Mr. Fogg to Mr. Seward
Sir: Your despatch dated February 8, No. 66, in regard to the communication from the federal council, asking the favorable consideration of the United States to the proposition to authorize vessels owned by Swiss citizens to sail under the Swiss flag upon the high seas, has been received.
In accordance with your suggestion, I yesterday had an interview with the president of the confederation, in which I explained to him the difficulties in the way of our government’s considering that question at the present moment, when we are suffering from the recognition by other maritime powers of a belligerent flag, hailing from no accessible ports and owning allegiance to no maritime tribunals. 1 told the president, that for the United States to now give their assent to the proposition of Switzerland would be to abandon, in principle, the grounds upon which we rest our complaints against the course of England, France, and the other maritime powers who have conceded to the southern rebels the rights of naval belligerents, while such rebels were not in a condition to observe, nor disposed to hold themselves amenable to any recognized code of international maritime law. The rebel cruisers had assumed the right to burn our merchant vessels upon the ocean whenever and wherever met with, upon the very ground which, in our opinion, made them pirates, and not belligerents—that they had no ports into which to carry their, prizes, and no prize courts to decide on the validity of their capture. Against this assumption by the rebels, and its practical recognition by several of the leading naval powers, the government of the United States had protested, and would continue to protest, reserving to itself the right to decide hereafter if it would not demand of these powers satisfaction and reparation for losses to our merchant navy, which only the unfriendly recognition of foreign governments and the active sympathies of the subjects of those governments could have enabled the rebel corsairs to inflict.
I added it was not impossible—perhaps not improbable—that, after the successful termination of our present struggle, and the settlement of the complications growing out of it, the United States might see fit to accept as law the new principles upon which the governments of England and France have acted towards us, and in that event the recognition of the Swiss flag upon the high seas, now asked of us, would be conceded as a matter of course.
In conclusion, I handed the president a French translation of your despatch, which he read with evident satisfaction, thanking me for the explanations I had given him, and wishing me to express his warm thanks to yourself for the cordial and friendly sentiments towards Switzerland contained in your despatch. [Page 214] He saw plainly, he said, the present obstacles in the way of the United Stales taking immediate favorable action on the proposition submitted to them. But he hoped, as did the whole Swiss people, that an early day Would see those obstacles removed by the suppression of the rebellion and the re-establishment of the Union. In this hope Switzerland could afford to wait, recognizing that the perpetuation of our great republic was of more importance, even to Switzerland herself, than any formal recognition of her flag either on land or sea.
I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State of the United States of America.