§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given 580 notice. In doing so he felt himself placed in a somewhat difficult position by the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck). The hon. and learned Gentleman must have been aware of the notice which stood in his (Mr. Bentinck's) name on the paper, but he had not acted in a manner in accordance with the usual courtesy of the House, by forestalling a Motion of considerable importance by making it the subject of a Question. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not seem to be altogether careful in preserving his usual spotless character in that House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he had not heard any words of an objectionable character fall from the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he would then repeat them. The hon. Gentleman said the hon. and learned Member ought to be particularly careful to follow a course which would preserve his usual spotless character.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member has said that the hon. and learned Member had done anything inconsistent with his character, that is not proper language.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he would be the last man to persist in a wrong course if he had entered upon one; and if the hon. and learned Member thought that he had said anything unfair towards him, he was ready in the most public manner, in that House, to state the grounds upon which he made the statement.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman had shown a sound discretion in foregoing an explanation. As he was saying before he was interrupted, he certainly felt himself placed in a position of some difficulty, because the hon. and learned Member had, to a certain extent, forestalled the answer which he was anxious to obtain from the noble Lord. The grounds upon which he had proposed to put the question rested upon a statement which appeared, a short time since, in The Times newspaper. It might be said that an article in a newspaper was not a ground upon which to found a Motion in that House; but he believed that most of those whom he addressed, whether or not 581 they agreed with the views expressed in that newspaper, would admit that it was a journal remarkable for the accuracy of its reports. Further, he had been enabled lo ascertain the perfect accuracy of that report by the evidence of the hon. Member for London, who was present upon the occasion referred to. He need hardly remind the House that anything that appeared in The Times newspaper was read in every town and village of this country, and probably in every city on the continent, and therefore anything that appeared in that paper obtained the utmost publicity. He was induced to go on to a certain extent with his question because there were certain details to which he thought the attention of the House ought to be called before they proceeded to discuss a question of international law which an hon. Member was to raise on the following evening. It would be impossible to enter upon that discussion, with the temper requisite for properly dealing with a subject of so difficult a nature, unless some further explanations were given by the Government. He was aware of the awkwardness of these questions, and he perfectly understood the disinclination of the noble Lord to enter upon a discussion of them; but he ventured to think that in such matters more harm was done by allowing the feelings of irritation which existed to continue day after day without any means being taken to allay them than would be caused by some explanation from the Government, which might have the effect of soothing irritation. The article he referred to appeared in The Times newspaper of the previous Friday. It referred to a deputation which waited upon the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office, introduced by the hon. Member for London (Mr. Crawford). He ventured to think that what passed at that interview was one of the most remarkable incidents ever published in the public journals. The statement, after detailing the manner in which the deputation was introduced, went on to say, that "while the United States Government have been seizing our vessels bound to Matamoras without a single article of contraband on hoard, Mr. Adams, their Minister at this Court, has been giving special licence for a ship to proceed from England to Matamoras free from interference by American cruisers, to carry supplies (which are stated to consist of arms and ammunition) for the service of the Mexicans in their war 582 against France." It then went on to stale that the hon. Member for London called the attention of the noble Lord to the position of the captain, officers, and supercargo of the Peterhoff, now in New York, who were stated to have been detained on board and not allowed to communicate either with the agents of the owners and merchants, or with the British Consul. The hon. Gentleman went on to show that the effect of that mode of proceeding would be greatly to encourage trade between the United States and Mexico, and entirely to put a stop to trade between England and the ports of the latter country. Then came a most remarkable letter, to which he would afterwards refer, from the American Minister, and the account went on to state that—The immediate object the deputation had in view was to elicit from Her Majesty's Government some assurance of protection for the steamship Sea Queen, now detained by the owners at Falmouth awaiting a decision.And after adverting to the fact that despatches had been broken open on board other vessels seized, it was stated that a suggestion was made that the Government should place a mail agent on board each vessel bound to the port of Matamoras. He invited the House to consider what was the substance of that report. In the first place, it involved that the Federal Government held itself at liberty to seize vessels bound to Mexican ports, although not carrying contraband of war. It was also laid down that vessels bound to the same ports, with contraband of war intended for the use of the Mexicans against the French, were not to be liable to seizure by Federal cruisers. That, it might be said, was a point in which we had no interest, but it did appear to be a singular mode of neutrality, and one which it was well should be made known to the astute sovereign of France, although no doubt he had already learnt it from The Times. But he wished the House more particularly to