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your Lordship kindly furnished me a copy, has been CAAP. II. carefully considered by the President; and he directs me to say that if there existed no fact or facts pertinent to the case, beyond those stated in said dispatch, the reparation sought by Great Britain from the United States would be justly due, and should be promptly made. The President is unwilling to believe that her Majesty's Government will press for a categorical answer upon what appears to him to be only a partial record, in the making up of which he has been allowed no part. He is reluctant to volunteer his view of the case, with no assurance that her Majesty's Government will consent to hear him; yet this much he directs me to say, that this Government has intended no affront to the British flag, or to the British nation; nor has it intended to force into discussion an embarrassing question, all which is evident by the fact hereby asserted, that the act complained of was done by the officer without orders from, or expectation of, the Government. But being done, it was no longer left to us to consider whether we might not, to avoid a controversy, waive an unimportant though a strict right; because we too, as well as Great Britain, have a people justly jealous of their rights, and in whose presence our Government could undo the act complained of only upon a fair showing that it was wrong, or at least very questionable. The United States Government and people are still willing to make reparation upon such showing
Accordingly I am instructed by the President to inquire whether her Majesty's Government will hear the United States upon the matter in question. The President desires, among other things, to bring into view, and have considered, the existing rebellion in the United States; the position Great Britain has assumed, including her Majesty's proclamation in relation thereto; the relation the persons whose seizure is the subject of complaint bore to the United States, and the object of their voyage at the time they were seized; the knowledge which the master of the Trent had of their relation to the United States, and of the object of their voyage, at the time he received them on board for the
the place of the seizure; and the precedents and respective posi
tions assumed, in analogous cases, between Great Britain and the United States.
Upon a submission containing the foregoing facts, with those set forth in the before-mentioned dispatch to your Lordship, together with all other facts which either party may deem material, I am instructed to say, the Government of the United States will, if agreed to by her Majesty's Government, go to such friendly arbitration as is usual among nations, and will abide the award.
Or, in the alternative, her Majesty's Government may, upon the same record, determine whether any, and if any, what, reparation is due from the United States; provided no such reparation shall be different in character from, nor transcend, that proposed by your Lordship, as instructed in and by the dispatch aforesaid; and provided further, that the determination thus made shall be the law for all future analogous cases between Great Britain and the United States.
We may suppose that upon consultation with Mr. Seward, Mr. Lincoln decided that, desirable as this proceeding might be, it was precluded by the impatient, inflexible terms of the British demand. Only three days of the seven-days' grace remained; if they should not by the coming Thursday agree to deliver Mason and Slidell, the British legation would close its doors, and the consternation of a double war would fill the air. It is probable, therefore, that, even while writing this draft, Lincoln had intimated to his Secretary of State the need of finding good diplomatic reasons for surrendering the prisoners.
A note of Mr. Seward shows us that the Cabinet meeting to consider finally the Trent question was appointed for Tuesday morning, December 24; but the Secretary says that, availing himself of the President's permission, he had postponed it to
Wednesday morning, at 10 A. M., adding, “I shall Chap. II. then be ready.” It is probably true, as he afterwards wrote, that the whole framing of his dispatch was left to his own ingenuity and judgment, and that neither the President nor any member of the Cabinet had arrived at any final determination. The private diary of Attorney-General Bates supplies us some additional details : “ Cabinet council at 10 A. M., December 25, to consider the relations with England on Lord Lyons's demand of the surrender of Mason and Slidell; a long and interesting session, lasting till 2 P. M. The instructions of the British minister to Lord Lyons were read. There was read a draft of answer by the Secretary of State.”
The President's experimental draft quoted above was not read; there is no mention of either the reading or the points it raised. The whole discussion appears to have been confined to Seward's paper. There was some desultory talk, a general comparing of rumors and outside information, a reading of the few letters which had been received from Europe. Mr. Sumner, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, was invited in, and read letters he had received from John Bright and Richard Cobden, Liberal members of the British Parliament and devoted friends of the Union.
1 “The consideration of the explain its action, nor did it Trent case was crowded out by believe that it would concede pressing domestic affairs until the case.
Yet it was heartily Seward to Christmas Day. It was consid- unanimous in the actual result Weed, Jan. ered on my presentation of it on after two days' examination, and 22, 1862. T.
W. Barnes, the 25th and 26th of December. in favor of the release. Remem “ Memoir The Government, when it took ber that in a council like ours of Thurlow
Weed." Vol. the subject up, had no idea of there are some strong wills to be II., p. 409. the grounds upon which it would reconciled."
CHAP. II. During the session also there was handed in and
read the dispatch just received from his Government by M. Mercier, the French minister, and which, in substance, took the English view of the matter. The diary continues :
Mr. Seward's draft of letter to Lord Lyons was submitted by him, and examined and criticized by us with apparently perfect candor and frankness. All of us were impressed with the magnitude of the subject, and believed that upon our decision depended the dearest interest, probably the existence, of the nation. I, waiving the question of legal right,- upon which all Europe is against us, and also many of our own best jurists,- urged the necessity of the case; that to go to war with England now is to abandon all hope of suppressing the rebellion, as we have not the possession of the land, nor any support of the people of the South. The maritime superiority of Britain would sweep us from all the Southern waters. Our trade would be utterly ruined, and our treasury bankrupt; in short, that we must not have war with England.
There was great reluctance on the part of some of the members of the Cabinet — and even the President himself
to acknowledge these obvious truths; but all yielded to, and unanimously concurred in, Mr. Seward's letter to Lord Lyons, after some verbal and formal amendments. The main fear, I believe, was the displeasure of our own
people — lest they should accuse us of timidly truckling Diary. Ms. to the power of England."
The published extracts from the diary of Secretary Chase give, somewhat fully, his opinion on the occasion:
Mr. Chase thought it certainly was not too much to expect of a friendly nation, and especially of a nation of the same blood, religion, and characteristic civilization
1 For permission to examine the authors are indebted to the and quote from the manuscript courtesy of his son, Richard diary of Attorney-General Bates, Bates.