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LETTERS FROM HON. WM. B. LAWRENCE.
OCHRE POINT, NEWPORT, R. I.,
May 21, 1871. To the Editor of the World:
SIR: I had intended to prepare a memoir, tracing to their origin the several points of dispute involved in the new treaty. For this I have extensive materials, not merely in printed documents, but in the notes which I have made during many years past, going back, in reference to some of the subjects, to my connection with the English mission. Interruptions which I could not prevent have so far retarded my work that I fear that I shall not be able to complete the paper, in a manner satisfactory to myself, before the interest in it will be, in a great measure, lost by the final action of the Senate. I therefore take the liberty of sending you this imperfect memorandum.
The able articles which have, from time to time, appeared in the World on the topics now involved, and with which, as well as with your remarks on the merits of the work of the High Commission, I fully concur, supersede the necessity for your readers of further elaborate elucidations. I cannot, however, withhold the expression of my gratification that, regardless of its bearing on mere partisan politics, you have taken a statesmanlike view of the subject, appropriate to a journal of controlling influence, and which, as to what concerns our international relations, ought to have no other guide than the honor and interest of our country.
The merit, in my eyes, of the treaty arises as much from what is not in it as from its positive stipulations. The repro. duction in the paper ascribed to Lord Tenterden, and which contains an authoritative exposition of the British case so far as regards the Alabama claims, of my remarks made at the Social Science Congress at Bristol in 1869, may justify a reference, without incurring the charge of presumption, to the accordance of the views then expressed with the terms of the present arrangement. I am well satisfied to find that no sanction is anywhere given to the complaints against the issue of the British proclamation of neutrality, put forward in the first instance by Mr. Seward, apparently in ignorance of the distinction between the recognition of belligerent rights and the acknowledgment of the independence of a State.
It has ever seemed to me that as the law of nations cannot be enforced by any penal iegislation, like the internal law of a State, and must depend for its observance on the moral sense of the civilized world, to attempt to apply to it considerations of temporary expediency is to take from it its only sanction.
Important as the law of nations is as a rule in the intercourse of independent sovereignties, the necessity of its recognition in civil wars—that is to say in the contests between members of the same society, which, passing beyond the intervention of the magistrates or the suppression by the police, have assumed a belligerent character in the opposing array of regularly constituted armies—is even more imperative than in international hostilities. Who can tell to what extent the horors of war would be augmented (though we have some indication of it in the contest between the Commune and the Versailles Assembly) if the rules of belligerency were not applied in those cases in which, as it is well said by Vattel,
civil wars, breaking the bonds of society and the government, give rise in a nation to two independent parties who acknowledge no common judge."
In our late civil war, so far as the parties directly involved in it were concerned, the apprehension of retaliation, always
appealed to when the two sides approximate to one another in strength, prevented the application of measures which were threatened in the first proclamation of the President. Though some privateersmen were subjected to a trial for piracy, a cartel was signed in July, 1862, by a general officer of the United States and a general officer of the Confederates, described as “having been commissioned by the authorities they respectively represented,” for a general exchange of prisoners, and in this were included prisoners taken on board of private armed vessels.
Though all other countries, with the exception of China and Turkey, equally with Great Britain recognized the belligerent rights of the confederates, and though any other course would have justly exposed her to the reproach of having violated all the safe precedents of international law, the instructions, which Mr. Adams constantly evaded, to demand the revocation of the proclamation were incessant, and all the injuries resulting from the maritime operations of the confederates were attributed to the recognition of belligerent rightsin other words, to England having refused what the United States themselves did not dare to do, to treat the confederates as out of the protection of the law of nations. As Mr. Canning, in the analogous case of the Greek revolution, explained, there is no alternative, if the belligerency of the revolutionary party was not acknowledged, but to regard them as pirates and hold the ancient government responsible for all injuries inflicted by them.
It was in vain that Great Britain showed that the United States had given to the world the strongest evidence of the existence of actual war by the establishment, among other acts, of a blockade which could only exist as an incident of war; while, unless there was belligerency, there was no excuse for the search of neutral vessels, much less for their condemnation for violating a blockade or carrying contraband. The blockade was only one of the consequences of the existence of war; and whether it was officially announced or not to the British government, before the issue of the Queen's proclamation, as