If regarded merely from the view-point of strict chronology there accompanied Seward’s “foreign war” policy a negotiation with Great Britain which was of importance as the first effort of the American Secretary of State to bring European nations to a definite support of the Northern cause. It was also the first negotiation undertaken by Adams in London, and as a man new to the diplomatic service he attached to it an unusual importance, even, seemingly, to the extent of permitting personal chagrin at the ultimate failure of the negotiation to distort his usually cool and fair judgment. The matter in question was the offer of the United States to accede by a convention to the Declaration of Paris of 1856, establishing certain international rules for the conduct of maritime warfare.
This negotiation has received scant attention in history. It failed to result in a treaty, therefore it has appeared to be negligible. Yet it was at the time of very great importance in affecting the attitude toward each other of Great Britain and the United States, and of the men who spoke for their respective countries. The bald facts of the negotiation appear with exactness in Moore’s Digest of International Law, but without comment as to motives, and, more briefly, in Bernard’s Neutrality of Great Britain during the American Civil War, at the conclusion of which the author writes, with sarcasm, “I refrain from any comment on this negotiation.” Nicolay and Hay’s Lincoln, and Rhodes’ United States, give the matter but passing and inadequate treatment. It was reviewed in some detail in the American argument before the Geneva court of arbitration in the case of the Alabama, but was there presented merely as a part of the general American complaint of British neutrality. In fact, but three historical students, so far as the present writer has been able to discover, have examined this negotiation in detail and presented their conclusions as to purposes and motives—so important to an understanding of British intentions at the moment when the flames of civil war were rapidly spreading in America.
These three, each with an established historical reputation, exhibit decided differences in interpretation of diplomatic incidents and documents. The first careful analysis was presented by Henry Adams, son of the American Minister in London during the Civil War, and then acting as his private secretary, in his Historical Essays, published in 1891; the second study is by Bancroft, in his Life of Seward, 1900; while the third is by Charles Francis Adams (also son of the American Minister), who, in his Life of his father, published 1900, gave a chapter to the subject and treated it on lines similar to those laid down by his brother Henry, but who, in 1912, came to the conclusion, through further study, that he had earlier been in error and developed a very different view in a monograph entitled, “Seward and the Declaration of Paris.”