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Chap. IX. sentative character, nor entitled to diplomatic honours.'1 Upon this footing Messrs. Mason and Slidell, who are expressly stated by Mr. Seward to have been sent as pretended Ministers Plenipotentiary from the Southern States to the Courts of St. James's and of Paris, must have been sent, and would have been, if at all, received; and the reception of these gentlemen upon this footing could not have been justly regarded, according to the law of nations, as a hostile or unfriendly act towards the United States. Nor, indeed, is it clear that these gentlemen would have been clothed with any powers, or have enjoyed any immunities, beyond those accorded to Diplomatic Agents not officially recognized.
"It appears to Her Majesty's Government to be a necessary and certain deduction from these principles, that the conveyance of public Agents of this character from Havana to St. Thomas on their way to Great Britain and France, and of their credentials or despatches (if any), on board the Trent, was not and could not be a violation of the duties of neutrality on the part of that vessel: and, both for that reason, and also because the destination of these persons and of their despatches was bona fide neutral, it is in the judgment of Her Majesty's Government clear and certain that they were not contraband.
"The doctrine of contraband has its whole foundation and origin in the principle which is nowhere more accurately explained than in the following passage of Bynkershoek. After stating in general terms the duty of impartial neutrality, he adds:-'Et sane id, quod modo dicebam, non tantum ratio docet, sed et usus, inter omnes fere gentes receptus. Quamvis enim libera sint cum amicorum nostrorum hostibus commercia, usu tamen placuit, ne alterutrum his rebus juvemus, quibus bellum contra amicos nostros instruatur et foveatur. Non licet igitur alterutri advehere ea, quibus in bello gerendo opus habet; ut sunt tormenta, arma, et quorum præcipuus in bello usus, milites. . . . Optimo jure interdictum est, ne quid eorum hostibus subministremus; quia his rebus nos ipsi quodammodo videremur amicis nostris bellum facere.'2
"The principle of contraband of war is here clearly explained; and it is impossible that men, or despatches, which do not come within that principle, can in this sense be contraband. The penalty of knowingly carrying contraband of war is, as Mr. Seward states, nothing less than the confiscation of the ship; but it is impossible that this penalty can be incurred when the neutral has done no more than employ means usual among nations for maintaining his own proper relations with one of the belligerents. It is of the very essence of the definition of contraband that the articles should have a hostile, and not
1 Wheaton: Elements, part iii, chap. 1, sec. 5.
a neutral, destination. 'Goods,' says Lord Stowell, 'going to a neutral port cannot come under the description of contraband, all goods going there being equally lawful.' 'The rule respecting contraband,' he adds, 'as I have always understood it, is, that articles must be taken in delicto, in the actual prosecution of the voyage to an enemy's port.' On what just principle can it be contended that a hostile destination is less necessary, or a neutral destination more noxious, for constituting a contraband character in the case of public agents or despatches, than in the case of arms and ammunition ?
"Mr. Seward seeks to support his conclusion on this point by a reference to the well-known dictum of Sir William Scott in the case of the Caroline, that 'you may stop the Ambassador of your enemy on his passage;' and to another dictum of the same Judge, in the case of the Orozembo, that civil functionaries, if sent for a purpose intimately connected with the hostile operations,'3 may fall under the same rule with persons whose employment is directly military.
