Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward

No. 370.]

Sir: The circular from the minister of foreign affairs, par interim, to the diplomatic agents of the Emperor, for which the public press has been trying to prepare the popular mind for more than a week past, appeared in the Moniteur of the 17th instant. It is occupied exclusively with the modifications which the relations of France with the rest of the world have undergone in consequence of the recent dismemberment of the German confederation. The only allusion which takes wider proportion is one made to the rapid growth of Russia and the United States, for which we are probably indebted to the demonstrations of friendship which the two latter countries have been recently exchanging with each other.

M. de La Valette, so far from appearing to regret the course of recent events in Germany, takes the position that France is relatively stronger now, with Germany divided into at least three large and independent powers, no one of which has a population as large as France, than when Germany was united in a confederation which represented a population more than double that of France. He also denounces the narrow and miserable policy of another age, when the greatness of countries was maintained by weakening those which surrounded them; and in the name of the Emperor declares with profound wisdom the true equilibrium of Europe is to be found in the satisfied wishes of its nations.

The marvellous feature of this paper is, that after interpreting so sagaciously and correctly, as I think, the bearing of recent events in Europe upon France, events which rather strengthen than weaken her position; after proclaiming the incontestable fact that she is menaced by no one, and the less incontestable fact that she is disposed to menace no one, and that the peace now making has every element of durability, the minister proceeds to argue from this state of facts the necessity of perfecting her military organization without delay. This paragraph is so perfectly inconsequential that I venture to say that it will be understood, by all France at least, as an undertaking upon the part of the Emperor to hold his sword in readiness to aid the negotiations which he has suspended, but not abandoned, for the rectification of his northern frontiers. It is difficult to conceive any other motive for addressing an announcement of such a character to the representatives of the government abroad, and in continuation of a statement of facts which logically ought to lead to a reduction rather than to an increase of military force.

The fact is that France is very imperfectly armed at present, and if ever so much provoked would seek to avoid war for at least a year, the shortest time within which she could complete her preparations. It is also understood that there is a strong party in the government in favor of making a loan, for which there are abundant pretexts. The government also expects to be vigorously attacked in the chambers by M. Thiers and the partisans of weak neighbors, for its neglect to interfere in time to prevent the unification of Germany under the sceptre of a frontier state, &c. These reasons may suffice to explain the attachment of this otherwise most inconsequential tail to M. de La Valette’s kite, without ascribing it to any graver or more pregnant motive.

I am, sir, with great respect, your very obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.

[Page 354]


The Moniteur publishes the text of the circular addressed by the Marquis de La Valette to the French diplomatic agents abroad, which has been for some time past a subject of so much speculation. We subjoin a translation of that important document; it bears the date of September 16:

Monsieur: The Emperor’s government can no longer delay expressing its views on the subject of the events which are taking place in Germany. The Marquis de Moustier having to remain absent for some time longer, his Majesty has ordered me to explain to his diplomatic agents the motives by which his policy is directed.

The war which broke out in the centre and south of Europe has destroyed the Germanic confederation, and definitively constitued Italian nationality. Prussia, whose limits have been extended by victory, rules on the right bank of the Main. Austria has lost Venetia, and is separated from Germany.

In presence of these important changes every state in Europe pauses and reflects how far they affect its responsibility, (se recueillent dans le sentiment de leur responsabilite;) each inquires what are the consequences of the peace which has recently intervened, and what will be its influence on European order, and on the international situation of each power.

Public opinion in France is excited. It wavers, uncertain between the joy of seeing the treaties of 1815 destroyed, and the fear that the power of Prussia may acquire excessive proportions; it oscillates between the desire for the maintenance of peace, and the hope to obtain by war a territorial aggrandizement. It applauds the complete enfranchisement of Italy, but wishes to be reassured against the dangers by which the Pope may be menaced.

The perplexities by which the public mind is agitated, and which do not escape observation abroad, impose on the government the obligation of explaining its ideas in a precise manner.

