« PreviousContinue »
CAPTURE OF MASON AND SLIDELL.
sent, and Mason and Slidell, compelled to yield to circumstances, went quietly on board the San Jacinto with their secretaries. The Trent, with the families of Slidell and Eustis on board, and its large number of passengers, was permitted to proceed on its voyage, after a detention of only little more than two hours. The captives were conveyed first to New York and then to Boston Harbor, where they were furnished with quarters in Fort Warren,' then used as a prison for political offenders, under the charge of Captain Dimick, the defender of Fortress Monroe against the Virginia insurgents.
The act of Captain Wilkes was universally applauded by loyal men, and filled the land with rejoicings because two of the worst of the conspirators were in the custody of the Government. For the moment men did not stop to consider either the law or the expediency involved in the act. Public honors were tendered to Commander Wilkes, and resolutions of thanks were passed by public bodies. He partook of a public dinner in Boston. The New York Historical Society, while he was present at a stated meeting, elected him an honorary member of that body, by Dec. ,
1861 acclamation. Two days afterward, he was publicly received by
Slidell, and their secretaries, produced great excitement. The Captain was asked to show his passenger-list. He refused to do so. Fairfax then said that the vessel would not be allowed to proceed until he was satisfied whether the men he was seeking were on board or not. These, hearing their names mentioned, came forward. They protested against arrest, and in this act they were joined by Captain Moir, and by the Mail Agent, Captaia Williams, of the Royal Navy, who said he was the “ representative of Her Majesty.”
The “Ambassadors” refused to leave the Trent, except by force. Fairfax called to his aid Lieutenant Greer, who came on board with a few marines. The Lieutenant then took Mason by the shoulder, and, with another officer on the opposito side, conducteil him to the gangway of the steamer, and handed him over to Greer. He then returned for Slidell, who gave him to understand that a good deal of force would be required to make him go. The passengers gathered around in great commotion, making contemptuons remarks with threats of violence, and one cried out, “Shoot him!” The wife and danghter of Slidell joined in vebement protests, and the latter struck Fairfax in the face, according to the testimony of Capt. Williams, who told the story of this cabin scene in an after-dinner speech at Plymouth. “Some of the public papers," he said, “have described her as having slapped Mr. Fairfax's face. (Here his audience cried out, 'Served himn right if she did,' and 'Bravo.'] She did strike Mr. Fairfax," he continued, and the audience gave cheers in her honor. “But she did not do it with the vulgarity of gesture which has been attributed to her. Miss Slidell was with her father in the cabin, with her arm encircling his neck, and she wished to bo taken to prison with her father. (Hear, hear.) Mr. Fairfax attempted to get into the cabin-I do not say forcibly, for I do not say a word against Mr. Fairfar, so far as his manner is concerned-he attempted to get her away by inducements. In her agony, then, she did strike him in the face three times. I wish that Miss Slidell's little knuckles had struck me in the face. I should like to have the mark forever." Exclamations of “ Oh!” and laughter followed this assertion,
The marines were called in, and Slidell was compelled to go. McFarland and Eustis went quietly, under protest.
1 Fort Warren is on George's Island, and commands the main entrance to Boston Harbor. It is a strong work of masonry, with five fronts, the southern, eastern, and northern ones being seen in the little sketch. Around the main work is a ditch 30 feet in width. The entire circuit of the fort is 3,136 feet. Against the south front is an outwork of much strength, which is seen in the sketch.
2 See page 498, volume I.
3 The crew of the San Jacinto presented to Lieutenant Fairfax, on board that vessel, in Boston Harbor, a beautiful silver goblet, with national, naval, and military devices on it, and the inscription," Presented to Lieutenant Fairfax, by the crew of the San Jacinto, as a slight token of their esteem and love."
CAPTAIN WILKES'S AOT APPROVED.
a Nov. 30,
6 Dec, 2.
the authorities of the City of New York; and on his arrival in Washington
honors. Already the Secretary of the Navy had written to him
rendered “in capturing the rebel emissaries, Mason and Slidell,” who, the Secretary said, “have been conspicuous in the conspiracy to dissolve the Union; and it is well known that, when seized by you, they were on a mission hostile to the Government and the country.” He assured him that his conduct had “the emphatic approval of the Department.” In his annual report, submitted to Congress three days afterward, the Secretary as emphatically approved Wilkes's course, and at the same time remarked that his generous forbearance in not capturing the Trent must not be “permitted to constitute a precedent hereafter for the treatment of any case of similar infraction of neutral obligations by foreign vessels engaged in commerce or the carrying trade.”
