we to spend twelve hundred millions, and raise six
hundred thousand soldiers, in order to protect slavery? It really
does seem to me too simple for argument. I am anxiously waiting for
the coming Columbus who will set this egg of ours on end by smashing
in the slavery end. We shall be rolling about in every direction
until that is done. I don't know that it is to be done by
proclamation. Rather perhaps by facts. . . . Well, I console
myself with thinking that the people--the American people, at least
--is about as wise collectively as less numerous collections of
individuals, and that the people has really declared emancipation,
and is only puzzling how to carry it into effect. After all, it
seems to be a law of Providence, that progress should be by a spiral
movement; so that when it seems most tortuous, we may perhaps be
going ahead. I am firm in the faith that slavery is now wriggling
itself to death. With slavery in its pristine vigor, I should think
the restored Union neither possible nor desirable. Don't understand
me as not taking into account all the strategical considerations
against premature governmental utterances on this great subject.
But are there any trustworthy friends to the Union among the
slaveholders? Should we lose many Kentuckians and Virginians who
are now with us, if we boldly confiscated the slaves of all rebels?
--and a confiscation of property which has legs and so confiscates
itself, at command, is not only a legal, but would prove a very
practical measure in time of war. In brief, the time is fast
approaching, I think, when 'Thorough' should be written on all our
banners. Slavery will never accept a subordinate position. The
great Republic and Slavery cannot both survive. We have been defied
to mortal combat, and yet we hesitate to strike. These are my poor
thoughts on this great subject. Perhaps you will think them crude.
I was much struck with what you quote from Mr. Conway, that if
emancipation was proclaimed on the Upper Mississippi it would be
known to the negroes of Louisiana in advance of the telegraph. And
if once the blacks had leave to run, how many whites would have to
stay at home to guard their dissolving property?
You have had enough of my maunderings. But before I conclude them,
may I ask you to give all our kindest regards to Lowell, and to
express our admiration for the Yankee Idyl. I am afraid of using
too extravagant language if I say all I think about it. Was there
ever anything more stinging, more concentrated, more vigorous, more
just? He has condensed into those few pages the essence of a
hundred diplomatic papers and historical disquisitions and Fourth of
July orations. I was dining a day or two since with his friend
Lytton (Bulwer's son, attache here) and Julian Fane (secretary of
the embassy), both great admirers of him,--and especially of the
"Biglow Papers;" they begged me to send them the Mason and Slidell
Idyl, but I wouldn't,--I don't think it is in English nature
(although theirs is very cosmopolitan and liberal) to take such
punishment and come up smiling. I would rather they got it in some
other way, and then told me what they thought voluntarily.
I have very pleasant relations with all the J. B.'s here. They are
all friendly and well disposed to the North,--I speak of the
embassy, which, with the ambassador and ---dress, numbers eight or
ten souls, some of them very intellectual ones. There are no other
J. B.'s here. I have no fear at present of foreign interference.
We have got three or four months to do our work in,--a fair field
and no favor. There is no question whatever that the Southern
commissioners have been thoroughly snubbed in London and Paris.
There is to be a blockade debate in Parliament next week, but no bad
consequences are to be apprehended. The Duke de Gramont (French
ambassador, and an intimate friend of the Emperor) told my wife last
night that it was entirely false that the Emperor had ever urged the
English government to break the blockade. "Don't believe it,--don't
believe a word of it," he said. He has always held that language to
me. He added that Prince Napoleon had just come out with a strong
speech about us,--you will see it, doubtless, before you get this
letter,--but it has not yet reached us.
Shall I say anything of Austria,--what can I say that would interest
you? That's the reason why I hate to write. All my thoughts are in
America. Do you care to know about the Archduke Ferdinand
Maximilian, that shall be King hereafter of Mexico (if L. N. has his
way)? He is next brother to the Emperor, but although I have had
the honor of private audiences of many archdukes here, this one is a
resident of Trieste.
He is about thirty,--has an adventurous disposition,--some
imagination,--a turn for poetry,--has voyaged a good deal about the
world in the Austrian ship-of-war,--for in one respect he much
resembles that unfortunate but anonymous ancestor of his, the King
of Bohemia with the seven castles, who, according to Corporal Trim,
had such a passion for navigation and sea-affairs, "with never a
seaport in all his dominions." But now the present King of Bohemia
has got the sway of Trieste, and is Lord High Admiral and Chief of
the Marine Department. He has been much in Spain, also in South
America; I have read some travels, "Reise Skizzen," of his--printed,
not published. They are not without talent, and he ever and anon
relieves his prose jog-trot by breaking into a canter of poetry. He
adores bull-fights, and rather regrets the Inquisition, and
considers the Duke of Alva everything noble and chivalrous, and the
most abused of men. It would do your heart good to hear his
invocations to that deeply injured shade, and his denunciations of
the ignorant and vulgar protestants who have defamed him. (N.B.
Let me observe that the R. of the D. R. was not published until long
after the "Reise Skizzen" were written.) 'Du armer Alva! weil du
dem Willen deines Herrn unerschiitterlich treu vast, weil die
festbestimmten grundsatze der Regierung,' etc., etc., etc. You
can imagine the rest. Dear me! I wish I could get back to the
sixteenth and seventeenth century. . . . But alas! the events
of the nineteenth are too engrossing.
If Lowell cares to read this letter, will you allow me to "make it
over to him jointly," as Captain Cuttle says. I wished to write to
him, but I am afraid only you would tolerate my writing so much when
I have nothing to say. If he would ever send me a line I should be
infinitely obliged, and would quickly respond. We read the "Washers
of the Shroud" with fervid admiration.
Always remember me most sincerely to the Club, one and all. It
touches me nearly when you assure me that I am not forgotten by
them. To-morrow is Saturday and the last of the month.--[See
Appendix A.]--We are going to dine with our Spanish colleague. But
the first bumper of the Don's champagne I shall drain to the health
of my Parker House friends.
From another long letter dated August 31, 1862, I extract the following
"I quite agree in all that you said in your last letter. 'The imp
of secession can't reenter its mother's womb.' It is merely
childish to talk of the Union 'as it was.' You might as well bring
back the Saxon Heptarchy. But the great Republic is destined to
live and flourish, I can't doubt. . . . Do you remember that
wonderful scene in Faust in which Mephistopheles draws wine for the
rabble with a gimlet out of the wooden table; and how it changes to
fire as they drink it, and how they all go mad, draw their knives,
grasp each other by the nose, and think they are cutting off bunches
of grapes at every blow, and how foolish they all look when they
awake from the spell and see how the Devil has been mocking them?
It always seems to me a parable of the great Secession.
"I repeat, I can't doubt as to the ultimate result. But I dare say
we have all been much mistaken in our calculations as to time.
Days, months, years, are nothing in history. Men die, man is
immortal, practically, even on this earth. We are so impatient,--
and we are always watching for the last scene of the tragedy. Now I
humbly opine that the drop is only about falling on the first act,
or perhaps only the prologue. This act or prologue will be called,
in after days, War for the status quo. "Such enthusiasm, heroism,
and manslaughter as status quo could inspire, has, I trust, been not
entirely in vain, but it has been proved insufficient.
"I firmly believe that when the slaveholders declared war on the
United States government they began a series of events that, in the
logical chain of history, cannot come to a conclusion until the last
vestige of slavery is gone. Looking at the whole field for a moment
dispassionately, objectively, as the dear Teutonic philosophers say,
and merely as an exhibition of phenomena, I cannot imagine any other
issue. Everything else may happen. This alone must happen.
"But after all this isn't a war. It is a revolution. It is n't
strategists that are wanted so much as believers. In revolutions
the men who win are those who are in earnest. Jeff and Stonewall
and the other Devil-worshippers are in earnest, but it was not
written in the book of fate that the slaveholders' rebellion should
be vanquished by a pro-slavery general. History is never so
illogical. No, the coming 'man on horseback' on our side must be a
great strategist, with the soul of that insane lion, mad old John
Brown, in his belly. That is your only Promethean recipe:--
'et insani leonis
Vim stomacho apposuisse nostro.'
"I don't know why Horace runs so in my head this morning. . . .
"There will be work enough for all; but I feel awfully fidgety just
now about Port Royal and Hilton Head, and about affairs generally
for the next three months. After that iron-clads and the new levies
must make us invincible."
In another letter, dated November 2, 1862, he expresses himself very
warmly about his disappointment in the attitude of many of his old
English friends with reference to our civil conflict. He had recently
heard the details of the death of "the noble Wilder Dwight."
"It is unnecessary," he says, "to say how deeply we were moved. I
had the pleasure of knowing him well, and I always appreciated his
energy, his manliness, and his intelligent cheerful heroism. I look
back upon him now as a kind of heroic type of what a young New
Englander ought to be and was. I tell you that one of these days--
after a generation of mankind has passed away--these youths will
take their places in our history, and be regarded by the young men
and women now unborn with the admiration which the Philip Sidneys
and the Max Piccolominis now inspire. After all, what was your
Chevy Chace to stir blood with like a trumpet? What noble
principle, what deathless interest, was there at stake? Nothing but
a bloody fight between a lot of noble gamekeepers on one side and of
noble poachers on the other. And because they fought well and
hacked each other to pieces like devils, they have been heroes for
The letter was written in a very excited state of feeling, and runs over
with passionate love of country and indignation at the want of sympathy
with the cause of freedom which he had found in quarters where he had not
expected such coldness or hostile tendencies.
From a letter dated Vienna, September 22, 1863.
. . . "When you wrote me last you said on general matters this:
'In a few days we shall get the news of the success or failure of
the attacks on Port Hudson and Vicksburg. If both are successful,
many will say that the whole matter is about settled.' You may
suppose that when I got the great news I shook hands warmly with you
in the spirit across the Atlantic. Day by day for so long we had
been hoping to hear the fall of Vicksburg. At last when that little
concentrated telegram came, announcing Vicksburg and Gettysburg on
the same day and in two lines, I found myself almost alone. . . .
