From The Past
This is how Harper's Weekly reported the "Trent Affair" in January 1862
Journal of Civilization
New York, January 2, 1862
The Trent Question
It is well understood that Great Britain has demanded satisfaction for the Trent affair, in
what terms and to what extent is not known at the time we write. It is inferred from the tone of
the British press that the degree of satisfaction required is such as can not be granted without
subjecting the United States to decided humiliation. And the question which has engrossed the
minds of all loyal Americans during the past weeks has been whether we should submit to
humiliation, or go to war again with England.
Journal of Civilization
New York, January 11, 1862
The Surrender of the Traitors
The traitors Mason, Slidell, Eustis, and Macfarland have been surrendered to the British Government. The country was prepared for the event, and gulps the bitter pill in silence. Mr. Secretary Seward has written a rather ingenious and extremely long justification of the act. It is to be hoped that it will so far help him abroad that British journalists will cease to represent him as the sworn foe of England and of peace.
Every body here knew a week ago that the traitors would be given up. Not because of any technical informalities in their arrest, but because it was infinitely better that we should endure a certain amount of humiliation at the hands of Great Britain than that we should jeopard the great cause of the Union by throwing the naval power of England into the rebel scale. The main point thus determined, it devolved upon Mr. Seward to decide the form and conditions of our compliance with the demand of Great Britain.
He might have said that the arrest of the traitors was right and proper, and their detention legal; but that, in the present circumstances, the country was not in a condition to go to war with England while the much more momentous question of the dissolution of the Union was being discussed in the battle-field, and therefore that Mason and Slidel were surrendered for the sake of peace.
Or he might have said that while the general spirit of international law justified the arrest, no perfectly parallel case had ever occurred, and therefore a doubt existed as to the complete lawfulness of Captain Wilkes's act; and that as peace with Great Britain was at the present juncture absolutely necessary to this country, he would give England the benefit of the doubt, and would release the prisoners to please her and to appease the British mob.
Or he might have argued the case from a legal point of view, setting in bold relief the arguments on the British side, and "casting behind him" the strong points of our case; and might thus have concluded , in the teeth of the expressed view of Secretary Welles, and the sentiment of nine-tenths of the people of the United States, that the arrest was unjustifiable, the British claim reasonable and our duty imperative.
Of these three courses the two first would have completely satisfied the people of the United States, and would not have lowered the fame of the Secretary. Whether the third will prove as satisfactory as the others to the great mass of our people is a question which it will take time to decide.
M. Thouvenel's dispatch darkly hinting that France would be found on the side of Great Britain in the event of hostilities with this country, confirms the opinion we have had occasion to express more than once--that we have no real friends on the other side of the ocean. The logic of the French Minister is not worth examination. His strong point is that the Trent was sailing from one neutral point to another; a perfectly immaterial circumstance, in view of the fact that she carried dispatches and officers of the rebel Government. Sir Wm. Scott always held that the immediate point of departure and the direct destination were immaterial if the goods contraband of war actually came from belligerent ports, or were ultimately destined for belligerent uses. The practical lesson to be learned from M. Thouvenel's essay, is that France will not be on our side in the event of trouble between England and ourselves. Mr. Seward's smooth answer must not delude any one into imagining that our Government places the least reliance upon the hereditary friendship existing between this country and France; but that it relies, as it should do, on our own strength for the regulation of our own affairs.
It is hoped, at all events, that this extremely disagreeable business will secure the end proposed by so much humiliation-namely, that we may be suffered to conclude the job of crushing out the rebellion without further foreign interference. At the present time a piratical steamer- the Nashville- belonging to the rebels, half filled with the plunder of the American ship Harvey Birch, which she burned within sight of the British coast, is refitting in the harbor of Southhampton: the British steamer Gladiator, filled with arms and munitions for the rebels, is lying in the British port of Nassau, and has been supplied with coals to enable her to run into Savannah or some other rebel port, while the authorities of Nassau refuse coals to our gun-boat, the Flambeau, which is watching for her: other British steamers are notoriously fitting out in England with like cargoes for the rebels; and British officials all over, from the Governor of Canada to the Consul at Havana, give palpable evidence of their sympathy with the rebels. It is to be hoped that this measure of unfriendliness and injury may suffice. We do not trust that the British may be satisfied with equipping pirates to prey upon our commerce, and receiving them with their plunder; with converting British ports into harbors of safety for our enemy's ships, and refusing to sell coal to our vessels; with permitting their officials to receive with honor and respect the emissaries of the rebels, and to visit with their high displeasure any British subject who shows a friendly spirit toward this country. As we have treaties of alliance with England, and the members of the British Government are constantly assuring us of their high regard for us, perhaps these injuries may slake their dislike for the United States and for democracy. It is to be hoped, after the surrender of Mason and Slidell, that they will.
This page last updated 06/17/08
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