On the first day of the Session of Congress,' the House of
Representatives, on motion of Mr. Lovejoy, of Illinois, tendered “the thanks of Congress to Captain Wilkes, for his arrest of the traitors Slidell and Mason." By a further resolution, the President was requested, in retaliation for the outrageous treatment of Colonel Corcoran, then a prisoner in the hands of the Confederates, in confining him in the cell of a convicted felon, to subject Mason to like treatment in Fort Warren.'
By most of the writers on international law in the United States, instructed by the doctrines and practices of Great Britain, the essays of British publicists, the decisions of British courts, and by the law as laid down by the Queen's recent proclamation, the act of Captain Wilkes was decided to be abundantly justified. But there was one thoughtful man, in whom was vested the tremendous executive power of the nation at that time, and whose vision was constantly endeavoring to explore the mysteries of the near future, who had indulged calmer and wiser thoughts than most men at that moment, because his feelings were kept in subjection to his judgment by a sense of heavy responsibility. That man was Abraham Lincoln. The author was in Washington city when the news reached there of the capture of the conspirators, and he was in the office of the Secretary of War when the electrograph containing it was brought in and read. He can never forget the scene that ensued. Led by the Secretary, who was followed by Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, and others, cheer after cheer was given by the company, with a will. Later in the day, the writer, accompanied by the late Elisha Whittlesey, First Comptroller of the Treasury, was favored with a brief interview with the President, when the clear judgment of that far-seeing and sagacious statesman uttered through his lips the words which formed the key-note to the judicious action of the Secretary of State afterward. “I fear the traitors will prove to be white elephants,” said Mr. Lincoln. * We must stick to American principles concerning the rights of neutrals. fought Great Britain for insisting, by theory and practice, on the right to do
1 Report of the Proceedings of Congress in the Congressional Globe, Dec. 20, 1861.
? See page 567. volume I. of this work. In that proclamation, after enumerating many acts that would be a violation of the duty of neutrals, the Queen specified that of“ carrying officers, soldiers, dispatches," et cetera. Mason and Slidell were civil officers of the Confederacy, and were themselves living dispatches.
precisely what Captain Wilkes has done. If Great Britain shall now protest against the act, and demands their release, we must give them up, apologize for the act as a violation of our doctrines, and thus forever bind her over to keep the peace in relation to neutrals, and so acknowledge that she has been wrong for sixty years."
That demand speedily came. When intelligence of the affair on board the Trent reached England, and details were given by “Captain Williams, R. N.,” in a public communication dated at sea, Noyember 9th (and also in his after-dinner speech already mentioned), in which he so highly colored a few facts that the courteous acts of Lieutenant Fairfax were made to appear
| For more than a hundred years Great Britain had denied tho sanctity of a neutral ship, when her interests seemed to require its violation. That Power had acquired full supremacy of the seas at the middle of the last century, and Thompson had written that offering to British pride, the song of “Rulo Britannia," boastingly Asserting that,
When Britain first, at Heaven's command,
Arose from out the azure main,
And guardian angels sung the strain-
Britons never shall be slaves!" Conscions of its might, Great Britain made a new law of nations, for its own benefit, in 1756. Frederick the Great of Prussia had declared that the goods of an enemy cannot be taken from on board the ships of a friend. A British order in Council was immediately issued, declaring the reverse of this to be " the law of nations, " and forbidding neutral vessels to carry merchandise belonging to those with whom she might be at war. So violative of the golden rulo was this order, that the publicists of Great Britain found it necessary, ont of respect for tho opinions of mankind, to put forth specious sophistries to prove that England was not ambitious!
