Memorandum by Alexander T. Galt, Canadian diplomat, describing interview with Abraham Lincoln, December 5, 1861

    Source citation
    Oscar Douglas Skelton, The Life and Times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1920), 314-316.
    Author (from)
    Galt, Alexander Tilloch
    Date Certainty
    Transcription adapted from The Life and Times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (1920), by Oscar Douglas Skelton
    Adapted by John Osborne, Dickinson College
    Transcription date
    The following transcript has been adapted from The Life and Times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (1920).

    Washington, Dec. 5, 1861.

    Had interview with the President last evening; Ashman present. In the course of conversation I stated that Seward's circular had caused us uneasiness. The President said that when discussed by the Cabinet, he alone had supposed that result would follow; the rest did not. I said that while we held the most friendly feelings to the United States, we thought from the indications given of the views of the Government and the tone of the press, that it was possibly their intention to molest us, and that the existence of their enormous armed force might be a serious peril hereafter. Mr. Lincoln replied that the press neither here nor in England, as he had the best reason to know, reflected the real views of either government. No doubt they had felt hurt at the early recognition of the South as belligerents, but private explanations of Earl Russell had satisfied him on this point. He had implicit faith in the steady conduct of the American people even under the trying circumstances of the war, and though the existence of large armies had in other countries placed successful generals in positions of arbitrary power, he did not fear this result, but believed the people would quietly resume their peaceful avocations and submit to the rule of the government. For himself and his cabinet, he had never heard from one of his ministers a hostile expression toward us, and he pledged himself as a man of honor, that neither he nor his cabinet entertained the slightest aggressive designs upon Canada, nor had any desire to disturb the rights of Great Britain on this continent. I said such expressions gave me the greatest pleasure, and with his permission I would convey them to my colleagues in the Government, to which he assented.

    Mr. Ashman then remarked that there was still a possibility of grave difficulty arising out of the Mason and Slidell affair. To which the President replied to the effect that in any case that matter could be arranged, and intimated that no cause of quarrel would grow out of that.

    The conversation then turned upon the slavery question and American politics.

    The impression left on my mind has been that the President sincerely deprecates any quarrel with England, and has no hostile designs upon Canada. His statement that his views were those of all his Cabinet is partly corroborated by the statement made to me by Mr. Seward that he should be glad to see Canada placed in a position of defence.

    I cannot, however, divest my mind of the impression that the policy of the American government is so subject to popular impulses that no assurance can be, or ought to be, relied on under present circumstances. The temper of the public mind toward England is certainly of doubtful character, and the idea is universal that Canada is most desirable for the North, while its unprepared state would make it an easy prize. The vast military preparations of the North must either be met by corresponding organization in the British provinces, or conflict, if it come, can have but one result.

    A. T. G.

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