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a present the only leader." He believed that the popular clamor would soon pass away. George Ticknor Curtis maintained, in a Boston newspaper, that, whether the capture was justifiable or not, the prisoners could not be held because Wilkes had voluntarily let the ship go free, and thereby had made it impossible to obtain the required judgment of a judicial tribunal. "Our countrymen have not so little intelligence or so much false pride as not to be able or willing to see that a principle important to the peace of the world is involved in this case." This argument was probably in Seward's hands by December 22d."

From several of the most sober-minded Americans abroad came some very significant comments. Adams, whose wisdom increased with the emergency, strongly advised, on December 3d, against approving Wilkes's act, "unless we are ready also to assume their [Great Britain's] old arrogant claim of the dominion of the seas. Our neutral rights are as valuable to us as ever they were, whilst time has reflected nothing but credit on our steady defence of them against superior power."" Three days later he wrote again to Seward: "Ministers and people now fully believe it is the intention of the government to drive them into hostilities. My present expectation is that by the middle of January, at furthest, diplomatic relations will have been sundered between the two countries, without any act of mine." + A passage in an unpublished despatch that Dayton sent from Paris, December 3d, was still more discomfiting:

"It is very evident, however, that upon this question we will have scarcely a friend among the press or public men in Europe. The impression here, as in England, is getting to be general that we are a power reckless of the obligations of international law. I have been asked by intelligent

1 115 War Records, 1127-29.

3 115 War Records, 1116.

2 115 War Records, 1137-39.

4 115 War Records, 1119, 1120.

gentlemen here why it was that you seemed so determined to pick a quarrel" with England. It was vain to answer that no such determination did or could exist; that under present circumstances it would be an act of folly, little short of madness; they would not believe me. Still I cannot but feel that, right or wrong, this seizure of the Confederate commissioners on board a British ship has come at a most inopportune moment."


Thouvenel informed Dayton about this time that, in case of war, the moral force of French opinion would be against the United States, and that all the maritime powers with whom he had conferred agreed that Wilkes had violated international law.1 On December 5th John Bigelow wrote to Seward that the Trent affair was universally regarded here [in Paris] by the press, the people, and the government, as a rude assault upon the dignity of a neutral nation." He also prepared a letter expressing the belief that the United States would surrender the Confederates if Great Britain should adopt the liberal policy long favored by our government. Weed had it signed by General Scott, then in Paris.3 This so-called Scott letter was published there as early as December 4th. It was quoted throughout Europe, and appeared in the New York Times of December 19th. Weed's reports and opinions sent to Seward were very 'positive in opposition to approving Wilkes's act, and must have had much weight."

1 Dip. Cor., 1862, 307.

3 1 Weed, 655, 656.

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2 Seward MSS.

4 3 Seward, 27, 28.

5 Here are a few sentences:-December 2d: "I saw a letter from a high source from London, in which it is again said that you want to provoke a war with England for the purpose of getting Canada. You are in a tight place,' and I pray that you may be imbued with the wisdom the emergency requires. This is true." December 4th: "Systematic agencies and efforts must have been employed to poison both the English government and people against you. It crops out in the London journals through all their articles. . . . All around they [your friends] found people fortified with evidences of your hostility to England." December 6th: "What I mentioned yesterday about

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But what were Seward's acts and thoughts during the five weeks between the time of learning of the incident and of being informed of Great Britain's attitude? Several years afterward Gideon Welles stated that at first no man was more elated and jubilant over the capture of the emissaries than Mr. Seward." This is not improbable; were it otherwise Seward would have been a rare exception. Postmaster-General Blair, alone of all the members of the Cabinet, is known to have immediately judged the affair correctly." Seward's habits and associations were most likely to lead him to regard the probable political results as being of prime consideration. Whatever may have been his first impulses or private opinion, he was certainly non-committal so far as the public knew. Three facts of importance are now known: that he believed France, and perhaps Great Britain, to be on the verge of intervention of some sort; that he had so earnestly deprecated European interference, and the war sure to follow, as to send abroad special commissioners, and to employ his best faculties to try to remove all excuses for less amicable relations; and that the Trent incident was wholly unexpected and antagonistic so far as Seward and the diplomatic plans of the administration were concerned. His habitual tenacity of purpose was likely to hold him to his policy of avoiding a war. But there was the popular applause of Wilkes; and it always made Seward very unhappy to find that the people were against him, unless he felt confi

