Interference in a Family Dispute

Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, had been publishing editorials in his newspaper calling for an armistice to negotiate a peace that would restore “the Union as it was.” William C. “Colorado” Jewett, a mining speculator with a questionable reputation, informed Greeley after returning from France that Emperor Napoleon III had offered to mediate a peace between the warring factions.

Greeley responded by going to Washington to try getting the French minister to the U.S., Henri Mercier, to mediate on Napoleon’s behalf. Greeley was adamant about ending the war, boldly saying, “I mean to carry out this policy, and bring the war to a close. You’ll see that I’ll drive (President Abraham) Lincoln into it.” Mercier offered his services on February 3, proposing that a meeting take place in a neutral country between officials of the U.S. and the Confederacy to discuss a possible peace. Mercier would “chair” the meeting.

President Lincoln neither accepted nor declined the offer. Senator Charles Sumner, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wanted to continue the war until the Federals achieved total victory. Secretary of State William H. Seward considered arresting Greeley for violating the Logan Act, which barred American citizens from negotiating with foreign nations on behalf of the U.S. government.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Image Credit:

Three days later, Seward officially turned down Mercier’s request, explaining that the Lincoln administration would not under any circumstances abandon the effort to preserve the Union, and would also not relinquish any authority to France as the proposal seemed to have implied. Lincoln endorsed Seward’s rejection. Seward took offense to “interference by a foreign power in a family dispute.” Many Republicans in Congress also expressed anger toward the French for trying to involve themselves in what they considered to be a domestic insurrection.

Neither Napoleon nor Mercier pressed the issue, mainly because Great Britain refused to back their offer of mediation services. In an address to the British Parliament, Queen Victoria declared that Britain had not tried to “induce a cessation of the conflict between the contending parties in the North American States, because it has not yet seemed to Her Majesty that any such overtures could be attended with a probability of success.”

James Mason, the Confederate envoy in Britain, continued working to gain Confederate recognition. This included delivering a major speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London calling for the British to recognize Confederate independence. However, Commander James H. North of the Confederate navy wrote to Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory from Glasgow, Scotland, “I can see no prospect of recognition from this country… If they will let us get our ships out when they are ready, we shall feel ourselves most fortunate. It is now almost impossible to make the slightest move or do the smallest thing, that the Lincoln spies do not know of it.”

Part of the reason the British government was so reluctant to recognize Confederate independence was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which proved very popular among the British people. Mass meetings took place on the 19th at Liverpool and Carlisle in support of Lincoln’s decree. Other meetings this month were held at Leeds, Bath, Edinburgh, Paisley, Birmingham, Manchester, and elsewhere. Charles Francis Adams, the U.S. minister to Britain, wrote, “The current is still setting strongly with us among the people.” As such any recognition of the Confederacy by the British government would be highly unpopular among its subjects.


  • Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960.
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, (Kindle Edition), 2011.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865. New York: The MacMillan Company (Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016), 1917.

Leave a Reply