15 January 1863
My Lord Duke,
Rumours having, for some time past, been in Circulation that the United States Government were about to send out Iron Clad Ships to their possessions on this Coast, and these reports having assumed a more authentic shape, I consider it a matter of duty to bring the subject underManuscript image the notice of Her Majesty's Government in order that something may be done for our protection.
2. It is stated on good authority that four iron clad ships are to be sent out to this coast—one for San Francisco—one for the Columbia river, and one for Puget Sound—of the same class as the Monitor, intended for harbour defences, and one sea-going iron clad Steamer—for the Service of the American possessions generally.
3. One of the Monitors will be finished this month and istoManuscript image to come out from New York, immediately, in Sections, and to be put together at San Francisco.
4. I may here remark that Captain Richards of H.M.S. "Hecate" is of opinion that if the iron were sent out from England, vessels of the suitable Character for Coast defence could be built at Victoria of Douglas Pine.
5. I am convinced that there is a necessity for preparation on our part; as to be prepared is just what will save a war.
A cause of quarrel, it isManuscript image hardly necessary to observe, may arise any day, unexpectedly; and, if a cause occur, the folly of a war will not prevent it on the part of our fiery neighbours, if they find us unprepared.
I have been assured that in the "Trent" affair Secretary Seward did not intend to give up Slidell and Mason until he saw the preparations of England for War, and, even then, it was the inefficient state of the American Navy that forced him to forego his warlike intention.
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6. Another contingency which renders it necessary for us to look carefully to the future is this, that a large party in the North embracing nearly all the territorial and commercial wealth of the Country, and likely to gain the suffrages, in good time, of all parties, except the extreme abolitionists, intend so soon as the Northern Army gains enough of success by sea or land to redeem its character to propose to the South to re-unite underManuscript image Southern principles with a Southern ascendancy, and in short, to let the South have it all its own way, on the simple condition of restoring the Union.
7. The reason given for their course of action is that all respectable Americans wish to make all their institutions more conservative than they have hitherto been, so that property will be duly represented and protected; but to effect any change of this nature will require the abolition of universalManuscript image suffrage, to take political power out of the hands of the Mob. This cannot be done except by a Military despotism or by the aid of the South or rather by both combined for a reason.
8. The adoption of the southern Constitution would effect nearly all the desired objects, and it is remarkable how many Northern Americans although Unionists, and for the War, prefer this new Constitution of the Southern States to their own—andManuscript image for the simple reason that it is conservative. A modified and reformed Tariff to favour the South is part of the Programme.
9. The moral which I draw from these views is that the very day these people unite again as a nation they will unite in a war with England. Their abuse of each other and its development in the war is no unsurmountable impediment to a reconciliation. We are hated with aboutManuscript image equal intensity by Americans of both sections, and if united they could give us a great deal of trouble.
10. I am told by the Naval Officers here, and I quote their opinion as of more value on that subject than my own, that any sort of iron or iron clad vessel slipping from the opposite shores across the straits could without fail destroy a whole Squadron of our wooden ships without receiving any injuryManuscript image herself, as all these Monitors are invulnerable to the shot of the older vessels, while they can pierce them with every shot.
11. I trust Your Grace will excuse me for calling your attention so earnestly to this matter which I deem of great importance.
12. I will further observe that whatever measure Your Grace may deem it necessary to adopt—whether to send outManuscript image iron plates and have vessels built here, or to build the vessels in England and send them out in sections to be put up here, which would probably be the better plan—I deem it a matter of common prudence to guard against the dangers I have pointed out, in order to avert disgrace and the disaster of defeat.
I have the honor to be,
My Lord Duke,
Your Grace's,
Obedient humble Servant
James Douglas
Minutes by CO staff
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VJ 27 Feby
There seems to me very much of a busybody character in this despatch. Officers at remote stations are apt sometimes to become over-excited in fancying that they are scanning international relations and prospects.
The alarm lest a fleet of Ships like the "Monitor" should invade the waters of Columbia round Cape Horn,* reads oddly enough when we know that the luckless "Monitor" herself perished in the much humbler enterprize of trying to round Cape Hatteras.
For my part I should have thought nothing less probable than that the North whilst engaged in an internecine struggle on its own shores with the Southern States, would be so ill advised as to despatch a fleet of iron clad ships to places at a distance of 3 or 4 months voyage.
It may possibly be thought right to send a copy of the letter to the Admiralty for their information, but I should doubt whether we ought not to add that we do it without undertaking to support the views expressed by the Governor.
TFE 27 Feby
*Such vehicles would be sent round in pieces.
CF 28
The Govr might as well have spared his political speculations for which he has no special aptitude when writing from Vancouvers Island [remainder cut off microfilm].
Other documents included in the file
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Colonial Office to Secretary to the Admiralty, 6 March 1863, forwarding copy of the despatch for their information.