Page images

muffled oars; boarded her with one boat on each side, seized her crew without resistance, and ironed them ; captured Lieutenant Davenport as he came on deck, weighed anchor, being unable to slip the cable, and started at three A.M., going out by Hussey's Sound, towed by two boats ahead, and followed by the Archer, as fast as her limit would permit. Laid to outside waiting for the Archer. When the steamers attacked us we could only fire five round shots, and were obliged to fire stones and pieces of iron.” Great excitement was produced in the North when the havoc among the fishermen of Nantucket was discovered. It was believed at first that the Florida herself was the agent of all the mischief, and was about entering into some of our great commercial harbors. Active preparations for defence were made, and the navy-yards became busy with fitting out and sending forth every dis

posable cruiser. The people of New York and Boston held meetings and urged the Secretary of the Navy to extraordinary effort. The merchants of Boston offered a reward of $10,000 for the capture of the sea-rover, and dispatched, at their own expense, an armed vessel in search of her. In the mean time, some of the citizens of Portland, in Maine, whose pride had been especially wounded by the capture of a government vessel in their own harbor, armed two trading steamers, the Forest City and Chesapeake, and went in pursuit of the Caleb June Cushing. As they approached, 26. several shots were exchanged, doing no damage to either vessel. The privateersmen discovering that they were about to be overtaken by the steamers, blew up the Caleb Cushing, and tried to escape in an open boat to a small vessel lying near, but were captured, and imprisoned in Fort Preble.

[ocr errors]

Indignation in the United States in relation to the Alabama, Florida, and other vessels built in Great Britain.—Pro

tests of the Federal Government against the practical breach of neutrality.—Action of the English People favorable to the Union cause.—Petitions of Emancipation Societies.—Debate in Parliament on the Alabama, etc.—Memorial presented by Mr. Cobden.—The remarkable Parliamentary Debate which followed.—Influences brought to bear upon the English Ministry.—Seizure of the Alexandra.-A Trial.-Verdict.—Motion for a new Trial.-Iron-clad Rams building in England and Scotland.—Protest of Emancipation Society.—Indifference and Inaction of Earl Russell.—Memorials and Answers.-Change of Tone of the British Ministry.—The Iron-clad Rams Monassir and Toussoun described.—Seizure of the Rams.-English Opinion.—Effect of the Seizure upon the Feeling in England and America.--Withdrawal of Mr. Mason from England.—Indiscretion of Mr. Adams.-English Pride wounded. —Irritation in England in regard to Seizure of suspected Blockade-Runners. — A more conciliatory Feeling on the part of the Ruling Classes in England.—Earl Russell's Change of Tone.—Visit of Mr. Beecher to Europe.—

His Reception.

THE continued ravages on Northern commerce by the British-built steamers Alabama and Florida, and the construction of similar and more formidable vessels by English shipbuilders for the service, as was believed, of the Confederates, excited great indignation in the United States. The Federal Government protested emphatically against this practical breach of the professed neutrality of Great Britain, and that portion of the British people friendly to the Northern cause joined heartily in denouncing it. The various Emancipation Societies of Great Britain Were naturally friendly to the Northern People, as they believed that their success in the war would further the abolition of slavery. They accordingly used their powerful influence upon the popular sentiment in checking sympathy with * government of slave-owners, and in *training the British ministry and Pople from every act in their favor.


These societies convened meetings throughout Great Britain, and prepared petitions against permitting ships to be built for the Confederate Government. The most remarkable of these was that of the Union and Emancipation Society of Manchester, which was presented to Parliament on the 25th of March, 1863, by Mr. Bright, that unwearied champion of the Northern cause.

A similar petition from the Emancipation Society of Liverpool was presented by Mr. Forster, another constant friend of the United States. This gentleman also opened the remarkable debate in Parliament upon the case of the Alabama. He rose, he said, “to ask whether the attention of Her Majesty's Government had been called to the danger to our friendly relations with the United States, resulting from the fitting out in our ports of ships of war for the service of the self-styled Confederate States, in contravention of the Foreign

[ocr errors][graphic][graphic][graphic]

Enlistment Act, and of the policy of neutrality adopted by this country. Some persons, most of whom were British subjects, were, in defiance of the Queen's proclamation and the statutes of the realm, breaking the law, and were engaged in acts which placed the country in danger of being involved in war.” This proposition was ably sustained by a long argument based upon the principles of international law and by the citation of proofs, that the construction and departure of the Alabama had been in contravention of these principles. The Solicitor-General answered, defending the conduct of the Government and disputing the law and proofs as alleged by Mr. Forster. Lord Palmerston, the British prime minister, gave the weight of his official authority to the views and declarations of the Solicitor-General, saying, “He has demonstrated that the Americans have no cause to complain. He has shown that the British Government have done, upon representations made to them by the American minister, everything which the law of the country enabled them to do. Although I can very easily understand that in the United States, where, owing to the great irritation and animosity produced by the civil war, men's minds have been led to forget in a great degree the obligations of war, they may not give that credit which is due to the arguments which we used—that he cannot go beyond what the law prescribes and authorizes; yet I think this House will see at least that the statement of

