Cabinet Meets at the White House

April 21, 1863

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles write in his diary: “Have another dispatch from Du Pont in answer to one I went him on the 11th enjoining upon him to continue to menace Charleston, that the Rebel troops on that station might be detained for the present to defend place.  In some respects this dispatch is not worthy of Du Pont.  He says he never advised the attack worthy of Du Pont.  He says he never advised the attack and complains of a telegram from the President more than of the dispatch from the Department. If he never advised the attack, he certainly never discouraged it, and, until since that attack, I had supposed no man in the country was more earnest on the subject than he.  How have I been thus mistaken?  It has been his great study for many months, the subject of his visit, of his conversation, his correspondence.  When Du Pont was here last fall, Dahlgren sought, as a special favor, the privilege of take command, under Du Pont, of the attack on Charleston,–to Du Pont claimed the right to perform this great work in which the whole country took so deep an interest.  His correspondence since has been of this tenor, wanting more ironclads and reinforcements.  Once there were indications of faltering last winter, and I promptly told him it was not required of him to go forward against his judgement.  NO doubtful expression has since been heard.  His third dispatch since the battle brings me the first intelligence he has thought proper to communicate of an adverse character.”

Only some light matters came before the Cabinet. Chase and Blair were absent.   The President requested Seward and myself to remain.  As soon as the others left, he said his object was to get the right of the question in relation to the size of foreign mails.  There had evidently been interview between him and Seward since I read my letter to him on Saturday, and he had also seen Seward’s reply. But he was not satisfied.  The subject was novel to him.

Welles writes: “The President thought that perhaps the Executive had some rights on this subject but was not certain what they were, what the practice had been, what was the law, national or international.  The Trent case he did not consider analogous in several respects.  I had said in reply to Seward that the Trent was not a blockade-runner, but a regular mail packet, had a semi-official character, with a government officer on board in charge of the mails.  The President said he wished to know the usage,–whether the public official seals or mail-bags of a neutral power were ever violated.  Seward said certainly not.  I maintained that the question had never been raised in regard to a captured legal prize–not a doubt expressed–and the very fact that Stuart had applied to him for mail exemption was evidence that he so understood the subject.  Where was the necessity of this arrangement, or treaty, if that were not the usage?  The case was plain.  Our only present difficulty grew out of the unfortunate letter of the 31st of October,–the more unfortunate from the fact that it had been communicated to the British Government as the policy of our Government, while never, by any word or letter have they ever admitted it was their policy.  It is not the policy of our Government, nor is it the law of our country.  Our naval commanders know of no such policy, no such usage, no such law; they have never been so instructed, nor have our district attorneys.  The President, although he had affixed his name to the word ‘approved’ in Seward’s late letter, and although he neither admitted nor controverted the statement that the letter of the 31st of October was with his knowledge and approval, was a god deal ‘obfuscated’ in regard to the merits of the question, and the proceedings of Seward, who appeared to be greatly alarmed lest we should offend England, but was nevertheless unwilling to commit himself without father examination.  He said, after frankly declaring his ignorance and that he had no recollection of the question until recently called to his notice, that he would address us interrogatories.  Mr. Seward declared, under some excitement and alarm, there was not time; that Lord Lyons was importunate in his demands, claiming that the arrangement should be fulfilled in good faith.  I replied that Lord Lyons, nor the British Government, had no claim whatever except the concession made by him (Seward) in his letter of the 31st of October, while there was no concession or equivalent from England.”

President Lincoln writes the king of Denmark: “I have received the letter which Your Majesty was pleased to address to me on the 12th. ultimo, announcing the marriage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandra Caroline Mary Charlotte Louisa Julia, of Denmark, with His Royal Highness Albert Edward Prince of Wales. I participate in the satisfaction which this happy event has afforded to Your Majesty, and to Your Majesty’s Royal House and offer to you my sincere congratulations upon the occasion.”

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Published in: on April 21, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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