Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams.

No. 1906.]

Sir: A copy of a despatch written by Lord Stanley on the 30th of November last has been submitted to me by her Majesty’s minister plenipotentiary here, Sir Frederick W. A. Bruce It contains a review of my despatch No. 1835, concerning so-called Alabama claims.

You will please lay before Lord Stanley this reply.

The President appreciates the consideration and courtesy manifested by her Majesty’s government. I shall be content, on this occasion, with defending such of my former statements as Lord Stanley has disallowed. I think it unnecessary to disclaim a purpose of impugning the motives of the late or of the present ministry. Governments, like individuals, necessarily take their measures with reference to facts and circumstances as they, at the time, appear. The aspect often changes with further development of events. It is with ascertained facts, and not with intentions, that we are concerned; and it is of Great Britain as a state, and not of any minister or ministry, that we complain.

Lord Stanley justly reminds me that the Sumter was of American, not of British origin, and that she began her career by escaping from New Orleans, and not from a British port, I think, however, that the correction does not substantially affect the case. The Sumter, belonging to loyal owners, was employed in trade between New York and New Orleans. Insurgents seized and armed her there, and sent her out through the blockade. She captured several United States merchant vessels, and sent them into Cienfuegos. On the 30th of July, 1861, she entered the British port of Trinidad, in the West Indies, ostentatiously displaying an insurgent flag, which had not then, nor has it ever since, been recognized as a national ensign, either by the United States or by Great Britain, or by any other State. Being challenged, she presented a pretended commission, signed, not by the President of the United States, but by Jefferson Davis, an insurgent chief. The governor of Trinidad exhibited the British standard as a compliment to the insurgent visitor. The Sumter was entertained there six days, and supplied with coal. After renewed depredations she took shelter, on the 19th of January, 1862, in the British port of Gibraltar, in continental [Page 46] Europe. Being effectually locked in there for months by United States cruisers, she was, against the protest of this government, allowed to be sold to British buyers for the account and benefit of the insurgents. She then hoisted the British flag, and under it was received at Liverpool, within the British realm.

It is, indeed, true, as Lord Stanley has observed, that the Alabama, when she left England, was wholly unarmed and not fully equipped as a war vessel. It is also true that she received an armament, a further equipment, a commander and a crew in Angra bay, Azores—a possession of the Crown of Portugal— where the British government had no jurisdiction, and could exercise no lawful control, even if they had an opportunity. But, on the other hand, it is to be remembered that, not only was the vessel built at Liverpool, but the armament and the supplemental equipment were built and provided there ai so, simultaneously and by the same British hands, and also that the commander and crew were gathered and organized at the same time and the same place; the whole vessel,: armament, equipment, commander and crew were adapted, each part to the other, and all were prepared for one complete expedition. The parts were fraudulently separated in Liverpool, to be put together elsewhere, and they were fraudulently conveyed thence to Angra bay and there put fraudulently together by her Majesty’s subjects, not less in violation of British than of Portuguese obligations to the United States. The offenders were never brought to justice by her Majesty’s government, nor complained of by that government to the Queen of Portugal. The Alabama, from the laying of her timbers in Liverpool until her destruction by the Kearsarge, off Cherbourg, never once entered any port or waters of the United States. Whatever pretended commission she ever had as a ship of war must have been acquired either in Great; Britain or some other foreign country at peace with the United States, or on the high seas. Nevertheless, the Alabama was received, protected, entertained, and supplied in her devastating career in the British ports of Capetown and Singapore in the east, and when she was finally sunk in the British channel, her commander and crew were, with fraudulent connivance, rescued by British subjects and ostentatiously entertained and caressed as meritorious but unfortunate heroes at Southampton. With these explanations I leave the affair of the Alabama where it was placed in the representation of Mr. Adams.

Lord Stanley says that the Florida, under the original name of Oreto, left England unarmed and unequipped. It must not be forgotten, however, that while building she was denounced to her Majesty’s government by Mr. Adams. Lord Stanley also says that the Shenandoah left England unobserved, and therefore unquestioned, and, for anything that had transpired, on a legitimate voyage, and that she was only armed, equipped, and manned as a war vessel off Funchal, within Portuguese dominion. I am sure that it must be unnecessary to refer here to the fact that the building of the Florida. the Ceorgia, and the Shenandoah in British ports, and the arming and equipment of them outside of British jurisdiction, were fraudulent in the, same manner that has been specially described in regard to the Alabama. The Shenandoah was received, protected, and supplied, in defiance of our protest, at Melbourne, in Australia. She proceeded thence to the Arctic seas, where she destroyed twenty-nine United Slates merchant vessels, and finally, after the end of the rebel hostilities here, she returned to Liverpool, the place from which she had first gone forth, and there surrendered herself to her Majesty’s government as to an ally or a superior.

