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Meeting of Congress.
Mason and Slidell.
THE CONGRESS OF 1861-2.
The Military Situation--Seizure of Mason and Slidell-Opposition to the Administration
President's Message-Financial Legislation Committee on the Conduct of the WarConfiscation Bill.
At the time of the re-assembling of Congress, December 2d, 1861, the military situation was by no means as promising as the liberal expenditure of money and the earnest efforts of the Administration toward a vigorous prosecution of the war might have led the people to expect. True, the National Capitol had been protected, and Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri had not, as had been at various times threatened, been brought in subjection to the rebels. Nothing more, however—though this would have been judged no little, had the people been less sanguine of great results immediately at hand—than this had been accomplished in the East; and in the West, large rebel forces threatened Kentucky and Missouri, and the Mississippi river was in their possession from its mouth to within a short distance of the mouth of the Ohio.
The seizure of the emissaries, Mason and Slidell likewisethough afterwards disposed of by the Government in such a way as to secure the acquiescence of the nation-taken in connection with the position assumed by the British Government-in every way unpalatable to the mass of the people-seemed likely to entangle us in foreign complications exceedingly undesirable at that juncture. It was generally believed that England and France, while neutral on the surface, were in reality affording very material aid and comfort to the rebel cause, our commercial interests being very seriously impaired
by the construction wbich those powers saw fit to place upon their duties as neutrals.
Efforts, moreover, were making to organize a formidable party in antagonism to the Administration, comprising the loose ends of every class of malcontents; those who had always opposed the war, though for a time cowed down by the outburst which followed the fall of Sumter; those who were satisfied that no more progress had been made; those who were inclined, constitutionally, to oppose any thing which any Administration, under any circumstances, might do; those who were beginning to tire of the war, and were ready to patch matters up in any way, so only that it should come to an end; and those who were on the alert for some chance whereby to make capital, political or pecuniary, for their own dear selves.
As a whole, affairs wore by no means a cheering aspect at the opening of this Session.
That the President was fully alive to the true state of the case, the views announced in the following message clearly show:
“FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:- In the midst of unprecedented political troubles, we have cause of great gratitude to God for unusual good health and most abundant harvests.
“You will not be surprised to learn that, in the peculiar exigences of the times, our intercourse with foreign nations has been attended with profound solicitude, chiefly turning upon our own domestic affairs.
"A. disloyal portion of the American people have, during the whole year, been engaged in an attempt to divide and destroy the Union. A nation which endures factious domestic division, is exposed to disrespect abroad; and one party, if not both, is sure, sooner or later, to invoke foreign intervention.
“Nations thus tempted to interfere, are not always able to
Foreign Aid to Rebels.
resist the counsels of seeming expediency and ungenerous ambition, although measures adopted under such influences seldom fail to be unfortunate and injurious to those adopting them.
“The disloyal citizens of the United States who have offered the ruin of our country, in return for the aid and comfort which they have invoked abroad, have received less patronage and encouragement than they probably expected. If it were just to suppose, as the insurgents have seemed to assume, that foreign nations, in this case, discarding all moral, social and treaty obligations, would act solely, and selfishly, for the most speedy restoration of commerce, including, especially, the acquisition of cotton, those nations appear, as yet, not to have seen their way to their objects more directly, or clearly, through the destruction than through the preservation of the Union. If we could dare to believe that foreign nations are actuated by no higher principle than this, I am quite sure a sound argument could be made to show them that they can reach their aim more readily and easily by aiding to crush this rebellion than by giving encouragement to it.
"The principal lever relied on by the insurgents for exciting foreign nations to hostility against us, as already intimated, is the embarrassment of commerce. Those nations, however, not improbably, saw from the first, that it was the Union which made, as well our foreign, as our domestic commerce. They can scarcely bave failed to perceive that the effort for disunion produces the existing difficulty; and that one strong nation promises more durable peace, and a more extensive, valuable and reliable commerce, than can the same nation broken into hostile fragments.
“It is not my purpose to review our discussions with foreign States; because whatever might be their wishes or dispositions, the integrity of our country and the stability of our Government mainly depend, not upon them, but on the loyalty, virtue, patriotism and intelligence of the American
people. The correspondence itself, with the usual reservations, is herewith submitted.
I venture to hope it will appear that we have practiced prudence and liberality toward foreign powers, averting causes of irritation, and with firmness maintaining our own rights and honor.
"Since, however, it is apparent that here, as in every other State, foreign dangers necessarily attend domestic difficulties, I recommend that adequate and ample measures be adopted for maintaining the public defences on every side. While, under this general recommendation, provision for defending our sea-coast line readily occurs to the mind, I also, in the same connection, ask the attention of Congress to our great lakes and rivers. It is believed that some fortifications and depots of arms and munitions, with harbor and navigation improvements, all at well-selected points upon these, would be of great importance to the National defence and preservation. I ask attention to the views of the Secretary of War, expressed in his report, upon the same general subject.
“I deem it of importance that the loyal regions of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina should be connected with Kentucky, and other faithful parts of the Union, by railroad. I therefore recommend, as a military measure, that Congress provide for the construction of such road as speedily as possible. Kentucky, no doubt, will co-operate, and, through her Legislature, make the most judicious selection of a line. The northern terminus must connect with some existing railroad; and whether the route shall be from Lex ington or Nicholasville to the Cumberland Gap, or from Lebanon to the Tennessee line, in the direction of Knoxville, or on some still different line, can easily be determined. Kentucky and the General Government coöperating, the work can be completed in a very short time; and when done, it will be not only of vast present usefulness, but also a
Claims against China.
valuable permanent improvement, worth its cost in all the future,
“Some treaties, designed chiefly for the interests of commerce, and having no grave political importance, have been negotiated, and will be submitted to the Senate for their consideration.
“Although we have failed to induce some of the commercial powers to adopt a desirable amelioration of the rigor of maritime war, we have removed all obstructions from the way of this humane reform, except such as are merely of temporary and accidental occurrence.
“I invite your attention to the correspondence between Her Britannic Majesty's Minister, accredited to this Government, and the Secretary of State, relative to the detention of the British ship Perthshire, in June last, by the United States steamer Massachusetts, for a supposed breach of the blockade. As this detention was occasioned by an obvious misapprehension of the facts, and as justice requires that we should commit no belligerent act not founded in strict right, as sanctioned by public law, I recommend that an appropriation be made to satisfy the reasonable demand of the owners of the vessel for her detention.
"I repeat the recommendation of my predecessor, in his annual message to Congress in December last, in regard to the disposition of the surplus which will probably remain after satisfying the claims of the American citizens against China, pursuant to the awards of the commissioners under
he act of the 3d of March, 1859. If, however, it should not be deemed advisable to carry that recommendation into effect, I would suggest that authority be given for investing the principal, over the proceeds of the surplus referred to, in good securities, with a view to the satisfaction of such other just claims of our citizens against China as are not unlikely to arise hereafter in the course of our extensive trade with that empire.