Under what was called " The Rule of 1756," the British navy began to depredate npon the commerce of the world. The solemn treaty made by Great Britain with Holland, eighty-two years before, in which it was expressly stipulated that free ships should make freo goods—that a neutral flag should protect a neutral bottom --that the contraband of war should be strictly limited “to arms, artillery, and horses, and to includo naval materials," was wantonly violated by the posgassion of might. The vessels of Holland were not only prohibited from carrying naval stores, but were scized, and their cargoes used for the benefit of the English war-marine. From that time until the prosent, Great Britain has steadily adhered to “The Rule of 1736," excepting in a few instances, when it suited her interests to make a temporary change in her policy. So injuriously did this * Rule," practically e:forced, operate upon the commerce of tho world for England's benefit, that in 1750 tho northern powers of Europe Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland--formed a treaty of alliance, called tho ** Armed Neutrality," to resist the pretensions and evil practices of Great Britain. The doctrine of the leaguo was that of Frederick, but much enlarged. Armaments were prepared to sustain the doctrine, but Great Britain's naval strength was too great, and the effort failed,
. In 1793, when Great Britain was at war with France, "The Rulo of 1756" was again put into active operation. By an order in Council, it was directed that “all vessels laden with goods, the produce of any rolony of France, or carrying provisions or supplies for such colony, should be seized and brought in for avjudication." This was aimed at American commerce, which was then exciting the envy of the British. To that commerce France had then opened all her West India ports. Tho order was secretly circulated among the British cruisers, and captures were made under it before its existence was known in London! For that treachery, English statesmen ani publicists offered the selfish esense that it was “ British policy to maintain for that power the supremacy of the seas," that its children might continue to sing "Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves."
These aggressions were soon followed by more serious outrages against the rights of friends, or neutrale. Great Britain declared its right to search any vessel on the high seas, and take therefroin any subject of hers found there. This was a "new law of nations," promulgated by Great Britain to suit her necessities. Iler cruisers roamed the seas, and held no flag to be an absolute protection of what was beneath it. Seamen wer' continually dragged from American vessels and placed in the British navy. The British cruisers were not very particular when they wanted seamen, and under the pretext of claiming the subjects of His Majesty, about 14,000 American citizens were forced into the British service in the course of twelve or fifteen years. This practice was one of the chief causes of the war declared against Great Britain by the United States in 1812. In the midst of that war, when overtures for peace o: righteous terms were offered by the Americans, the right of search and impressment was insisteil upon by a carefully prepared manifesto of the acting head of the British Government, in which it was declared that “if Imerica, by demanding this preliminary concession, intends to deny the validity of that right, in that denial Great Britain cannot acquiesce, nor will sho give countenance to such pretensions by acceding to its suspension, much less to its abandonment, as a basis on which to treat,"
The war went on, and when it was endel Great Britair yet inaintained the doctrine laid down in "The Rule of 1756," and continued to insist, until 1961, upon the right of a nation at Wir to enter the ship of a neutral power in search and for the seizure of its subjects, or articles contraband of war, or things intended to be injorious to the British nation. In doctrine and practico, Great Britain justified the set of Captain Wilkos.
ABUSE BY THE ENGLISH PRESS.
like rude outrages, a storm of indignation was raised. The most violent and coarse abuse of Americans was uttered by a portion of the British press;
and the most absurd threats of vengeance on the offending nation were put forth. Of the courteous and accomplished gentleman, Captain Wilkes, the London Times, the accredited exponent of the opinions of the Government and the ruling class, said: "He is unfortunately but too faithful a type of the people in whose foul mission he is engaged. He is an ideal Yankee. Swagger and ferocity, built up on a foundation of vulgarity and cowardice—these are his characteristics, and these are the most prominent marks by which his countrymen, generally speaking, are known all over the world. To bully the weak, to triumph over the helpless, to trample on every law of country and custom, willfully to violate all the most sacred interests of human nature, to defy as long as danger does not appear, and, as soon as real peril shows itself, to sneak aside and run away—these are the virtues of the race which presumes to announce itself as the leader of civilization and the prophet of human progress in these latter days. By Captain Wilkes let the Yankee breed be judged."
Other publications, of higher and lower character than the Times, used equally offensive language;' and the Government itself, without waiting to hear a word from the United States on the subject, at once assumed a belligerent position, and made energetic preparations for war.
