HC Deb 13 June 1862 vol 167 cc611-7

said, he rose to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether Her Majesty's Government has received official information authenticating a Proclamation attributed to General Butler, the Military Governor of New Orleans, menacing the women of that city with the most degrading treatment, as a punishment for any mark of disrespect offered to any officer or soldier of the United States Army; and, in the event of an affirmative answer, whether Her Majesty's Government have deemed it right to remonstrate with the American Government against the issue of such an order; and to move for any Papers relating to this subject? The hon. Member said, that when he placed the notice of this Question on the paper, he hoped the answer of the Government would have been that the proclamation in question was one of those fabrications which had been so ingeniously circulated during the civil war in America; for when he first saw the proclamation, it did appear to him absolutely incredible that a General Officer filling so high a position in the United States army as General Butler should have issued an order which must inflict so much obloquy and disgrace. But he had observed in the journals of that morning, and from the letter written by the generally accurate New York correspondent of The Times, that this proclamation had been eagerly canvassed at New York, that it had excited great attention, and was generally believed to be genuine. He regretted to see also that up to the time when the last mails left America there was no report of any formal repudiation of the proclamation by the United States Government, nor of censure and condemnation of its author. Although, however, under these circumstances, the hope he had entertained was greatly weakened, still he did indulge the hope that the reply of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would allay that deep and indignant feeling that had been created among all classes of Englishmen by the publication of so extraordinary a proclamation, so utterly repugnant to the spirit of the 19th century and the whole of the usages of civilized warfare. In the few observations which he wished to make in introducing the question, he should carefully abstain from raising any question as to the merits of that great contest which was now raging on the other side of the Atlantic. We had hitherto maintained an impartial and strict neutrality, and in Parliament we had also maintained a wise and prudent reserve; but while refraining from saying a word upon the merits of the civil war, it was necessary that he should make the observation that it appeared from the testimony of all travellers, confirmed by both official and semi-official reports, that wherever the Northern armies had penetrated into the South they had been universally received as invaders or foreign foes, and there had not been the slightest evidence of the existence of any party, indeed of scarcely an individual, who did not look upon the soldiers of the Northern States with the most determined hostility. That would appear to be the universal feeling throughout the South, and the Southerners, rightly or wrongly, identified their cause with the sacred names of independence, liberty, and love of country. Was it, therefore, wonderful that throughout the whole population of the Southern States the women should partake of the feelings of their husbands, their brothers, their sons, and their lovers? It was, indeed, inevitable not only that they should partake of those feelings, but that they should express them with a vehemence and excitability, which was part of their nature. Such feelings were not only natural, but even praiseworthy; and we, who looked upon the progress of this struggle with less bitterness than those actually engaged in it, and could afford to award merit to both sides where it was due, must feel that our sympathies were with those women who identified themselves with those who, nearest and dearest to them, were daily risking their lives in that great struggle, and in what they considered a most sacred cause. He should have thought that those sentiments of honour and chivalrous observance which distinguished their profession would have animated the officers and soldiers of a civilized country, and would have made it impossible that anything like discourtesy or insult would have been offered to women— and those women their own countrywomen. But what was the fact? New Orleans had been captured; and the arms of the Northern States had been successful in establishing a military occupation of that great city. It was to be anticipated that that conquest would lead to a feeling of bitter animosity of the citizens against their successful conquerors. Such a feeling being inevitable, one would have expected the conquerors to have exercised a generous forbearance; instead of which, General Butler issued this most monstrous proclamation, which would disgrace for ever the name of the officer who had issued it, and would disgrace the Government of the United States if it was not immediately repudiated. The words of the order were that— Inasmuch as the officers and soldiers of the United States had been subjected to repeated insults from women calling themselves the ladies of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous courtesy, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States army, she shall be held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation. What did that mean? Was it (by the most merciful construction of the words) that there were certain legal penalties which in all countries were applicable to disorderly women, and that they should be sent to the House of Correction? Were the ladies of New Orleans, because they might happen by some gesture, by some movement, by something which some soldier or some officer of his own free will might chose to interpret as an insult, to be liable to be dragged off to the common gaol, and to be subjected to the most degrading associations with the lowest and vilest of their sex? That in itself would be more intolerable tyranny than any civilized people in our day had been subjected to. But there was another construction which he could not refrain from alluding to, though it was an interpretation so horrible that he could scarcely conceive that a human being with a mind not that of a demon could possibly have intended it. He would not allude further to that than to say, that it was a most singular and ambiguous way of threatening confinement in a gaol to say that ladies should be treated like common women of the town plying their vocation. He was quite sure that in every country in Europe, wherever this proclamation became known, public opinion would brand its author with disgrace, and there would be one burst of indignation. Public opinion was said to be the ruling power even in despotic countries; and if it had any power over a rampant democracy, he was sure that it would unite in condemning this most heinous proclamation. He was well aware that the Government might say that to take any step in this matter would be a departure from the line of non-intervention, and that by mixing ourselves up with a foreign struggle we might be led into difficulties and complications. He would not listen, and he hoped the House would not listen, to such timid, such mean counsels. We had interfered and interfered effectually, on former occasions. He would remind the House that some years ago, a civil war raged in the north of Spain which was characterized by acts of bloodshed and barbarous cruelty on one side and the other, and men were shot in cold blood. On that occasion the British Government were induced to interfere, and they interfered with success. The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) during his long connection with the Foreign Office, had been constantly interfering by way of remonstrance, and had tendered excellent advice to almost every country in Europe. Only the other day the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office (Earl Russell), sent a remonstrance to this very American Government for what certainly in our eyes was an act against the interests of humanity—namely, for blocking up Charleston harbour by sinking vessels laden with stones. If that was an occasion which called for our interference, surely this was one which called far more imperatively for the interposition of the voice of Europe, because the issue of such a proclamation tended to degrade civilization itself, and to throw us back to the barbarism and cruelty of Asiatic potentates, such as Genghis Khan or Nadir Shah. It would be most unjust, without further reliable information, to impute to the United States Government that they concurred in this enormity. If, however, there was any hesitation and delay on the part of the United States Government in at once repudiating this proclamation and censuring its author, he earnestly hoped that Her Majesty's Government would consider it necessary to make a most earnest remonstrance to the United States, and to point out to them the necessity of vindicating their national honour.