There was nobody in the house to join in my huzzahs but my youngest
infant. And my conduct very much resembled that of the excellent
Philip II. when he heard the fall of Antwerp,--for I went to her
door, screeching through the key-hole 'Vicksburg is ours!' just as
that other 'pere de famille,' more potent, but I trust not more
respectable than I, conveyed the news to his Infanta. (Fide, for
the incident, an American work on the Netherlands, i. p. 263, and
the authorities there cited.) It is contemptible on my part to
speak thus frivolously of events which will stand out in such golden
letters so long as America has a history, but I wanted to illustrate
the yearning for sympathy which I felt. You who were among people
grim and self-contained usually, who, I trust, were falling on each
other's necks in the public streets, shouting, with tears in their
eyes and triumph in their hearts, can picture my isolation.
"I have never faltered in my faith, and in the darkest hours, when
misfortunes seemed thronging most thickly upon us, I have never felt
the want of anything to lean against; but I own I did feel like
shaking hands with a few hundred people when I heard of our Fourth
of July, 1863, work, and should like to have heard and joined in an
American cheer or two.
"I have not much to say of matters here to interest you. We have
had an intensely hot, historically hot, and very long and very dry
summer. I never knew before what a drought meant. In Hungary the
suffering is great, and the people are killing the sheep to feed the
pigs with the mutton. Here about Vienna the trees have been almost
stripped of foliage ever since the end of August. There is no glory
in the grass nor verdure in anything.
"In fact, we have nothing green here but the Archduke Max, who
firmly believes that he is going forth to Mexico to establish an
American empire, and that it is his divine mission to destroy the
dragon of democracy and reestablish the true Church, the Right
Divine, and all sorts of games. Poor young man! . . .
"Our information from home is to the 12th. Charleston seems to be
in 'articulo mortis,' but how forts nowadays seem to fly in the face
of Scripture. Those founded on a rock, and built of it, fall easily
enough under the rain of Parrotts and Dahlgrens, while the house
built of sand seems to bid defiance to the storm."
In quoting from these confidential letters I have been restrained from
doing full justice to their writer by the fact that he spoke with such
entire freedom of persons as well as events. But if they could be read
from beginning to end, no one could help feeling that his love for his
own country, and passionate absorption of every thought in the strife
upon which its existence as a nation depended, were his very life during
all this agonizing period. He can think and talk of nothing else, or,
if he turns for a moment to other subjects, he reverts to the one great
central interest of "American politics," of which he says in one of the
letters from which I have quoted, "There is nothing else worth thinking
of in the world."
But in spite of his public record as the historian of the struggle for
liberty and the champion of its defenders, and while every letter he
wrote betrayed in every word the intensity of his patriotic feeling, he
was not safe against the attacks of malevolence. A train laid by unseen
hands was waiting for the spark to kindle it, and this came at last in
the shape of a letter from an unknown individual,--a letter the existence
of which ought never to have been a matter of official recognition.
1866-1867. AEt. 52-43.
RESIGNATION OF HIS OFFICE.--CAUSES OF HIS RESIGNATION.
It is a relief to me that just here, where I come to the first of two
painful episodes in this brilliant and fortunate career, I can preface my
statement with the generous words of one who speaks with authority of his
predecessor in office.
The Hon. John Jay, Ex-Minister to Austria, in the tribute to the memory
of Motley read at a meeting of the New York Historical Society, wrote as
"In singular contrast to Mr. Motley's brilliant career as an
historian stands the fact recorded in our diplomatic annals that he
was twice forced from the service as one who had forfeited the
confidence of the American government. This society, while he was
living, recognized his fame as a statesman, diplomatist, and
patriot, as belonging to America, and now that death has closed the
career of Seward, Sumner, and Motley, it will be remembered that the
great historian, twice humiliated, by orders from Washington, before
the diplomacy and culture of Europe, appealed from the passions of
the hour to the verdict of history.
"Having succeeded Mr. Motley at Vienna some two years after his
departure, I had occasion to read most of his dispatches, which
exhibited a mastery of the subjects of which they treated, with much
of the clear perception, the scholarly and philosophic tone and
decided judgment, which, supplemented by his picturesque
description, full of life and color, have given character to his
histories. They are features which might well have served to extend
the remark of Madame de Stael that a great historian is almost a
statesman. I can speak also from my own observation of the
reputation which Motley left in the Austrian capital.
Notwithstanding the decision with which, under the direction of Mr.
Seward, he had addressed the minister of foreign affairs, Count
Mensdorff, afterwards the Prince Diedrickstein, protesting against
the departure of an Austrian force of one thousand volunteers, who
were about to embark for Mexico in aid of the ill-fated Maximilian,
--a protest which at the last moment arrested the project,--Mr.
Motley and his amiable family were always spoken of in terms of
cordial regard and respect by members of the imperial family and
those eminent statesmen, Count de Beust and Count Andrassy. His
death, I am sure, is mourned to-day by the representatives of the
historic names of Austria and Hungary, and by the surviving
diplomats then residing near the Court of Vienna, wherever they may
still be found, headed by their venerable Doyen, the Baron de
The story of Mr. Motley's resignation of his office and its acceptance by
the government is this.
The President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, received a letter
professing to be written from the Hotel Meurice, Paris, dated October 23,
1866, and signed "George W. M'Crackin, of New York." This letter was
filled with accusations directed against various public agents,
ministers, and consuls, representing the United States in different
countries. Its language was coarse, its assertions were improbable, its
spirit that of the lowest of party scribblers. It was bitter against New
England, especially so against Massachusetts, and it singled out Motley
for the most particular abuse. I think it is still questioned whether
there was any such person as the one named,--at any rate, it bore the
characteristic marks of those vulgar anonymous communications which
rarely receive any attention unless they are important enough to have the
police set on the track of the writer to find his rathole, if possible.
A paragraph in the "Daily Advertiser" of June 7, 1869, quotes from a
Western paper a story to the effect that one William R. M'Crackin, who
had recently died at ----- confessed to having written the M' Crackin
letter. Motley, he said, had snubbed him and refused to lend him money.
"He appears to have been a Bohemian of the lowest order." Between such
authorship and the anonymous there does not seem to be much to choose.
But the dying confession sounds in my ears as decidedly apocryphal. As
for the letter, I had rather characterize it than reproduce it. It is an
offence to decency and a disgrace to the national record on which it is
found. This letter of "George W. M'Crackin" passed into the hands of
Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State. Most gentlemen, I think, would have
destroyed it on the spot, as it was not fit for the waste-basket. Some,
more cautious, might have smothered it among the piles of their private
communications. If any notice was taken of it, one would say that a
private note to each of the gentlemen attacked might have warned him that
there were malicious eavesdroppers about, ready to catch up any careless
expression he might let fall and make a scandalous report of it to his
The secretary, acquiescing without resistance in a suggestion of the
President, saw fit to address a formal note to several of the gentlemen
mentioned in the M'Crackin letter, repeating some of its offensive
expressions, and requesting those officials to deny or confirm the report
that they had uttered them.
A gentleman who is asked whether he has spoken in a "malignant" or
"offensive" manner, whether he has "railed violently and shamefully"
against the President of the United States, or against anybody else,
might well wonder who would address such a question to the humblest
citizen not supposed to be wanting in a common measure of self-respect.
A gentleman holding an important official station in a foreign country,
receiving a letter containing such questions, signed by the prime
minister of his government, if he did not think himself imposed upon by a
forgery, might well consider himself outraged. It was a letter of this
kind which was sent by the Secretary of State to the Minister
Plenipotentiary to the Empire of Austria. Not quite all the vulgar
insolence of the M'Crackin letter was repeated. Mr. Seward did not ask
Mr. Motley to deny or confirm the assertion of the letter that he was a
"thorough flunky" and "un-American functionary." But he did insult him
with various questions suggested by the anonymous letter,--questions that
must have been felt as an indignity by the most thick-skinned of battered
Mr. Motley was very sensitive, very high-spirited, very impulsive, very
patriotic, and singularly truthful. The letter of Mr. Seward to such a
man was like a buffet on the cheek of an unarmed officer. It stung like
the thrust of a stiletto. It roused a resentment that could not find any
words to give it expression. He could not wait to turn the insult over
in his mind, to weigh the exact amount of affront in each question, to
take counsel, to sleep over it, and reply to it with diplomatic measure
and suavity. One hour had scarcely elapsed before his answer was
written. As to his feelings as an American, he appeals to his record.
This might have shown that if he erred it was on the side of enthusiasm
and extravagant expressions of reverence for the American people during
the heroic years just passed. He denounces the accusations as pitiful
fabrications and vile calumny. He blushes that such charges could have
been uttered; he is deeply wounded that Mr. Seward could have listened to
such falsehood. He does not hesitate to say what his opinions are with
reference to home questions, and especially to that of reconstruction.
"These opinions," he says, "in the privacy of my own household, and
to occasional American visitors, I have not concealed. The great
question now presenting itself for solution demands the
conscientious scrutiny of every American who loves his country and
believes in the human progress of which that country is one of the
foremost representatives. I have never thought, during my residence
at Vienna, that because I have the honor of being a public servant
of the American people I am deprived of the right of discussing
within my own walls the gravest subjects that can interest freemen.
A minister of the United States does not cease to be a citizen of
the United States, as deeply interested as others in all that
relates to the welfare of his country."
Among the "occasional American visitors" spoken of above must have been
some of those self-appointed or hired agents called "interviewers," who
do for the American public what the Venetian spies did for the Council of
Ten, what the familiars of the Inquisition did for the priesthood, who
invade every public man's privacy, who listen at every key-hole, who
tamper with every guardian of secrets; purveyors to the insatiable
appetite of a public which must have a slain reputation to devour with
its breakfast, as the monster of antiquity called regularly for his
tribute of a spotless virgin.
