Mr. Hale to Mr. Seward

No. 46.]

Sir: On the 16th instant I called on his excellency, Cherif Pacha, minister for foreign affairs, having come from Alexandria for the purpose on the prece ding evening.

The minister courteously made excuses for his delay in answering my note of 20th October, in which I had communicated to him the observations contained in your instruction to me, No. 13, of the 21st September. He told me that he was ready to give me an answer that would be in all respects satisfactory to my government.

I said that I was glad to hear this, and that if he could conveniently send me his answer that day or the next, I could communicate its substance by telegraph to Queenstown, in season to reach you, to be laid before the President before the opening of Congress. He said that he would do so.

We then dropped into a less formal conversation, when I was surprised to learn that the Egyptian government had not abandoned or even scarcely suspended the proposed expedition of negroes to Mexico. The minister expected that you would be entirely satisfied to have the expedition go on, if you were assured that the number of the force now in Mexico would not be increased, and [Page 333] that the soldiers were not slaves; and such was the substance of the formal answer he was about to send me.

As regards the first part of this answer, nothing else was ever proposed, and I told the minister that you could not have understood that anything else was proposed. His Highness had very clearly explained to me that the nine hundred negroes were to be embarked to relieve the contingent sent out in January, 1863.; that I reported the proposition exactly in those words, although it was observed that nine hundred was the number given to me, while four hundred and fifty was the number stated to Mr. Thayer in 1863, and reported by him. No remarks had been made even upon this discrepancy. I spoke of the expedition in my despatch as a relief; you began your instruction by rehearsing the words of my despatch in the usual manner, and that your observations must be taken as based upon the distinct understanding that it was proposed to send out the negroes to relieve the contingent already in service,

The minister seemed to take it for granted that the compulsory service of the negroes not only formed the whole objection to the affair in the eyes of the people of the United States, but that if that objection were removed by assurances on his part they would be entirely satisfied to see the expedition go forward.

I told the minister that I knew nothing of personal knowledge of the circumstances of the embarcation of 1863, but I knew how it was described by Mr. Thayer, and what was the general opinion not only in the United States but in Alexandria, where the story of those days in January, 1863, when no black boas (door-keeper) could be persuaded to open a door at night for fear of being crimped, and when many black servants ran away to hide for a week in the desert, while the embarcation for Mexico was going on, was still familiar in many households; and I had supposed that there was no doubt of the furtive and secret character of the proceeding.

With regard to this last remark, the minister said, no doubt, the embarcation in 1863 was sudden and secret, but this was for a political reason, namely, that it was necessary to keep the thing from the knowledge of the Porte until it was all over; as the whole proceeding at that time was against the Sultan’s will, it was arranged to have it finished before his remonstrance could arrive.

To conclude the conversation, however, I told the minister that his Highness had said to me expressly that he should not send the negroes except for the engagement of his predecessor to the Emperor of the French; that appreciating the position of his Highness, you had addressed your observations to the governments at Paris and Constantinople as well as to his own, and that I knew that the French government had been good enough, while assigning a special reason and reserving its general abstract right, to give up the affair on its part, after receiving your observations, and that I should be sorry if the Egyptian government, after receiving the same observations, found no reason to change the course that had formerly been proposed. I added that the announcement made by Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys to Mr. Bigelow to this effect was made independently of the matter of compulsory service, which had not been discussed between them until after this previous point had been disposed of, and then only as a matter of abstract interest; that Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys had expressly told Mr. Bigelow that the inquiries he proposed to set on foot here with regard to the nature of the service in the Egyptian army were to satisfy himself, and not as a matter of official concern to his government.

Cherif Pacha said this put an entirely new face on the affair, and could scarcely credit the accuracy of my information. To satisfy him I sent to my hotel for the copy which Mr. Bigelow had kindly transmitted to me of his despatch to you, No. 186, reporting his interview with the French minister. I read to Cherif Pacha the principal parts of this despatch, and afterwards, at his request, furnished him with a translation into French.

In sending to Cherif Pacha this translation, I wrote a note to express what was [Page 334] already understood between us, namely, that this was not precisely an official communication; that I was waiting his answer to my official note of the 20th October, and that meanwhile I was willing to add to his information upon the subject. I begged his particular attention to the fact that the note of the 20th October conveyed your observations upon understanding that the proposed expedition of negroes to Mexico, was to replace the contingent now in service them. I said that whatever reason might be assigned, the thing needed to tranquillize public opinion in the United States would be to hear that his Highness had been good enough to declare that he did not intend to renew the expedition of Egyptian soldiers to Mexico; that a replacement would be considered as a renewal; that if he liked to make a reserve of his rights in the manner pursued by the French minister, in saying that the proposed expedition was not abandoned, but that in effect it would not take place on account of domestic reasons, I should be satisfied with this, but that of course a definitive abandonment would give us great pleasure; that I believed France would make no objection to it; among our people in America it would be regarded as a new proof of the friendship of his Highness, and everywhere in the world it would be regarded as a proof of his noble wisdom in the interests of humanity, since, without giving to the service of the Egyptian negroes in Mexico the name of “slavery,” it must be admitted would not be an agreeable thing for the soldiers, as his Highness himself had told me with all possible frankness when expressing his anxiety to replace the men now in that service by others.

The substance of the preceding paragraph, and nearly in the equivalent words in French, was written and sent to the minister, you will understand, with the view of influencing his answer to the note of the 20th October. He kept my messenger waiting a short time, however, and sent back by him his formal answer to that note, a translation of which answer is hereto appended and marked A.

As this formal answer to your observations will of course attract your particular attention, I make no remark upon it.

At the same time the messenger brought back a less formal note from the minister, in which he acknowledged the receipt of my last note, saying that for the present he could only refer me to our conversation of the morning, repeating that it gave the subject, a new phase, of which the Egyptian government re served for itself the examination, and that meanwhile he hastened to send me his official answer to your observations.

I believe that I have faithfully represented these communications, but for your greater assurance I transmit herewith, marked B, C, D, and E, copies of the originals of everything that has passed in writing, beginning with my note of the 20th October, in which I endeavored to give exactly the sense of your observations, continuing with the minister’s official answer, (of which the translation is the piece marked A,) and concluding with our less formal correspondence of the 16th instant, already described.

The telegraph wire between Alexandria and Malta had just broken; but the steam packet to the latter port leaves to-morrow, takes forward to Mr. Bigelow, in Paris, a telegraphic message to the effect that the Egyptian government say the insurrection is suppressed, and that the expedition of negroes may go forward. I have also written to him fully.

A French transport has arrived in the harbor of Alexandria with troops for Cochin-China, who have been disembarked and have taken the railway for Suez.

With regard to the question of the compulsory service of the soldiers in the Egyptian army, and especially that of the blacks from the upper country, I hardly know what I may say with propriety in an official communication. I have reason to believe that Mr. Outrey, the agent and consul general here of France, was annoyed at being called upon by Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys to make a report upon this subject. Even to an entirely disinterested observer it might be difficult, in a country where the civil government is absolute, to distinguish [Page 335] between compulsory service in the army and military service everywhere; to distinguish between a levy in the Soudan and the conscription in France. It would remain to weigh the evidence in such cases as are reported to have occurred in filling the number of the contingent at Alexandria in January, 1863. If the object desired is merely to satisfy the private judgment of a candid observer, something might be learned from the various books of modern travel in Egypt. The difficulties which embarrass the subject when approached as a matter of discussion among governments are illustrated by the fact—reported in my last despatch but one—of the frequent release of negroes from slavery in Egypt by the interposition of the good offices of the British consulates. The Egyptian government may point to these instances as so many proofs in support of the assertion proudly made in the minister’s answer to your observations, “Slavery no longer exists in Egypt;” for whenever the consulates bring forward an instance of the contrary, the man is immediately freed. Others would perhaps regard these instances as disproving the proposition insisted on, or at least as illustrating that it is not of universal application.

