Imágenes de páginas



NIVIL war broke out in the United States.

The long threatened had come to pass. Abraham Lincoln's election as President, brought about by the party divisions of the Southerners among themselves, seemed to the South the beginning of a new order of things, in which they and their theories of government would no longer predominate, They felt that the peculiar institution, on which they believed their prosperity and their pride to depend, was threatened with extinction, and they preferred secession to such a result. In truth the two sets of institutions were incompatible. A system founded on slavery could not be worked much longer in combination with the political and social institutions of the Northern States. The struggle was one for life or death between slavery and the principles of modern society. When things had come to this pass it is hardly worth stopping to consider what particular event it was which brought about the actual collision. If the election of Mr. Lincoln had not supplied the occasion something else would have furnished it. Those who are acquainted with the history of the great emancipation struggle in America know very well that if the South had not seceded from the Union, some of the Northern States would sooner or later have done so. Every day in the Northern States saw an increase in the number of those who would rather have seceded than give further countenance to the

system of slavery. It was a peculiarity of that system that it could not stand still; it could not rest content with tolerance and permission to hold what it already possessed. It must have new ground, new fields to occupy. It must get more or die. Most of the Abolitionists would rather themselves secede than yield any more to slavery.

We are chiefly concerned in this history with the American Civil War in so far as it affected England. It becomes part of our history, by virtue of the Alabama question and the Treaty of Washington. It is important to introduce a short narrative of the events which led to the long dispute between England and the United States, a dispute which brought us more than once to the very edge of war, and which was only settled by the almost unparalleled concession of the Washington Treaty. The Southern States, led by South Carolina, seceded. Their delegates assembled at Montgomery, in Alabama, on February 4th, 1861, to agree upon a constitution. A Southern confederation was formed, with Mr. Jefferson Davis as its President. Mr. Davis announced the determination of the South to maintain its independence by the final arbitrament of the sword, “if passion or lust of dominion should cloud the judgment or influence the ambition of the North.” This announcement was made on February 18th, 1861, and on March 4th following the new President of the United States entered formally into office. Mr. Lincoln announced that he had no intention to interfere with the institution of slavery in any State where it existed; that the law gave him no power to do so, even if he had the inclination; but that, on the other hand, no State could, upon its own mere motion, lawfully get out of the Union; that acts of violence against the authority of the United States must be regarded as insurrectionary or revolutionary. There was still an impression in this coun. try and to some extent in America, that an invitation was thus held out by Mr. Lincoln to the Southern States to enter

into peaceful negotiations, with a view to a dissolution of partnership. But if there was any such intention in the mind of Mr. Lincoln, or any possibility of carrying it into effect, all such contingencies were put out of the question by the impetuous action of South Carolina. This State had been the first to secede, and it was the first to commit an act of war. The traveller in South Carolina, as he stands on one of the quays of Charleston and looks toward the Atlantic, sees the sky line across the harbor broken by a heavy-looking solid square fort which soon became famous in the war. This was Fort Sumter, a place built on an artificial island, with walls some sixty feet high and eight to twelve feet thick. It was in the occupation of the Federal Government, as of course were the defences of all the har. bors of the Union. It is, perhaps, not necessary to say that while each State made independently its local laws, the Federal government and Congress had the charge of all business of national interest, customs, duties, treaties, the army and navy, and the coast defences. The Federal Gov. ernment had therefore a garrison in Fort Sumter, and when there seemed a possibility of civil war they were anxious to reinforce it. A vessel which they sent for the purpose was fired at, from a great island in the harbor, by the excited Secessionists of South Carolina, and on April 12th the Confederates, who had erected batteries on the main-land for the purpose, Legan to bombard the fort. The little garrison had no means of resistance, after a harmless bombardment of two days it surrendered, and Fort Sumter was in the hands of the Secessionists of South Carolina. The effect of this piece of news on the mind of the North has been well and tersely described by a writer of the time. It was as if -hile two persons were still engaged in a peaceful discussion as to some claim of right, one suddenly brought the debate to a close by giving the other a box on the ear. There was an end to all negotiation; thenceforward only strokes could arbitrate.

Four days after President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand men to volunteer in reestablishing the Federaj authority over the Rebel States. President Davis immediately announced his intention to issue letters of marque. President Lincoln declared the Southern ports under blockade. On May 8th Lord John Russell announced, in the House of Commons, that after consulting the law officers of the crown the government were of opinion that the Southern Confederacy must be recognized as a belligerent power. On May 13th the neutrality proclamation was issued by the government, warning all subjects of her majestsy from en. listing, on land or sea, in the service of Federals or Confederates, supplying munitions of war, equipping vessels for privateering purposes, engaging in transport service, or doing any other act calculated to afford assistance in either belligerent. This was, in fact, the recognition of the Southern Confederacy as a belligerent power; and this was the first act on the part of England which gave offence in the North. It was regarded there as an act of unseemly and even indecent haste, as evidence of an overstrained anxiety to assist and encourage the Southern rebels. This interpretation was, to some extent, borne out by the fact that the English government did not wait for the daily-expected arrival of Mr. Adams, the New American Minister, to hear what he might have to say before resolving on issuing the proclamation. Yet it is certain that the proclamation was made with no unfriendly motive. It was made at the instance of some of the most faithful friends the Northern cause had on this side of the Atlantic, conspicuous among whom in recommending it was Mr. W. E. Forster. If such a proclamation had out been issued the English government could not have undertaken to recognize the blockade of the Southern ports. If there was no bellum going on, the commerce of the world could not be expected to recognize President's Lincoln s blockade of Charleston and Savannah and New Orleans.

International law on the subject is quite clear. A state cannot blockade its own ports. It can only blockade the ports of an enemy. It can, indeed, order a closure of its own ports. But a closure of the ports would not have been so effective for the purposes of the Fedral government as a blockade. It would have been a matter of municipal law only. An offender against the ordinance of closure could be only dealt with lawfully in American waters ; an offender against the decree of blockade could be pursued into the open sea. In any case Mr. Lincoln's government chose the blocade. They had previously announced that the crews of Confederate privateers would be treated as pirates, but their proclamation of the blockade compelled them to recede from that declaration. It was, indeed, a threat that modern humanity and the puplic feeling of the whole Northern States would never have allowed them to carry out, and which Mr. Lincoln himself, whose temper always leaned to mercy, would never have thought of putting into effect. The proclamation of a blockade compelled the Federal government to treat privateers as belligerents. It could not but compel foreign States to admit the belligerent rights of the Southern Confederation.

In England the friends of the North, or some of them at least, were anxions that the recognition should take place as quickly as possible, in order that effect should be given to the president's proclamation. The English government had trouble enough afterward to resist the importunity of those at home and abroad who thought they ought to break the blockade in the interest of European trade. They could have no excuse for recognizing it if they did not also recognize that there was a war going on which warranted it. Therefore, whether the recognition of the Southern Contederates as belligerents was wise or unwise, timely or premature, it was not done in any spirit of unfriendliness to the North, or at the spiriting of any Southern

« AnteriorContinuar »