The "interviewer" has his use, undoubtedly, and often instructs and
amuses his public with gossip they could not otherwise listen to. He
serves the politician by repeating the artless and unstudied remarks
which fall from his lips in a conversation which the reporter has been
invited to take notes of. He tickles the author's vanity by showing him
off as he sits in his library unconsciously uttering the engaging items
of self-portraiture which, as he well knows, are to be given to the
public in next week's illustrated paper. The feathered end of his shaft
titillates harmlessly enough, but too often the arrowhead is crusted with
a poison worse than the Indian gets by mingling the wolf's gall with the
rattlesnake's venom. No man is safe whose unguarded threshold the
mischief-making questioner has crossed. The more unsuspecting, the more
frank, the more courageous, the more social is the subject of his
vivisection, the more easily does he get at his vital secrets, if he has
any to be extracted. No man is safe if the hearsay reports of his
conversation are to be given to the public without his own careful
revision. When we remember that a proof-text bearing on the mighty
question of the future life, words of supreme significance, uttered as
they were in the last hour, and by the lips to which we listen as to none
other,--that this text depends for its interpretation on the position of
a single comma, we can readily see what wrong may be done by the
unintentional blunder of the most conscientious reporter. But too
frequently it happens that the careless talk of an honest and high-minded
man only reaches the public after filtering through the drain of some
reckless hireling's memory,--one who has played so long with other men's
characters and good name that he forgets they have any value except to
fill out his morning paragraphs.
Whether the author of the scandalous letter which it was disgraceful to
the government to recognize was a professional interviewer or only a
malicious amateur, or whether he was a paid "spotter," sent by some
jealous official to report on the foreign ministers as is sometimes done
in the case of conductors of city horsecars, or whether the dying
miscreant before mentioned told the truth, cannot be certainly known.
But those who remember Mr. Hawthorne's account of his consular
experiences at Liverpool are fully aware to what intrusions and
impertinences and impositions our national representatives in other
countries are subjected. Those fellow-citizens who "often came to the
consulate in parties of half a dozen or more, on no business whatever,
but merely to subject their public servant to a rigid examination, and
see how he was getting on with his duties," may very possibly have
included among them some such mischief-maker as the author of the odious
letter which received official recognition. Mr. Motley had spoken in one
of his histories of "a set of venomous familiars who glided through every
chamber and coiled themselves at every fireside." He little thought that
under his own roof he himself was to be the victim of an equally base
It was an insult on the part of the government to have sent Mr. Motley
such a letter with such questions as were annexed to it. No very exact
rule can be laid down as to the manner in which an insult shall be dealt
with. Something depends on temperament, and his was of the warmer
complexion. His first impulse, he says, was to content himself with a
flat denial of the truth of the accusations. But his scrupulous honesty
compelled him to make a plain statement of his opinions, and to avow the
fact that he had made no secret of them in conversation under conditions
where he had a right to speak freely of matters quite apart from his
official duties. His answer to the accusation was denial of its charges;
his reply to the insult was his resignation.
It may be questioned whether this was the wisest course, but wisdom is
often disconcerted by an indignity, and even a meek Christian may forget
to turn the other cheek after receiving the first blow until the natural
man has asserted himself by a retort in kind. But the wrong was
committed; his resignation was accepted; the vulgar letter, not fit to be
spread out on these pages, is enrolled in the records of the nation, and
the first deep wound was inflicted on the proud spirit of one whose
renown had shed lustre on the whole country.
That the burden of this wrong may rest where it belongs, I quote the
following statement from Mr. Jay's paper, already referred to.
"It is due to the memory of Mr. Seward to say, and there would seem
now no further motive for concealing the truth, that I was told in
Europe, on what I regarded as reliable authority, that there was
reason to believe that on the receipt of Mr. Motley's resignation
Mr. Seward had written to him declining to accept it, and that this
letter, by a telegraphic order of President Johnson, had been
arrested in the hands of a dispatch agent before its delivery to Mr.
Motley, and that the curt letter of the 18th of April had been
substituted in its stead."
The Hon. John Bigelow, late Minister to France, has published an article
in "The International Review" for July-August, 1878, in which he defends
his late friend Mr. Seward's action in this matter at the expense of the
President, Mr. Andrew Johnson, and not without inferences unfavorable to
the discretion of Mr. Motley. Many readers will think that the simple
record of Mr. Seward's unresisting acquiescence in the action of the
President is far from being to his advantage. I quote from his own
conversation as carefully reported by his friend Mr. Bigelow. "Mr.
Johnson was in a state of intense irritation, and more or less suspicious
of everybody about him."--"Instead of throwing the letter into the fire,"
the President handed it to him, the secretary, and suggested answering
it, and without a word, so far as appears, he simply answered,
"Certainly, sir." Again, the secretary having already written to Mr.
Motley that "his answer was satisfactory," the President, on reaching the
last paragraph of Mr. Motley's letter, in which he begged respectfully to
resign his post, "without waiting to learn what Mr. Seward had done or
proposed to do, exclaimed, with a not unnatural asperity, 'Well, let him
go,' and 'on hearing this,' said Mr. Seward, laughing, 'I did not read my
dispatch.'" Many persons will think that the counsel for the defence has
stated the plaintiff's case so strongly that there is nothing left for
him but to show his ingenuity and his friendship for the late secretary
in a hopeless argument. At any rate, Mr. Seward appears not to have made
the slightest effort to protect Mr. Motley against his coarse and jealous
chief at two critical moments, and though his own continuance in office
may have been more important to the State than that of the Vicar of Bray
was to the Church, he ought to have risked something, as it seems to me,
to shield such a patriot, such a gentleman, such a scholar, from ignoble
treatment; he ought to have been as ready to guard Mr. Motley from wrong
as Mr. Bigelow has shown himself to shield Mr. Seward from reproach, and
his task, if more delicate, was not more difficult. I am willing to
accept Mr. Bigelow's loyal and honorable defence of his friend's memory
as the best that could be said for Mr. Seward, but the best defence in
this case is little better than an impeachment. As for Mr. Johnson, he
had held the weapon of the most relentless of the 'Parcae' so long that
his suddenly clipping the thread of a foreign minister's tenure of office
in a fit of jealous anger is not at all surprising.
Thus finished Mr. Motley's long and successful diplomatic service at the
Court of Austria. He may have been judged hasty in resigning his place;
he may have committed himself in expressing his opinions too strongly
before strangers, whose true character as spies and eavesdroppers he was
too high-minded to suspect. But no caution could have protected him
against a slanderer who hated the place he came from, the company he
kept, the name he had made famous, to whom his very look and bearing--
such as belong to a gentleman of natural refinement and good breeding--
must have been a personal grievance and an unpardonable offence.
I will add, in illustration of what has been said, and as showing his
feeling with reference to the matter, an extract from a letter to me from
Vienna, dated the 12th of March, 1867.
. . . "As so many friends and so many strangers have said so much
that is gratifying to me in public and private on this very painful
subject, it would be like affectation, in writing to so old a friend
as you, not to touch upon it. I shall confine myself, however, to
one fact, which, so far as I know, may be new to you.
"Geo. W. M'Cracken is a man and a name utterly unknown to me.
"With the necessary qualification which every man who values truth
must make when asserting such a negation,--viz., to the very best of
my memory and belief,--I never set eyes on him nor heard of him
until now, in the whole course of my life. Not a member of my
family or of the legation has the faintest recollection of any such
person. I am quite convinced that he never saw me nor heard the
sound of my voice. That his letter was a tissue of vile calumnies,
shameless fabrications, and unblushing and contemptible falsehoods,
--by whomsoever uttered,--I have stated in a reply to what ought
never to have been an official letter. No man can regret more than
I do that such a correspondence is enrolled in the capital among
American state papers. I shall not trust myself to speak of the
matter. It has been a sufficiently public scandal."
1867-1868. AEt. 53-54.
LAST TWO VOLUMES OF THE "HISTORY OF THE UNITED NETHERLANDS."--GENERAL
CRITICISMS OF DUTCH SCHOLARS ON MOTLEY'S HISTORICAL WORKS.
In his letter to me of March 12, 1867, just cited, Mr. Motley writes:--
"My two concluding volumes of the United Netherlands are passing
rapidly through the press. Indeed, Volume III. is entirely printed
and a third of Volume IV.
"If I live ten years longer I shall have probably written the
natural sequel to the first two works,--viz., the Thirty Years' War.
After that I shall cease to scourge the public.
"I don't know whether my last two volumes are good or bad; I only
know that they are true--but that need n't make them amusing.
"Alas! one never knows when one becomes a bore."
In 1868 the two concluding volumes of the "History of the Netherlands"
were published at the same time in London and in New York. The events
described and the characters delineated in these two volumes had,
perhaps, less peculiar interest for English and American readers than
some of those which had lent attraction to the preceding ones. There was
no scene like the siege of Antwerp, no story like that of the Spanish
Armada. There were no names that sounded to our ears like those of Sir
Philip Sidney and Leicester and Amy Robsart. But the main course of his
narrative flowed on with the same breadth and depth of learning and the
same brilliancy of expression. The monumental work continued as nobly as
it had begun. The facts had been slowly, quietly gathered, one by one,
like pebbles from the empty channel of a brook. The style was fluent,
impetuous, abundant, impatient, as it were, at times, and leaping the
sober boundaries prescribed to it, like the torrent which rushes through
the same channel when the rains have filled it. Thus there was matter
for criticism in his use of language. He was not always careful in the
construction of his sentences. He introduced expressions now and then
into his vocabulary which reminded one of his earlier literary efforts.