"These quotations are, as it seems to Her Majesty's Government, irrelevant. The words of Sir W. Scott are in both cases applied by Mr. Seward in a sense different from that in which they were used. Sir William Scott does not say that an Ambassador sent from a belligerent to a neutral State may be stopped as contraband while on his passage on board a neutral vessel belonging to that or any other neutral State; nor that, if he be not contraband, the other belligerent would have any right to stop him on such a voyage. The sole object which Sir William Scott had in view was to explain the extent and limits of the doctrine of the inviolability of Ambassadors, in virtue of that character; for he says:
"The limits that are assigned to the operations of war against them by Vattel and other writers upon these subjects, are, that you may exercise your right of war against them wherever the character of hostility exists. You may stop the Ambassadors of your enemy on his passage; but when he has arrived, and has taken upon him the functions of his office, and has been admitted in his representative character, he becomes a sort of middle-man, entitled to peculiar privileges, as set apart for the protection of the relations of amity and peace, in maintaining which nations are in some degree
"There is certainly nothing in this passage from which an inference can be drawn so totally opposed to the general tenor of the whole Judgment, as that an Ambassador proceeding to the country to which he is sent on board a neutral vessel belonging to that country can be
1 The Imina; 3 Chr. Rob., 167.
Chap. IX. stopped on the ground that the conveyance of such an Ambassador is a breach of neutrality, which it must be if he be contraband of war. Sir William Scott is here expressing not his own opinion merely, but the doctrine which he considers to have been laid down by writers of authority upon the subject. No writer of authority has ever suggested that an Ambassador proceeding to a neutral State on board one of its merchant-ships is contraband of war. The only writer named by Sir William Scott is Vattel, whose words are these: On peut encore attaquer et arrêter ses gens' (i. e., gens de l'ennemi) 'partout ou on a la liberté d'exercer des actes d'hostilité. Non seulement donc on peut justement refuser le passage aux Ministres qu'un ennemi envoye à d'autres Souverains; on les arrête même, s'ils entreprennent de passer secrètement et sans permission dans les lieux dont on est maître.'
"And he adds as an example, the seizure of a French Ambassador, when passing through the dominions of Hanover during war between England and France, by the King of England, who was also Sovereign of Hanover.
"The rule, therefore, to be collected from these authorities is, that you may stop an enemy's Ambassador in any place of which you are yourself the master, or in any other place where you have a right to exercise acts of hostility. Your own territory, or ships of your own country, are places of which you are yourself the master. The enemy's
territory, or the enemy's ships, are places in which you have a right to exercise acts of hostility. Neutral vessels, guilty of no violation of the laws of neutrality, are places where you have no right to exercise acts of hostility.
"It would be an inversion of the doctrine that Ambassadors have peculiar privileges to argue that they are less protected than other men. The right conclusion is that an Ambassador sent to a neutral Power is inviolable on the high seas, as well as in neutral waters, while under the protection of the neutral flag.
"The other dictum of Sir William Scott, in the case of the Orozembo, is even less pertinent to the present question. That related to the case of a neutral ship which, upon the effect of the evidence given on the trial, was held by the Court to have been engaged as an enemy's transport, to convey the enemy's military officers, and some of his civil officers whose duties were intimately connected with military operations, from the enemy's country to one of the enemy's colonies, which was about to be the theatre of those operations, the whole being done under colour of a simulated neutral destination. But as long as a neutral Government, within whose territory no military operations are carried on, adheres to its profession of neutrality, the duties of civil officers on a mission to that Government and within its territory cannot possibly be 'connected with' any
1 Vattel, lib. iv, cap. 7, sec. 85.
'military operations,' in the sense in which these words were used by Chap. IX. Sir William Scott, as, indeed, is rendered quite clear by the passages already cited from his own Judgment in the case of the Caroline.
"In connection with this part of the subject it is necessary to notice a remarkable passage in Mr. Seward's note in which he says: 'I assume, in the present case, what, as I read British authorities, is regarded by Great Britain herself as true maritime law-that the circumstance that the Trent was proceeding from a neutral port to another neutral port does not modify the right of the belligerent capture.' If, indeed the immediate and ostensible voyage of the Trent had been to a neutral port, but her ultimate and real destination to some port of the enemy, Her Majesty's Government might have been better able to understand the reference to British authorities
contained in this passage. It is undoubtedly the law as laid down by British authorities, that if the real destination of the vessel be hostile (that is, to the enemy or the enemy's country), it cannot be covered and rendered innocent by a fictitious destination to a neutral port. But if the real terminus of the voyage be bond fide in a neutral territory, no English, nor indeed, as Her Majesty's Government believe, any American authority can be found which has ever given countenance to the doctrine that either men or despatches can be subject, during such a voyage, and on board such a neutral vessel, to belligerent capture as contraband of war. Her Majesty's Government regard such a doctrine as wholly irreconcilable with the true principles of maritime law; and certainly with those principles as they have been understood in the Courts of this country.