Lord Stanley excuses her Majesty’s government in part upon the ground that sufficient evidence or notice was not presented by the United States, in part on the ground of accidental hindrances or embarrassments, while in one place he seems to imply that the only devastating vessels of which we complain are the Sumter, the Alabama, the Florida, and the Shenandoah. In regard to the first excuse, I have to say that British complaints of lack of vigor on our part would, under any circumstances, be unreasonable. International as well as [Page 47] municipal laws depend for their execution in Great Britain upon her Majesty’s government, and not upon our own. Again, I think that Lord Stanley will find, by referring to unpublished records in the Foreign Office, what certainly appears in our confidential archives, that at the time when the fraudulent building, arming, and equipping of those vessels were going on in England, we were required, out of tenderness to British sensibilities and with the approval of her Majesty’s government, to relax rather than increase our vigilance, then called by the repulsive name of espionage.

In relation to the second excuse, I think that the alleged hindrances and embarrassments were nothing else than the skilful machinations of the offending parties themselves. In enumerating certain vessels in my former communication, I wrote of them not as all the vessels complained of, but by way of describing the class of which we complained. There were many others. The Nashville, stolen from loyal owners at Charleston, after having evaded the blockade, and after having captured the Harvey Birch, arrived at Southampton on the 20th of November, 1861. She was entertained there until February 3, 1862, and then left the harbor, protected from the United States cruiser Tuscarora by her Majesty’s war frigate Shannon. She was afterwards hospitably entertained at the British ports of Bermuda and Nassau, in the West Indies. The Alabama improved her own crafty experience. Having in one of her cruisers captured the United States merchant ship Conrad, near the Cape of Good Hope, on the 21st of June, 1863, she commissioned the Conrad as a “confederate” pirate on the high seas, under the name of the Tuscaloosa. In like manner, the Florida captured the merchant ship Clarence upon the ocean, and commissioned her, and gave her an armament, force, and equipment of a 12-pound howitzer, twenty men, and two officers. Afterwards the Florida transferred the same authority, armament, and equipment to the Tacony on the high seas, which vessel captured, bonded, and destroyed ten United States merchant vessels off the Atlantic coast.

Having recalled these facts, I must now beg leave to reaffirm as substantially correct my former statement, the statement to which Lord Stanley has excepted, namely: the Sumter, the Alabama, the Florida, the Shenandoah, and other ships of war, were built, armed, equipped, and fitted out in British ports, and despatched therefrom by or through the agency of British subjects, and were harbored, sheltered, provided, and furnished, as occasion require, during their devastating career, in ports of the realm or in ports of the British colonies in nearly all parts of the globe.

Lord Stanley excuses the, reception of the vessels complained of in British ports subsequently to their fraudulent escapes and armament, on the ground that when the vessels appeared in those ports they did so in the character of properly commissioned cruisers of the government of the so-styled Confederate States, and that they received no more shelter, provisions, or facilities than was due to them in that character. This position is taken by his lordship in full view of the facts that, with the exception of the Sumter and the Florida, none of the vessels named were ever found in any place where a lawful belligerent commission could either be conferred or received. It would appear, therefore, that in the opinion of her Majesty’s government, a British vessel, in order to acquire a belligerent character against the United States, had only to leave the British port where she was built clandestinely, and to be fraudulently armed, equipped, and manned anywhere in Great Britain or in any foreign country or on the high seas, and in some foreign country or upon the high seas to set up and assume the title and privileges of a belligerent, without even entering the so-called confederacy or ever coming within any port of the United States. I must confess that if a lawful belligerent character can be acquired in such a manner, then I am unable to determine by what different course of proceeding a vessel can become a pirate and an enemy to the peace of nations.

