The Politics of a Capital at War – Pt 3

The Comte de Paris’s entry for 2 November, continued:

By a singular coincidence, Mr. Seward invited us to dinner that same evening. He was tired and pre-occupied. As one of those most opposed to action, he is generally regarded, especially in the army, as supporting General Scott and being jealous of McClellan’s growing reputation. For quite a while, he expounded upon the advantages he saw in waiting, allowing the Northern forces to increase steadily and the South to exhaust itself in inaction. (He always began his discourse with the words, “I have a theory about that,” justifying [Alexis] de Tocqueville’s remark that he lectures rather than converses.) Too, before Scott’s resignation, rumor had it that he was quite shocked. I do not know whether McClellan’s elevation will lead to his retirement, thus giving the advantage to the pro-action forces, or whether, on the contrary, he sacrificed Scott in order to preserve his position. In either case, his retirement at this moment would be a great misfortune for the Union. Representing the great party that carried Lincoln to the Presidency, he has managed affairs so as to avert the danger of extreme measures; he is perhaps the only man capable of containing that party’s abolitionist extremists. His departure, I fear, would be the signal for a violent movement, and would carry into power men who would push matters to their furthest limits and render all conciliation impossible.


Be that as it may, he was downcast. He told us emotionally of the farewell to General Scott after the Cabinet had accepted his resignation. “I cannot forget,” he said, “the great trials we went through together. I cannot forget that when [outgoing President James] Buchanan left us 1,800 men with which to defend the capital of the Union, and the South had already assembled a large army ready to invade us, as if by a miracle [Scott] was able to organize a force capable of defending us. He could not continue his task, he has given the task of re-establishing the Union to younger hands, but he saved it the first time.”

Passing on to the condition of Europe: “We do not greatly fear England, but relations with France are difficult, she wants to blame us and the blockade for all her current problems. But when the storms are brewing on the other side of the Atlantic, we always have in reserve that great weapon: abolition.” And going back to earlier conversations, he insisted that the government would not resort to even the pretense of abolition except as a last resort. “This is not an ordinary war. We don’t want to conquer the South, but bring her back. The slavery question is one that would never be the platform of any party. You have seen Virginia: what a beautiful and rich country, but what negligence, what lack of population, what a lost treasure! All of it stems from slavery, the most dreadful curse on a country. Compare it to the State of New York, less fertile, less favored by nature, but which owes its prosperity to free labor. Slavery only hinders Virginia from matching New York rapidly. The negro race cannot prosper under slavery. When I was born, my father owned slaves near Albany. There were then more than 50,000 negroes and 1 million whites. Today there are not a thousand negroes and 4 million whites. A free black race cannot compete in intelligence with the whites, all these unfortunate free blacks make me feel so piteous that whenever I take a coach, I always pick a black driver in order to earn him a little money. Naturally I speak only of some Slave States, those where the negro is merchandise that is produced for export, and where the white man can work: Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia and perhaps North Carolina. If, instead of devoting herself to this traffic, Virginia wanted to apply herself to developing her resources by white labor, she would be the garden of America. But she is free to do that or not do it. We endeavor to give her an example, but would never go there to force her.”

We dined with Mr. [Edward] Everett, a distinguished old gentleman of affable manners who resembled an Englishman of olden times. “The best talker in the states,” says Seward. A friend of Daniel Webster, he has always been one of the leaders of the Democratic Party, and in the last election was the vice presidential candidate of Mr. [John] Bell, who has gone over to the South. It is “a great comfort to us,” said Seward, “to find us thus all united in the defense of the Union, after having been so long separated in all our political struggles.” It is evident that Seward makes all possible advances to the Northern Democrats, and rightly so.

This morning, we mounted up at 4 a.m. amid a black night, a torrential rain, and a gusting wind worthy of All Souls’ Day, to accompany to the station General Scott who, by a singular chance, had chosen November 2 for what everyone here has called his interment. The farewells of General McClellan and his staff were proper. They passed quite simply, without coldness, without emotion, without pomp, as a matter of course, and I heard more than one officer, in watching the train depart, murmur: “He is shelved at last, Requiescat in pace.”

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