Extract from Fraser’s Magazine, June, 1872.
* * * * * All the vast social power which the governing classes of England possess was thrown into the scale against whatsoever remained of the American Republic, and in favor of those who were striving to bring part of it at least into accordance with the decrees of that Providence in which governing classes believe.[Page 555]
There has always been a tendency to take the prattle of London society, and the prating of the press which delights to repeat it, as the public opinion of the country. It is not surprising, therefore, that the government of the day should have been affected by this influence. But what is surprising is, that they should have shown such utter recklessness and want of caution in publishing to the world their appreciation of the merits of the struggle, and their opinion as to its issue. That Mr. Gladstone, who had adopted Mr. Jevon’s opinion that coal was coming to an end in England, should have adopted society’s opinion that the republic was coming to an end in America, is not strange; but it is strange that he did not keep his opinion a little more to himself. How positive he was in the matter may be judged from these words, uttered by him in October, 1862:
“There is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army. They are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either—they have made a nation. We may anticipate with certainty the success of the Southern States so far as regards their separation from the North. I cannot but believe that that event is as certain as any event yet future and contingent can be.”
Mr. Gladstone was still of this opinion in June, 1863, when he said:
“I do not believe that the restoration of the American Union by force is attainable. * * * * * * * * I do not belive that more fatal error was ever committed than when men—of high intelligence, I grant, and of the sincerity of whose philanthropy I for one will not venture to whisper the smallest doubt—came to the conclusion that the emancipation of the negro race was to be sought, although they could only travel to it by a sea of blood.”
There spoke the spirit of the Liverpool slave-trader and the confederate bondholder rather than of the English statesman and chancellor of the exchequer. Lord Russell had already said, in October, 1861: “We now see the two parties (in the United States) contending not upon the question of slavery—though that I believe was probably the original cause of the quarrel—but contending, as so many States in the Old World have contended, the one side for empire, and the other for independence.” These speeches have, no doubt, since been repented of, but they are good evidence to show the views which existed at that time in the cabinet. Not that they existed alone either. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Mr. Charles Villiers, and Mr. Milner Gibson, had from the first struggled against them, and had been regarded with the respectful pity accorded to clever men for once in the wrong. They were, however, in a hopeless minority of three out of fifteen, and it is not too much to say that, as a body, the government looked, and was known to look with confidence and without displeasure to a disruption of the American Union. * * * *
* * * * At the conference of March 8, the American commissioners formally advanced their claim for losses both direct and indirect, stating, however, that “in the hope of an amicable settlement no estimate was made of the indirect losses, without prejudice, however, to indemnification on their account, in the event of no such settlement being made.” And they proposed that the joint commission should “agree upon a sum which should be paid by Great Britain to the United States in satisfaction of all the claims.” This offer, if accepted, would have effectually and forever ended the whole matter; it was, however, refused, and the English commissioners renewed their proposal for arbitration. Now, it has been said that, in proposing arbitration, they did, in effect, assent to an “amicable settlement,” and that the treaty is in fact that, and nothing more. To which the reply is obvious, that the payment which the Americans proposed was an absolute settlement, whereas the treaty settles nothing absolutely, providing only machinery for an amicable wrangle, in order to a settlement.
The difference is obvious. In making an “amicable settlement” as proposed, wo must have admitted our faults and paid for them; in agreeing to the treaty we admitted no fault, and merely exposed ourselves to the risk of payment in case the arbitrators decided against us. In the first case the United States would have gained every thing; in the second they run the risk of losing everything. The Americans agreed, however, to arbitration on condition that the principles to govern the arbitrators should be laid down. Thereupon were elaborated the famous three rules as to which the British government is made in the treaty to assert that they were first invented for this occasion, and are not a correct “statement of the principles of international law.” The most careful examination of the rules fails, however, to show in what they differ from those principles as universally enunciated, and as admitted by England at the time. The second rule indeed, apparently, extends the obligations of the neutral power to the extent of requiring it absolutely “not to permit or suffer” the use of its ports or waters as a base of naval operations, or for the renewal or augmentation of military supplies or arms; but this must be read by the light of the third, which prescribes “due diligence” as the measure of fulfillment of the obligations in question. The fact is that these rules are so hopelessly vague that they would cover almost any view of international law ever propounded, and the danger of them is that they may easily be so interpreted [Page 556] as to increase to an unendurable extent the obligations of neutral powers. This, however, is a small matter compared with what follows.
Having committed their country to judgment by principles declared to be false, the commissioners probably asked themselves to what subject those principles were to be applied. This brings us to the question of the national or indirect claims. Those claims were well known to the commissioners to exist. They had been made not once or twice but repeatedly. They had been advanced by Mr. Adams as early as 1862, by Mr. Seward in 1863, and more distinctly by Mr. Reverdy Johnson, by Mr. Motley and by Mr. Fish, in 1869. They had been commented upon by Lord Clarendon. The absence of any provision for them had been made the ground of rejection of the Johnson-Clarendon convention.
They had been presented to the commissioners themselves as a distinct special point. They could not be disregarded; nay, they alone were worth regarding at all, for they were then the sole and only point in dispute. The course of action upon everything else was already decided. England had already agreed to refer the direct claims to arbitration, and had signed a convention for that purpose. America had already agreed to leave out of consideration the question of recognition of southern belligerency. There remained absolutely nothing but these national claims on which any agreement was necessary. The whole question was here; the one point on which it was absolutely indispensable to be precise and clear was this; for failing precision and clearness here, the whole matter would be left no further advanced than it already was. If national claims were to be excluded, it was necessary that they should be excluded by the treaty; if not excluded by the treaty, it was manifest that they would have to be met under it.
The English commissioners, however, knew that they were expected to return with a treaty in their pockets, and either they did not understand what they were about, or they determined to return with a treaty leaving the one material point doubtful rather than with none at all. They did not, however, even succeed in leaving the point only doubtful, for they agreed to a definition which, if there is any sense in words, does cover the indirect claims. It is declared in the first article that “in order to remove and adjust all complaints and claims on the part of the United States” * * * * * “the high contracting parties agree that all the said claims, growing out of acts committed by the aforesaid vessels” shall be referred. How it can be said that “in all the claims” those called indirect are not included, is a mystery. Nevertheless, the English commissioners, it would appear, say it and believe it still; for, as late as the 23d of April last, we have Sir Edward Thornton telling the Americans at a public dinner that “he believed no one supposed that the British joint high commissioners had any idea—the slightest idea—that the indirect claims were included in the treaty.” After this confession it is superfluous to ask what title those gentlemen have to be considered men of ordinary intelligence and judgment. It has, indeed, been whispered that they had at the last moment doubts as to this point, and that, in answer to their questions upon it, the English government telegraphed “Sign at once.” If so, Sir Edward Thornton’s declaration does some injustice to himself and his colleagues.