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insult is of such a character, that it can only be atoned for by a war with a kindred people; and to estimate the future as well as the immediate consequences of such a contest.
The English Government has reduced the dispute to a very narrow and simple issue. It is not denied that the Americans have a right to search neutral vessels for articles contraband to war. It is a right we have always exercised in time of war, and refused to forego. The right of the American captain to seize the Confederate Commissioners is neither affirmed nor denied. Our formal complaint is that the proceeding was informal; that the Trent should have been taken into an American port, and the case decided by an American Prize Court. In that case there is little doubt that the vessel would have been condemned, and we imply, by our demand for reparation because such a course was not pursued, that we should have submitted to the adverse judgment of the American tribunal. Mr. Seward will not have much difficulty in answering the complaint of the English Government. He may express regret that the proceedings of the American captain were informal. He may excuse the proceeding on the ground of the desire of the Federal Government not to embarrass the commerce of a neutral and friendly Power. He may urge that taking the Confederate Commissioners, and allowing the Trent to proceed on her voyage, was a proof of amity, not an evidence of enmity. He
may promise on behalf of his Government to repair the error. He may offer to submit the case to an American Prize Court. If the decision is adverse to the seizure of the Trent, the Confederate Commissioners may be given up to England, and amply compensated for their illegal detention. If they are declared to be contraband to war, then they are not in a worse position than they would have been if the proceedings of the Federal captain had been according to the law of nations. Such an answer will, we anticipate, be returned to the despatch of the English Government. It will express regret at the informality of the American captain's proceeding; an assurance that it arose from friendship and not from any feeling of enmity; and that the Federal Government is ready and willing to submit the case to the proper tribunal, and abide by its decision. It is not improbable, unless the popular excitement renders such a course dangerous, that an offer will be made to give the Confederate Commissioners into the custody of England pending the judicial inquiry.
Will such an answer to our demand for reparation satisfy us? If not, what will be our rejoinder? The English Government complains of an illegal mode of procedure, and the Federal Government expresses its regret that its officer should have acted informally, and promises to submit the affair to the tribunal to which we say it should have been submitted in the first instance. What more do we require? Our
lawyers may be of opinion that the offered reparation. does not fulfil all the requirements of the law. It may be urged that the parties interested in the affair ought to be placed in precisely the same position they occupied before the illegal act. What, the Confederate Commissioners on board the Trent, and the Trent within hail of the San Jacinto? To insist upon such a punctilio would be unworthy of our greatness; and virtually, if we have correctly stated the substance of Mr. Seward's answer to our demand, Messrs. Slidell and Mason are in a perfectly analogous position. They will be brought to the trial we demand for them, and if they have been illegally imprisoned, they will be compensated for the detention. We cannot ask the Federal Government to place Messrs. Slidell and Mason in a better position than they would have been in if the Captain of the San Jacinto had acted legally. We may demand some reparation for the insult to the British flag. Now, according to the demand of the English Government, the insult did not consist in stopping the Trent, or in searching the Trent, or in seizing the Confederate Commissioners; but in seizing Messrs. Slidell and Mason without taking the Trent into an American port, and bringing the matter before an American Prize Court. Is an informality a kind of insult that can only be wiped out with blood? Will not an expression of regret, and an explanation that the infraction was intended as an act of courtesy, be
sufficient? Will it not be rather more fastidious than high-spirited to insist upon the punishment of the officer, who has shown himself so little acquainted with Vattel, Puffendorf, Grotius, and Stowell? The disavowal of his informal proceeding by the Federal Government will be a censure on his conduct. The firing shot and shell, not at, but across the bows of the Trent was a gross breach of etiquette; but a breach of etiquette is not a casus belli.
But the demand of the English Government does not express the feeling that this unhappy affair has engendered in the minds of the English public. It is not the mere informality of the proceeding that has given rise to so much angry excitement. English people do not plunge into war for an idea, or a breach of etiquette, or a legal informality. In the first place, though we are forced to acknowledge the right of search, it rather irritates us to have to submit to it. The ocean is our dominion, and we do not like to see Britannia having to submit to laws which she has promulgated. And it must be confessed that the right of search ought to be exercised with great moderation, and is, at the best, likely to lead to misunderstanding. Still, we are too just to allow this national feeling make us deny an indisputable right. The main offence is the seizure of the Confederate Commissioners; and we should not have been the less displeased, had they been taken after the condemnation of an American Prize Court. The idea of the English public is, that
because Messrs. Slidell and Mason were sailing under the protection of the English flag, they ought not, under any circumstances, to have been taken.
Now, we must remember that Messrs. Slidell and Mason were not refugees. They were not in the position of the Hungarian leaders in Turkey. At the time of their seizure they were actually engaged in carrying on a rebellion against the Federal Government. They were not taken merely because they were Southerners or rebels. The members of their families and retinues, excepting their secretaries, who held official places, were allowed to proceed on their voyage. They were seized as rebel leaders, then and there engaged in a rebellious mission. Should we permit Frenchmen openly to carry on a rebellion in London against the Emperor of the French? England and the English flag are asylums for political refugees, but not for men actually engaged in rebellion. It will be urged that secession is not rebellion. We reply that till this moment we do recognise the Federal Government, but we do not recognize the Confederate Government. We may sympathize with the cause of the South, but we ought not to acknowledge Southern independence until it is achieved. Canada might revolt from England, and ultimately oblige us to acknowledge her independence; but we should justly complain if, during the struggle, the Federal Government treated Canada as an independent State, and that whilst at peace with England.