my honorable and learned friend shows that we have done, with regard to the Foreign Enlistment Act, everything which the law enabled and authorized us to do. Gentlemen have argued as if seizing a vessel were equivalent to the condemnation of a vessel. It was said, ‘Why did you not seize the Alabama 2 You were told that it was known or believed that she was engaged for warlike purposes on the part of the Confederate States.' Well, in the first place, you cannot seize a vessel under the Foreign Enlistment Act unless you have obtained evidence upon oath authorizing just suspicions. We did not obtain such evidence. The American minister said, ‘I tell you this—I tell you that—I am sure of this—I am sure of that ;' but when he was asked to produce the evidence upon oath, which was the only ground-work for proceeding, he says, “No ; the information was given to the American consul, and I cannot give you the evidence upon oath ; but, nevertheless, you should act upon my assertions and suspicions, which I maintain are well founded.' What would happen if you seized a vessel unjustly and without good grounds? There is a process of law to come afterward—-(Hear, hear)—and the Government would be condemned in heavy costs and damages. Are we going to undertake an illegal course which would lead to these consequences, simply to please the agent of a foreign government? We say that if there is any fault, that fault is on the part of those who called upon us to do an act, but


would not give us the ground-work upon which that act would have been justified. I myself have great doubts whether, if we had seized the Alabama in the condition in which she was, we should not have been exposed to considerable damages, because it was stated, and generally known, that she sailed from this country unarmed, apparently unfit for war, and that her armament, equipments, and crew were afterward given to her in a foreign port. Therefore the probability is, that whatever suspicions there may have been—and well-founded, as the result proves—of her in tended destination, circumstances would not have justified a court of law in proceeding to take her from her owners and prevent her from quitting port.” Subsequently, on the 23d of July, Mr. Cobden, another British champion of the Northern cause, presented a memorial signed by “thirty of the most respectable ship-owners of Liverpool, respecting the evasion of the English Foreign Enlistment Act. On calling the attention of Parliament to this document, Mr. Cobden enumerated the variOus Vessels which had been built and Were building, as was supposed, for the Confederate service, and reminded the British Government that all the damage *y had done or would do would be charged to it. o overy vessel seized and burnt,” he * “was thus debited to the account * *gland, and a formal claim made *or the amount. Her Majesty's Govern

claims, but some day, when the demand could be made most inconveniently for the Government, the result would probably be either humiliation or war.” Mr. Cobden closed with this emphatic expression of confidence in the success of the Unionists: “He did not expect,” he said, to live to see two independent nations within the United States. . A great deal had been said in that House on a contrary assumption, but whatever the issue of this dreadful war might be, let this country keep clear of it. He desired nothing more than that we should be silent and sorrowful until this great war was over.” The British ministry, partly influenced by the opinion of the immense body of English operatives and small tradesmen who, under the guidance of their leaders, Bright, Cobden, Forster, and others, had become friendly to the Northern cause, and partly by the fear of a war with the United States, became convinced, in order to secure popularity at home and escape hostility from abroad, of the necessity of action. The Government accordingly seized the Alexandra, April a vessel building in Liverpool, sus- * pected to be a gun-boat for the Confederate Government. A trial ensued, which resulted in a verdict for the defendants, Messrs. Fawcett, Preston & Co., who were the builders. The decision was based upon the want of testimony to prove that the Alexandra was being equipped for warlike purposes, and upon the fact that the Foreign

*ent had refused to acknowledge these

Enlistment Act contained no provision which prevented the building in England of ships which might afterward be employed in carrying on hostilities under a foreign flag. The Attorney-General having tendered a bill of exceptions, the Alexandra was still held by the British Government, until the motion for a new trial should be decided. It had been for a long time rumored that iron-clad rams were being built in England and Scotland for the service of the Confederate Government. The attention of the British ministry had been called to the circumstance, especially by the Union and Emancipation Society of Manchester, in repeated memorials. These, at first, were little heeded. In fact, Earl Russell seemed disposed to regard them with contemptuous indifference, and to treat their authors as busy-bodies. To a memorial of the Society, of the 3d of March, protesting against the building and fitting out, in Great Britain, of armed vessels for the Government of the so-styled Confederate States, and calling upon Parliament and Her Majesty's Government to put an effectual stop to such proceedings, Lord John Russell answered through his secretary. “I am, in reply,” wrote the latter, “to request that you will call the attention of the Executive of the Society to the provisions of the Act, 59 George III., Cap. 69. It will be observed in that Act, that evidence on oath is required to enable proceedings to be taken against persons charged with contravening it.” Notwithstanding the rebuke implied in this ultra official communication, the


Emancipation Society returned again to the charge. His lordship, though still showing an indisposition to yield, manifested a diminished power of resistance and a more courteous regard to the suggestions of his unwelcome advisers. On the 13th of August he thus personally answered a second memorial of the Society: “GENTLEMEN-I have received your letter, calling attention to a subject of very grave and pressing importance— viz., the fitting out or equipping two powerful iron-plated steam rams, which I am informed are intended to commit hostilities against the Government and people of the United States. “My attention has long been directed to these subjects. Both the Treasury and Home Departments have, at my request, made most anxious inquiries upon the subject of these steam rams. You are aware that, by the Foreign Enlistment Act, a ship is liable to be detained, and the owners are subject to a penalty, when the ship is armed or equipped for purposes of war, and the owners intend to use her against some state or community in friendship with Her Majesty. “It is necessary to prove both the equipment and the intention. It is necessary for conviction in a public court, in justice, to have the evidence of a credible witness. “I was in hope, when I began to read your memorial, that you would propose to furnish me with evidence to prove that the steam rams in question were intended to carry on hostilities against

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »