Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

No. 158]

Sir: I had the honor to receive your No. 167, of date March 19. In this despatch it is stated that Mr. Bigelow informs you, under date of February 15, from an unofficial source, that “Gregorio Barandiran, the diplomatic representative of the Archduke Maximilian, formerly secretary of legation under Senor Robles, at Washington, is now in Paris for money to fit out 10,000 Austrians, which, he says, are ready to embark from Trieste for Mexico. The Mexican commissioner informed him that there was no money in his hands. I am not sure of learning the result of the minister’s suit here, as the money, if furnished, must come through indirect and concealed channels.”

In consequence of this information furnished by Mr. Bigelow, you instruct me to “inquire concerning the facts, and, if they justify the report, to bring it to the knowledge of the Austrian government seasonably, and say that the United States cannot regard with unconcern a proceeding which would seem to bring Austria into alliance with the invaders of Mexico to subvert the domestic republic and build up foreign imperial institutions. It is hoped that Austria will give us frank explanations.”

In reply, I have to observe that Mr. Bigelow, in a private note to me of the same date as his despatch above cited, mentioned this report of the “10,000 Austrians ready to embark at Trieste for Mexico,” but the story was so entirely at variance with everything well known to me here that I attributed very little importance to it. In order to make assurances more sure, however, I took pains instantly to verify the facts in the most exact and authentic manner. I learned, accordingly, that, instead of there being 10,000 Austrians at Trieste, there was not one Austrian soldier ready to embark at that port, or at any other point in this empire.

This intelligence, from the most unquestionable source, was transmitted by me in a private note to Mr. Bigelow, but I confess that I did, not consider it [Page 834] worth while to trouble you with a matter which seemed to be mere newspaper gossip. I felt that, so long as I was deemed worthy of my present post, you would feel confident that I should always furnish you with accurate intelligence as to important events occurring in Austria, and that the concentration and embarcation for Mexico of 10,000 Austrians at Trieste were facts not likely to escape my notice.

You will doubtless remember that in my despatch of the 8th of January I stated, on official authority, that the Austrian government had consented that volunteers should be levied in this empire, from men who had fulfilled their term of service in Austria, in numbers sufficient to keep full the original legion in Mexico of 6,000 men.

As the supplementary convention to that effect had not then been signed, it was not possible to give you more definite information.

Subsequently, on the 20th of February, I informed you that the supplementary articles permitted the levy of 2,000 men each year for a certain period; and on the 29th of February I added that, as no volunteers had been sent in 1865, it was now permitted to send two quotas of 2,000 men each during the year 1866.

I also stated that the equipping and transporting of these troops, and all other expenses, were to be defrayed by that government at Mexico which has been recognized here as the legitimate one, and not in any proportion by the Austrian government. As you have especially instructed me not to engage in official or political discussions on the Mexican subject with the government to which I am accredited, and as that injunction, to which I have repeatedly and very lately alluded in this correspondence, has never been removed, I should have thought myself violating my duty had I taken the responsibility of entering any protest on the part of the United States government against these proceedings.

My personal opinions in regard to this attempt, by means of foreign armies and navies, to set up a foreign empire on the ruins of an American republic, are perfectly well known here and at home.

What is of infinitely more importance, every government in Europe, that of Austria included, knows the position of the United States government, and is aware that it will never, so long as a foreign power occupies the territory and waters of Mexico with its military and naval forces, recognize the existence of an empire which that power has sought to establish, nor accept it as the creation of the Mexican national will.

But I am now somewhat embarrassed by the instructions contained in your despatch No. 167.

It seems to me that if I should intimate now (as instructed by you, on receiving the rumors contained in Mr. Bigelow’s despatch) that “Austria is in alliance with the invaders of Mexico,” and should express the hope that “she will give us frank explanations,” I should appear to suggest that the imperial royal government had not hitherto been frank in her dealings on this subject.

Now, it is my duty to say that I believe the imperial government has been perfectly sincere, straightforward, and loyal towards the United States in this matter, and in every other, since I have had the honor of holding my present post.

There have been no concealments, as I firmly believe, as to her position, in regard to what is called here the Mexican empire.