, who had also placed on the paper a notice to call the attention of the Government to General Butler's Proclamation, said, he was not at all surprised that more than one Member should have given notice of his intention to call the attention of the Government to the proclamation now Drought before them. The course which had been pursued in regard to it was neither improper nor unusual. The hon. Baronet (Sir J. Walsh) had quoted certain precedents; but he need not go further than the discussions which had taken place in that and the other House of Parliament to show, that when a great act of inhumanity had been committed by a foreign nation, the House of Commons was perfectly justified in commenting on the proceeding, and the British Government in remonstrating. There had, for instance, during the present Session, been a debate on the conduct of Russia towards Poland, and there had also been a discussion on the conduct of an Italian General in the south of Italy. Government had not failed to express their opinion in regard to both of those transactions. He deprecated as much as any one any fussy or meddling interference with foreign States. He entirely disapproved those homilies and lectures that were too often read by our Ministers to foreign States, and which were infinitely more agreeable to the compilers than to the receivers. He also deprecated the conduct of some hon. Members, who ransacked the newspapers for the purpose of putting questions in that House which were of no possible use, and were received by foreign countries with great dissatisfaction. He entirely agreed with what was said in the vacation speech of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (General Peel), that such intermeddling tended to produce a general feeling of dissatisfaction towards this country on the Continent, and led foreigners to say, in their hearts at least, with Orlando, "I do desire that we should be better strangers." But when a proclamation repugnant to decency, civilization and humanity had been promulgated and put in force against a people endeared to us by every tie of family, language, and religion, then he did think we had a right to protest against such an enormity, and appeal to the moral sense of the world against an outrage so wicked, so inexcusable, and so useless. Taking the words of the proclamation as he read them, it could signify nothing less than that the ladies of New Orleans, if they showed by word, by gesture, or by movement, contempt for a Northern soldier, were to be subjected to the brutalities of the Northern armies, and handed over to the tender mercies of the scum and the rowdery of New York. That was the interpretation which the words conveyed, and which they had a right to put on them. He had heard that very day that there was no punishment in New Orleans against unfortunate women of the town—they were not placed in the lock-up; there was hardly any instance in which that had occurred. But let them put even the most merciful signification on the words—suppose these ladies were only to be locked up in the calaboose with drunken negroes and all the rascality of New Orleans. Such a punishment was too horrible to contemplate; and for what was this punishment to be inflicted on the ladies of New Orleans? If by word, movement, or gesture they offended the sensibilities of a Northern soldier. Suppose a case of gallantry on the part of such a soldier; if a lady replied to it with that feeling of loathing they felt towards the men, it might be construed into a mark of contempt. If a lady crossed the street to avoid an encounter with a Northern soldier, or made use of any unguarded expression which showed that, though subdued, the people were still unconquered in their determination for freedom, it might be construed into contempt, and for that the ladies of New Orleans might be locked up with the common women of the town. He spoke very strongly, because he felt very strongly. Not more than two years and a half ago he was at New Orleans himself, and he should not readily forget the kindness, the geniality, the ever-ready welcome with which he was received, or the charm, the grace, and gentleness of these ladies. A letter was put into his hand from a Southern young lady a few days ago, in which it was stated, "I am afraid, when you see us again, you will find us entirely changed—we have been so outraged that you will no longer find us the timid retiring women we were." [A laugh.] He thought it too piteous to laugh at. It was sad enough for tears. He did not appeal to his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to reply to this question, but he did ask the Prime Minister of England if he was prepared to do that which he was convinced the ruler of brave and chivalrous France would do, if he had not already done it —namely, to protest against this, the greatest outrage which had been perpetrated against decency in the age in which we lived.


Sir, having been appealed to as I have been by my hon Friend, I am quite prepared to say that I think no man could have read the proclamation to which our attention has been drawn without a feeling of the deepest indignation. It is a proclamation to which I do not scruple to attach the epithet infamous. Sir, an Englishman must blush to think that such an act has been committed by one belonging to the Anglo-Saxon race. If it had come from some man belonging to a barbarous race that was not within the pale of civilization, one might have regretted it, but might not have been surprised; but that such an order should have been promulgated by a soldier —by one who has raised himself to the rank of General—is a subject undoubtedly of not less astonishment than pain. Sir, I cannot bring myself to believe but that the Government of the United States, when they had notice of this order, must of their own accord have stamped it with their censure and condemnation. We received yesterday a despatch from Lord Lyons communicating from the American newspapers the paragraph read by the hon. Baronet—namely, the order of General Beauregard animadverting on and giving the text of the proclamation to which reference has been made. There will be no objection to produce that paper. With regard to the course which Her Majesty's Government may upon consideration take on the subject, the House, I trust, will allow me to say, that will be a matter for reflection. I am quite persuaded that there is no man in England who does not share those feelings which have been so well expressed by the hon. Baronet and my hon. Friend.