September 26, Friday. At several meetings of late the subject of deporting the colored race has been discussed. Indeed for months, almost from the commencement of this administration, it has been at times considered. More than a year ago it was thrust on me by Thompson and others in connection with the Chiriqui Grant, a claim to title from the Government of Central America of a large part of Costa Rica. Speculators used it as a means of disposing of that grant to our Government. It was a rotten remnant of an intrigue of the last administration. The President, encouraged by Blair and Smith, was disposed to favor it. Blair is honest and disinterested; perhaps Smith is so, yet I have not been favorably impressed with his zeal in behalf of the Chiriqui Association. As early as May, 1861, a great pressure was made upon me to enter into a coal contract with this company. The President was earnest in the matter; wished to send the negroes out of the country. Smith, with the Thompsons, urged and stimulated him, and they were as importunate with me as the President. I spent two or three hours on different days looking over the papers, — titles, maps, reports, and evidence, — and came to the conclusion that there was fraud and cheat in the affair. It appeared to be a swindling speculation. Told the President I had no confidence in it, and asked to be released from its further consideration. The papers were then referred to Smith to investigate and report. After a month or two he reported strongly in favor of the scheme, and advised that the Navy Department should make an immediate contract for coal before foreign governments got hold of it. Mr. Toucey had investigated it. Commodore Engle had been sent out to examine the country and especially in relation to coal. The President was quite earnest in its favor, but, satisfied myself it was a job, I objected and desired to be excused from any participation in it. Two or three times it has been revived, but I have crowded off action. Chase gave me assistance on one occasion, and the scheme was dropped until this question of deporting colored persons came up, when Smith again brought forward Thompson’s Chiriqui Grant. He made a skillful and taking report, embracing both coal and negroes. Each was to assist the other. The negroes were to be transported to Chiriqui to mine coal for the Navy, and the Secretary of the Navy was to make an immediate advance of $50,000 for coal not yet mined, — nor laborers obtained to mine it, nor any satisfactory information or proof that there was decent coal to be mined. I respectfully declined adopting his views. Chase and Stanton sustained me, and Mr. Bates to an extent. Blair, who first favored it, cooled off, as the question was discussed, but the President and Smith were persistent.
It came out that the governments and rival parties in Central America denied the legality of the Chiriqui Grant and Thompson’s claim, — declared it was a bogus transaction. The President concluded he ought to be better satisfied on this point, and determined he would send out an agent. At this stage of the case Senator Pomeroy appeared and took upon himself a negro emigrating colonization scheme. Would himself go out and take with him a cargo of negroes, and hunt up a place for them, — all, professedly, in the cause of humanity.
On Tuesday last the President brought forward the subject and desired the members of the Cabinet to each take it into serious consideration. He thought a treaty could be made to advantage, and territory secured to which the negroes could be sent. Thought it essential to provide an asylum for a race which we had emancipated, but which could never be recognized or admitted to be our equals. Several governments had signified their willingness to receive them. Mr. Seward said some were willing to take them without expense to us.
Mr. Blair made a long argumentative statement in favor of deportation. It would be necessary to rid the country of its black population, and some place must be found for them. He is strongly for deportation, has given the subject much thought, but yet seems to have no matured system which he can recommend. Mr. Bates was for compulsory deportation. The negro would not, he said, go voluntarily, had great local attachments but no enterprise or persistency. The President objected unequivocally to compulsion. Their emigration must be voluntary and without expense to themselves. Great Britain, Denmark, and perhaps other powers would take them. I remarked there was no necessity for a treaty, which had been suggested. Any person who desired to leave the country could do so now, whether white or black, and it was best to leave it so, — a voluntary system; the emigrant who chose to leave our shores could and would go where there were the best inducements.
These remarks seemed to strike Seward, who, I perceive, has been in consultation with the President and some of the foreign ministers, and on his motion the subject was then postponed, with an understanding it would be taken up to-day. Mr. Bates had a very well prepared paper which he read, expressing his views. Little was said by any one else except Seward, who followed up my suggestions. But the President is not satisfied; says he wants a treaty. Smith says the Senate would never ratify a treaty conferring any power, and advised that Seward should make a contract.
The Governors of the loyal States called to-day on the President. They have had a meeting at Altoona, for what purpose I scarcely know. It was an unauthorized gathering of State Executives, doubtless with good intent; but I dislike these irregular and extraordinary movements. They must tend to good or evil, and I see no good. These officials had better limit their efforts within their legitimate sphere.
Admiral Gregory came to see me in relation to the ironclads which are being constructed under his superintendence. Enjoined upon him to have them completed by November at farthest. A demonstration is to be made on Charleston, and it will not do to depend upon the army even for cooperation there.
It is now almost a fortnight since the battle near Sharpsburg [Antietam]. The Rebels have recrossed the Potomac, but our army is doing nothing. The President says Halleck told him he should want two days more to make up his mind what to do. Great Heavens! what; a General-in-Chief!