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Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Washington, February 10, 1862.
SIR: It seems a mockery to give you accounts of military operations, insomuch as, though my advices are delayed until the last hour before the departure of the mail, they are outstripped by the telegraphic despatches going during two whole days from all parts of the country to the very hour of the sailing of the steamer.
Cloudless skies, with drying winter winds, have at last succeeded the storms which so long held our fleets in embargo and our land forces in their camps.
The Burnside expedition has escaped its perils, and is now in activity on the coast of North Carolina. The great victory at Mill Spring, in Kentucky, has been quickly followed by the capture of Fort Henry, on the Tennessee river, and the interruption of the railroad by which the insurgents have kept up their communications between Bowling Green and Columbus; and the divisions in the west are all in activity with prospects of decisive achievements.
It is now nearly one year since the insurgents began their desperate undertaking to establish a confederacy of the fifteen slave States. At some time within the previous six months they had virtually displaced the flag of the Union in thirteen of those States by stratagem or by force, and it stood in apparent jeopardy in the fourteenth State.
But the process of preparation has steadily gone on in the loyal States, while that of exhaustion has been going on in the disloyal. Only eleven of the slave States are practically subject to the insurgents, and already the flag of the Union stands, as we think, irremovably fixed upon some points in every one of the thirty-four States, except Texas, Alabama, and Arkansas. Congress has come fully up to the discharge of its great responsibility of establishing the finances of the country on a safe and satisfactory foundation. Notwithstanding the protestations of the insurgents that the people of the insurgent States are unanimous in their determination to overthrow the government, we have the most satisfactory evidence that the Union will be hailed in every quarter, just as fast as the army shall emancipate the people from the oppression of the insurgent leaders.
Under these circumstances, you will judge how strangely the assumptions of European papers and politicians that a preservation of the Union is impossible sound to us when they reach this side of the Atlantic.
SIR: I transmit herewith a copy of the Morning Post, of the 11th instant, containing a report of the remarks made in the House of Lords on the subject of the blockade and of the treatment of British citizens in the United States.
Thus far the indications seem to be much more favorable to the maintenance of the existing relations between the countries than I had ventured to hope. This is partly to be ascribed to the course taken by the ministry, which I fully believe is taken in good faith, and somewhat to the current of intelligence from America for a week or two back, which renders the position of the insurgents much more dubious than it has been regarded heretofore. I have now only to confirm my previous assurances that a fair share of positive success in the field within the present and the next month will leave us free from the danger of any interference from this country, at least for some months to come.
At the same time that I say this, it seems to be my duty not to lose sight of the extreme uncertainty of the political direction of Great Britain at this moment. The ministers have lost so much ground in the elections held during the past season to supply vacancies, as well as by local disaffection. in certain quarters, as to deprive them of a sure hold on the majority of Parliament. Their position, therefore, rests upon negatives, or, in other words, the absence of any declared system of policy, upon a part or all of which the opposition can tender a formal issue. On the other hand, Lord Derby and his friends do not yet feel strong enough to take the initiative in a policy of aggression upon which they would be ready to hazard an appeal to the people. This will account for the cautious manner in which they feel round the American question, in order to see if there be a weak place in the ministerial attitude. And so will be their probable action, until they find somewhere a place to make a stand. Should the opportunity be furnished, and the majority side with them, I have good reason to believe the struggle will not be permitted to end there. As this Parliament was originally elected under the strong conservative influences at the moment controlling the government, the attempt will undoubtedly be made to appeal from its decision by a dissolution and a new election. And not until after that event shall have taken place will it be at all possible to make even tolerably correct calculations of the future policy.
If this be in any degree an accurate description of the state of things, I trust that you will perceive at once the importance of keeping in view the possibility of accidentally, or otherwise, supplying a pretext for a division here adverse to the interests of the United States. There are persons enough here anxious to make a point on the foreign policy at a moment when the popular feeling will have become peculiarly sensitive by the distress occasioned by the failure of the cotton supply and the loss of our markets. In this sense it is, I think, that Mr. Cobden has strongly represented the difficulty of long persevering in the blockade. I think I see a good deal of timidity in approaching any question that may involve the necessity of upholding, even in appearance, the cause of a foreign country against the obvious and pressing necessities of this. We understand too well the nature of party tactics in America not to comprehend at once the precise nature of this difficulty. In this sense I am inclined to believe that the happening of the affair of the Trent just when it did, with just the issue that it had, was rather opportune than otherwise. But it has left us utterly unable to make any further concessions that are not clearly and universally perceived to be just.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. WILLIAM H. SEWARD,
CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS
Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
House of Lords.-Monday, February 10.