France cannot pursue a doubtful policy. If her interests and strength are compromised by the important changes which are taking place in Germany, she should declare it frankly, and adopt the necessary measures for guaranteeing her security. If she incurs no loss by the transformations which are taking place, she should declare it with sincerity and resist exaggerated apprehensions and ardent appreciations which, by exciting international jealousy, would turn her aside from the course she ought to follow.

In order to dissipate that state of uncertainty, and fix the public convictions, we must view in their aggregate the past as it was, and the future as it presents itself.

In the past what do we see? After 1815 the Holy Alliance united against France all the nations from the Ural to the Rhine. The Germanic confederation comprised, with Prussia and Austria, eighty millions of inhabitants; it extended from Luxembourg to Trieste, and from the Baltic to Trent, and surrounded us with a girdle of iron supported by five strong federal fortresses; our strategical position was fettered by the most skilful territorial combinations. The slightest difficulty that might arise between us and Holland with Prussia on the Rhine, or with Austria in the Tyrol or Fricul, raised up against us all the united forces of the confederation. Austrian Germany, impregnable on the Adige, might advance at any moment to the Alps. Prussian Germany had for her vanguard on the Rhine all the secondary states, incessantly agitated by desires of political transformation, and disposed to consider France as an enemy of their existence and aspirations.

With the exception of Spain we had no possibility of contracting an alliance on the continent. Italy was divided and powerless, and did not count as a nation. Prussia was neither sufficiently compact nor independent to depart from her traditions. Austria was too much occupied in maintaining her possessions in Italy to be able to form an intimate connection with us.

No doubt a long period of peace may have caused us to forget the dangers of these territorial organizations and alliances, for they only appear formidable when war happens to break out. But France has sometimes secured that inestimable blessing by the sacrifice of her position (rôle) in the world. It is unquestionable that during nearly forty years she has encountered, erect and opposed to her, the coalition of the three northern courts, united by the recollection of common defeats and victories, by analagous principles of government, by solemn treaties, and by feelings of mistrust towards our liberal and civilizing action.

Now, if we examine the future of Europe, transformed as it has been, what guarantees does it provide for France and the peace of the world? The coalition of the three courts of the north is broken up. The new principle that governs Europe is the liberty of alliances, All the great powers, without exception, are restored to the plenitude of their independence—to the regular development of their destinies.

Prussia, aggrandized, free henceforth from all solidarity, insures the independence of Germany. This should give no umbrage to France. Proud of her admirable unity, of her indestructible nationality, she could not consistently oppose or regret the work of assimilation , which has just been accomplished, nor make the principles of nationality she represents and professes in respect to peoples, subservient to any feeling of jealousy. The national feeling of Germany being satisfied, its anxieties are removed and its enmities extinguished. Germany, in imitating France, has taken a step that brings her closer to, not that removes her from her.

[Page 355]

In the south, Italy, whose patriotism a long servitude has been unable to extingush, is put in possession of all the elements of her national greatness. Her existence profoundly modifies the political conditions of Europe; but in spite of unreasoning susceptibilities or transient errors of judgment, her ideas, her principles, her interests draw her into closer connection with the nation that shed its blood to aid her in conquering her independence.

The interests of the Pontifical throne are secured by the convention of September 15. That convention will be honorably executed. In withdrawing his troops from Rome, the Emperor leaves there as a guarantee for the security of the Holy Father the protection of France.

In the Baltic, as in the Mediterranean, secondary navies are springing up which are favorable to the liberty of the seas.

Austria, relieved from her Italian and German preoccupations, no longer wasting her strength in barren rivalries, but concentrating it in the east of Europe, still represents a power of thirty-five millions of souls, whom no hostile feeling, no interest separates from France.

By what singular influence of the past on the future can public opinion discover enemies, instead of allies, of France in these nations emancipated from a past which was hostile to us, called to a new life, directed by principles which are our own, animated by the sentiments of progress which form the pacific bond of modern societies.

Europe more strongly constituted, rendered more homogeneous by more precise territorial divisions, is a guarantee for the peace of the continent, and is neither a danger nor an injury for our nation. France with Algeria will soon number more than forty millions of inhabitants; Germany thirty-seven millions—twenty-nine of them in the northern and eight in the southern confederation; Austria thirty-five; Italy twenty-six; Spain eighteen. What is there in this distribution of European forces to cause us any uneasiness?