He used stronger language at times than was necessary, coloring too
highly, shading too deeply in his pictorial delineations. To come to the
matter of his narrative, it must be granted that not every reader will
care to follow him through all the details of diplomatic intrigues which
he has with such industry and sagacity extricated from the old
manuscripts in which they had long lain hidden. But we turn a few pages
and we come to one of those descriptions which arrest us at once and show
him in his power and brilliancy as a literary artist. His characters
move before us with the features of life; we can see Elizabeth, or
Philip, or Maurice, not as a name connected with events, but as a
breathing and acting human being, to be loved or hated, admired or
despised, as if he or she were our contemporary. That all his judgments
would not be accepted as final we might easily anticipate; he could not
help writing more or less as a partisan, but he was a partisan on the
side of freedom in politics and religion, of human nature as against
every form of tyranny, secular or priestly, of noble manhood wherever he
saw it as against meanness and violence and imposture, whether clad in
the soldier's mail or the emperor's purple. His sternest critics, and
even these admiring ones, were yet to be found among those who with
fundamental beliefs at variance with his own followed him in his long
researches among the dusty annals of the past.
The work of the learned M. Groen van Prinsterer,--[Maurice et Barnevelt,
Etude Historique. Utrecht, 1875.]--devoted expressly to the revision and
correction of what the author considers the erroneous views of Mr. Motley
on certain important points, bears, notwithstanding, such sincere and
hearty tribute to his industry, his acquisitions, his brilliant qualities
as a historian, that some extracts from it will be read, I think, with
"My first interview, more than twenty years ago, with Mr. Lothrop
Motley, has left an indelible impression on my memory.
"It was the 8th of August, 1853. A note is handed me from our
eminent archivist Bakhuyzen van den Brink. It informs me that I am
to receive a visit from an American, who, having been struck by the
analogies between the United Provinces and the United States,
between Washington and the founder of our independence, has
interrupted his diplomatic career to write the life of William the
First; that he has already given proof of ardor and perseverance,
having worked in libraries and among collections of manuscripts,
and that he is coming to pursue his studies at the Hague.
"While I am surprised and delighted with this intelligence, I am
informed that Mr. Motley himself is waiting for my answer. My
eagerness to make the acquaintance of such an associate in my
sympathies and my labors may be well imagined. But how shall I
picture my surprise, in presently discovering that this unknown and
indefatigable fellow-worker has really read, I say read and reread,
our Quartos, our Folios, the enormous volumes of Bor, of van
Meteren, besides a multitude of books, of pamphlets, and even of
unedited documents. Already he is familiar with the events, the
changes of condition, the characteristic details of the life of his
and my hero. Not only is he acquainted with my Archives, but it
seems as if there was nothing in this voluminous collection of which
he was ignorant. . . .
"In sending me the last volume of his 'History of the Foundation of
the Republic of the Netherlands,' Mr. Motley wrote to me: 'Without
the help of the Archives I could never have undertaken the difficult
task I had set myself, and you will have seen at least from my
numerous citations that I have made a sincere and conscientious
study of them.' Certainly in reading such a testimonial I
congratulated myself on the excellent fruit of my labors, but the
gratitude expressed to me by Mr. Motley was sincerely reciprocated.
The Archives are a scientific collection, and my 'Manual of National
History,' written in Dutch, hardly gets beyond the limits of my own
country. And here is a stranger, become our compatriot in virtue of
the warmth of his sympathies, who has accomplished what was not in
my power. By the detail and the charm of his narrative, by the
matter and form of a work which the universality of the English
language and numerous translations were to render cosmopolitan, Mr.
Motley, like that other illustrious historian, Prescott, lost to
science by too early death, has popularized in both hemispheres the
sublime devotion of the Prince of Orange, the exceptional and
providential destinies of my country, and the benedictions of the
Eternal for all those who trust in Him and tremble only at his
The old Dutch scholar differs in many important points from Mr. Motley,
as might be expected from his creed and his life-long pursuits. This I
shall refer to in connection with Motley's last work, "John of
Barneveld." An historian among archivists and annalists reminds one of
Sir John Lubbock in the midst of his ant-hills. Undoubtedly he disturbs
the ants in their praiseworthy industry, much as his attentions may
flatter them. Unquestionably the ants (if their means of expressing
themselves were equal to their apparent intellectual ability) could teach
him many things that he has overlooked and correct him in many mistakes.
But the ants will labor ingloriously without an observer to chronicle
their doings, and the archivists and annalists will pile up facts forever
like so many articulates or mollusks or radiates, until the vertebrate
historian comes with his generalizing ideas, his beliefs, his prejudices,
his idiosyncrasies of all kinds, and brings the facts into a more or less
imperfect, but still organic series of relations. The history which is
not open to adverse criticism is worth little, except as material, for it
is written without taking cognizance of those higher facts about which
men must differ; of which Guizot writes as follows, as quoted in the work
of M. Groen van Prinsterer himself.
"It is with facts that our minds are exercised, it has nothing but
facts as its materials, and when it discovers general laws these
laws are themselves facts which it determines. . . . In the
study of facts the intelligence may allow itself to be crushed; it
may lower, narrow, materialize itself; it may come to believe that
there are no facts except those which strike us at the first glance,
which come close to us, which fall, as we say, under our senses; a
great and gross error; there are remote facts, immense, obscure,
sublime, very difficult to reach, to observe, to describe, and which
are not any less facts for these reasons, and which man is not less
obliged to study and to know; and if he fails to recognize them or
forgets them, his thought will be prodigiously abashed, and all his
ideas carry the stamp of this deterioration."
In that higher region of facts which belongs to the historian, whose
task it is to interpret as well as to transcribe, Mr. Motley showed, of
course, the political and religious school in which he had been brought
up. Every man has a right to his "personal equation" of prejudice, and
Mr. Motley, whose ardent temperament gave life to his writings, betrayed
his sympathies in the disputes of which he told the story, in a way to
insure sharp criticism from those of a different way of thinking. Thus
it is that in the work of M. Groen van Prinsterer, from which I have
quoted, he is considered as having been betrayed into error, while his
critic recognizes "his manifest desire to be scrupulously impartial and
truth-telling." And M. Fruin, another of his Dutch critics, says, "His
sincerity, his perspicacity, the accuracy of his laborious researches,
Some of the criticisms of Dutch scholars will be considered in the pages
which deal with his last work, "The Life of John of Barneveld."
1868-1869. AEt. 54-55.
VISIT TO AMERICA.--RESIDENCE AT NO. 2 PARK STREET, BOSTON.--ADDRESS ON
THE COMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.--ADDRESS ON HISTORIC PROGRESS AND
AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.--APPOINTED MINISTER TO ENGLAND.
In June, 1868, Mr. Motley returned with his family to Boston, and
established himself in the house No. 2 Park Street. During his residence
here he entered a good deal into society, and entertained many visitors
in a most hospitable and agreeable way.
On the 20th of October, 1868, he delivered an address before the Parker
Fraternity, in the Music Hall, by special invitation. Its title was
"Four Questions for the People, at the Presidential Election." This was
of course what is commonly called an electioneering speech, but a speech
full of noble sentiments and eloquent expression. Here are two of its
"Certainly there have been bitterly contested elections in this
country before. Party spirit is always rife, and in such vivid,
excitable, disputatious communities as ours are, and I trust always
will be, it is the very soul of freedom. To those who reflect upon
the means and end of popular government, nothing seems more stupid
than in grand generalities to deprecate party spirit. Why,
government by parties and through party machinery is the only
possible method by which a free government can accomplish the
purpose of its existence. The old republics of the past may be said
to have fallen, not because of party spirit, but because there was
no adequate machinery by which party spirit could develop itself
with facility and regularity.
"And if our Republic be true to herself, the future of the human
race is assured by our example. No sweep of overwhelming armies, no
ponderous treatises on the rights of man, no hymns to liberty,
though set to martial music and resounding with the full diapason of
a million human throats, can exert so persuasive an influence as
does the spectacle of a great republic, occupying a quarter of the
civilized globe, and governed quietly and sagely by the people
A large portion of this address is devoted to the proposition that it is
just and reasonable to pay our debts rather than to repudiate them, and
that the nation is as much bound to be honest as is the individual. "It
is an awful thing," he says, "that this should be a question at all," but
it was one of the points on which the election turned, for all that.
In his advocacy of the candidate with whom, and the government of which
he became the head, his relations became afterwards so full of personal
antagonism, he spoke as a man of his ardent nature might be expected to
speak on such an occasion. No one doubts that his admiration of General
Grant's career was perfectly sincere, and no one at the present day can
deny that the great captain stood before the historian with such a record
as one familiar with the deeds of heroes and patriots might well consider
as entitling him to the honors too often grudged to the living to be
wasted on the dead. The speaker only gave voice to the widely prevailing
feelings which had led to his receiving the invitation to speak. The
time was one which called for outspoken utterance, and there was not a
listener whose heart did not warm as he heard the glowing words in which
the speaker recorded the noble achievements of the soldier who must in so
many ways have reminded him of his favorite character, William the
On the 16th of December of this same year, 1868, Mr. Motley delivered an
address before the New York Historical Society, on the occasion of the
sixty-fourth anniversary of its foundation. The president of the
society, Mr. Hamilton Fish, introduced the speaker as one "whose name
belongs to no single country, and to no single age. As a statesman and
diplomatist and patriot, he belongs to America; as a scholar, to the
world of letters; as a historian, all ages will claim him in the future."
His subject was "Historic Progress and American Democracy." The
discourse is, to use his own words, "a rapid sweep through the eons and
the centuries," illustrating the great truth of the development of the
race from its origin to the time in which we are living. It is a long
distance from the planetary fact of the obliquity of the equator, which
gave the earth its alternation of seasons, and rendered the history, if
not the existence of man and of civilization a possibility, to the
surrender of General Lee under the apple-tree at Appomattox Court-House.
No one but a scholar familiar with the course of history could have
marshalled such a procession of events into a connected and intelligible
sequence. It is indeed a flight rather than a march; the reader is borne
along as on the wings of a soaring poem, and sees the rising and decaying
empires of history beneath him as a bird of passage marks the succession
of cities and wilds and deserts as he keeps pace with the sun in his
Its eloquence, its patriotism, its crowded illustrations, drawn from
vast resources of knowledge, its epigrammatic axioms, its occasional
pleasantries, are all characteristic of the writer.
