Another thing, which did no harm at all, but was exceedingly vexatious, was the constant suggestion of European mediation. For a couple of years, at least, the air was full of this sort of talk. Once, in spite of abundant discouragement, the French emperor actually committed the folly of making the proposal. It came inopportunely on February 3, 1863, after the defeat of Fredericksburg, like a carrion bird after a battle. It was rejected very decisively, and if Napoleon III. appreciated Mr. Seward’s dispatch, he became aware that he had shown gross lack of discernment. Yet he was not without some remarkable companions in this incapacity to understand that which he was observing, as if from aloft, with an air of superior wisdom. One would think that the condition of feeling in the United States which had induced Governor Hicks, in the early stage of the rebellion, to suggest a reference to Lord Lyons, as arbitrator, had long since gone by. But it had not; and it is the surprising truth that Horace Greeley had lately written to M. Mercier, the French minister at Washington, suggesting precisely the step which the emperor took; and there were other less conspicuous citizens who manifested a similar lack of spirit and intelligence.
All this, however, was really of no serious consequence. Talk about mediation coming from American citizens could do little actual injury, and from foreigners it could do none. If the foreigners had only been induced to offer it by reason of a friendly desire to help the country in its hour of stress, the rejection might even have been accompanied with sincere thanks. Unfortunately, however, it never came in this guise; but, on the contrary, it always involved the offensive assumption that the North could never restore the integrity of the Union by force. Northern failure was established in advance, and was the unconcealed, if not quite the avowed, basis of the whole transaction. Now though mere unfriendliness, not overstepping the requirements of international law, could inflict little substantial hurt, yet there was something very discouraging in the unanimity and positiveness with which all these experienced European statesmen assumed the success of the Confederacy as the absolutely sure outcome; and in this time of extreme trial to discourage was to injure. Furthermore, the undisguised pleasure with which this prospect was contemplated was sorely trying to men oppressed by the burdens of anxiety and trouble which rested on the President and his ministers. The man who had begun life as a frontiersman had need of much moral courage to sustain him in the face of the presagings, the condemnations, and the hostility of nearly all the sage and well-trained statesmen of Europe. In those days the United States had not yet fully thrown off a certain thralldom of awe before European opinion. Nevertheless, at whatever cost in the coin of self-reliance, the President and the secretary maintained the courage of their opinions, and never swerved or hesitated in the face of foreign antipathy or contempt. The treatment inflicted upon them was only so much added to the weight under which they had to stand up.