The Lord Chancellor took his seat on the woolsack at 5 o'clock.
BRITISH SUBJECTS IN AMERICA.
The Earl of Carnarvon said he was anxious to ask a question of some importance of the noble earl the secretary for foreign affairs. The house would remember that on Friday last he made some remarks on the case of an Englishman in America who had been taken into custody and sent to prison under the warrant of Mr. Seward. Since Friday he had received further information in reference to similar cases, but they were, if possible, worse than the one he then mentioned. He understood that at this moment there were no less than three British subjects who had been for four or five months confined in Lafayette prison, and they had been detained there without any charge of any sort or kind having been made against them. There had been no inquiry made into their cases. An inquiry had been asked for, but it had been refused, unless they first consented to take the oath of allegiance to the government of the United States. Now, if that were so, it was clear that those persons had been illegally arrested, illegally imprisoned, and illegally detained, and there ought not to be a moment lost before clearly understanding the present position of affairs. (Hear.) In these American prisons there were confined persons of every rank and means, and intelligence, and many who had been brought up in affluence-there yere representatives of the liberal professions-of the bar, the press, and the judicature, and many of the best classes of American society. They had been arrested, and dragged from prison to prison, and they had undergone very great hardships. So far as it concerned the American citizens their lordships' house had nothing to do, except in this way, that their position would throw some light upon the manner in which British subjects were treated in prison. The state of this prison was very bad. In it were confined 23 political prisoners, and two-thirds of them were placed in irons. From this prison the light and air were excluded, the ventilation was imperfect, and the atmosphere was oppressive and intolerable. The prisoners were deprived of the decencies of life, and the water supplied to them was foul, and for some purposes it was salt. He had received these facts from an authority which he could not doubt, and he believed in their correctness. The names of the British subjects were Charles Green, formerly a British merchant resident at Savannah. He went from Liverpool, and his connexion with this country had been maintained to the present time, for he had now a son residing at Liverpool. The next person was Andrew Lowe, also a British merchant residing at Savannah, and he had children now at school at Brighton. The other person was an Irish laboring man, who went out to America in October, 1860, in search of a relative resident near Harper's Ferry, and the troops of the federal government having found him there, he was taken into custody, and the oath of allegiance having been tendered to him and refused, he was dragged to to a prison in New York, and had since been confined there. Now, if these persons had broken the laws of the United States, they ought to be brought to trial, and if they were found guilty, then let them be sentenced according as the law directed; but if they had not broken any law, then they ought not to be kept in prison for an indefinite period, and on secret charges. He understood that an inquiry would be directed into the cases of these persons, but Mr. Seward made it a preliminary condition that they should take the oath of allegiance to the government of the United States. Now, the very fact that these persons would not do that served to show that they
were British subjects. He wished to know how far the noble earl had been informed of these things, and what steps or measures he had taken to obtain redress.
Earl Russell said: I conclude that the noble carl has hardly read the papers which have been laid upon the table of the house by command of her Majesty; for the noble earl would there have found a correspondence between Lord Lyons and Mr. Seward, and also between her Majesty's government and Lord Lyons, on this subject. The noble earl, in his statement, seems hardly to have taken into account the very critical circumstances in which the government of the United States has been placed. In the spring of last year nine of the States in the scheme of confederation declared war against the government of the United States. In such circumstances as these it is usual for all governments to imprison upon suspicion persons who they consider are taking part in the war against them. In a case which happened not many years ago, viz: 1848, when there was a conspiracy for the purpose of overturning the authority of her Majesty, the secretary of state applied to the other house of Parliament for authority to arrest persons on suspicion, viz: for the suspension of the habeas corpus act, and in the papers presented to Parliament at that date there are two cases in which the lord-lieutenant of Ireland had ordered the arrest of two American persons; a complaint was thereupon made by the American government, and my noble friend, (Lord Palmerston,) at that time at the head of the foreign office, replied that with regard to those persons the lord-lieutenant had due information, upon which he relied, that those persons were engaged in practices tending to subvert the authority of the crown, and were aiding practices which were being pursued in that part of the kingdom. Those persons were never brought to trial, but on that authority they were arrested. After this civil war broke out in America, complaints were made by certain British subjects that they had been arrested upon suspicion. I immediately directed Lord Lyons to complain of that act as an act enforced by the sole authority of the President of the United States, and especially in regard to one of those persons there