FRANCE AND THE UNITED STATES.
[FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.]
New York, February 9, 1866.
WELL, we have at last received the French Emperor's intimation that he purposes withdrawing his troops from Mexico, as soon as he can do so without compromising French interests in that country. A sufficiently ambiguous phrase perhaps to serve the Emperor's turn, and yet it seems also sufficiently significant to satisfy people in Europe, as well as here, that the little drama of French intervention in America is played out. If the attention which European writers have given to the subject of our attitude upon this question, and the remarks which they have made upon it, may be regarded as a fair expression of the European estimate of our feeling, you would all be much surprised at the phlegmatic indif- ference with which the Emperor's announcement has been received. It has attracted little attention; and as a subject of conversation has hardly lasted out its single day. The retirement has been looked for as a mere matter of course, as I wrote to you months ago; and what is chiefly remarked now is that it has come a little more promptly and with a better grace than we expected. As to any particular occasion for rejoicing, or even of mild self-congratulation, that does not appear, except that the little cloud portentous of difficulty with France has disappeared. On the contrary, there is the fact that this annoying Mexican question is apparently as far from settlement as ever, and that we probably shall be looked to, both by Mexico and by Europe, to take the matter into our hands. The prospect is anything but agreeable, and would go far to dampen our joy, if we felt any, at the self-vindication of the Monroe doctrine. For as to Mexico and the Mexicans, our interest, our respect, our very sympathy, can hardly be underrated. Even the overthrow of the republican Government there—if government it could be called—was a matter of almost entire indifference to us, for who could feel much concern about the destruction of what was so utterly contemptible ? What touched us, and what only touched us, was the forcible imposition of any government upon an American nation by a European power. If Louis Napoleon, instead of sending over a Hapsburg Emperor, had set up another republic, our cause of grievance would have been all the same. We should have remonstrated against, resented, and finally resisted such an attempt at any time; and it did not raise our not very high esti- mate of the Emperor's magnanimity, or cause us to regard his pro- ceedings with any more serenity, that he seized the opportunity of carrying out his designs when we were crippled with a great rebellion.
Here I may opportunely say a word upon a subject as to which very erroneous notions appear to prevail in Europe,—the relations of the United States with France, and the feelings of our people towards the people and the Government of that country. It seems to be assumed that there is some peculiar warmth of alliance between the two countries, and a sense of gratitude on our part, which make it possible for the French Government to take liberties with us with impunity. The London Times expresses this European view of the case, in its remark that "the best hopes of the maintenance of peace between France and the United States lie in the deep feelings of friendship and sympathy which the Americans have towards the French people." This opinion is based upon an altogether erroneous im- pression. There is no such sympathy, and as to gratitude, men- tion of that in earnest in private conversation here among people of a moderate degree of sense and information would only excite a smile. It is a fine thing to talk about on public occasions in France, or here when Frenchmen are present, and it furnishes good lubricating material to ease the friction of diplomatic remon- strances; but that is the end of its function, and we never think of it in any other relation or upon any other occasion. For as to French assistance in our War of Independence, is not every boy of us taught at school that France became our ally because she was at enmity with Great Britain, and wished thus indirectly to make war upon her? Did our gratitude, our friendship, or our sympathy France-ward, even when France was a republic, pre- vent our sending Minister Genet off with a flea in his ear for impertinence, or taking the promptest and most efficient steps to put an end to the purchase and equipment in this country of French privateers against British commerce, or ere those shoes were old in which we had marched against British armies? Did it prevent us from saying to Louis Philippe, Citizen Sing though he was, that he must "pay up" the money that France had owed us so long, or fight? Not a bit of it. Believe me, there is no other reluctance here towards going to war with France upon a point of honour or of supreme interest, than that which is felt towards war in itself, for any reason and with any nation. Excepting always the fire-eaters of the South, you cannot overrate our disposition towards peace. Bloodshed to us is horrible, and the waste of war seems almost sinful. We have fought, others shall say how, we have spent we know how lavishly, but we are the most peaceful, and in our public expenditure the most economical, people in the world. I know that eyes will be opened and hands held up at this assertion, but I ask my readers to think a moment over these letters, and say whether or not they have told the truth without fear or favour, without regard to the pleasantness of the picture they presented, and the probability that it would be agreeable to those to whom it was presented, and whether the statements, and I will venture to say even the predictions, they have contained have not been reasonably verified by the event? I refer them back thus, not for the petty satisfaction of saying "I told you so," but because I wish to build up their faith in me a little, for I have that to say hereafter which is even more directly at variance with the current of British opinion in regard to this country than anything that has gone before in this correspondence. Small credit to me that I know what I have seen, and understand that which I have studied, and tell the simple truth. And yet, to return to our moutons, there is some reason for the very plain and somewhat rough-edged talk upon this subject by Mr. Conway in the Fortnightly Review, which has caused so much remark in England. There is no doubt—I grieve while I say it, and only say it because I think it had better be said—that war with Great Britain would meet much leas opposition among our people than a war with France ; and once entered into, would be prosecuted with bitterer feeling. But this is by reason of no peculiar sympathy with, or feeling of gratitude towards, France ; the same is true of Russia, to whom we owe nothi g, even