"It is to be further observed that packets engaged in the postal service, and keeping up the regular and periodical communications between the different countries of Europe and America, and other parts of the world, though in the absence of Treaty stipulations they may not be exempted from visit and search in time of war, nor from the penalties of any violation of neutrality, if proved to have been knowingly committed, are still, when sailing in the ordinary and innocent course of their legitimate employment, which consists in the conveyance of mails and passengers, entitled to peculiar favour and protection from all Governments in whose service they are engaged. To detain, disturb, or interfere, with them, without the very gravest cause, would be an act of a most noxious and injurious character, not only to a vast number and variety of individual and private interests, but to the public interests of neutral and friendly Governments.
"It has been necessary to dwell upon these points in some detail, because they involve principles of the highest importance, and because, if Mr. Seward's argument were acted upon as sound, the most injurious consequences might follow.
"For instance, in the present war, according to Mr. Seward's doctrine, any packet-ship carrying a Confederate Agent from Dover to Calais, or from Calais to Dover, might be captured and carried to New
Chap. IX. York. In case of a war between Austria and Italy, the conveyance of an Italian Minister or Agent might cause the capture of a neutral packet plying between Malta and Marseilles, or between Malta and Gibraltar, the condemnation of the ship at Trieste, and the confinement of the Minister or Agent in an Austrian prison. So in the late war between Great Britain and France on the one hand, and Russia on the other, a Russian Minister going from Hamburg to Washington in an American ship might have been brought to Portsmouth, the ship might have been condemned, and the Minister sent to the Tower of London. So also a Confederate vessel of war might capture a Cunard steamer on its way from Halifax to Liverpool, on the ground of its carrying despatches from Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams.
"In view, therefore, of the erroneous principles asserted by Mr. Seward, and the consequences they involve, Her Majesty's Government think it necessary to declare that they would not acquiesce in the capture of any British merchant-ship in circumstances similar to those of the Trent, and that the fact of its being brought before a Prize Court, though it would alter the character, would not diminish the gravity, of the offence against the law of nations which would thereby be committed.
Having disposed of the question whether the persons named and their supposed despatches were contraband of war, I am relieved from the necessity of discussing the other questions raised by Mr. Seward, namely, whether Captain Wilkes had lawfully a right to stop and search the Trent for these persons and their supposed despatches; whether that right, assuming that he possessed it, was exercised by him in a lawful and proper manner; and whether he had a right to capture the persons found on board.
"The fifth question put by Mr. Seward, namely, whether Captain Wilkes exercised the alleged right of capture in the manner allowed and recognized by the law of nations, is resolved by Mr. Seward himself in the negative.
"I cannot conclude, however, without noticing one very singular passage in Mr. Seward's, despatch.
"Mr. Seward asserts that 'if the safety of this Union required the detention of the captured persons it would be the right and duty of this Government to detain them.' He proceeds to say that the waning proportions of the insurrection, and the comparative unimportance of the captured persons themselves, forbid him from resorting to that defence. Mr. Seward does not here assert any right founded on international law, however inconvenient or irritating to neutral nations: he entirely loses sight of the vast difference which exists between the exercise of an extreme right and the commission of an unquestionable wrong. His frankness compels me to be equally open, and to inform him that Great Britain could not have submitted to the perpetration of that wrong, however flourishing might have been the insurrection in the South, and however important the persons captured might have been.