An irresistible power (are we to regret it?) urges populations to combine together in large agglomerations by causing the secondary states to disappear. This tendency arises from the desire to insure more efficacious guarantees for general interests. While the old populations of the continent in their limited territories increase only at a slow rate, Russia and the republic of the United States of America will each, before a century has elapsed, be able to count a hundred millions of men. Although the progress of these two great empires is not for us a subject of disquietude, and although, on the contrary, we applaud their generous efforts in favor of oppressed races, the interest of the nations of central Europe and their foresight require them not to remain parcelled out into so many states without strength and public spirit.

Politics should rise above the narrow and petty prejudices of a bygone age. The Emperor does not believe that the grandeur of a country depends on the weakening of the peoples that surround it, and only sees a real equilibrium in the satisfied wishes of the nations of Europe. In that he obeys convictions long entertained, and the traditions of his race. Napoleon I foresaw the changes which are now occurring on the European continent. He had implanted the germs of new nationalities in the Italian peninsula in creating the kingdom of Italy; in Germany by causing the disappearance of two hundred and fifty-three independent states.

If these considerations be just and true, the Emperor was right in accepting the task of mediator; to arrest useless and grievous effusion of blood, to urge moderation on the conqueror by his amicable intervention, to attenuate the consequences of defeat, to pursue through so many obstacles the re-establishment of peace—this was not an inglorious task. He would have, on the contrary, misunderstood his high responsibility if, violating the neutrality be had promised and proclaimed, he had thrown himself suddenly into the risks of a great war, one of those wars which arouse the hatred of races, and in which whole nations come into collision. What, indeed, would have been the object of spontaneously initiating a struggle against Prussia, and necessarily against Italy? Conquest, territorial aggrandizement. But the imperial government has long since laid down and even applied its principles as regards the extension of territory. It can understand, it has understood, annexations when commanded by absolute necessity in order to unite to the country populations having the same manners, the same national instincts as ourselves; it obtained from the free consent of Savoy and the country of Nice the re-establishment of our natural frontiers. France can only desire territorial aggrandizements which do not affect her powerful cohesion; but she must ever labor to promote her moral or political aggrandizement by using her influence for the great interests of civilization.

Her part is to cement the accord between all the powers who wish at the same time to maintain the principle of authority and to favor progress. That alliance will deprive revolution of the prestige it derives from extending its patronage to the cause of the freedom of peoples, and will maintain in the hands of great and enlightened states the wise direction of the democratic movement which is manifesting itself throughout Europe.

Nevertheless, in the emotions which have seised upon the country there exists a legitimate feeling which it is important to recognize and define with precision. The results of the late war convey a lesson of grave import and one which has not been purchased at the expense of the honor of our arms. It indicates the necessity for the defence of bur territory, of improving our military organization without delay. The nation will not fail in a [Page 356] duty which cannot be a menace for any one. She is justly proud of the valor of her armies; her susceptibilities awakened by the remembrance of her military triumphs, by the name and the deeds of the sovereign who governs her, are only the expression of her energetic will of maintaining, beyond the reach of any attack, her lank and influence in the world.

To sum up, from the elevated point of view whence the imperial government considers the destinies of Europe, the horizon appears to it free from menacing eventualities. Difficult problems, which required to be solved, as they could not be suppressed, weighed upon the destinies of peoples; they might have arisen at more difficult periods; they have received their natural solution without violent shocks and without the dangerous assistance of revolutionary passions. A peace which reposes on such bases will be a durable one.

As to France, in whatever direction she casts her eye she sees nothing which can hinder her progress or disturb her prosperity. Preserving friendly relations with every power, directed by a policy which exhibits generosity and moderation as evidence of her strength, supported by her imposing unity, with her genius radiating on every side, with her treasures and her credit, which fecundate Europe, with her military forces developed, surrounded henceforth by independent nations, her greatness appears undiminished, nor will ever be less respected.

Such is the language which you should use in your relations with the government to which you are accredited.

Accept, &c.