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THE SECRET SERVICE
CONFEDERATE STATES IN EUROPE.
English Political Parties and the Civil War.—Pertinacity of Mr.
Secretary Seward. -Vacillation of the Liberal Government.Present Position of the Liberal Party.-The French Proclamation of Neutrality.--Arrangements for building cruisers at Bordeaux.Appropriation of £2,000,000 for Ironclads by Congress.—Financial difficulties.- Propositions to purchase vessels from the French Navy.-Correspondence concerning the vessels building in France. -Deceptive attitude of the French Government.--The vessels sold by their imperative orders. —Panic at Boston and New York regarding the Confederate cruisers.
The compilers of the Case' which was laid before the Tribunal of Arbitration at Geneva on behalf of the United States, asserted that England was the ' arsenal and treasury' of the Confederate States. The Board of Trade returns demonstrate that both belligerents drew upon Great Britain for the 'sinews of war,' but that the United States obtained them in far greater quantities and with incomparably less difficulty than their adversary. However, the statement was in itself true, although the VOL. II.
inference which it was the purpose of the Case' to suggest was not true.
It is hardly an exaggeration—it certainly is not a mere ‘figure of speech'—to say that Great Britain is the arsenal, treasury, and dockyard of the greater part of the world. There is scarcely a civilized country which is not a debtor to England, either for a direct loan, or for help to develop her resources by the construction of what are called 'internal improvements. British guns and British powder do duty in every war.
British-built ironclads form a part of nearly every foreign navy, and the commercial flags of many countries cover hulls of the well-known British type. No one whose faculties are not dwarfed by prejudice, or whose powers of observation are not contracted by national conceit, can or will deny that in the great mechanic arts, in building ships and manufacturing the heavy engines to propel them especially, Great Britain has outstripped all competitors. She actually owns about sixty per cent. of the world's shipping, and has supplied to others a portion of the remaining forty per cent.
France, in regard to ships, at least, has been exceptionally independent, and both Germany and Italy are diligently extending their dockyard capacities ; but I think a practical man who wanted a first-class ship and engines, or a large quantity of well-made arms for quick delivery, or a batch of great guns in which he could feel confidence, or any heavy iron or steel work, would almost instinctively come to England to supply his want; and if a foreign company wished money for some great engineering enterprise, they would be more likely to carry the scheme to London than to any other capital, and would look for the money in Lombard Street before going anywhere else.
This was certainly the view taken by the Confederate Government at the beginning of the Civil War. It was to England that their agents were first sent, and it was to England that they looked for a quick supply of all necessities. Her Britannic Majesty's Proclamation of Neutrality was issued on May 13th, 1861. That document began with the usual preamble, then cited the clauses of the Foreign Enlistment Act (second, seventh, and eighth) which were most likely to be infringed, then expressed a kindly intimation that the primary object was to save British subjects from the danger of breaking the law through inadvertence, and finally warned all persons that they would incur the penal consequences of the statute and of the law. of nations if they offended them in any particular.
The proclamation was eminently British, and therefore eminently constitutional. There was, first, the royal acknowledgment of the supremacy of the law, then the loving solicitude for the subject, then the warning to all parties not to infringe the statute, then a plain straightforward statement that those who did offend would be left to take the consequences, whether by due process of law within the kingdom, or by such penalties as a belligerent might inflict if the offender was caught without the kingdom. There was no voluntary exposition of the law in the proclamation, no dogmatic prohibition against specified acts ; everyone was commanded not to infringe the statute, but he was left to discover precisely what was forbidden and what was permissible through his own instincts, or, if he was wise and prudent, by the help of those who were learned in the law.
To the representative of a belligerent the document at first blush seemed very plain and very satisfactory. He had only to consult two or more eminent gentlemen of the 'wig and gown,' and to walk within the lines prescribed by them, in order to obtain all that it was admissible for him to buy with money, and to be sure of what he could do, without fear of penalty, or the feeling that he was oppressed by a load of obligation. It has been shown in a previous chapter that the Confederate agents took every practicable precaution, and made every possible effort to discover the intent, the scope, and the technical meaning of the law. They seem to have been correctly advised, because the opinion given them by counsel at the very beginning of the war was confirmed by the official statements of Ministers of the Crown, and afterwards settled beyond further dispute by the decision of a court of law. However, the Confederate Government soon found that even in constitutional England the declarations of Ministers do not always establish a policy with the rigid constancy of the Medes and Persians, and that a Secretary of State can enforce restraints upon trade, and can practically hinder a traffic which is not only guiltless in principle, according to his own previous showing, but which the duly constituted courts have declared to be legal.
It is neither my wish nor my purpose to impute unworthy motives or fears to any British Minister, and nothing would induce me to write a single sentence that could influence the people of the South to harbour an unkind thought against Great Britain. I have already expressed the opinion that a great majority of the people of England sympathized with the South, and I could name many eminent men in both Houses of Parliament who took the trouble to examine the questions at issue between the two sections of the Union, and who were satisfied that the South was right in principle and justified in law. Some of the leading literary journals