in name, and with whose system of government, people, and form of society we have less sympathy than with those of any other civilized nation. The reason of this is simply the attitude and bearing of France and Russia as governments and as peoples towards this country. There is, and has ever been, in spite of differences of character, amounting almost to anti- pathies if candidly spoken of, and amid whatever difficulties that have arisen, on the part of France and also of Russia, an attitude of respect and tonsideration toward us. They have treated us in fact just as if we were a civilized nation in good standing. And this not only in official intercourse, but in their literature, in their newspapers, and in the intercourse of society. If it were not recommendation, it was at least no disparagement in St. Peters- burg or in Paris that a man or a book was "American." He was received upon his own merits, and, if he had merits, was not patron- ized, he or his country, in their recognition. And the consequence is that in the case of France or Russia there is no smouldering heart- burn that can be quickly fanned into a raging fire. In case of a clash of interests or a diplomatic misunderstanding with these nations, the mind of this is a tabula rasa; and like a gentleman in society, it assumes that no offence is mean until another intention is unmistakable. This is no new condition of things. It has existed, even with regard to Russia, as long as I can remember,— Russia, despotic, serf-based, conquering, woman-knouting. For with her despotism, her serfage, and her knouting, we had nothing to do, except to give our testimony against them by word and by example ; and in her relations with us, whether official or through social and literary channels, she has always been respectful, and even courteous. Now in this position towards us the British Government and people can place themselves, just as soon as they think it proper and worth their while to do so. We do not ask it, but are perfectly content that it shall depend upon their own free choice, their mere caprice. But there is only one way. Nor is there any semblance of support for the hope expressed by the Saturday Review, in one of the two articles in its number for January 13 which deal with this subject, that the temper of the people of the United States upon foreign telations will soon pus away, because of a growing indifference to and ignorance of them. "As population increases," the Review says, "in the more remote American States which have Tittle contact with the Europeans, there will be a larger proportion of men who simply care nothing for foreign politics ;" and the premise from which this conclusion is drawn is, that "the number of people in any country who have even an effectual belief in the existence of other human beings beyond their own frontiers is not great, and the numbers who possess any vivid conception of them is smaller still." Here is a conspicuous example of the error which European publicists are continually falling into—of judging the people, that is the mass of the people, of this country by the mass of the people in Europe. They often seem to forget that human nature is the same here that it is else-
where, and that Englishmen did not change their souls when they came across the sea ; but they never seem to remember how different are the circumstances under which our whole people live and act, from those which determine the action of the peoples of Europe. Our people, our whole people, are alive with interest as to all that goes on in Europe, and especially in England. They read all of them, so to speak, in the Free States, very full accounts of what takes place there from week to week, and in books and in magazines that circulate by the hundred thousand they find in- formation of a more stable kind upon the kindred subjects. They have thus not only an "effectual belief" in, but a very "vivid conception" of, the people beyond their own frontiers ; and their interest in foreign politics and social questions among other peoples is not diminishing, but increasing ; and it must increase year by year. It prevails no less in the remote American States than along the Atlantic shore, or if less, only because those States are now the recipients of the more ignorant European emigrants, and are in fact the outskirts of our civilization. This fact of the con- stant acquaintance of our people with what is done and said in Europe may be deemed of some importance perhaps, when it is considered, for instance, that the circumstances which attended the building and equipment of that unhappy Alabama were read and judged not only in New York, and Boston, and Phila- delphia, but a thousand miles and more westward of them, by the light of articles reprinted from the Saturday Review and the London Times. The acquaintance with foreign affairs which has to be taken into consideration in judg- ments upon the probable course of this country, is not confined to the cultivated, or even what you might call the moderately educated classes. How many of your farmer folk and artisans, take the island over, do you suppose, for instance, have read the Pall Mall Gazette's account of "A Night in a Workhouse?" I will ven- ture to say that, aside from our educated classes, although it came here only by lad steamer, it has already been read by a million and a half of people. This is a condition of things that can- not be safely disregarded in forming opinions in regard to this country.
One word upon a subject that I am almost ashamed to speak of in connection with a journal of the standing and the ability of the Saturday Review. It closes one of the articles which I have referred to thus :—" American journalists have justly and loudly boasted that England cannot be taunted into a war. Their favourite inference that Englishmen are a cowardly race will be tested if Mr. Conway's prophecies should unhappily be fulfilled." I must be pardoned for saying that this is silly, almost childish, a wilful and peevish perversion. I have a very distinct remembrance of seeing it said in certain English journals that the British Govern- ment "dared not" go to war upon the Danish and the Polish questions. Did they mean that Englishmen were a cowardly race ? I need hardly say that our journalists used the phrase just as yours did ; I believe that the courage of the men who have fought under St. George's Cross from Agincourt to Waterloo and Balaklava and Cawnpore, is far more widely known and no leas highly honoured among our people than among yours. Why, if Englishmen were a cowardly race, how should we breed any courage ? If that were true, then indeed would Mr. Dicey's assertion in his Federal States also be true, that "fifty thousand French troops could march from one end of the country to the other." For that reason we rejoice that the prospect now is that they will never undertake to do so.