[Page 48]

Lord Stanley defends the Queen’s proclamation of neutrality by quoting against me certain utterances of the Supreme Court of the United States and of the District of Columbia, of which he says her Majesty’s government has seen no refutation. Certainly it is not my purpose to refute these utterances. They were made by learned and loyal tribunals. Moreover, Lord Stanley understands them correctly as showing that, at the time they were pronounced, it was the opinion of those courts that a civil war was actually existing in the United States, and that it was existing at the time when the causes of action arose in the cases which the courts were adjudicating. I may admit, further, that the courts referred to the President’s blockade proclamation, which preceded the Queen’s neutrality proclamation, as one among the facts which proved that the controversy here was not a mere local insurrection, but had all the gravity, character, and consequences of a civil war.

But I must insist, on the other hand, first, that neither of the judicial utterances referred to asserts or admits that the President’s blockade proclamation expressly and in form declared or recognized the existence of civil war, and, in the second place, that both of these judicial utterances unmistakably imply the contrary. The district court of Columbia pronounced its opinion on the 17th of June, 1861. The Supreme Court of the United States withheld its opinion until the 10th of March, 1863. The capture which constituted the cause of action in the district court occurred on the 21st of May, 1861; the captures concerning which the Supreme Court of the United States adjudicated occurred on the 17th of May, 1861, the 20th of May, 1861, the 23d of June, 1861, and the 10th of July, 1861. The Queen’s proclamation of neutrality had appeared before either court pronounced its opinion, and before either cause of action arose. British subjects were claimants in some, and other foreigners were claimants in others, of these litigations. Among the facts of which the Supreme Court took notice, and which they set forth as the grounds of their opinion, is the following:

As soon as the news of the attack on Fort Sumter, and the organization of a government of the seceding States assuming to act as belligerents, could become known in Europe, to wit: on the 13th of May, 1861, the Queen of England issued her proclamation of neutrality, recognizing hostilities as existing between the government of the United States of America and certain States styling themselves the Confederate States of America. This was immediately followed by similar declarations or silent acquiescence by other nations.

This statement served to prepare the way for the proposition which became a chief basis in the decision of the Supreme Court, to wit: “After such an effectual recognition by the sovereign, the citizen of a foreign state is estopped to deny the existence of a war and its consequences as regards neutrals.” It is thus seen that the decision of the Supreme Court, which Lord Stanley quotes in defence of the Queen’s proclamation of neutrality, was based upon the proclamation itself, and thus the proclamation defended, and the defending opinion of the Supreme Court, reciprocate each other. The district court of Columbia is only an inferior local tribunal, whose unreviewed reasoning would not anywhere be deemed authoritative upon international questions. I might, therefore, bring my remarks upon the Queen’s proclamation of neutrality to an end, but I desire to leave nothing unsaid that might tend to elucidate the subject. The issue between the United States and Great Britain, which is the subject of the present correspondence, is not upon the question whether a civil war has recently existed in the United States, nor is the issue upon that other question, namely, whether such a civil war was actually existing here at the date of the Queen’s proclamation of neutrality. Certainly there is a stage when a civil commotion, although attended by armed force, is nevertheless in fact only a local insurrection, as it is also true that local insurrections often transcend municipal bounds, and become civil wars. It is always important, and generally difficult and perplexing, to recognize and definitely determine the transition stage with absolute precision. The disturbed nation suffers a serious loss of advantages if recognition is prematurely [Page 49] made. The insurrectionary party may suffer a serious loss if it be too long and unjustly withheld. Strangers who may be dealing with one or the other may be injuriously affected in either case. Now what is alleged on the part of the United States is that the Queen’s proclamation, which by conceding belligerent privileges to the insurgents, lifted them up for the purposes of insurrection to an equality with the nation which they were attempting to overthrow, was premature because it was unnecessary, and that it was in its operation unfriendly because it was premature.

