The remaining steps in the negotiation have already been narrated. Russell informed Adams of the requirement of a similar French convention, Adams secured action by Dayton, and in spite of continued French reluctance and suspicion all was ready in mid-August for the affixing of signatures, when Russell, in execution of his previous promise, and evidently now impressed with the need of an explicit understanding, gave notice of his intended declaration in writing to be attached to the convention. On August 20 both Adams and Dayton refused to sign, the former taking the ground, and with evident sincerity, that the “exception” gave evidence of a British suspicion that was insulting to his country, while Dayton had “hardly concealed” from Thouvenel that this same “exception” was the very object of the Convention. While preparing his rejoinder to Adams’ complaint Russell wrote in a note to Palmerston “it all looks as if a trap had been prepared.” He, too, at last, was forced to a conclusion long since reached by every other diplomat, save Adams, engaged in this negotiation.
But in reviewing the details of the entire affair it would appear that in its initiation by Seward there is no proof that he then thought of any definite “trap”. April 24 antedated any knowledge by Seward of British or French policy on neutrality, and he was engaged in attempting to secure a friendly attitude by foreign Powers. One means of doing this was by giving assurances on maritime law in time of war. True he probably foresaw an advantage through expected aid in repressing privateering, but primarily he hoped to persuade the maritime Powers not to recognize Southern belligerency. It was in fact this question of belligerency that determined all his policy throughout the first six months of the American conflict. He was obstinately determined to maintain that no such status existed, and throughout the whole war he returned again and again to pressure on foreign Powers to recall their proclamations of neutrality. Refusing to recognize foreign neutrality as final Seward persisted in this negotiation in the hope that if completed it would place Great Britain and France in a position where they would be forced to reconsider their declared policy. A demand upon them to aid in suppressing privateering might indeed then be used as an argument, but the object was not privateering in itself; that object was the recall of the recognition of Southern belligerency. In the end he simply could not agree to the limiting declaration for it would have constituted an acknowledgment by the United States itself of the existence of a state of war.
In all of this Adams, seemingly, had no share. He acted on the simple and straightforward theory that the United States, pursuing a conciliatory policy, was now offering to adhere to international rules advocated by all the maritime powers. As a result he felt both personally and patriotically aggrieved that suspicion was directed toward the American overtures. For him the failure of the negotiation had temporarily, at least, an unfortunate result: “So far as the assumed friendliness of Earl Russell to the United States was concerned, the scales had fallen from his eyes. His faith in the straightforwardness of any portion of the Palmerston-Russell Ministry was gone.”