Mr. Hale to Mr. Seward

No. 41.]

Sir: Nine hundred negroes from the Soudan or upper country of Egypt, within the jurisdiction of the Pacha, are expected shortly to arrive at Alexandria to be embarked in French transports for Mexico to relieve the contingent furtively sent out in the month of January, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three. I must give the Pacha credit for putting me in possession of full and early information on the subject in the most frank possible manner. On this occasion, at least, there is nothing clandestinely about the proceeding. I told him that I regretted to hear of the movement, and wished, at least, that it might be delayed. He said that it was simply the execution of an agreement made between his predecessor, Said Pacha, and the Emperor of the French, three years ago; that the number of soldiers in service would not be increased by a single unit; that the number was inconsiderable, being only one battalion, or the fourth part of a regiment, and not exceeding nine hundred in all, officers included. He gave me the most positive assurance that it is not proposed to increase this number. The Pacha then fell into a line of conversation, which, especially as he expressed a wish that it might be regarded as confidential, it is not necessary to report in detail, more than to say that he expressed to me no interest, wish or expectation to see the successful establishment of an empire in Mexico under French auspices. He ridiculed the small effective results reached by the French in their efforts at colonization everywhere, and pointed with some pride to the small number of troops with which he keeps order in his own dominions compared to the great number of French troops always in service in Algeria, citing the recent pamphlet of the Emperor of the French for proof that, after all, that country is not well governed. He regards the sending out of this relief corps as a necessary act of humanity to the Egyptian negroes who are now in Mexico, while he thinks that he cannot in good faith escape the maintenance of a small force there in respect of the engagements entered into by his predecessor. The whole cost of the movement, which is “enormous,” is paid by the French government. The Pacha made this point with emphasis, using the word “enormous” (or rather, its French equivalent) no less than three times, and betrayed evident satisfaction that the expenses do not come out of his own purse.

The circumstances of the original movement are described in the despatch of my predecessor No. 27, under date of January 18, 1865. Mr. Thayer addressed most energetic remonstrances to Said Pacha, and to his minister, and obtained a positive assurance that the number of the contingent should not be increased. Said Pacha was then actually on his death-bed, and his demise is reported in the same despatch. Of one ground of remonstrance to the movement suggested by Mr. Thayer, namely, the violation it implies of the suzeranity of the Porte, it may be remarked, in addition to the fact that it has heretofore proved futile, and to other reasons which exist for not pressing it at this time, that as the Pacha has just returned from Constantinople, it may not be improbable that he has prepared himself with the necessary permission.

[Page 329]

In the course of the conversation the Pacha told me that the Egyptian army-list numbered about twenty thousand, of whom, as I understood, about eight thousand are in active service in various parts of the country. From other sources I have learned that the mortality in the army, from cholera, has been frightful. The Pacha, however, remarked that only one of his negroes had died from yellow fever in Mexico, saying that it appeared that the negro constitution was proof against such maladies. I hinted to him that if he can spare a few hundred soldiers peculiarly fit for service in Mexico, the United States have lately had under arms more than one hundred thousand of the same race. These men would be, in like manner, peculiarly fit for service in Egypt if the vicious principle of interference which supports the empire in Mexico, to which the Pacha lends his soldiers, should at any time be retaliated by us. Hitherto we have practiced the contrary principle, and have expected other governments to respect it, at least so far as America is concerned; and, without intervening ourselves in Oriental politics, “what the Pacha has done in Mexico at the request of another power, the United States might do in Egypt at the request of some friendly power.”

These and other arguments, of course, might be pressed upon the Egyptian government, to prevent the departure of the relief. What I have already said to the Pacha will serve very well as a foundation for any formal communication in the way of an objection or protest that you may think advisable to instruct me to make; or, in case it is deemed best to let the matter rest without further remark, I think you need not hesitate to believe that, while the Pacha cannot very readily get rid of the subsisting engagement made by his predecessor, he has wit enough of his own to see that his sending troops to America, however inconsiderable in number, is a thing not particularly agreeable to the people of the United States, and that it would be very foolish for him to do anything more that might have the effect to provoke an intervention of the United States against him in some possible turn of Egyptian affairs.

No doubt you will regard the sending of this relief from Egypt, in connexion with the recruiting in Europe for the Belgian and Austrian legions for service in Mexico, the renewal of the French forces there, and other matters, of the views of the government with regard to which I am not apprized.

My audience with the Pacha took place at Cairo yesterday, and the overland mail which must take forward this despatch is already announced. But, unless upon reflection (for which as yet I have had little time) I should conclude to make a formal representation in writing to the Egyptian government, addressed to the minister of foreign affairs, I shall content myself for the present with the general remarks I have already made verbally to the Pacha, awaiting your further instructions.

Although the arrival of the negroes from the upper county may be expected at any time, everything moves so slowly in Egypt that it would not be at all surprising if it were to be considerably delayed.

I have taken advantage of the departure of one of the American missionaries for the upper country to arrange for timely confidential information of their coming.

I believe nothing is known of the matter in general circles here. It had not been mentioned to me by any of my colleagues.

I was gratified on the 19th instant by the receipt of your instruction No. 10, of July 24th.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.