The discussion necessarily involves a history of that proclamation. On the 28th of February, 1861, the United States, in the customary manner of international conference, announced to Great Britain, as well as to other friendly nations, that certain United States citizens dwelling in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas had, in pretended State conventions, and in a so-called but unlawful congress, on paper, pronounced a secession or separation from the federal government, and asserted themselves by the style of the Confederate States of America. The United States, for special reasons, warned her Majesty’s government that seditious emissaries would endeavor to procure from Great Britain a recognition of the pretended confederacy. The United States protested against such a proceeding. Her Majesty’s principal secretary for foreign affairs, on the 22d of March, 1861, listened to the announcement thus made as one which he expected, and said that her Majesty’s government had reached no definite conclusion as to a proper course of action. He observed that he had seen a private letter, from which he inferred that accredited ministers or commissioners, authorized to negotiate for recognition, would be shortly sent to Europe by the so-called secessionists. This answer plainly indicated a preparation for the very decision against which the United States protested. On the 9th of March thereafter, thé President of the United States caused the before-mentioned monition and protest to be renewed, with the assurance fo her Majesty’s government that he then entertained a full confidence in a speedy restoration of the harmony and unity of the government, through judicious measures co-operating with a deliberate and loyal action of the American people. The President earnestly desired her Majesty’s government not to intervene in any unfriendly way in the domestic concerns of this country. He distinctly stated further that he would take care in every case to render any possible injuries which foreigners might suffer as light as possible, and fully to indemnify them. In answer to this latter communication, her Majesty’s government, on the 8th of April, 1861, said that the matter seemed not yet ripe for decision, one way or the other, and that this was all that at that moment they could say. They added, however, a statement that English opinion seemed to be tending towards the theory that a peaceful separation of the American Union might work beneficially for both groups of States, and might not injuriously affect the rest of the world. It was then made known that the subject was to be debated on that very day in the House of Commons, and that six days thereafter a motion for absolute recognition of the pretended confederacy, otherwise Called there a new nation, would be pressed in Parliament. When these facts became known to this government care was taken to reply that the answer of the foreign secretary of state was by no means satisfactory, and her Majesty’s government was therefore advised that they were at liberty, to choose whether they would retain the friendship of the United States by refusing all aid and comfort to their domestic enemies, or whether her Majesty’s government would take the precarious benefits of a different course. It was not long left in doubt in European circles which alternative Great Britain would elect. Her Majesty’s principal secretary for foreign affairs having invited a conference on the 2d of May, announced to the United States minister in London, Mr. Dallas, that three representatives of the so-called southern confederacy were then in that capital, and that he, Lord Russell, was [Page 50] willing to see them unofficially. He then made the important announcement that there already existed an understanding between her Majesty’s, government and that of France, which would lead both to take the same course as to recognition, whatever that course might be. The United States minister, of course unprepared with instructions to meet these revelations, certainly unlooked for here, replied that his appointed successor, Mr. Adams, was then oh his voyage, and might be expected within 10 or 15 days. The secretary acquiesced in the expediency of waiting for the coming of the new minister. The proposed movement in Parliament for recognition was, at the instance of the secretary of foreign affairs, postponed.

When the President received an account of the last-mentioned interview, he then was unable, as the United States are yet unable, to perceive how it was thought, by her Majesty’s government, entirely considerate in regard to the United States to consult and agree with France upon a question vital to the United States without affording them a hearing. Moreover, the United States were then unable, as they are yet unable, to perceive how it is justly considered by her Majesty’s government any more lawful, just, or friendly to entertain traitors against the United States, with a view to business negotiations with them, unofficially and privately, than it is to entertain and negotiate with them officially and publicly. Be this as it may, Earl Russell’s explanations revealed to the United States the fact that even thus early, before any effective military advantage had been gained by the insurgents, and even before any meditated blow had been given by this government in its own defence, the British government, Parliament, and people were entertaining privately, and not unkindly, debates with the insurgents and with a foreign power, which involved nothing less than a direct and speedy sanction of the rebellion in the Uniteci States, and a dissolution of the American Union. They were yet unwilling to believe that Great Britain would take such a course with unconcealed precipitancy. Mr. Adams, the new minister, in the mean time had been charged with the duty of counteracting the appeals of the disunionists, and was prepared to answer every argument which they could advance, either on the score of British interest, or under the pretext of zeal for the freedom of trade, or for the freedom of men. The insurgent emissaries reached London on the 30th of April. The President’s blockade proclamation, which was issued on the 13th of April, reached London on the 3d of May. On the 4th of May, only two days after the conference of Mr. Dallas with Lord Russell, he favored the insurgent emissaries with an unofficial interview. He patiently, it is not for us to say confidingly, heard them disclaim slavery as a principal cause of the incipient rebellion, while they alleged that its real cause was the high prices which the so-called south was obliged to pay for manufactured goods by way of protecting so-called northern manufacturers. They favored him with glowing statements of the south, and its exports valued by millions. He answered that, when the question of recognition should come to be formally discussed, inquiry must be made on two points: first, whether the body seeking recognition could maintain its position as an independent state; and, secondly, in what manner it was proposed to maintain relations with foreign states. After reviewing this conversation, is it to be wondered at that the traitors, when retiring from this interview, assured his lordship that they would rest in London in the hope that a recognition [of the sovereignty] of the southern confederacy would not long be delayed? Two days later, namely, on the 6th of May, the principal secretary for foreign affairs announced in Parliament that the ministry had consulted the law officers of the Crown—the attorney general and the solicitor general, and the Queen’s advocate—and her Majesty’s government had come to the opinion that the southern confederacy of America, according to the principles which seemed to them to be just principles, must be, treated as a belligerent. The Queen’s proclamation, which went half the way towards recognition of the so-called southern confederacy, was issued at London on the 15th of May, in the morning. Mr. Adams [Page 51] arrived there in the evening. He was officially received on the 16th. This is the history of the Queen’s proclamation of neutrality. What I wrote concerning it in the despatch which Lord Stanley has reviewed is as follows:

While as yet the civil war was undeveloped, and the insurgents were without any organized military forces or treasury, long before they pretended to have a flag or to put an armed ship or even a merchant vessel upon the sea, her Majesty’s government, acting precipitately as we have always insisted, proclaimed the insurgents a belligerent power, and conceded to them the advantages and privileges of that character, and thus raised them in regard to the prosecution of an unlawful armed insurrection to an equality with the United States. The United States remain of the opinion that the proclamation has not been justified on any ground of either necessity or moral right; that, therefore, it was an act of wrongful intervention, a departure from the obligations of existing treaties, and without sanction of the law of nations.

Lord Stanley’s principal point, in defending the Queen’s proclamation, is, that it did no more than acknowledge a state of war which had already been recognized by the President himself in his proclamation of a blockade, which was issued on the 19th of April, 1861, and his further proclamation which was issued on the 27th of April, 1861. We have already seen that the Supreme Court of the United States and that of the District of Columbia, in their opinions, did not pretend, admit, or imply that the President’s aforementioned proclamations expressly and in form declared or recognized a state of civil war. So Lord Stanley, with commendable candor, refrains from making any similar claim in regard to the President’s blockade, proclamations. The courts reached their conclusion that, a state of civil war was existing at the time of the maritime captures which were under consideration by processes of reasoning and argument. Lord Stanley is content with adopting the court’s argument in identical words. He quotes from the Supreme Court:

The President was bound to meet it in the shape it presented itself without waiting for Congress to baptize it with a name, and no name given to it by him or them could change the fact.

Lord Stanley quotes also the words that

The proclamation of blockade is conclusive evidence, to the court that a state of war existed.

And in the same sense he quotes from the court of the District of Columbia:

That the facts of the secession of the southern States, as set forth by the President, with the assertion of the right of blockade, amount to a declaration that civil war exists.

The courts correctly understood the facts with which they had to deal. In the causes which were before those courts, the claimants insisted that a state of civil war was not existing at the time of the respective captures. They so-insisted on the ground that no competent authority had declared a civil war or had acknowledged the insurrection as a civil war giving rise to belligerent rights,. that Congress had not so defined, described, or acknowledged it, and that the President had not by his proclamations so named, baptized, or recognized it.

The recitals from the courts sustain the historical view of the case which I have presented. Before the Queen’s proclamation of the disturbance in the United States was merely a local insurrection. It wanted the name of war to enable it to be a civil war and to live, endowed as such with maritime and other belligerent rights, Without that authorized name it might die, and was expected not to live and be a flagrant civil war, but to perish a mere insurrection.

