Mr. Adams to Mr. Seward.

No. 526.]

Sir: I have to acknowledge the reception of despatches from the department, numbered 732, 733, and 734. The explanations they give of the policy of the government are clear and satisfactory, The despatch No. 732 contains an enclosure, the contents of which had been already communicated to me from the same source.

There has been little of interest in the events of the week. A communication in the Times, from the writer who takes the signature of “Historicus,” in which he comments with force upon the bearing of the intercepted despatches from Richmond on the action of the rebels at Liverpool, has drawn forth replies from Mr. Lindsay and Mr. George N. Saunders, both of them characteristic, and illustrative of the sort of commercial morality that is supposed by them to prevail here.

* * * * * * * *

The hope of getting out the iron-clads does not appear to be yet quite extinguished. [Page XXVI] Some suspicious movements appear to have led to the order of an additional war vessel to keep them in check. Captain Inglefield is an enegetic officer, and I think resolved to do his duty in good faith. It is, however, a remarkable circumstance that any such question as the defiance of the government in a leading British port should be supposed possible.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

Mr. Laird, M.P., on the Alabama and the steam-rams.

At a presentation of prizes to volunteers at Liverpool, on Friday, Mr. Laird, M. P., made a lengthened speech, in the course of which he said: I do not know that I ought to occupy your time any longer, but various statements have been made about a vessel that has attained to some degree of fame. I refer to a vessel well known throughout this country as the Alabama. (Loud and repeated cheering.) I am not ashamed to acknowledge that some of my family have had to do with that ship. Still, some statements have been made about her which should be controverted. I should not have made any remark now but for the fact that the government of this country had made certain statements, and have given certain legal opinions about her, and they have talked about the vessel having escaped. I see my friend Mr. Hind and other gentlemen, who are somewhat of sporting men, and well they know what I mean when I say: when hounds approach a fox cover the fox scents the hounds, and when the huntsman comes up to the cover the fox is gone. It is nonsense to talk about the fox escaping or about the Alabama escaping. The Alabama was in dock when she was inspected by very many curious people; and in dock she took on board her coals and her stores. There was no secrecy whatever observed about the ship. She went out of dock at night; and I ask you, as men of common sense, if she wanted to escape, surely the night was a time when she could have escaped? But what was the fact? They were so vain-glorious about their little craft that they anchored her off the Landing-stage, and there she remained until half past ten to eleven the following morning, when she left for her destination. They admit that she was not fitted out as a man-of-war, and that they had no legal authority to detain that ship until a man was engaged to serve on board her as a sailor. Does any ship-owner present believe, or any man connected with shipping, that the captain of a vessel supposed to be going upon any extraordinary voyage would go and tell a man who appears to have been a hired agent or spy of certain gentlemen in London? Would the captain of a ship on such an expedition go and tell a common sailor at the Sailors’ Home all the ins and outs of his intentions regarding that ship? (Hear, hear, and applause.) Certainly not. Now, I know it is not true that the man was told anything of the sort by the captain. I have been so informed, and I believe the information to be on the best authority. But let me tell you it is not necessary, in engaging men to go to any part of the world, to tell these men where they were going; because, you know, I am an old hand myself in fitting out secret expeditions. (Laughter and applause.) A few years ago it was thought desirable by the government of this country to send vessels to China and to various parts of India secretly. A Chinese war was anticipated; the Russians were expected to come down the head of the Indus and the Euphrates; and it was desirable to place faith in somebody. Her Majesty’s government were [Page XXVII] pleased to place faith in me, and I built for the British government about a dozen vessels; but the government said to me, “What we want you to do, Mr. Laird, is this: we want you to build, and to arm, and equip these vessels, and to send them out; they must be yours, and nobody must know anything about it.” Well, being a prudent sort of a shipbuilder, I said, “I will take your order on those conditions.” I built the ships; they were armed; I engaged men; I did everything. (Hear, hear, cheers and laughter.) I had to engage not only sailors, but engineers and boiler-makers, ship-carpenters, and men of a variety of trades. I had to send them to various parts of the world, and I can assure you that a few shillings per month extra did all the business. They did not care where they went so long as they got a little extra pay. (Laughter.) And, therefore, the statement regarding the captain of the Alabama having told a sailor all about the ship—whose she was, and where she was for—bears the impress of falsehood upon the very face of it. I never saw the captain of the Alabama but once, and that was after having taken the ship out, and I don’t think he was the man to make such a statement as that upon which the ship might have been stopped. Let me read you a few words from a speech of the solicitor general, who made another great speech the other day at Richmond. He said some months ago: If was not till the Alabama reached the Azores that she received her stores, her captain, or her papers, and that she hoisted the confederate flag. It is not true that she departed from the shores of this country as a ship armed for war. (Hear, hear, and great applause.) And then he went on to say: “But I wish the House to understand that in those depositions there was a great mass of hearsay evidence, which, taken by itself, could not form the basis of any action. Of the six depositions transmitted on the 22d of July, only one was good for anything at all, viz: the evidence of a person named Passmore, which was sufficient to prove the material facts. Two more were sent, corroborating Passmore, on the 24th, and were received by Earl Russell on the 26th.” (Hear.) Passmore was the man who made the affidavit that he was told by the captain where the ship was to go. I don’t believe him, and he must have got up the evidence for the occasion. Lord Palmerston, whom we all respect, (applause) said, on the 27th of March last, “I have myself great doubts whether, if you had seized the Alabama, we should not have been liable to considerable damages. It is generally known that she sailed from this country unarmed, and not properly fitted out for war, and that she received her armament, equipment, and crew in a foreign port. Therefore, whatever suspicions we may have had—and they were well-founded, as it afterwards turned out—as to the intended destination of the vessel, her condition at that time would not have justified a seizure.” (Cheers.) Now, here is Lord Palmerston, an old and experienced man, who says, in his opinion, the government would have been liable to considerable damages had they stopped that ship. I think, after what has been said—considering my connexion with this place, and after the noise this vessel has made in the world (laughter and applause)—the meeting will excuse my having brought forward these questions. (Applause.) Other speeches have been made by a noble lord who does not seem to agree with Lord Palmerston. I mean Earl Russell. (Hisses.) He made a speech the other day which has caused a great sensation all over the world, and which the Americans say is only due to the coercion they have put upon him. Earl Russell is a man who is well known and respected throughout the country by his own followers; but he is a man of whom Sidney Smith said that he had such confidence in himself that he would take command of the channel fleet if necessary. Well, I think Earl Russell has undertaken something that he will not be able to carry through quite so easily as perhaps he might command the channel fleet. He has undertaken to say in this country that he can do certain things, and that if he finds the law is not sufficient he can go to Parliament for an indemnity. (Hear, hear.) I don’t believe myself that Parliament will ever indemnify any man in the [Page XXVIII] country, however powerful and however great he may be, if he is trying to transgress the law. (Loud and protracted cheering.) At any rate, up to the time when the act of indemnity is passed there are laws in the land which all of us are bound to obey. (Hear, hear.) Laws are not made for administrations, but for the people of this country, and the people are only bound to obey the law as it stands, and not to obey laws which may possibly come to be passed hereafter. (Renewed cheers.) Another eminent gentleman, Sir Roundell Palmer, had made another speech at Richmond; and I must say, having read that speech, that it is all very well for an eminent lawyer, one of the first legal authorities of the day, to make a speech in the month of March, and say that those were the views of the country, and then to make a speech in support of another client in October of opposite views; but I say it is not the duty of a man who holds the position of a statesman in this country to be placing one interpretation upon certain facts in March and another in October. (Loud cheers.)