Mr. Gulian C. Verplanck, the venerable senior member of the society,
proposed the vote of thanks to Mr. Motley with words of warm
Mr. William Cullen Bryant rose and said:--
"I take great pleasure in seconding the resolution which has just
been read. The eminent historian of the Dutch Republic, who has
made the story of its earlier days as interesting as that of Athens
and Sparta, and who has infused into the narrative the generous glow
of his own genius, has the highest of titles to be heard with
respectful attention by the citizens of a community which, in its
origin, was an offshoot of that renowned republic. And cheerfully
has that title been recognized, as the vast audience assembled here
to-night, in spite of the storm, fully testifies; and well has our
illustrious friend spoken of the growth of civilization and of the
improvement in the condition of mankind, both in the Old World--the
institutions of which he has so lately observed--and in the country
which is proud to claim him as one of her children."
Soon after the election of General Grant, Mr. Motley received the
appointment of Minister to England. That the position was one which was
in many respects most agreeable to him cannot be doubted. Yet it was not
with unmingled feelings of satisfaction, not without misgivings which
warned him but too truly of the dangers about to encompass him, that he
accepted the place. He writes to me on April 16, 1869:--
"I feel anything but exultation at present,--rather the opposite
sensation. I feel that I am placed higher than I deserve, and at
the same time that I am taking greater responsibilities than ever
were assumed by me before. You will be indulgent to my mistakes and
shortcomings,--and who can expect to avoid them? But the world will
be cruel, and the times are threatening. I shall do my best,--but
the best may be poor enough,--and keep 'a heart for any fate.'"
1869-1870. AEt. 55-56.
RECALL FROM THE ENGLISH MISSION.--ITS ALLEGED AND ITS PROBABLE REASONS.
The misgivings thus expressed to me in confidence, natural enough in one
who had already known what it is to fall on evil days and evil tongues,
were but too well justified by after events. I could have wished to
leave untold the story of the English mission, an episode in Motley's
life full of heart-burnings, and long to be regretted as a passage of
American history. But his living appeal to my indulgence comes to me
from his grave as a call for his defence, however little needed, at least
as a part of my tribute to his memory. It is little needed, because the
case is clear enough to all intelligent readers of our diplomatic
history, and because his cause has been amply sustained by others in many
ways better qualified than myself to do it justice. The task is painful,
for if a wrong was done him it must be laid at the doors of those whom
the nation has delighted to honor, and whose services no error of
judgment or feeling or conduct can ever induce us to forget. If he
confessed him, self-liable, like the rest of us, to mistakes and
shortcomings, we must remember that the great officers of the government
who decreed his downfall were not less the subjects of human infirmity.
The outline to be filled up is this: A new administration had just been
elected. The "Alabama Treaty," negotiated by Motley's predecessor, Mr.
Reverdy Johnson, had been rejected by the Senate. The minister was
recalled, and Motley, nominated without opposition and unanimously
confirmed by the Senate, was sent to England in his place. He was
welcomed most cordially on his arrival at Liverpool, and replied in a
similar strain of good feeling, expressing the same kindly sentiments
which may be found in his instructions. Soon after arriving in London
he had a conversation with Lord Clarendon, the British Foreign Secretary,
of which he sent a full report to his own government. While the reported
conversation was generally approved of in the government's dispatch
acknowledging it, it was hinted that some of its expressions were
stronger than were required by the instructions, and that one of its
points was not conveyed in precise conformity with the President's view.
The criticism was very gently worded, and the dispatch closed with a
somewhat guarded paragraph repeating the government's approbation.
This was the first offence alleged against Mr. Motley. The second ground
of complaint was that he had shown written minutes of this conversation
to Lord Clarendon to obtain his confirmation of its exactness, and that
he had--as he said, inadvertently,--omitted to make mention to the
government of this circumstance until some weeks after the time of the
He was requested to explain to Lord Clarendon that a portion of his
presentation and treatment of the subject discussed at the interview
immediately after his arrival was disapproved by the Secretary of State,
and he did so in a written communication, in which he used the very words
employed by Mr. Fish in his criticism of the conversation with Lord
Clarendon. An alleged mistake; a temperate criticism, coupled with a
general approval; a rectification of the mistake criticised. All this
within the first two months of Mr. Motley's official residence in London.
No further fault was found with him, so far as appears, in the discharge
of his duties, to which he must have devoted himself faithfully, for he
writes to me, under the date of December 27, 1870: "I have worked harder
in the discharge of this mission than I ever did in my life." This from
a man whose working powers astonished the old Dutch archivist, Groen van
Prinsterer, means a good deal.
More than a year had elapsed since the interview with Lord Clarendon,
which had been the subject of criticism. In the mean time a paper of
instructions was sent to Motley, dated September 25, 1869, in which the
points in the report of his interview which had been found fault with
are so nearly covered by similar expressions, that there seemed no real
ground left for difference between the government and the minister.
Whatever over-statement there had been, these new instructions would
imply that the government was now ready to go quite as far as the
minister had gone, and in some points to put the case still more
strongly. Everything was going on quietly. Important business had been
transacted, with no sign of distrust or discontent on the part of the
government as regarded Motley. Whatever mistake he was thought to have
committed was condoned by amicable treatment, neutralized by the virtual
indorsement of the government in the instructions of the 25th of
September, and obsolete as a ground of quarrel by lapse of time. The
question about which the misunderstanding, if such it deserves to be
called, had taken place, was no longer a possible source of disagreement,
as it had long been settled that the Alabama case should only be opened
again at the suggestion of the British government, and that it should be
transferred to Washington whenever that suggestion should again bring it
up for consideration.
Such was the aspect of affairs at the American Legation in London.
No foreign minister felt more secure in his place than Mr. Motley.
"I thought myself," he says in the letter of December 27, "entirely in
the confidence of my own government, and I know that I had the thorough
confidence and the friendship of the leading personages in England."
All at once, on the first of July, 1870, a letter was written by the
Secretary of State, requesting him to resign. This gentle form of
violence is well understood in the diplomatic service. Horace Walpole
says, speaking of Lady Archibald Hamilton: "They have civilly asked her
and grossly forced her to ask civilly to go away, which she has done,
with a pension of twelve hundred a year." Such a request is like the
embrace of the "virgin" in old torture-chambers. She is robed in soft
raiment, but beneath it are the knife-blades which are ready to lacerate
and kill the victim, if he awaits the pressure of the machinery already
Mr. Motley knew well what was the logical order in an official execution,
and saw fit to let the government work its will upon him as its servant.
In November he was recalled.
The recall of a minister under such circumstances is an unusual if not
an unprecedented occurrence. The government which appoints a citizen
to represent the country at a foreign court assumes a very serious
obligation to him. The next administration may turn him out and nothing
will be thought of it. He may be obliged to ask for his passports and
leave all at once if war is threatened between his own country and that
which he represents. He may, of course, be recalled for gross
misconduct. But his dismissal is very serious matter to him personally,
and not to be thought of on the ground of passion or caprice. Marriage
is a simple business, but divorce is a very different thing. The world
wants to know the reason of it; the law demands its justification. It
was a great blow to Mr. Motley, a cause of indignation to those who were
interested in him, a surprise and a mystery to the world in general.
When he, his friends, and the public, all startled by this unexpected
treatment, looked to find an explanation of it, one was found which
seemed to many quite sufficient. Mr. Sumner had been prominent among
those who had favored his appointment. A very serious breach had taken
place between the President and Mr. Sumner on the important San Domingo
question. It was a quarrel, in short, neither more nor less, at least so
far as the President was concerned. The proposed San Domingo treaty had
just been rejected by the Senate, on the thirtieth day of June, and
immediately thereupon,--the very next day,--the letter requesting Mr.
Motley's resignation was issued by the executive. This fact was
interpreted as implying something more than a mere coincidence.
It was thought that Sumner's friend, who had been supported by him as
a candidate for high office, who shared many of his political ideas and
feelings, who was his intimate associate, his fellow-townsman, his
companion in scholarship and cultivation, his sympathetic co-laborer in
many ways, had been accounted and dealt with as the ally of an enemy,
and that the shaft which struck to the heart of the sensitive envoy had
glanced from the 'aes triplex' of the obdurate Senator.
Mr. Motley wrote a letter to the Secretary of State immediately after his
recall, in which he reviewed his relations with the government from the
time of his taking office, and showed that no sufficient reason could be
assigned for the treatment to which he had been subjected. He referred
finally to the public rumor which assigned the President's hostility to
his friend Sumner, growing out of the San Domingo treaty question, as the
cause of his own removal, and to the coincidence between the dates of the
rejection of the treaty and his dismissal, with an evident belief that
these two occurrences were connected by something more than accident.
To this, a reply was received from the Secretary of State's office,
signed by Mr. Fish, but so objectionable in its tone and expressions that
it has been generally doubted whether the paper could claim anything more
of the secretary's hand than his signature. It travelled back to the old
record of the conversation with Lord Clarendon, more than a year and a
half before, took up the old exceptions, warmed them over into
grievances, and joined with them whatever the 'captatores verborum,'
not extinct since Daniel Webster's time, could add to their number.
This was the letter which was rendered so peculiarly offensive by a most
undignified comparison which startled every well-bred reader. No answer
was possible to such a letter, and the matter rested until the death of
Mr. Motley caused it to be brought up once more for judgment.
The Honorable John Jay, in his tribute to the memory of Mr. Motley, read
at a meeting of the New York Historical Society, vindicated his character
against the attacks of the late executive in such a way as to leave an
unfavorable impression as to the course of the government. Objection was
made on this account to placing the tribute upon the minutes of the
society. This led to a publication by Mr. Jay, entitled "Motley's Appeal
to History," in which the propriety of the society's action is
questioned, and the wrong done to him insisted upon and further
The defence could not have fallen into better hands. Bearing a name
which is, in itself, a title to the confidence of the American people,
a diplomatist familiar with the rights, the customs, the traditions, the
courtesies, which belong to the diplomatic service, the successor of Mr.
