Mr. Seward to Mr. Bigelow
Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch of 4th March, No. 281, in relation to four French salt-makers, who ask this government to relinquish its claim upon 20,000 francs, deposited in April, 1863, with a notary at Montpelier, as security for the wages to be earned by them under a contract made with the general commission of subsistence of the late treasonable organization which styled itself the Confederate States of America, for the construction and operating of salt works in Alabama. These men appear to have been engaged in France by an engineer in the rebel service, and to have been brought to this country for the purpose of rendering such essential aid to the maintenance of the insurrection.
The contract thus made was as hostile and, perhaps, as injurious to the United States as if it had been for the manufacture of gunpowder. The application is, in effect, that this government shall pay these men for their efforts to destroy it; or, at least, facilitate their payment by relinquishing its claim to the fund in question—a claim which the holder of the funds deems too serious to be disregarded, notwithstanding his sympathy for the alleged distress of these workmen.
The United States cannot indulge their compassion to the extent of giving [Page 286] any aid whatever to their enemies, foreign or domestic, in obtaining remuneration for an enterprise directed to the subversion of their government.
The fund in question is stated by the agent of the notary to be held by him under a pledge “not to deliver it to the said workmen except upon a certificate from the confederate government that they had fulfilled their obligations.”
This is strong evidence, if not absolutely conducive, that it came from the treasury of the insurgents, and now of right belongs to the United States. You are, therefore, instructed to apprise the notary, Mr. Grasset, that we insist upon the claim, and to take such measures as may occur to you to complete the necessary evidence, in case he manifests a disposition to resist it.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
John Bigelow, Esq., &c., &c., &c.