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to be assured, meantime, that Congress would provide for them a just compensation for services thus lost to them. The time for emancipation had not come, in the opinion of the government. That Mr. Lincoln desired it, none can doubt; but he had undertaken to save the Union under the Constitutionto save the Union while preserving inviolate all the rights of all the states. He so understood the oath by which he was invested with power. Whatever might be his hatred of slavery-and it was the intensest passion of his life—he could only interfere with it as a military necessity-an essential means of saving the Union.
EARLY in November, an event occurred which gave to our relations with England a very threatening aspect—an event which aroused the ire of the British people to a feverish pitch, encouraged the rebels, and filled with uneasiness the friends of the government. Although the blockade, under the energetic feasures of the government, had become something very different from a blockade on paper, there
many ports in the southern states which carried on a large contraband commerce, through the agency of blockade-runners, the majority of which were owned in England, and navigated by British seamen. The capture of the Hatteras forts and of the defenses of Port Royal Harbor had shut two of these ports; but Charleston, notwithstanding all the efforts of the blockading fleet, continued to receive numbers of foreign vessels, and to dispatch them in safety. On the twelfth of October, the steamship Theodora shot out of that harbor, with two notorious rebels on board, James M. Mason and John Slidell, both perjured senators of the United States, and accredited by the Davis government respectively to the governments of England and France. They went to get recognition for their government. They went as enemies of the United States.
Proceeding to Cuba, these emissaries took passage from Havana on the seventh of November, on the British mail steamer Trent, bound immediately for St. Thomas. On the following day, the Trent was hailed by the United States frigate San Jacinto, Captain Wilkes, who directed a shot
across her bows to bring her to. Then two officers and twenty men, more or less, put off from the San Jacinto, boarded the Trent, and, after a search, took cut Mr. Ma-on and Mr. Slidell and their two secretaries, and, by force, against the protest of the Trent's officers, bore them to their vessel. These rebel emissaries Captain Wilkes brought to the United States, and they were lodged in Fort Warren.
The excitement which this affair produced in both countries was intense, and but little favorable to its calm consideration. It was unquestionably a doubtful proceeding, and cool British blood came up to a boiling heat wherever in England or her provinces the intelligence of the affair was published. The news found the loyal people of America smarting under a sense of the injustice of the relation which England had assumed toward their struggle, and sensitive to the insults which their people had received from the British press and public. America came to care less for England afterward; båt then she was sensitive in every fiber to her opinion, her lack of sympathy, and her covert aid to the rebellion. To the American public the news of this capture was most grateful. They felt that whatever the laws of nations might be—and in these they were but little versed—it was morally right that these men should be in their power, and that it was morally wrong that any other power should have our traitors under its protection. So they greeted the event with huzzas, and made a hero of the impulsive Captain Wilkes, who, though a most loyal and excellent person, was possessed by a zeal that sometimes surpassed his discretion.
The cffect of this capture was, of course, foreseen by the government; and on the thirtieth of November Mr. Sewird communicated to Mr. Adams, our minister in England), a statement of the facts, with the assurance that Captain Wilkes had acted without any instructions from the government, and that our government was prepared to discuss the matter in a friendly spirit, so soon as the position of the British government should be made known. Earl Russell wrote under the same date to Lord Lyons, rehearsing his understanding of the facts of the case, and saying that his government was “willing to believe that the naval cfficer who committed the aggression was not acting in compliance with any authority from his government,” because the government of the United States “must be fully aware that the British government could not allow such an affront to the national honor to pass without full reparation.” The minister expressed the hope that the United States would, of its own motion, release the commissioners, and make an apology.
This was a very sensible and neighborly dispatch, but Earl Russell seems to have been subjected afterward to a pressure that changed his feelings and sharpened his policy, for, in a subsequent note, he transformed his polite dispatch into an insulting ultimatum. Lord Lyons was directed to wait seven days after having made his demand for reparation; and then, in case no answer should be given, or any other answer should be given than a full compliance with the terms of the demand, he should pack up the archives of the legation, and return to London, bringing his archives with him. Usually an ultimatum comes at the end of a long series of negotiations—after all the resources of diplomacy are exhausted—after there is plainly seen to be a warlike, or unreasonable, or contumacious spirit on the part of the power from which redress is sought. Earl Russell gave Mr. Lincoln his ultimatum at the start. It was an insult,a threat. It was uttered to gratify the warlike feeling of the British people. There is no question that they desired war; and when the British people are mentioned in this connection, those are meant who, in print and speech, represent them and assume to speak for them. War with America was looked upon in England as probable. Measures were taken to prepare for it. Indeed, many of the London journals regarded war as inevitable; and when the peaceful nature of Mr. Seward's first dispatches were known, the Morning Post hastened to publish in large type an official contradiction of the news. “ The war will be terrible," said the London journals. “It will begin by a recognition of the South, by the alliance of the South, by the assured triumph of the South.” That was the precise point. War was wanted by the people, that their cherished desire for the disruption of the Republic might be fulfilled; and they were disappointed when they found that even an impertinent ultimatum could not bring it.
If British statesmen sympathized with these views and feelings,—and some of them did,—it showed how poorly informed they were; for there was never anything in the difficulty, from the first, to give either government alarm. The British people found that there was a government at Washington,calm, dignified and intelligent, not under the control of the mob at all, and showing, in the cool independence of its action, its entire freedom from the misdirected passions of the people. Only in the early approval of the Secretary of the Navy and of the lower House of Congress, awarded to Captain Wilkes, was there anything to give the British government cause of alarm, or ground of serious complaint; and the news of these ill-advised indorsements reached England after the tempest of passion had been spent.
On the twenty-sixth of December Mr. Seward addressed a note to Lord Lyons, in which he elaborately discussed all the questions growing out of the case. The paper was one of great moderation, and consummate ability-indeed, one of the finest to which he ever gave utterance. It was a profound lesson in the law of nations, which could not be read without benefit by statesmen everywhere. By it the British government learned that there were two sides to the case, and that there was something to be said upon the side of Captain Wilkes; for in it he argued most ingeniously, if not in all instances decisivoly, that Messrs. Mason and Slidell and their dispatches were contraband of war, that Captain Wilkes might lawfully stop and search the Trent for contraband persons and dispatches, and that he had the right to capture the persons presumed to have contraband dispatches. He did not, however, exercise the right of capture in the manner allowed and recognized by the laws of nations, as understood and practically entertained by the American government. “If I decide this