I shall endeavor to collect the most authentic and also the most available testimony within my reach, without loss of time, but should be glad of your instructions as to the manner and degree in which it may be advisable to push inquiries.

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


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.



Monsieur l’Agent et Consul Genéral:

I have gladly received the despatch which you did me the honor to address me under date of the 20th October last, for the purpose of presenting in the name of your government the observations suggested to it by the expedition by his Highness of a battalion of negroes, of which the departure has been hitherto delayed by an insurrection in the Soudan, now suppressed, and who are destined to replace in Mexico those who were sent thither in 1863.

If your government had not thought proper to make any remark previously on this subject, you say this was because the government was too much occupied with internal affairs, and also because it had not then decreed the abolition of slavery. The government of his Highness, whose sympathies for that of the republic of the United States cannot be doubted for a moment, accordingly thinks it of the first importance to give explanations to the latter, which I take pleasure in believing will reassure it completely with regard to the bearing and the composition of the expedition in question. In fact, the situation of 1863 has not been modified; there has been no change to affect it. The Egyptian government, at the request of a friendly power, thought itself competent to make certain engagements in which its neutrality did not appear to be in any way compromised, and in which it was very far from thinking that it would ever incur the disapproval of the United States.

The French government, in making a request for the replacement of the contingent now in service by a new battalion, of which the composition remains exactly the same, and his Highness the viceroy, in agreeing to the request, do but obey the laws of the simplest humanity. It is three years, in fact, that these men have been living far from their country, where most of them have left their wives and children; home-sickness (la nostalgie) has made more gaps in their ranks than the climate or the fire of the enemy. In all countries of the world such considerations are thought worthy of regard, and the Egyptian government would have had a bad appearance not to accept their significance. Moreover, it would have been very difficult, not to say impossible, to escape the consequence of an agreement which put at the disposal of the French expedition to Mexico a certain number of men, strong and well-fitted for military service. The honor of the flag, and the respect due to its engagements then, united in requiring that the government of his Highness should receive with favor a request which had in its eyes the advantage of restoring, not only to their native country, but to their separate homes, a certain number of these men, who were chosen originally from the soldiers of the garrisons of Cairo and Alexandria, and who had a right to their discharge by reason of the expiration of the period of service due to the state.

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In the material point of view, then, we have merely to deal with a simple substitution, and there is, in truth, no reason for anxiety at a situation which remains the same that has existed for three years past.

In the moral point of view, the objection appears to me still less well-founded. It is based on the fact that, at the date of the first expedition, the United States had not decreed the abolition of slavery.

Thus, in the opinion of the cabinet of Washington, the Egyptian soldiers who make part of the French expedition to Mexico are to be regarded as slaves, and their stay there as contradicting the great measure of humanity which has freed all their brethren in America.

Permit me, sir, to protest on my side against the expression of an error so clear. Slavery no longer exists in Egypt. It was abolished there long before it was abolished in the United States by the many sacrifices and glorious efforts on the part of the defenders of the Union. The negroes in the Egyptian territory are subjects of his Highness by the same title and with the same rights as the other natives of the country. In serving under our flag they obey a law of conscription equal for all. Regulations limit the period of service due by each man to the country, and the length of this period is proportioned to the number of the population.

This is not all. In virtue of a principle made applicable as long ago as the reign of our illustrious Mehemet Ali, all slaves enrolled under the flag become free in full right.

The good conduct of some of these soldiers since they have been in Mexico has been pointed out by the general-in-chief of the expedition to the French government, which has not hesitated to award to them crosses and medals of honor; others have been proposed to the Egyptian government by the same general-in-chief for similar distinctions, and even for promotion to the grade of superior officers, and the Egyptian government has made haste to recognize their merit.

I appeal to yourself, sir, is there a country in the world where soldiers who were merely slaves would be treated with so much regard and would enjoy so much consideration?