seemed very light grounds for suspicion, and I said he ought not to be detained. I am not here to vindicate the acts of the American government for one or for any of those cases. Whether they had good grounds for suspicion, or whether they had light grounds for suspicion, it is not for me here to say. If I thought there were light grounds for suspicion, it was my business to represent that to the government of the United States, but it is not my business to undertake their defence in this house. The American minister replied that the President had, by the Constitution, the right, in time of war or rebellien, to arrest persons upon suspicion, and to confine them in prison during his will and pleasure. This question has been much debated in America, and judges of high authority have declared that the writ of habeas corpus could not be suspended except by an act of Congress. But certain lawyers have written on both sides of the question; and I have recently received a pamphlet, in which it is laid down that the meaning of the law of the United States is, that the writ of habeas corpus can be suspended on the sole authority of the President of the United States. The question itself was brought before Congress, and a resolution was proposed that there should be no arbitrary arrests except with the sanction of Congress. But it was contended that it was part of the prerogative of the President; and a large majority decided that the question should not be discussed, and thereby left the President to act for himself. So much for the power given by the Constitution of the United States. With regard to the particular acts which the Secretary of State, under the sanction of the President, has authorized as to the arrest of British subjects as well as American subjects, I am not here to defend those arrests, but I certainly do contend that it is an authority
which must belong to some person in the government, if they believe that persons are engaged in treasonable conspiracies in the taking part as spies, or in furnishing arms against the government. I believe that in regard to many of the cases of arbitrary authority that power was abused. I believe that, not only with regard to persons arrested, but in the course pursued, there was unnecessary suspicion; but I do not find that in any case there has been any refusal to allow British consuls at places where convenient to hear the cases of those persons, or when a statement was made by the British minister that Lord Lyons was slow in representing the case to Mr. Seward. Lord Lyons represented to me that these cases took up a very great part of his time, and he was anxious to investigate every one of them. Nor can I say that Mr. Seward has refused at any time to listen to those complaints. He has always stated that he had information upon which he could depend that these persons were engaged in treasonable practices against the government of the United States. That being the question, the noble earl states, upon his own authority, that the arrests are illegal, and that the persons are kept in prison illegally. But that is more than I can venture to say. I can hardly venture to say that the President of the United States has not the power-supposing persons are engaged in treasonable conspiracies against the authority of the government-to keep them in prison without bringing them to trial; and it would require a strong denial of the authority of the law officers of the United States before I could presume to say that the President of the United States had not that power. With regard to the particular cases which the noble earl has referred to, I am unable to say whether or not some of those persons may not have been engaged in these conspiracies. We all know that during the time in which the United States have been divided there has been much sympathy shown in this country on one side and on the other-some have shown a strong sympathy for the north, and some for the south. (Hear, hear.) With regard to some of those cases, I have stated I thought the circumstances were such that it was quite evident that they had not been engaged in any conspiracy. There was one gentleman who happened to be a partner in a firm, and the other partners had great connexions with the south. It was true that the firm had strong southern sympathies, but the gentleman himself was a firm supporter of the government of the Union. It was the mere circumstance of letters being sent to his partner which induced his arrest. I thought that a most arbitrary and unjust proceeding. (Hear.) Mr. Seward said he thought the circumstances were enough to induce suspicion, but that as soon as it was ascertained that there was no ground for that suspicion that gentleman was released. An innocent person being arrested and confined for several days in prison was undoubtedly a great grievance, and one for which he was entitled to compensation; but beyond the right to complain, and beyond the constant remonstrances of Lord Lyons, the British minister, in every such case, I do not hold that the circumstances warrant further interference. I believe the gentleman to whom I allude had stated that he expected his own friends would procure his release. The noble lord mentioned three cases. I was not aware of the cases the noble earl would mention. But with regard to Mr. Green, this is the statement he made on the fifth of September: "I desire no action to be taken by my friends in England in consequence of my arrest. Lord Lyons has represented my case, and it will receive investigation in due time. Meanwhile I am in the hands of the officers of this fort." There have been other cases of arrest and imprisonment under circumstances involving considerable hardship. There have been many cases of arbitrary imprisonment without trial; and these cases of arbitrary imprisonment have taken place under a government which is engaged in a civil war, perhaps one of the most serious and for