observe that another result of that mode of dealing was to inflict a heavy blow upon the commercial interests of England, because the course pursued by the American Minister and the tone of his letter amounted simply to this, that it rested with him when and where and how the commerce of the country should be conducted. The letter of the American Minister was one of the most remarkable productions he had ever seen. It began by saying—Amid the multitude of fraudulent and dis- 583 honest enterprises from this kingdom to furnish supplies to the rebels in the United States, through the pretence of a destination to some port in Mexico, it gives me pleasure to distinguish one which has a different and a creditable purpose.That purpose being to supply arms to the Mexicans to use against the French. With that they had nothing to do; but was the House prepared to accept such language as proper from a diplomatist of high position? The letter went on to say—It is not the disposition of the United States Government to interfere in any way with an honest neutral trade.The idea of the American Minister of honesty and neutrality was remarkable. Everything was honest to suit his own purpose, and his neutrality consisted in supplying a neighbouring Power with contraband of war to be used against a country with which his own country was at peace. The letter was one which ought not to be sanctioned by the tacit assent of that House, and he thought it called for some immediate and decided expression of opinion from Her Majesty's Government. Those who had read The Times of that day would have observed, not only that the authenticity of that letter was fully confirmed, but an attempt was made, to a certain extent, not to apologize or to repudiate, but to do away with an impression that the American Minister was trying to adopt a tone of dictation as to the trade of the country. The only result of the second letter was to confirm the authenticity of the first; and he hoped, before the discussion of the next evening, they should have some expression of opinion from the Government as to the letter, and that either the noble Lord at the head of the Government, or the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would state whether he found anything in that letter to which he took exception. Another important point was this:—That no man could read the American Minister's letter, giving a free pass to one vessel, without seeing that every vessel not so furnished would necessarily be liable to capture by the American cruisers. The commerce of the country was therefore bound hand and foot, unless their ships could obtain a free pass from the American Minister. That was a matter on which some information was desirable. One point brought forward by the deputation was, that if mail-bags were put on board English ships, and those mail-bags were afterwards opened by the Federal cruisers, the Federal emissaries in this country would probably send out letters of 584 such a character as to compromise the ship. He only mentioned that to show the estimation in which the Federals seemed to be held in England. But the deputation suggested, that in order to obviate the probability of seizure a mail agent should be put on board, with the view of certifying to the character and destination of the ship. It did not seem to strike the noble Earl that there was anything unusual in the proposition, or that, if complied with, it would place this country in a most humiliating position. He merely stated very quietly that he would consider the subject; but surely, when a proposal involving a direct insult to this country was made to a Minister of the Crown, it was not fitting language to answer that he would consider that proposal. It would be well that the House should know whether that was the way in which the Government generally would view it. Then the noble Earl's attention was called to the treatment of the persons taken on board the Peterhoff—a vessel the case of which had yet to be investigated, though the crew were dealt with as prisoners of war, and were shut up and deprived of all communication with the shore. That statement was made on the best authority; but how did the noble Earl receive it? One would suppose that any man who represented the feelings—or he would say the prejudices—of Englishmen would have at once expressed some indignation or disgust at such unheard-of treatment of his countrymen; but the noble Earl merely expressed his surprise at the facts laid before him. Now, surprise was certainly not the feeling which ought to have been predominant with him, and perhaps some Member of the Government would inform the House whether the Government merely shared the surprise, or whether they did not feel rather more strongly on the subject. The fact was, that the right of search by Federals had been changed into a right of capture. There was a levying of war against this country by capturing its mercantile marine, while the Federals screened themselves from all consequences by not having made an actual declaration of war against us. England was to let them capture her merchant ships whenever they were disposed to do so, but she was not to have the advantage—if advantage it might be called — of making reprisals. The effect of all this had been to increase the rate of insurance upon British ships above what 585 it was upon French ships. There was the whole ease in a nutshell, and he wanted to know whether the Government were as indifferent to these conditions as the noble Earl, or whether they did not rather share the indignation which was felt by the House and the country generally at the course taken by the Federal authorities. He was not blind to the difficulties of the subject. He was quite aware of the importance of exercising the greatest amount of caution. The noble Viscount was believed to be at all times disposed to protect the honour and interests of the country, but that feeling was not supposed to be shared in by all his Colleagues, and it was important that the House should know which of those views was at present predominant in the Cabinet. The silence of the Government on these questions produced a feeling of irritation, which would make it impossible, at a future time, dispassionately to consider the questions of international law which might arise. He wished therefore to know whether the Government intended at once to take such steps as would convince the people that the honour and the interests of this country would be duly cared for in their hands?
