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| 352 LIFE OF LORD #OHN RUSSELL. CHAP. xxix.
Star of the West), despatched by the Federal Government with reinforcements to Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, has been fired into by batteries in the hands of the South Carolinians, and has retreated to New York.
In the next few days Louisiana and Georgia seceded from the Union; in the next few weeks Virginia joined the secessionists. On the news of these secessions arriving in England Lord John directed the British Consul at Charleston to continue his functions; but, if he should be required to recognise the independence of South Carolina, to refer home for instructions. And when, after Mr. Lincoln's accession to power, Mr. Seward, as Secretary of State, addressed a despatch to the American Minister in London, urging the British Government not to recognise the agents of the Southern Confederacy, Lord John replied— I said that it was not the wish or intention of her Majesty's Government to pronounce any judgment on the causes which had induced some of the United States to secede from the rest. Whether, as to the past, those States had reason to complain that the terms of the compact of union had not been observed, or whether they had reason to apprehend that, for the future, justice would not be done to them, were questions upon which her Majesty's Government did not pretend to decide. They had seen in the United States a free and prosperous community, with which they had been happy to maintain the most amicable relations. Now that a secession had taken place, they were in no hurry to recognise the separation as complete and final. But, on the other hand, I could not bind her Majesty's Government, nor tell how and when circumstances might arise which would make a decision necessary; that I must therefore decline to enter into any further discussion at the present moment, and could only assure him of our regret at the events which had recently
occurred. Such was Lord John's language to the American Minister on April 8. During the next few weeks news of the greatest importance reached this country. The Southern States, encouraged by the tardiness of the North, openly organised for the struggle. They sent a deputation to Lord John urging that England should recognise their independence. They
invited the equipment of privateers to prey on Northern commerce; while the North, under its new President, avowed its intention to maintain the Union, and not merely took steps for collecting an army for the purpose, but proclaimed the blockade of the whole coast-line of the Confederacy. These proceedings necessitated anxious consideration. With the warm approval of his colleagues, Lord John decided, while refusing to acknowledge the independence of the South, to recognise its belligerent rights; and, on his advice, the Queen issued a proclamation enjoining neutrality in the coming struggle. This decision was not entirely acceptable to either belligerent. The South thought, on the one hand, that the independence of a large and important country might fairly have been recognised. The North argued, on the contrary, that even belligerent rights should not have been conceded to seceding States. Thus, even in these early stages of the war, the British Government was ascertaining by experience that strict neutrality in a struggle is never acceptable to either combatant. * * The neutrality of the British Government was the more creditable because it was daily becoming more apparent that, whatever other consequences might ensue from the war, serious injury must be inflicted on British interests. England was the centre of the cotton industry; millions of her population were dependent on it; and the supplies of cotton were almost entirely drawn from the States whose whole coast-line had been declared subject to blockade. The language, too, of the United States Government did not tend to conciliate a great foreign power. On May 1 Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State, told Lord Lyons that he had received intelligence that ‘the Peerless, an iron steamer, had been sold to the de facto Southern Government, and was on her way out of Lake Ontario to be used as a privateer.” Though it was believed she carried the British flag, and had regular British papers, Mr. Seward sent an order to the naval officers of the United States to seize her ‘under any flag, and with any papers;’ and he was only induced by Lord Lyons's solemn VOL. II. Z
protest to promise that, if the information on which the seizure was made should prove incorrect, full satisfaction should be promptly given to the Government of her Majesty and the parties aggrieved. But, though Mr. Seward so far gave way, the language which he constantly used, and the articles inserted in newspapers avowedly supporting his policy, were characterised by an unfriendly violence: and Lord Lyons reported that, incredible as it might appear, he believed the American Secretary of State really hoped to “overawe England and France by threatening language. He added, on June 8, that he had thought it his duty to despatch a message to England that the temper of Congress was such that a sudden declaration of war against Great Britain appeared by no means impossible. • The Government of the United States was not content with strong language. In July Congress passed an Act authorising the President to close any ports ‘whenever it shall, in the judgment of the President, by reason of unlawful combinations of persons in opposition to the United States, become impracticable to execute the revenue laws and collect the duties on imports by the ordinary means in the ordinary way. Lord Russell—for he must henceforward appear under his later title —at once expressed his hope that the President would not avail himself of the powers which were thus entrusted to him. With severe logic he pointed out that, when the President was calling for 4oo,ooo men and for 400,ooo,ooo of dollars,
it seems quite inappropriate to speak of unlawful combinations. . . . The state of things which exists is a state of civil war; and there is, as regards neutral nations, no difference between civil war and foreign war. Acting on these principles, her Majesty's Government has accordingly recognised the state of civil war as existing, and all the rights which belong to a belligerent her Majesty fully acknowledges to reside in the Government of the United States. But her Majesty cannot acknowledge that ports in the complete possession of the (so-called) Confederate States, and which are not blockaded, shall be interdicted to the commerce of her Majesty's subjects by decree of the President of the United States, or by a law passed by their Congress. This would be in effect to allow the lawfulness of a paper blockade extending over 3000 miles of coast.
