The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XVIII. Prescott and Motley

§ 20. Resignation

His office was no sinecure. In addition to the complications arising from the war, there were others connected with Maximilian’s expedition to Mexico, in which he showed good judgment. The unexpected elevation of Andrew Johnson to the presidency in 1865 brought a new element to be reckoned with. It chanced that, just at a moment when Johnson was feeling very sore about the defection of Republicans from his support, a letter came to him from Paris accusing various official Americans abroad of malignant criticism towards the administration. A passage about Motley was as follows: “Mr. Motley does not pretend to conceal his ‘disgust’ as he terms it elegantly, at your whole conduct. He tells every traveller that Sumner is wholly justified and that you have deserted your principles in common with Mr. Seward, who, he says, is hopelessly degraded.” Under the influence of his general feeling of distrust and suspicion, the president told Seward to send a formal query to each person mentioned, asking the truth of the accusation against them. Later Seward told John Bigelow that no one resented the query, drawn up by a clerk and signed by himself as secretary of state, except Motley. In all other cases, it was taken as it was meant, a simple matter of office routine. Probably, had the President not been oversensitive about the attitude of his subordinates, the accusing document would have been put in the waste-paper basket. No one knew the “George McCrackin” from whom it purported to come. Motley, however, did not take it as a formula. Such a question addressed to him seemed an insult, and he lost no time in replying, perhaps only less hotly than he felt, offering his resignation at the end of his denial of the charge that he had maligned the new administration. The secretary of state would have taken no notice of a resignation offered under a momentary smart, but when Johnson said “Let him go,” Seward did not try to stay his hand. According to the story Seward told John Bigelow in 1869, it would seem a fair conclusion that the minister was too hot and the secretary too cold and too indifferent, when an effort on his part to interpose would have been natural under the circumstances. The result was that Motley left Vienna with a very sharp wound to his self-respect.