The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President Lincoln, November 11th, 1861


Legation of the United States,
, Nov. 11, 1861.

When I was sent to Spain I received the instruction to use my best efforts to prevent the recognition of the Southern Confederacy and to place the relations between this country and the United States upon a satisfactory footing. I was well aware of the importance of this task, and upon my arrival here I found that it was not altogether an easy one. Spain had indeed defined her policy with regard to our domestic troubles in a manner which won your approval. But the irritation caused by our protest against the annexation of Dominica and the efforts of my predecessor, who had most zealously served the interests of the rebellion before openly joining it, had produced a state of feeling here which under unfavorable circumstances would have led to disagreeable results. The symptoms of a decided and widely spread hostility were alarming. In struggling against these difficulties I have used all the means which my position placed at my disposal and which corresponded with the justice of our cause and the loyalty of my intentions. I endeavored to arrest the insulting invectives of the press, which threatened to control public opinion; to place the United States in a just light before the Government and the people; to secure to the American Republic that respect to which she is entitled; and finally to make the Spanish Government, as much as possible, forget that there is any question of difficulty between us. In this I succeeded beyond my expectations, and I may say that at present the relations, not only between my legation and the Spanish Government, but also between the two countries, are under the influence of mutual good-will. It is my sincere conviction that they will remain so, if the action of your Government and of Congress be in harmony with the policy which I deemed it my duty to follow and which I thought would best meet your views.

I believe, therefore, that the task which fell to my lot is so far accomplished. New questions and discussions may indeed turn up, but the principal obstacles to a friendly correspondence being removed, the easy duties of this legation will hardly render the constant presence of a Plenipotentiary indispensable, especially as we possess a Secretary who joins a large diplomatic experience to a high order of ability, who has always been regarded by me less as a subordinate than as a co-laborer, and who, as I know, justly enjoys the full confidence of the Secretary of State.

Good feeling being thus restored and secured, it seems that my future activity here, for some time at least, will be limited more or less to quiet observation and the enjoyment of a comfortable and distinguished position. While I find myself in this manner condemned to elegant leisure, which in times like these is to me rather oppressive than agreeable, I see the struggle in the United States becoming more critical with every day that passes—without decisive results. From what I learn I cannot persuade myself, that the sanguine hopes expressed by many are justified in reality. The crisis certainly calls for the best efforts and the highest degree of decision and activity on the part of every patriotic citizen. Under these circumstances it is exceedingly difficult for me to spend my time in comparative idleness or easy pursuits,—especially as in the course of things the state of our foreign relations will chiefly depend upon events at home. It is no mere impatience which makes me slight the advantages of my position here, but grave doubts arising from my view of the ensemble of our affairs; and to have these doubts solved one way or the other is for me a matter not of convenience or curiosity but of conscience.

I beg you therefore to grant me leave to return to the United States for a time to be limited according to the exigencies of the public service. If you should find it inconsistent with your views of propriety to do so, I shall feel myself forced, although to my great regret, to offer you my resignation. The feeling of duty which urges me to write this letter, obliges me also to place myself frankly into this alternative. While I sincerely hope that you will find it possible to give me permission to return without severing my connection with your Government, I shall under all circumstances consider it an act of friendship on your part if, by the steamer whose departure will next follow the arrival of this letter, you will send me an answer which will enable me to return in whatever manner it may be.