Motley at Vienna, and therefore familiar with his official record, not
self-made, which too commonly means half-made, but with careful training
added to the instincts to which he had a right by inheritance, he could
not allow the memory of such a scholar, of such a high-minded lover of
his country, of so true a gentleman as Mr. Motley, to remain without
challenge under the stigma of official condemnation. I must refer to Mr.
Jay's memorial tribute as printed in the newspapers of the day, and to
his "Appeal" published in "The International Review," for his convincing
presentation of the case, and content myself with a condensed statement
of the general and special causes of complaint against Mr. Motley, and
the explanations which suggest themselves, as abundantly competent to
show the insufficiency of the reasons alleged by the government as an
excuse for the manner in which he was treated.
The grounds of complaint against Mr. Motley are to be looked for:--
1. In the letter of Mr. Fish to Mr. Moran, of December 30, 1870.
2. In Mr. Bancroft Davis's letter to the New York "Herald" of January 4,
1878, entitled, "Mr. Sumner, the Alabama Claims and their Settlement."
3. The reported conversations of General Grant.
4. The reported conversations of Mr. Fish.
In considering Mr. Fish's letter, we must first notice its animus. The
manner in which Dickens's two old women are brought in is not only
indecorous, but it shows a state of feeling from which nothing but harsh
interpretation of every questionable expression of Mr. Motley's was to be
There is not the least need of maintaining the perfect fitness and
rhetorical felicity of every phrase and every word used by him in his
interview with Lord Clarendon. It is not to be expected that a minister,
when about to hold a conversation with a representative of the government
to which he is accredited, will commit his instructions to memory and
recite them, like a school-boy "speaking his piece." He will give them
more or less in his own language, amplifying, it may be, explaining,
illustrating, at any rate paraphrasing in some degree, but endeavoring to
convey an idea of their essential meaning. In fact, as any one can see,
a conversation between two persons must necessarily imply a certain
amount of extemporization on the part of both. I do not believe any long
and important conference was ever had between two able men without each
of them feeling that he had not spoken exactly in all respects as he
would if he could say all over again.
Doubtless, therefore, Mr. Motley's report of his conversation shows that
some of his expressions might have been improved, and others might as
well have been omitted. A man does not change his temperament on taking
office. General Jackson still swore "by the Eternal," and his
illustrious military successor of a more recent period seems, by his own
showing, to have been able to sudden impulses of excitement. It might be
said of Motley, as it was said of Shakespeare by Ben Jonson, "aliquando
sufflaminandus erat." Yet not too much must be made of this concession.
Only a determination to make out a case could, as it seems to me, have
framed such an indictment as that which the secretary constructed by
stringing together a slender list of pretended peccadillos. One instance
will show the extreme slightness which characterizes many of the grounds
The instructions say, "The government, in rejecting the recent
convention, abandons neither its own claims nor those of its citizens,"
Mr. Motley said, in the course of his conversation, "At present, the
United States government, while withdrawing neither its national claims
nor the claims of its individual citizens against the British
Mr. Fish says, "The determination of this government not to abandon its
claims nor those of its citizens was stated parenthetically, and in such
a subordinate way as not necessarily to attract the attention of Lord
What reported conversation can stand a captious criticism like this?
Are there not two versions of the ten commandments which were given out
in the thunder and smoke of Sinai, and would the secretary hold that this
would have been a sufficient reason to recall Moses from his "Divine
Legation" at the court of the Almighty?
There are certain expressions which, as Mr. Fish shows them apart from
their connection, do very certainly seem in bad taste, if not actually
indiscreet and unjustifiable. Let me give an example:--
"Instead of expressing the hope entertained by this government that
there would be an early, satisfactory, and friendly settlement of
the questions at issue, he volunteered the unnecessary, and from the
manner in which it was thrust in, the highly objectionable statement
that the United States government had no insidious purposes,'" etc.
This sounds very badly as Mr. Fish puts it; let us see how it stands in
its proper connection:--
"He [Lord Clarendon] added with some feeling, that in his opinion it
would be highly objectionable that the question should be hung up on
a peg, to be taken down at some convenient moment for us, when it
might be difficult for the British government to enter upon its
solution, and when they might go into the debate at a disadvantage.
These were, as nearly as I can remember, his words, and I replied
very earnestly that I had already answered that question when I said
that my instructions were to propose as brief a delay as would
probably be requisite for the cooling of passions and for producing
the calm necessary for discussing the defects of the old treaty and
a basis for a new one. The United States government had no
insidious purposes," etc.
Is it not evident that Lord Clarendon suggested the idea which Mr. Motley
repelled as implying an insidious mode of action? Is it not just as
clear that Mr. Fish's way of reproducing the expression without the
insinuation which called it forth is a practical misstatement which does
Mr. Motley great wrong?
One more example of the method of wringing a dry cloth for drops of
evidence ought to be enough to show the whole spirit of the paper.
Mr. Fish, in his instructions:--
"It might, indeed, well have occurred in the event of the selection
by lot of the arbitrator or umpire in different cases, involving
however precisely the same principles, that different awards,
resting upon antagonistic principles, might have been made."
Mr. Motley, in the conversation with Lord Clarendon:--
"I called his lordship's attention to your very judicious suggestion
that the throwing of the dice for umpires might bring about opposite
decisions in cases arising out of identical principles. He agreed
entirely that no principle was established by the treaty, but that
the throwing of dice or drawing of lots was not a new invention on
that occasion, but a not uncommon method in arbitrations. I only
expressed the opinion that such an aleatory process seemed an
unworthy method in arbitrations," etc.
Mr. Fish, in his letter to Mr. Moran:--
"That he had in his mind at that interview something else than his
letter of instructions from this department would appear to be
evident, when he says that 'he called his lordship's attention to
your [my] very judicious suggestion that the throwing of dice for
umpire might bring about opposite decisions.' The instructions
which Mr. Motley received from me contained no suggestion about
throwing of dice.' That idea is embraced in the suggestive words
'aleatory process' (adopted by Mr. Motley), but previously applied
in a speech made in the Senate on the question of ratifying the
Charles Sumner's Speech on the Johnson-Clarendon Treaty, April 13, 1869:
"In the event of failure to agree, the arbitrator is determined 'by
lot' out of two persons named by each side. Even if this aleatory
proceeding were a proper device in the umpirage of private claims,
it is strongly inconsistent with the solemnity which belongs to the
It is "suggestive" that the critical secretary, so keen in detecting
conversational inaccuracies, having but two words to quote from a printed
document, got one of them wrong. But this trivial comment must not lead
the careful reader to neglect to note how much is made of what is really
nothing at all. The word aleatory, whether used in its original and
limited sense, or in its derived extension as a technical term of the
civil law, was appropriate and convenient; one especially likely to be
remembered by any person who had read Mr. Sumner's speech,--and everybody
had read it; the secretary himself doubtless got the suggestion of
determining the question "by lot" from it. What more natural than that
it should be used again when the subject of appealing to chance came up
in conversation? It "was an excellent good word before it was ill-
sorted," and we were fortunate in having a minister who was scholar
enough to know what it meant. The language used by Mr. Motley conveyed
the idea of his instructions plainly enough, and threw in a compliment to
their author which should have saved this passage at least from the
wringing process. The example just given is, like the concession of
belligerency to the insurgents by Great Britain, chiefly important as
It is hardly necessary to bring forward other instances of virtual
misrepresentation. If Mr. Motley could have talked his conversation over
again, he would very probably have changed some expressions. But he felt
bound to repeat the interview exactly as it occurred, with all the errors
to which its extemporaneous character exposed it. When a case was to be
made out against him, the secretary wrote, December 30, 1870:
"Well might he say, as he did in a subsequent dispatch on the 15th
of July, 1869, that he had gone beyond the strict letter of his
instructions. He might have added, in direct opposition to their
temper and spirit."
Of the same report the secretary had said, June 28, 1869: "Your general
presentation and treatment of the several subjects discussed in that
interview meet the approval of this department." This general approval
is qualified by mild criticism of a single statement as not having been
conveyed in "precise conformity" to the President's view. The minister
was told he might be well content to rest the question on the very
forcible presentation he had made of the American side of the question,
and that if there were expressions used stronger than were required by
his instructions, they were in the right direction. The mere fact that a
minute of this conversation was confidentially submitted to Lord
Clarendon in order that our own government might have his authority for
the accuracy of the record, which was intended exclusively for its own
use, and that this circumstance was overlooked and not reported to the
government until some weeks afterward, are the additional charges against
Mr. Motley. The submission of the dispatch containing an account of the
interview, the secretary says, is not inconsistent with diplomatic usage,
but it is inconsistent with the duty of a minister not to inform his
government of that submission. "Mr. Motley submitted the draft of his
No. 8 to Lord Clarendon, and failed to communicate that fact to his
government." He did inform Mr. Fish, at any rate, on the 30th of July,
and alleged "inadvertence" as the reason for his omission to do it
Inasmuch as submitting the dispatch was not inconsistent with diplomatic
usage, nothing seems left to find fault with but the not very long delay
in mentioning the fact, or in his making the note "private and
confidential," as is so frequently done in diplomatic correspondence.
Such were the grounds of complaint. On the strength of the conversation
which had met with the general approval of the government, tempered by
certain qualifications, and of the omission to report immediately to the
government the fact of its verification by Lord Clarendon, the secretary
rests the case against Mr. Motley. On these grounds it was that,
according to him, the President withdrew all right to discuss the Alabama
question from the minister whose dismissal was now only a question of
time. But other evidence comes in here.
Mr. Motley says:--
"It was, as I supposed, understood before my departure for England,
although not publicly announced, that the so-called Alabama
negotiations, whenever renewed, should be conducted at Washington,
in case of the consent of the British government."
