Department of State, Washington, June 2, 1866.
To Judson Kilpatrick, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
Sir: Your dispatch of May 2d, No. 7, has been received. I appreciate your solicitude that the course of proceeding which this Government has pursued in regard to the war between Chili and Spain should be understood and appreciated. Perhaps, however, the difficulty in the way of such appreciation results from the peculiar circumstances of Chili. Her statesmen and people, like the statesmen and people of all countries, may be expected to interpret not only the rights of that republic, but the capacities and duties of other States, in the light of their own interests and wishes.
The policy of the United States in regard to the several Spanish-American States is, or ought to be, well known now, after the exposition it has received during the last five years. We avoid, in all cases, giving encouragement to expectations which, in the varying course of events, we might find ourselves unable to fulfil, and we desire to be known as doing more than we promise, rather than of falling short of our engagements. On the other hand, we maintain and insist, with all the decision and energy compatible with our existing neutrality that the republican system, which is accepted by the people in any one of those States shall not be wantonly assailed, and that it shall not be subverted as an end of a. lawful war by European powers. We thus give to those republics the moral support of a sincere, liberal, and we think it will appear a useful friendship. We could claim from foreign States no concession to our own political, moral, and material princiiples, if we should not conform to our own proceedings in the needful intercourse with foreign States to the just rules of the laws of nations. We therefore concede to every nation the right to make peace or war for such causes, other than political or ambitious, as it thinks right and wise. In such wars as are waged between nations which are in friendship with ourselves, if they are not pushed, like the French war in Mexico, to the political point before mentioned, we do not intervene, but remain neutral, conceding nothing to one belligerent that we do not concede to the other, and allowing to one belligerent what we allow to the other.
Every complaint made by the Chilian agents of an attempt on the part of Spain to violate the neutrality of the United States has been carefully and kindly investigated, and we have done the same—no more, no less—in regard to the complaints instituted against the neutrality of the agents of Chili. We certainly thought it was an act of friendship on our part that we obtained assurances from Spain at the beginning, and at the other stages of the present war, that in any event her hostilities against Chili should not be prosecuted beyond the limits which I have before described. We understand ourselves to be now and henceforth ready to hold Spain to this agreement, if, contrary to our present expectations, it should be found necessary. In this we think we are acting a part certainly not unfriendly to Chili. It was thought to be an act of friendship when we used our good offices with both parties to prevent the war. We have thought that we were acting a friendly part, using the same good offices to secure an agreement for peace without dishonor or even damage to Chili.
Those who think that the United States could enter as an ally into every war in which a friendly republican State on this continent became involved, forget that peace is the constant interest and unswerving policy of the United States. They forget the frequency and variety of wars in which our friends in this hemisphere engage themselves, entirely independent of all control or counsel of the United States. We have no armies for the purpose of aggressive war, no ambition for the character of a regulator. Our Constitution is not an imperial one, and does not allow the executive Government to engage in war, except upon the well-considered and deliberate decree of the Congress of the United States.
A Federal Government, consisting of thirty-six equal States, which are in many respects self-governing, cannot easily be committed by its representatives to foreign wars, either of sympathy or of ambition. If there is any one characteristic of the United States which is more marked than any other, it is that they have, from the time of Washington, adhered to the principle of non-intervention, and have perseveringly declined to seek or contract entangling alliances, even with the most friendly States.
It would be pleasant to the United States to know that the Government and people of Chili have come to a correct understanding of our attitude and feeling toward them. Nor do we fear that injurious misapprehensions can long prevail among the enlightened and spirited people of that State.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.