[Illustration: THE AMERICAN GLADIATORS-HABET! Reproduced by permission of the Proprietors of “Punch"]
The rapidity with which Southern resistance in arms crumbled in 1865 when once Sherman and Grant were under way no doubt startled foreign observers, but in British opinion, at least, the end had been foreseen from the moment Sherman reached the sea at Savannah. The desperate courage of the South was admired, but regarded as futile. Equally desperate and futile was the last diplomatic effort of the Confederate agents in Europe, taking the form of an offer to abolish slavery in return for recognition. The plan originated with Benjamin, Southern Secretary of State, was hesitatingly approved by Davis, and was committed to Mason for negotiation with Great Britain. Mason, after his withdrawal from London, had been given duplicate powers in blank for any point to which emergencies might send him, thus becoming a sort of Confederate Commissioner at Large to Europe. Less than any other representative abroad inclined to admit that slavery was other than a beneficent and humane institution, it was felt advisable at Richmond not only to instruct Mason by written despatch, but by personal messenger also of the urgency of presenting the offer of abolition promptly and with full assurance of carrying it into effect. The instruction was therefore entrusted to Duncan F. Kenner, of Louisiana, and he arrived in Paris early in March, 1865, overcame Mason’s unwillingness to carry such an offer to England, and accompanied the latter to London.
The time was certainly not propitious, for on the day Mason reached London there came the news of the burning of Columbia and the evacuation of Charleston. Mason hesitated to approach Palmerston, but was pressed by Kenner who urged action on the theory that Great Britain did not wish to see a reconstruction of the Union. Slidell, in Paris, on receiving Mason’s doubts, advised waiting until the Emperor had been consulted, was granted an interview and reported Napoleon III as ready as ever to act if England would act also, but as advising delay until more favourable news was received from America. But Mason’s instructions did not permit delay; he must either carry them out or resign—and Kenner was at his elbow pressing for action. On March 13, therefore, Mason wrote to Palmerston asking for a private interview and was promptly granted one for the day following.
Both personal disinclination to the proposal of abolition and judgment that nothing would come of it made Mason cautious in expressing himself to Palmerston. Mason felt that he was stultifying his country in condemning slavery. Hence in roundabout language, “with such form of allusion to the concession we held in reserve, as would make him necessarily comprehend it,” and turning again and again to a supposed “latent, undisclosed obstacle” to British recognition, Mason yet made clear the object