I rely, then, with all confidence on your co-operation to make known the details, to transmit these loyal explanations to the government of the United States, and to reassure it respecting the true condition of these Egyptian negroes. I take pleasure in hoping that, better informed than before, your government will be good enough to see nothing in this expedition but the simple replacement of one battalion by another in conformity with the terms of an understanding; a replacement of which the necessity is demanded by the laws of humanity and the rules of justice; at the same time that it is imposed upon his Highness by the benevolent interest which he feels for all his subjects without distinction.

Be pleased to accept, sir, the assurance of my high consideration.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs. CHERIF PACHA.



YOUR EXCELLENCY: At an audience which his Highness, accorded me on the 25th of August last, he was so good as to give me some explanations about the circumstances under which the Egyptian government proposes to send nine hundred negroes to Mexico to replace the troops of the same kind which were sent there in the month of January, 1863.

Having thereupon made report to my government, without failing to set forth the noble frankness with which his Highness expressed himself in giving me on this subject all the details without reserve, I have just received instructions from my government.

I must say to you that the previous expedition in 1863, although it may have made room for many comments, was let pass by the government of the United States of America without remark, because it was at that time very much engaged with exceptionally complicated domestic affairs and with foreign difficulties. But since that epoch the United States have abolished slavery. Our attention is steadily fixed on the course of events in Mexico, a subject which seriously affects the security of republican institutions on the American continent, with which we are accustomed to connect the so-much-desired ulterior consequences of the abolition of all compulsory servitude, civil or military, in the western hemisphere.

I am therefore ordered, Mr. Minister, to bring the affair to your attention, and to say to you that, in the opinion of my government, the repetition of an expedition of Egyptian negroes to Mexico would not be regarded with approval, nor even without profound inquietude by the United States.

I must also inform your excellency that instructions of the same character have been sent to the diplomatic representatives of the United States at Paris and at Constantinople.

I have the honor to renew to your excellency the assurance of my high consideration.

Agent and Consul General, CHARLES HALE.

His Excellency Cherif Pacha, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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Your Excellency: In submitting to you the translation, here enclosed, of a despatch from our minister at Paris, addressed to the minister of foreign affairs at Washington, you will readily understand that it is not precisely an official communication that I make to you.

I await your answer to my official note of 20th October, written under special instructions from my government; meantime I make known to you what has passed.

You will understand that I have only made mention to my government of a new expedition to replace the troops which are already in Mexico. The despatch of the 20th of September, of which our minister at Paris in the beginning of the letter here enclosed and also at the end under No. 1, was of the same purport with that addressed at the same time to me, and which I communicated to you under date of the 20th October. I pray you especially to take note of the language of my government.

I should say to you that, whatever may be the reason, that which is necessary to tranquillize public opinion with us would be to learn that his Highness has been pleased to declare that he does not intend to renew the expedition of Egyptian soldiers to Mexico. A replacing would be considered as a renewal.

If you wish to make a reserve in respect of your rights in the manner of Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys, by saying that the expedition is not abandoned, but that in effect it will not take place in consequence of interior events in Egypt, I would be satisfied, but naturally a definitive abandonment would give us great pleasure. France, as I believe, would not make objections; with us in America it would be considered as a fresh proof of the friendship of his Highness, and by all the world it will be deemed a noble proof of his wisdom in the interests of humanity.

Provided that the service of Egyptian negroes in Mexico is not slavery, it may be admitted that it is not at all agreeable to the soldiers, as his Highness told me with all frankness possible in expressing to me his wish to change the men sent by others.

I seize this occasion to renew to you the assurance of my high consideration.




Mr. Consul GENERAL: I have just received your despatch of the 16th, and the translation of the document therein referred to.

For the present I can only refer to our conversation of this morning in repeating that your despatch of to-day carries the question into a new phase, which the government of his Majesty reserves to itself to examine. Meanwhile I restrict myself to sending you my official answer to your esteemed despatch of 20th October last.

Please accept, Mr. Consul General, the assurance of my high consideration.


Mr. Hale, Agent and Consul General of the United States of America.