Mr. Sumner says, in his "Explanation in Reply to an Assault:"--
"The secretary in a letter to me at Boston, dated at Washington,
October 9, 1869, informs the that the discussion of the question was
withdrawn from London 'because (the italics are the secretary's) we
think that when renewed it can be carried on here with a better
prospect of settlement, than where the late attempt at a convention
which resulted so disastrously and was conducted so strangely was
had;' and what the secretary thus wrote he repeated in conversation
when we met, carefully making the transfer to Washington depend upon
our advantage here, from the presence of the Senate,--thus showing
that the pretext put forth to wound Mr. Motley was an afterthought."
Again we may fairly ask how the government came to send a dispatch like
that of September 25, 1869, in which the views and expressions for which
Mr. Motley's conversation had been criticised were so nearly reproduced,
and with such emphasis that Mr. Motley says, in a letter to me, dated
April 8, 1871, "It not only covers all the ground which I ever took, but
goes far beyond it. No one has ever used stronger language to the
British government than is contained in that dispatch. . . . It is
very able and well worth your reading. Lord Clarendon called it to me
'Sumner's speech over again.' It was thought by the English cabinet to
have 'out-Sumnered Sumner,' and now our government, thinking that every
one in the United States had forgotten the dispatch, makes believe that
I was removed because my sayings and doings in England were too much
influenced by Sumner!" Mr. Motley goes on to speak of the report that an
offer of his place in England was made to Sumner "to get him out of the
way of San Domingo." The facts concerning this offer are now
sufficiently known to the public.
Here I must dismiss Mr. Fish's letter to Mr. Moran, having, as I trust,
sufficiently shown the spirit in which it was written and the strained
interpretations and manifest overstatements by which it attempts to make
out its case against Mr. Motley. I will not parade the two old women,
whose untimely and unseemly introduction into the dress-circle of
diplomacy was hardly to have been expected of the high official whose
name is at the bottom of this paper. They prove nothing, they disprove
nothing, they illustrate nothing--except that a statesman may forget
himself. Neither will I do more than barely allude to the unfortunate
reference to the death of Lord Clarendon as connected with Mr. Motley's
removal, so placidly disposed of by a sentence or two in the London
"Times" of January 24, 1871. I think we may consider ourselves ready for
the next witness.
Mr. J. C. Bancroft Davis, Assistant Secretary of State under President
Grant and Secretary Fish, wrote a letter to the New York "Herald," under
the date of January 4, 1878, since reprinted as a pamphlet and entitled
"Mr. Sumner, the Alabama Claims and their Settlement." Mr. Sumner was
never successfully attacked when living,--except with a bludgeon,--and
his friends have more than sufficiently vindicated him since his death.
But Mr. Motley comes in for his share of animadversion in Mr. Davis's
letter. He has nothing of importance to add to Mr. Fish's criticisms on
the interview with Lord Clarendon. Only he brings out the head and front
of Mr. Motley's offending by italicizing three very brief passages from
his conversation at this interview; not discreetly, as it seems to me,
for they will not bear the strain that is put upon them. These are the
1. "but that such, measures must always be taken with a full view of the
grave responsibilities assumed."
2. "and as being the fountain head of the disasters which had been
caused to the American people."
3. "as the fruits of the proclamation."
1. It is true that nothing was said of responsibility in Mr. Motley's
instructions. But the idea was necessarily involved in their statements.
For if, as Mr. Motley's instructions say, the right of a power "to define
its own relations," etc., when a civil conflict has arisen in another
state depends on its (the conflict's) having "attained a sufficient
complexity, magnitude, and completeness," inasmuch as that Power has to
judge whether it has or has not fulfilled these conditions, and is of
course liable to judge wrong, every such act of judgment must be attended
with grave responsibilities. The instructions say that "the necessity
and propriety of the original concession of belligerency by Great Britain
at the time it was made have been contested and are not admitted." It
follows beyond dispute that Great Britain may in this particular case
have incurred grave responsibilities; in fact, the whole negotiations
implied as much. Perhaps Mr. Motley need not have used the word
"responsibilities." But considering that the government itself said in
dispatch No. 70, September 25, 1869, "The President does not deny, on the
contrary he maintains, that every sovereign power decides for itself on
its responsibility whether or not it will, at a given time, accord the
status of belligerency," etc., it was hardly worth while to use italics
about Mr. Motley's employment of the same language as constituting a
grave cause of offence.
2. Mr. Motley's expression, "as being the fountain head of the
disasters," is a conversational paraphrase of the words of his
instructions, "as it shows the beginning and the animus of that course of
conduct which resulted so disastrously," which is not "in precise
conformity" with his instructions, but is just such a variation as is to
be expected when one is talking with another and using the words that
suggest themselves at the moment, just as the familiar expression, "hung
up on a peg," probably suggested itself to Lord Clarendon.
3. "The fruits of the proclamation" is so inconsiderable a variation on
the text of the instructions, "supplemented by acts causing direct
damage," that the secretary's hint about want of precise conformity seems
hardly to have been called for.
It is important to notice this point in the instructions: With other
powers Mr. Motley was to take the position that the "recognition of the
insurgents' state of war" was made "no ground of complaint;" with Great
Britain that the cause of grievance was "not so much" placed upon the
issuance of this recognition as upon her conduct under, and subsequent
to, such recognition.
There is no need of maintaining the exact fitness of every expression
used by Mr. Motley. But any candid person who will carefully read the
government's dispatch No. 70, dated September 25, 1869, will see that a
government holding such language could find nothing in Mr. Motley's
expressions in a conversation held at his first official interview to
visit with official capital punishment more than a year afterwards. If
Mr. Motley had, as it was pretended, followed Sumner, Mr. Fish had "out-
Sumnered" the Senator himself.
Mr. Davis's pamphlet would hardly be complete without a mysterious letter
from an unnamed writer, whether a faithless friend, a disguised enemy, a
secret emissary, or an injudicious alarmist, we have no means of judging
for ourselves. The minister appears to have been watched by somebody in
London, as he was in Vienna. This somebody wrote a private letter in
which he expressed "fear and regret that Mr. Motley's bearing in his
social intercourse was throwing obstacles in the way of a future
settlement." The charge as mentioned in Mr. Davis's letter is hardly
entitled to our attention. Mr. Sumner considered it the work of an
enemy, and the recollection of the M'Crackin letter might well have made
the government cautious of listening to complaints of such a character.
This Somebody may have been one whom we should call Nobody. We cannot
help remembering how well 'Outis' served 'Oduxseus' of old, when he was
puzzled to extricate himself from an embarrassing position. 'Stat nomin-
is umbra' is a poor showing for authority to support an attack on a
public servant exposed to every form of open and insidious abuse from
those who are prejudiced against his person or his birthplace, who are
jealous of his success, envious of his position, hostile to his politics,
dwarfed by his reputation, or hate him by the divine right of
idiosyncrasy, always liable, too, to questioning comment from well-
meaning friends who happen to be suspicious or sensitive in their
political or social relations.
The reported sayings of General Grant and of Mr. Fish to the
correspondents who talked with them may be taken for what they are worth.
They sound naturally enough to have come from the speakers who are said
to have uttered them. I quote the most important part of the Edinburgh
letter, September 11, 1877, to the New York "Herald." These are the
words attributed to General Grant:--
"Mr. Motley was certainly a very able, very honest gentleman, fit to
hold any official position. But he knew long before he went out
that he would have to go. When I was making these appointments, Mr.
Sumner came to me and asked me to appoint Mr. Motley as minister to
the court of St. James. I told him I would, and did. Soon after
Mr. Sumner made that violent speech about the Alabama claims, and
the British government was greatly offended. Mr. Sumner was at the
time chairman of the committee on foreign affairs. Mr. Motley had
to be instructed. The instructions were prepared very carefully,
and after Governor Fish and I had gone over them for the last time I
wrote an addendum charging him that above all things he should
handle the subject of the Alabama claims with the greatest delicacy.
Mr. Motley instead of obeying his explicit instructions,
deliberately fell in line with Sumner, and thus added insult to the
previous injury. As soon as I heard of it I went over to the State
Department and told Governor Fish to dismiss Motley at once. I was
very angry indeed, and I have been sorry many a time since that I
did not stick to my first determination. Mr. Fish advised delay
because of Sumner's position in the Senate and attitude on the
treaty question. We did not want to stir him up just then. We
dispatched a note of severe censure to Motley at once and ordered
him to abstain from any further connection with that question. We
thereupon commenced negotiations with the British minister at
Washington, and the result was the joint high commission and the
Geneva award. I supposed Mr. Motley would be manly enough to resign
after that snub, but he kept on till he was removed. Mr. Sumner
promised me that he would vote for the treaty. But when it was
before the Senate he did all he could to beat it."
General Grant talked again at Cairo, in Egypt.
"Grant then referred to the statement published at an interview with
him in Scotland, and said the publication had some omissions and
errors. He had no ill-will towards Mr. Motley, who, like other
estimable men, made mistakes, and Motley made a mistake which made
him an improper person to hold office under me."
"It is proper to say of me that I killed Motley, or that I made war
upon Sumner for not supporting the annexation of San Domingo. But
if I dare to answer that I removed Motley from the highest
considerations of duty as an executive; if I presume to say that he
made a mistake in his office which made him no longer useful to the
country; if Fish has the temerity to hint that Sumner's temper was
so unfortunate that business relations with him became impossible,
we are slandering the dead."
"Nothing but Mortimer." Those who knew both men--the Ex-President and
the late Senator--would agree, I do not doubt, that they would not be the
most promising pair of human beings to make harmonious members of a
political happy family. "Cedant arma togae," the life-long sentiment of
Sumner, in conflict with "Stand fast and stand sure," the well-known
device of the clan of Grant, reminds one of the problem of an
irresistible force in collision with an insuperable resistance.
But the President says,--or is reported as saying,--"I may be blamed for
my opposition to Mr. Sumner's tactics, but I was not guided so much by
reason of his personal hatred of myself, as I was by a desire to protect
our national interests in diplomatic affairs."