So urgent seemed the necessity, that not an hour of procrastination was permitted. All through Sunday, the 1st of December (immediately after the arrival of the passengers of the Trent), men were engaged in the Tower of London in pack
ing twenty-five thousand muskets to be sent to Canada. On the 4th,' a royal proclamation was issued, prohibiting the exporta
tion of arms and munitions of war; and the shipment of saltpeter was stopped. A general panic prevailed in business circles. Visions of British privateers sweeping American commerce from the seas floated before the English mind, and no insurance on American vessels could be obtained. American securities dropped amazingly, and large fortunes were made by wise ones, under the shadow of high places, who purchased and held them for a “rise”! Orders were issued for a large increase in the naval squadrons on the North American and West India stations, and powerful transports were called for. The great steam-packet Persia was taken from the mailservice, to be employed in carrying troops to Canada. The immense ironclad Warrior, supposed to be invincible, was fitted out for service in haste. Armstrong and Whitworth cannon were purchased by the score; and preparations were made for sending various conspicuous batteries and regiments
1 The Saturday Reciero, conducted chictly by inembers of the British aristocracy, said with a bitter sneer, "The American Government is in the position of the rude boor, conscious of infinite powers of annoyance, destitute alike of scruples and of shame, recognizing only the arbitration of the strong arm, which repudiate's the appeal to codes, and presuming, not without reason, that more scrupulous States will avoid or defer such an arbitration as long as ever they can.” The London Punch gave, in one of its cartoons, a picture representing the relative position of the two Governments at that crisis. America appeared as a diminutive blusterer, in the form of a slave-driver, and carrying an American flag. Before himn is a huge English sailor, impersonating Great Britain, who says to the little American, “You do what's right, my son, or I'll blow you out of the water.”—“Now, inind you, sir," says the Briton, to a most uncouth American Commodore-"no shuffling-an amplo apology-—or I will put the matter into the hands of my lawyers, Messrs. Whitworth and Armstrong," alluding to the popular cannon invented by men of that name, and then extensively inanufactured in England, and afterward furnished in considerable numbers to the Confederates,
THE WISDOM OF JOHN BRIGHT.
to the expected "seat of war.” It seemed, from the action of the British Government, and the tone of the utterances of many of the British writers and speakers, that the time had come when the calamity of civil war that had overtaken the Republic of the West was considered England's opportunity to humble her rival. And it was with infinite delight that the conspirators at Richmond contemplated the probability of war between the two countries, for in that event they felt sure of achieving the independence of the Confederacy, and procuring its recognition as a nation by the powers of Europe.
Yet all Englishmen were not so ungenerous and mad. The great mass of the people—the governed class of Great Britain-continued to feel kindly toward the Americans,' and there were leading men, who, in the qualities of head and heart, towered above the common level of all society in England as Chimborazo rises above the common height of the Andes, who comprehended the character of our Government, the causes of the rebellion, and the war it was making upon the rights of man; and with a true catholic and Christian spirit they rebuked the selfishness of the ruling class. Among these, John Bright, the Quaker, and eminent British statesman, stood most conspicuous. In the midst of the tumultuous surges of popular excitement that rocked the British islands in December and January, his voice, in unison with that of Richard Cobden, was heard calmly speaking of righteousness and counseling peace. He appeared as the champion of the Republic against all its enemies, and his persuasions and warnings were heard and heeded by thousands of his countrymen. All through the war, John Bright in England, and Count de Gasparin in France," stool forth conspicuously as the representatives of the true democracy in America, and for their beneficent labors they now receive the benedictions of the good in all lands.
There were other men in Great Britain who had an intelligent conception of the machinery of our Government, and who could not be deceived by the sophistries of the disciples of Calhoun into a belief that the armed enemies of the Republic were any less rebels against sovereign authority than would a like band of insurgents be in Lancashire, or any county of England, arrayed
JOIN BRIG FIT.
1 In a speech in Parliament on the 17th of February, 1862, when appropriations for the army expenses in the contemplated war with the United Statos were under consideration, John Bright said: “ A large portion of the people of this country see in it a Government, a real Government; not a Government ruleg by a mob, and not a Government disregarding law. They believe it is a Government struggling for the integrity of a great country. They believe it is a country which is the home of every man who wants a home, and moreover they believe this—that the greatest of all crimes which any people in the history of the world has ever been con nected with-the keeping in slavery four millions of human beings—is, in the providence of a Power very much higher than that of the Prime Minister of England, or of the President of the United States, marching on, ng I believe, to its entire abolition."
See note 4, page 560, volume I.