Before this despatch reached its destination, or indeed before it was written, events in America had convinced the Northern States that the war on which they had entered was not the easy parade which had been previously supposed. The raw levies of the North were defeated towards the end of July at Bull's Run, and for the next two months no steps of importance were taken to coerce the South. From an historical standpoint, the difficulties which the Federal States were thus encountering helped to illustrate some of the better features of the American character; and thenceforward the statesmen of the North were a little more cautious in their language, and a little more vigorous in their actions. But at the moment the evident inability of the North to subjugate the South strengthened the hands of those who thought the European powers might intervene in the contest. Though the interests of France were less immediately concerned than those of England, the French were from the first less ready to play a neutral part than the English. M. Mercier, a man of ability, who represented the French at Washington, from the outset recommended a more decisive policy. In March he advised his Government to recognise the Confederate States; and in May he expressed a strong opinion in favour of raising the blockade.
On October 17 Lord Russell wrote to Lord Palmerston—
There is much good sense in Mercier's observations. But we must wait. I am persuaded that, if we do anything, it must be on a grand scale. It will not do for England and France to break a blockade for the sake of getting cotton. But, in Europe, powers have often said to belligerents, Make up your quarrels. We propose to give terms of pacification which we think fair and equitable. If you accept them, well and good. But, if your adversary accepts them and if you refuse them, our mediation is at an end, and you must expect to see us your enemies. France would be quite ready to hold this language with us.
If such a policy were to be adopted the time for it would be the end of the year, or immediately before the meeting of Parliament.
Lord Palmerston, whose answer to this letter has been printed by his biographer, thought that “our best and true policy [was] to go on as we have begun and to keep quite clear of the conflict.” In the meanwhile an event was about to occur in the Atlantic which made the question of intervention merely of secondary importance. *The Confederate States appointed two gentlemen, Messrs. Mason and Slidell, to proceed to Europe, accredited to the English and French Governments respectively. These gentlemen embarked at Charleston on the Washville, succeeded in running the blockade, and landed in Cuba. It was correctly assumed that they would embark at Havana on the Trent, a West Indian mail steamer, and travel in her to Europe: it was believed that the Government of the United States had issued orders for intercepting the Trent and for capturing the envoys; and it was noticed that a Federal man-of-war had arrived at Falmouth, and after coaling had proceeded to Southampton. Lord Russell laid these facts before the law officers; and was advised that a United States man-of-war, falling in with a British mail steamer, would have the right to board her, open her mail bags, examine their contents, and, if the steamer should prove liable to confiscation for carrying . -----..."--despatches from the enemy, put a prize crew on board and 1 The Washville, on which Messrs. Slidell and Mason had sailed from Charleston to Cuba, ran the gauntlet of the Federal navy, captured and burnt at sea a Havre United States packet ship, and, placing the crew of the latter on board, arrived at Southampton for coal. Acting on the clear opinion of the law officers of the Crown, Lord Russell decided that the vessel of a power which had been recognised as a belligerent had a right of shelter in British waters, provided she took on board no munitions of war, or committed no other breach of neutrality, But the incident soon afterwards became more complicated from the arrival of a Federal war steamer—the Tuscarora-at Southampton, with the evident object of watching and capturing the Nashville. Directions were issued to the Admiralty, on the advice of the law officers, to take vigorous steps to prevent any act of war in British waters by stationing a vessel of superior force at Southampton, and by not allowing one vessel to put to sea until a clear twenty-four hours after the sailing of the other. The commander of the Tuscarora, the stronger ship of the two, endeavoured to evade these orders; but,
after weeks of anxious watching and correspondence, both vessels sailed at intervals which accorded with the prescribed arrangement.