"It would be useless," says Mr. Davis in his letter to the "Herald," "to
enter into a controversy whether the President may or may not have been
influenced in the final determination of the moment for requesting
Motley's resignation by the feeling caused by Sumner's personal hostility
and abuse of himself." Unfortunately, this controversy had been entered
into, and the idleness of suggesting any relation of cause and effect
between Mr. Motley's dismissal and the irritation produced in the
President's mind by the rejection of the San Domingo treaty--which
rejection was mainly due to Motley's friend Sumner's opposition--
strongly insisted upon in a letter signed by the Secretary of State.
Too strongly, for here it was that he failed to remember what was due to
his office, to himself, and to the gentleman of whom he was writing; if
indeed it was the secretary's own hand which held the pen, and not
We might as well leave out the wrath of Achilles from the Iliad, as the
anger of the President with Sumner from the story of Motley's dismissal.
The sad recital must always begin with M-----------. He was, he is
reported as saying, "very angry indeed" with Motley because he had,
fallen in line with Sumner. He couples them together in his conversation
as closely as Chang and Eng were coupled. The death of Lord Clarendon
would have covered up the coincidence between the rejection of the San
Domingo treaty and Mr. Motley's dismissal very neatly, but for the
inexorable facts about its date, as revealed by the London "Times." It
betrays itself as an afterthought, and its failure as a defence reminds
us too nearly of the trial in which Mr. Webster said suicide is
It is not strange that the spurs of the man who had so lately got out of
the saddle should catch in the scholastic robe of the man on the floor of
the Senate. But we should not have looked for any such antagonism
between the Secretary of State and the envoy to Great Britain. On the
contrary, they must have had many sympathies, and it must have cost the
secretary pain, as he said it did, to be forced to communicate with Mr.
Moran instead of with Mr. Motley.
He, too, was inquired of by one of the emissaries of the American Unholy
Inquisition. His evidence is thus reported:
"The reason for Mr. Motley's removal was found in considerations of
state. He misrepresented the government on the Alabama question,
especially in the two speeches made by him before his arrival at his
These must be the two speeches made to the American and the Liverpool
chambers of commerce. If there is anything in these short addresses
beyond those civil generalities which the occasion called out, I have
failed to find it. If it was in these that the reason of Mr. Motley's
removal was to be looked for, it is singular that they are not mentioned
in the secretary's letter to Mr. Moran, or by Mr. Davis in his letter to
the New York "Herald." They must have been as unsuccessful as myself in
the search after anything in these speeches which could be construed into
misinterpretation of the government on the Alabama question.
We may much more readily accept "considerations of state" as a reason for
Mr. Motley's removal. Considerations of state have never yet failed the
axe or the bowstring when a reason for the use of those convenient
implements was wanted, and they are quite equal to every emergency which
can arise in a republican autocracy. But for the very reason that a
minister is absolutely in the power of his government, the manner in
which that power is used is always open to the scrutiny, and, if it has
been misused, to the condemnation, of a tribunal higher than itself; a
court that never goes out of office, and which no personal feelings, no
lapse of time, can silence.
The ostensible grounds on which Mr. Motley was recalled are plainly
insufficient to account for the action of the government. If it was in
great measure a manifestation of personal feeling on the part of the high
officials by whom and through whom the act was accomplished, it was a
wrong which can never be repaired and never sufficiently regretted.
Stung by the slanderous report of an anonymous eavesdropper to whom the
government of the day was not ashamed to listen, he had quitted Vienna,
too hastily, it may be, but wounded, indignant, feeling that he had been
unworthily treated. The sudden recall from London, on no pretext
whatever but an obsolete and overstated incident which had ceased to have
any importance, was under these circumstances a deadly blow. It fell
upon "the new-healed wound of malice," and though he would not own it,
and bore up against it, it was a shock from which he never fully
"I hope I am one of those," he writes to me from the Hague, in 1872, "who
'fortune's buffets and rewards can take with equal thanks.' I am quite
aware that I have had far more than I deserve of political honors, and
they might have had my post as a voluntary gift on my part had they
remembered that I was an honorable man, and not treated me as a
detected criminal deserves to be dealt with."
Mr. Sumner naturally felt very deeply what he considered the great wrong
done to his friend. He says:--
"How little Mr. Motley merited anything but respect and courtesy
from the secretary is attested by all who know his eminent position
in London, and the service he rendered to his country. Already the
London press, usually slow to praise Americans when strenuous for
their country, has furnished its voluntary testimony. The 'Daily
News' of August 16, 1870, spoke of the insulted minister in these
"'We are violating no confidence in saying that all the hopes of Mr.
Motley's official residence in England have been amply fulfilled,
and that the announcement of his unexpected and unexplained recall
was received with extreme astonishment and unfeigned regret. The
vacancy he leaves cannot possibly be filled by a minister more
sensitive to the honor of his government, more attentive to the
interests of his country, and more capable of uniting the most
vigorous performance of his public duties with the high-bred
courtesy and conciliatory tact and temper that make those duties
easy and successful. Mr. Motley's successor will find his mission
wonderfully facilitated by the firmness and discretion that have
presided over the conduct of American affairs in this country during
too brief a term, too suddenly and unaccountably concluded.'"
No man can escape being found fault with when it is necessary to make out
a case against him. A diplomatist is watched by the sharpest eyes and
commented on by the most merciless tongues. The best and wisest has his
defects, and sometimes they would seem to be very grave ones if brought
up against him in the form of accusation. Take these two portraits, for
instance, as drawn by John Quincy Adams. The first is that of Stratford
Canning, afterwards Lord Stratford de Redcliffe:--
"He is to depart to-morrow. I shall probably see him no more. He
is a proud, high-tempered Englishman, of good but not extraordinary
parts; stubborn and punctilious, with a disposition to be
overbearing, which I have often been compelled to check in its own
way. He is, of all the foreign ministers with whom I have had
occasion to treat, the man who has most severely tried my temper.
Yet he has been long in the diplomatic career, and treated with
governments of the most opposite characters. He has, however, a
great respect for his word, and there is nothing false about him.
This is an excellent quality for a negotiator. Mr. Canning is a man
of forms, studious of courtesy, and tenacious of private morals. As
a diplomatic man, his great want is suppleness, and his great virtue
The second portrait is that of the French minister, Hyde de Neuville:--
"No foreign minister who ever resided here has been so universally
esteemed and beloved, nor have I ever been in political relations
with any foreign statesman of whose moral qualities I have formed so
good an opinion, with the exception of Count Romanzoff. He has not
sufficient command of his temper, is quick, irritable, sometimes
punctilious, occasionally indiscreet in his discourse, and tainted
with Royalist and Bourbon prejudices. But he has strong sentiments
of honor, justice, truth, and even liberty. His flurries of temper
pass off as quickly as they rise. He is neither profound nor
sublime nor brilliant; but a man of strong and good feelings, with
the experience of many vicissitudes of fortune, a good but common
understanding, and good intentions biassed by party feelings,
occasional interests, and personal affections."
It means very little to say that a man has some human imperfections, or
that a public servant might have done some things better. But when a
questionable cause is to be justified, the victim's excellences are
looked at with the eyes of Liliput and his failings with those of
The recall of a foreign minister for alleged misconduct in office is a
kind of capital punishment. It is the nearest approach to the Sultan's
bowstring which is permitted to the chief magistrate of our Republic. A
general can do nothing under martial law more peremptory than a President
can do with regard to the public functionary whom he has appointed with
the advice and consent of the Senate, but whom he can officially degrade
and disgrace at his own pleasure for insufficient cause or for none at
all. Like the centurion of Scripture, be says Go, and he goeth. The
nation's representative is less secure in his tenure of office than his
own servant, to whom he must give warning of his impending dismissal.
"A breath unmakes him as a breath has made."
The chief magistrate's responsibility to duty, to the fellow-citizen at
his mercy, to his countrymen, to mankind, is in proportion to his power.
His prime minister, the agent of his edicts, should feel bound to
withstand him if he seeks to gratify a personal feeling under the plea of
public policy, unless the minister, like the slaves of the harem, is to
find his qualification for office in leaving his manhood behind him.
The two successive administrations, which treated Mr. Motley in a manner
unworthy of their position and cruel, if not fatal to him, have been
heard, directly or through their advocates. I have attempted to show
that the defence set up for their action is anything but satisfactory.
A later generation will sit in judgment upon the evidence more calmly
than our own. It is not for a friend, like the writer, to anticipate its
decision, but unless the reasons alleged to justify his treatment, and
which have so much the air of afterthoughts, shall seem stronger to that
future tribunal than they do to him, the verdict will be that Mr. Motley
was twice sacrificed to personal feelings which should never have been
cherished by the heads of the government, and should never have been
countenanced by their chief advisers.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A great historian is almost a statesman
Admired or despised, as if he or she were our contemporary
Alas! one never knows when one becomes a bore
American Unholy Inquisition
best defence in this case is little better than an impeachment
But after all this isn't a war It is a revolution
Can never be repaired and never sufficiently regretted
Considerations of state as a reason
Considerations of state have never yet failed the axe
Everything else may happen This alone must happen
Fortune's buffets and rewards can take with equal thanks
He was not always careful in the construction of his sentences
In revolutions the men who win are those who are in earnest
Irresistible force in collision with an insuperable resistance
It is n't strategists that are wanted so much as believers
John Quincy Adams
Manner in which an insult shall be dealt with
Motley was twice sacrificed to personal feelings
No man is safe (from news reporters)
Our mortal life is but a string of guesses at the future
Played so long with other men's characters and good name
Progress should be by a spiral movement
Public which must have a slain reputation to devour
Reasonable to pay our debts rather than to repudiate them
Recall of a foreign minister for alleged misconduct in office
Shall Slavery die, or the great Republic?
Suicide is confession
The nation is as much bound to be honest as is the individual
This Somebody may have been one whom we should call Nobody
Unequivocal policy of slave emancipation
Wringing a dry cloth for drops of evidence
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