- Historic Sites
The Tour Of Prince Napoleon
A FRENCH VISIT TO CIVIL WAR AMERICA Selections from the letters of Lieutenant Colonel Camille Ferri Pisani, who accompanied Prince Napoleon on his state visit, touring the fronts, both North and South, visiting the West and meeting Lincoln and the men around him during the Union’s darkest days
August 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 5
Mr. Seward is about fifty; his hair, quite disorderly, is blond with a little grey. His eyes, sunk at the bottom of deep bones and covered with thick eyebrows, are small but quick. His Roman nose shows a very pronounced curve. His whole appearance reveals finesse and wit. He is very gay, very quick, friendly with the first handshake, and altogether an excellent companion. These outward characteristics at first make one suspicious, as it is easy to believe that his frankness must conceal shrewdness and malice. Not at all! Mr. Seward is very frank, a real gentleman, a little jeering perhaps.
Since our first meeting we have often seen Mr. Seward. He accompanied us everywhere in Washington, and soon became a very good friend of the Prince. Their views on many aspects of the American question —slavery among others—were alike. In his own views, Mr. Seward has unshakable firmness, though he expresses them in his very own jovial and unconcerned way. Amidst the events of the day—sufficient as they are to daunt the staunchest souls—he does not have the slightest doubt as to the final triump’i of the North and of his Party. Never does he show any sign of weakening.
His optimism knows no limit. If told that England is going to burn down New York, he answers “Well, if they burn New York, what of it?” Furthermore, though he pursues his goal with obstinate perseverance, Mr. Seward is rather broadminded as to the choice of the roads which might lead him there. There can be little doubt that if need be, he would exhibit a political suppleness and flexibility beyond limit. I believe that in case of pressing danger he would be able to recover and to save the day through some sudden and unexpected move.
A few minutes after Mr. Seward’s entrance, Mr. Lincoln appeared. He is so much above the average height that he might rightly be called a giant, if this word—expression of power and strength in the Biblical and mythological sense—were not shamefully relegated today to the vocabulary of the circus and for the displays of live phenomena. His face is not well characterized—he is close to the Celtic type of the “Auvergne” province—long head and pointed nose. His hair and pointed beard are very black. If his features express benevolence and frankness, his whole attitude and manners are those of a modest and even shy man. Perhaps the embarrassment of his physical appearance —sometimes quite disturbing for his interlocutor—only comes from the natural difficulty of all such tall men to conceal their height and to maintain their large body in equilibrium.
Mr. Lincoln was born in Illinois; therefore, he belongs—both by birth and by his very democratic ideals and his austere ways—to the ethnic group called the Westmen . Son of a pioneer and pioneer himself, Lincoln worked as a young man in fields and shops. Little by little he made his way to less painful jobs, was employed in a commercial house, and I believe, was a school teacher. A rank in the local militia brought him to the spotlight and led him to the House of Representatives in 1846. There he was an honest and very dedicated man, but without brilliance.
Our meeting was not so gay. The President shook our hands, after shaking the Prince’s. I feared, for a moment, that the interview would end with this silent demonstration. Mr. Lincoln gained a few more minutes by asking the Prince to sit down and by sitting himself, the whole affair being done amidst a great movement of chairs. But, once these new positions were acquired, the two parties sat opposite each other silently, without troubling to go any further. The Prince, impatient because he had to wait, took a cruel pleasure in remaining silent. Finally, the President took the risk of speaking of Prince Lucien, his father . Mr. Lincoln was on the wrong track and he was warned [Prince Napoleon was Jerome Napoleon’s son, not Lucien]. This incident made him lose his confidence still further. A few words were then exchanged, on the rain, the weather and our crossing. The Prince still maintained his polite but cold front—as he customarily does when he does not care to help his visitors.
Finally Mr. Lincoln once more resorted to the handshaking; as we were seven on our side, and they were two on the other, the ceremony lasted long enough so that we soon reached the time limit usually assigned to these kinds of meetings. Everyone retired, glad to have completed the official presentation, for these customs are generally boring, and their annoyance is only compensated by the hope for the more intimate and interesting relationships of which they are the necessary prelude.
Upon leaving the White House, Mr. Seward took the Prince to the Capitol, seat of the Congress—that is the two Houses and the Ministerial Offices. The Senate and the House were in session. These two assemblies did not exhibit the strangeness we expected from reading the traditional travelogues. On the whole, the House is quite similar to our own Chambre des Députés , and the Senate recalls our Conseil d’Etat . The behavior of the members of Congress is not unlike that of our own representatives. As for the discussion, it does not differ much from what goes on in our Assemblies.