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was a somewhat hot-tempered and indiscreet officer. He was cruising about in quest of the Confederate privateer Sumter, and while at Havana he learned that the Confederate agents, with there secretaries, were on there way to Europe. He determined to intercept them two hundred and fifty miles from Havana he awaited them in the Bahama Channel. The Trent approached ; he summoned her to heave to, and his summons being disregarded fired a shot across her bows. An armed party was then sent on board, and the Confederate envoys were seized, with there secretaries, and carried as prisoners on board the San Jacinto, despite the protest of the captain of the English steamer and from under the protection of the English flag. The prisoners were first carried to New York, and then confined in one of the forts in Boston harbor.
Now, there cannot be the slightest doubt of the illegality of this procceding on the part of Captain Wilks. It was not long, to be sure, since England had claimed and exercis. ed a supposed right of the same kind. But such a claim had been given up, and could not, in 1861, have been main. tained by any civilized state. It was a claim which the United States governments had especially exerted themselves to abolish. This was the view taken at once by President Lincoln, whose plain good sense servod him in better stead than their special studies had served some professors of international law. We have it on the excellent authority of Dr. Draper, in his “ History of the Ainerican Civil War,” that Mr. Lincoln at once declared that the act of Captain Wilks could not be sustained. He said, “This is the very thing the British captains used to do. They claimed the right of searching American ships and carrying men out of them. That was the cause of the war of 1812. Now, we cannot abandon our own principles. We shall have to give these men up and apologize for what we have done." This was, in fact, the course that the A:ner.
iran government had to take. Mr. Seward wrote a long letter in answer to Lord Russell's demand for the surrender of the prisoners, in which he endeavored to make out that Captain Wilks had acted in accordance with English precedents, but stated that he had not any authority from the American government to take such a course and that the government did not consider him to have acted in accordance with the law of nations. “It will be seen,” Mr. Seward went on to say, “that this government cannot deny the justice of the claim presented to us, in this respect, upon its merits. We are asked to do to the British nation what we have always insisted all nations ought to do unto us." He announced, therefore, that the four prisoners would be “cheerfully liberated.” On January 1st, 1862, the Confederate envoys were given up on the demand of the British government, and sailed for Europe.
The question, then, it might be thought, was satisfactorily settled. Uufortunately, however, a great deal of harm had been done in the mean time. Popular clamor in the United States had entirely approved of the action of Captain Wilks. A mass meeting held in Tammany Hall or the Cooper Institute of New York, or even in the less vehement Faneuil Hall of Boston, is not exactly an assemly qualified to give an authoritative decision on questions of international law. The Secretary of the Navy, however, who ought to have known better but did not, had commended the action of the captain of the San Jacinto. A vote of thanks had been passed to Captain Wilks in the House of Representatives, Washington, “ for his arrest of the traitors Slidell and Mason." Under these circumstances, it is not surprising if people on this side of the ocean should have fancied that the United States were eager to sustain a great act of wrong done against us and against international law. But, on the other hand, the arrest was so absolutely without justification that the English government might well have known
President Lincoln's Cabinet could not sustain it. The governments of all the great European states promptly interposed their good advice, pointing out to Mr. Lincoln the impossibility of maintaining Captain Wilks' act. The foreign envoys in Washington and the Orleans princes then in that city had given the same good advice. Lord Palmerston's government acted, however, as if an instant appeal to arms must be necessary. Lord Russell sent out to Wash. ington a seremptory demand for the liberation of the envoys and an apology, and insisted on an answer within seven days. Troops were at once ordered out to Canada, and a proclamation was issued forbidding the export of arms and munitions of war. All this was done, although on the very day that Lord Russell was dispatching his peremptory letter to Washington, Mr. Seward was writing to London to assure her Majesty's government that the arrest had been made without any authority from the United States government, and that the President and his advisers were then considering the proper course to take. The fact that Mr. Seward's letter had been received was, for some reason or other, not made publicly known in England at the time, and the Eng. lish people were left to believe that the action of Captain Wilks either was the action of the American government or had that government's approval. Public feeling therefore raged and raved a good deal on both sides. American statesmen believed that the English government was making a wanton and offensive display of a force which they had good reason to know would never be needed. The English public was left under the impression that the American statesmen were only yielding to the display of force. The release of the prisoners did not seem to our people to come with a good grace. It did not seem to the American people to have been asked or accepted with a good grace. Mr. Seward might as well, perhaps, when he had made up his mind to restore the prisoners, have spared himself the
trouble of what the Scotch would call a long "haver," to show that it he acted as England had done he should not have given them up at all. But Mr. Seward always was a terribly eloquent dispatch-writer, and he could not, we may suppose, persuade himself to forego the opportunity of issuing a dissertation. On the other hand, Lord Palmerston's demeanor and language were what he would probably himself have called, in homely language, “bumptious” if some one else had been in question. Lord Palmerston could not deny himself the pleasure of a burst of cheap popularity, and of seeming to flourish the flag of England in the face of presumptuous foes. The episode was singularly unfortunate in its effect upon the temper of the majority in England and America. From that moment there was a formidable party in England who detested the North and a formidable party in the North who detested England
HE cause of peace between nations lost a good friend ai
believed that the latest advice he gave on public affairs had reference to the dispute between England and the United States about the seizure of the Confederate envoys, and that the advice recommended calmness and forbearance on the part of the English Government. It is not to be supposed, of course, that the Prince Consort even though of suggesting that the English government should acquiesce in what had been done, or allow the wrong to remain unredressed. He knew, as every reasonable man might have known, that the error of the American sailor was unjustifiable, and would have to be atoned for; but he probably assumed that for that very reason the atonement might be awaited without excitement, and believed that it would neither be politic nor generous to make a show of compelling by force what must needs be conceded to justice. The death of the Prince Consort, lamentable in every way, was especially to be deplored at a time when influential counsels tending toward forebearance and peace were much needed in England. But it may be said, with literal truth, that when the news of the. prince's death was made known, its possible effect on the public affairs of England was forgotten or unthought of in the regret for the personal loss. Outside the precincts of