It was, therefore, not without lawful and wise design that the President declined to confer upon the insurrection the pregnant baptismal name of civil war, to the prejudice of the nation whose destiny was in his hands. What the President thus wisely and humanely declined to do, the Queen of Great Britain too promptly performed. She baptized the slave insurrection within the United States a civil war; and thus, so far as the British nation and its influence could go, gave it a name to live, and flourish, and triumph over the American Union. By this proceeding, the Queen of Great Britain intervened in the purely domestic [Page 52] and internal affairs of the United States, and derogated from the authority of their government. Reference to the events of the time will show that she misunderstood entirely the actual situation. The President’s first proclamation against the insurrection was issued on the 15th of April. He described the condition of affairs as one in which the laws of the United States were opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings. He called out the militia for a short term of service, to suppress those combinations, and to cause the laws of the land to be duly executed. He expressly declared that the first service assigned to the militia forces would probably be to repossess the forts, places, and property which had been seized from the Union; and that, in every event, the utmost care would be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of or interference with property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens of any part of the country; and he commanded the forces composing the combinations before mentioned’ to disperse, and to return to their respective abodes within twenty days. He at the same time convoked Congress for the 4th day of July, to consider the state of the Union. So also in the President’s second or supplemental proclamation of the blockade, he defined its necessity as arising from an insurrection which had broken out in the States therein named, by means whereof the uniform laws of the united States for the collection of revenue could not be effectually executed. He recited, further, that a Combination of persons engaged in such insurrection had threatened to grant pretended letters of marque. He declared, further, that he had required the persons engaged in these disorderly proceedings to desist therefrom, and had called out the militia to restore order and the supremacy of the laws. All these declarations, recitals, warnings, and commands are the especial features of governmental proclamations, designed to suppress local insurrections without suffering them to attain the form and dimensions of civil war. It was the absolute right of this government to treat the insurrection in this manner; and, in our opinion, it was not a right of Great Britain, by any recognition of the insurgents, either as sovereign or as belligerent, to defeat the wise and humane measures of the President in that respect. It will be found, we think, that all nations which have desired to practice justice and friendship towards a state temporarily disturbed by insurrection, have forborne from conceding belligerent privileges to the insurgents, in anticipation of their concession by the disturbed state itself. A nation which departs from this duty always practically commits itself as an ally to the insurgents, and may justly be held to the responsibilities of that relation.

I pass, without comment, Lord Russell’s justification of the Queen’s proclamation, assimilating the situation here in 1861 to that of the Greeks rising against their Turkish oppressors in 1825. It could hardly be expected that this government would be convinced by an argument that assimilates them to the Ottoman power in its decline, and the slave-holding insurgents to the Christian descendants of heroic Greece, in their reascent to civilization. Lord Stanley thinks that the Queen’s proclamation could have no tendency to encourage and create into a civil war a political convulsion which otherwise would have remained a mere local insurrection. If it were true that an insurrection acquires no new powers, faculties, and attributes, when it receives from its own or a foreign government the baptismal name of civil war, the point which Lord Stanley raises might require grave consideration. Such, however, is not generally the case; and certainly it was not the case in the late contest here. Provisions and treasures, arms, ordnance, and munitions of war, and even ships of war, began to pour forth from the British shores in support of the insurgent cause, so soon as the Queen’s recognition of it as a belligerent was proclaimed; and they continually increased, until it was finally suppressed by the vigor and energy of this government. The commercial losses of the United States, which are the immediate subject of the present correspondence, are only a small part of the [Page 53] damage which this country has sustained at the hands of British abettors of the insurgents. But will Lord Stanley please to refer to the table in which these special losses are presented, showing ninety-five merchant vessels, with ten millions of property, destroyed by the cruisers, which practically were sent forth from the British shores, and say whether he believes it possible that such destructive proceedings could, have occurred if Great Britain had not conceded belligerent rights to the insurgents. Nor is it to be overlooked, that foreign moral sanction and sympathy are of more value to a local insurrection than even fleets and armies.

Lord Stanley presents the considerations which induced the issue of the Queen’s proclamation. He says that her Majesty’s government had to provide at a distance for the loss and interests of British subjects in or near the seat of war. But who required British subjects to be there? Who obliged them to remain in a place of danger? If they persisted in remaining there, had they not all the protection that citizens of the United States enjoyed. Were they entitled to more? Moreover does the jurisdiction of Great Britain extend into our country to protect its citizens sojourning here from accidents and casualties to which our own citizens are equally exposed ? Lord Stanley continues, her Majesty’s government had to consider, the rapidity with which events were succeeding one another on the American continent, and the delay which must elapse before intelligence of those events could reach them, and the pressing necessity for definite instructions to the authorities in their colonies and on their naval stations near the scene of the conflict. On the contrary, it seems to us that prudence and friendship, had they been deliberately consulted, would have suggested to her Majesty’s government to wait for the development of events and definitive action of the United States.