It has been uniformly stated by the imperial government that it had nothing to do with the attempt to establish that empire; that it had neither a military nor mercantile navy, nor superfluous land forces, adequate to sustain, by force, the government which the Archduke Maximilian sought to establish in Mexico; that his acceptance or rejection of the offer made to him in 1863 was a matter which personally concerned only himself and his brother, the Emperor of Austria, [Page 835] and that the imperial royal government was in no alliance, direct or indirect, with the proposed new government of Mexico.

The Austrian government had allowed a certain number of volunteers to be raised for service in Mexico by the Emperor’s brother, a proceeding which would, of course, have been a violation of Austrian sovereignty, had it been done without permission.

What would have been the answer to a protest by the United States government against the original convention of Miramar granting that permission, or of a similar protest to the supplementary convention signed here on the 15th of last March, I cannot tell.

I suppose, however, that if the United States government had permitted, or were now to permit, the republican government of Mexico, recognized by the United States as the legitimate one, to raise volunteers within the territory of the United States, in whatever numbers, the Austrian government would not consider itself authorized to protest against such a measure, or to resent it.

It would, I suppose, consider that a measure incident to the sovereignty of the United States, and whatever might be the effect produced upon the various belligerents in Mexico by such a step, Austria, as a neutral, would not be affected by it.

My embarrassment is somewhat increased by the perusal of your No. 169, bearing the same date (19th of March) as your No. 167, both reaching me under the same envelope.

In this latter despatch, which acknowledges receipt of my No. 150, giving information that the supplementary convention thereafter to be signed would allow a double yearly quota, viz., 4,000 volunteers, to go to Mexico this year, on the ground that none were forwarded in the year 1865, you call my especial attention to your No. 167.

You observe that in preparing that despatch you anticipated the case substantially which my communication now presents. You instruct me further that while practicing the courtesy and respect which are due to the Austrian government, I cannot be either too earnest or too emphatic in the protest which I have been directed to make.

You further send for my guidance a copy of the note addressed to you by the Marquis de Montholon on the 12 th of February, by which I learn the actual state of the question concerning French intervention in Mexico.

You also observe, that after reading that paper I shall be justified in saying that the “American government and people will not be likely to be pleased with seeing Austria at this juncture assume the character of a protector to the foreign military power which, claiming the form of an empire, is attempted to be set up upon the supposed subverted foundations of the republic of Mexico.”

As a matter of fact, officially published here, only 1,000 volunteers are to go this summer. Whether this restriction is in order to avoid the unhealthy season in Vera Cruz, or because funds have not been provided for equipping and transporting a larger number, I know not.

As soon as the supplementary convention was signed last month, I instructed Mr. Thayer, United States consul at Trieste, to send me accurate intelligence as to the number of troops, dates of sailing, and other particulars of interest in this connexion, so that you may rely upon my keeping you duly informed on the subject.

It is my anxious desire to perform my duty to the United States government with the utmost fidelity in this most serious affair. I think that if I could have the advantage of direct conversation with you I should easily convince you that there is no intention on the part of Austria to succeed the French government in the position of protector to the foreign military power which it is attempted to set up in Mexico, and that it would be difficult for the imperial royal government [Page 836] to disavow any such intention more frankly and loyally than it has uniformly done.

If your efforts to bring about the evacuation of Mexico by the French army are successful, I do not think that the Austrian volunteers in that country will be sufficiently numerous to prevent a free expression of the national will as to the form of government thenceforth to be adopted. I also consider it indisputable that, whatever be the result, the Austrian government will never deem itself either directly or by implication called upon to sustain the cause which those volunteers have endeavored to support.

After making these preliminary observations, at no greater length, I trust, than is justified by the importance of the subject, I proceed to say that, in view of your decided and unequivocal instructions just received, I deem it, of course, my duty to break the official silence hitherto imposed upon me, and to bring the opinions of the United States government to the direct notice of the imperial royal government.

As, however, I consider frankness and sincerity the best rule in diplomacy, and especially on this occasion, I have decided to request the imperial royal minister for foreign affairs to read this despatch before I send it to you.

Should his excellency find in it any misstatements or wrong inferences, or if he should favor me with any suggestions or comments, I shall have the honor duly to notify you thereof in a subsequent despatch, probably by the same post that will take this one.

P. S.—The Moniteur of yesterday informs us as to the terms fixed for the evacuation of Mexico by the French army—whether to the satisfaction, or not, of the United States government I know not.

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


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.