the Duke of Newcastle is too true. Whatever you said to him has been used, first, to put the Ministry against you, and has now been given to the newspapers. ... God grant that you also foresaw the wisdom of concession to English tenacity about the honor of its flag. Everything here is upon a war footing. Such prompt and gigantic preparations were never known. I was told yesterday, repeatedly, that I ought to write the President demanding your dismissal.” -3 Seward, 27–29.

1 Lincoln and Seward, 185.

Welles, 186, 187.


dent of quickly winning them back to his side. In such circumstances the shrewd politician tries to wear a complacent look, while he waits until compelled to decide.

In a confidential despatch of November 27th Seward informed Adams that Wilkes had acted without instructions, and that, as Lord Lyons had not referred to the incident, "I thought it equally wise to reserve ourselves until we hear what the British government may have to say on the subject." Three days later he wrote that "we think it more prudent that the ground taken by the British government should be first made known to us here, and that the discussion, if there must be one, shall be had here." The slightest hint as to what was to be the policy of the government would have been of the greatest utility to Adams and Weed; but Weed complained, as late as December 31st, "I have not heard a syllable from you." Evidently Seward did not come to a definite conclusion until a few days after he knew the attitude of Great Britain.

On December 19th Lord Lyons acquainted Seward with the general nature of Russell's leading despatch. With perfect diplomacy the British Minister expressed his willingness to accept Seward's suggestions as to the easiest way to accomplish the arrangement Great Britain demanded. Lyons reported that Seward received the communication "seriously and with dignity, but without any manifestation of dissatisfaction "; he asked for two days' time before giving an opinion, and expressed himself as "very sensible of the friendly and conciliatory manner" in which the case had been presented. When Lord Lyons called again, Saturday, December 21st, Seward frankly said that other pressing duties had prevented him from fully mastering this question, and he requested that the formal presentation of the case

2 3 Seward, 32.

1 115 War Records, 1102, 1109.

3 115 War Records, 1135.


might be postponed until Monday. On Monday morning, the 23d, the British Minister returned, read the despatch, and left a copy, which Seward promised to lay before the President immediately.'


By this time Seward had a clear idea of the state of public opinion in Europe. Adams's warning and very impressive despatch of December 3d reached the department December 21st. By the same date he had undoubtedly read Weed's letter of the 2d, the so-called Scott letter, and the London and Paris papers of three or four days after the excitement burst forth. Dayton's despatch of the 3d and Adams's of the 6th arrived on the 24th and 25th, respectively. Bigelow's letter was in Seward's hands on the 25th. Probably all of Weed's letters prior to December 7th had been received by the 24th or the 25th. And the opinions of Ewing, Cass, Walker, George Ticknor Curtis, and many others were before him several days earlier.

The President and the Secretary of State did not agree when they reviewed the case. Lincoln said: "Governor Seward, you will go on, of course, preparing your answer, which, as I understand it, will state the reasons why they ought to be given up. Now, I have a mind to try my hand at stating the reasons why they ought not to be given up. We will compare the points on each side." "



The principal feature of the President's draft was a proposal to arbitrate the Trent incident and to bring into view the precedents in analogous cases and the position Great Britain had assumed toward the existing rebellion. Doubtless because it was found to be unsuited

1 115 War Records, 1142.

2 Department memorandum on despatch.

3 Department memorandum.

4 Seward's autograph memorandum on the letter.

5 3 Seward, 25.

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