Lord Stanley repeats from Earl Russell, and reaffirms that “her Majesty’s government had but two courses open to them on receiving intelligence of the President’s proclamation, namely, either that of acknowledging the blockade and proclaiming the neutrality of her Majesty, or that of refusing to acknowledge the blockade and insisting upon the right of her Majesty’s subjects to trade with the ports of the south where the government of the United States could exercise no fiscal control at that time.”

With due respect I must demur to this statement. The disturbance being, at the time referred to, officially and legally held by the government of the United States to be a local insurrection, this government had a right to close the ports in the States within the scene of the insurrection, by municipal law, and to forbid strangers from all intercourse therewith, and to use the armed and naval forces for that purpose. A blockade was legitimately declared to that end; and, until the state of civil war should actually have developed, the existence of a blockade would have conferred no belligerent rights upon the insurgents. In choosing the blockade as a form of remedy less oppressive than the closing of the ports by statute, the United States might perhaps have come under an obligation to respect any just rights and interests of aliens which might have been infringed. There was, however, no just ground of apprehension on that subject, for the history of the time shows that those rights were in all cases inviolately respected.

Again, the blockade could have been suitably acknowledged by her Majesty’s government without a proclamation conceding belligerent rights to the insurgents. Certainly forbearance from foreign strife can be practiced, like every other national virtue, without public proclamation. There is hardly a nation in any part of the world which has not been disturbed by both internal and external wars since the United States became an independent maritime power. I find, however, in our records that the United States have accorded a recognition of belligerent rights only in one case, namely, in the case of the flagrant war between-France and the allied European powers in 1793. In all other cases we have either disallowed belligerent rights or preserved silence.

[Page 54]

Lord Stanley says that “if Mr. Seward means to base the present claims on the ground that the British government should, while acknowledging the block ade, have awaited the arrival of a confederate ship of war in British ports before admitting the possession by the ‘Confederate States’ of a ship of war, and, therefore, their right to be treated on the high seas as a power, a reference to dates will show that the question would have been raised on the arrival of the Sumter at Trinidad, and of the Nashville at Southampton, some months before Mr. Adams laid his complaints against the vessels mentioned in the summary of claims.”

To this argument it is deemed a sufficient reply that neither of the two vessels named in fact appeared in a British port or upon the high seas until after the Queen’s proclamation, which tendered hospitalities and assistance to them, was issued.

I do not deem it necessary to reply at large to the reflections which Lord Stanley makes upon the conduct of this government in regard to the proceedings of the so-called Fenians. The Fenian movement neither begins nor ends in the United States; the movers in those proceedings are not native citizens of the United States; but they are natives of Great Britain, though some of them have assumed naturalization in the United States. Their quarrel with Great Britain is not an American, but a British one, as old, I sincerely hope it may not be as lasting, as the union of the United Kingdom. Their aim is not American, but British revolution. In seeking to make the territory of the United States a base for the organization of a republic in Ireland, and of military and naval operations Tor its establishment there, they allege that they have followed as an example proceedings of British subjects in regard to our civil war, allowed by her Majesty’s government. The policy and proceedings of the two governments in regard to those parallel movements have not assimilated. The United States government has not recognized the Irish republic as a belligerent, and has disarmed its forces when found within our territories and waters.

With regard to the manner in which this protracted controversy shall be brought to an end, we agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by Lord Stanley. We should even think it better that it be brought to an end, which might, perhaps, in some degree disappoint the parties, than that it should continue to alienate the two nations, each of which is powerful enough to injure the other deeply, while their maintenance of conflicting principles in regard to intervention would be a calamity to all nations. The United States think it not only easier and more desirable that Great Britain should acknowledge and satisfy the claims for indemnity which we have submitted, than it would be to find an equal and wise arbitrator who would consent to adjudicate them. If, however, her Majesty’s government, for reasons satisfactory to them, should prefer the remedy of arbitration, the United States would not object. The United States, in that case, would expect to refer the whole controversy just as it is found in the correspondence which has taken place between the two governments, with such further evidence and arguments as either party may desire without imposing restrictions, conditions, or limitations upon the umpire, and without waving any principle or argument on either side. They cannot consent to wave any question upon the consideration that it involves a point of national honor; and, on the other hand, they will not require that any question of national pride or honor shall be expressly ruled and determined as such. If her Majesty’s government shall concur in these views, the President will be ready to treat concerning the choice of an umpire.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Charles Francis Adams, Esq., &c., &c., &c.