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, that as the hon. Member had referred to the part which he had felt it his duty to take in reference to the Peterhoff, it would be expected that he should take part in the discussion. He should be ready to do so under proper circumstances, and at a proper time, but he entirely declined doing so at that moment, and for two reasons: — First, because of the very critical position in which these transactions placed the relations of this country and the United States; and secondly, because he had heard the noble Lord at the head of the Government state, in reply to the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), that these matters were under the serious and anxious consideration of the Government. Knowing that to be the case, he could not but think that it would be in the highest degree inexpedient and indecorous on the part of that House to enter into anything like a detailed or prolonged discussion in reference to them. He earnestly advised the House not to continue such a discussion. He could only say be had heard with the greatest distaste, he might almost say with disgust, the sentiments expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. He would add, that he could not admire the taste of 586 the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Bentinck) in persevering with the subject after the statement that had been made by the noble Lord at the head of the Government.
§ MR. PEACOCKE
said, it appeared to be the feeling of the House that the general discussion should not take place on that occasion; but he wished to call attention to the very undignified position in which Parliament was placed in having to discuss important questions when they had no other information respecting them than was contained in the money article of a newspaper. He wished therefore to know whether the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would lay on the table of the House the papers connected with the question, and which then might be raised in a proper form; and, if it was agreeable to the House, he would move for the production of those papers. He also wished to know whether the hon. Gentleman had had any communication with Mr. Adams, and whether Mr. Adams had acknowledged the genuineness of the letter attributed to him? With regard to the carrying trade to Matamoras, that he believed was a more serious matter than the House were aware of. The facts were these:—Some months ago, as he was given to understand, the Mexican Government ordered supplies of arms in the United States. The Government of the United States, however, arrested the vessel which was to carry these arms. The Mexican Government—as well it might — remonstrated, whereupon Mr. Seward informed the Mexican Minister that he did not wish to deprive him of a supply of arms to curry on the war against France, but the United States wanted those arms for themselves. "If, however, added Mr. Seward, "you like to send over to England and get arms, we will give you every facility in our power;" and so this Mexican colonel and merchant, who was in the habit of buying arms, were sent over here provided with a letter to Mr. Adams, requesting that Minister to give them every assistance in his power, in order to obtain arms to help the Mexicans in their war with France. It was under these circumstances, and not from any individual action taken on his own responsibility, that Mr. Adams furnished the pass. When such statements as these were in circulation, it would allay irritation if the Government would frankly place the House in possession of all the information which was in their hands on the subject. Of course, I his object was to have laid on the table any 587 such papers as could be produced without any inconvenience to the public service. He would therefore conclude by moving for the production of papers that had passed between the Government and certain mercantile firms, with reference to the carriage of mails to Matamoras.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copy of any Correspondence between Earl Russell and any Mercantile Firms, relative to the conveyance of Mails to Matamoras,
— instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he felt it his duty to take the earliest opportunity of expressing his total dissent from the views of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck). It would be calculated to prejudice the interests of both this country and the United States if it should go forth to the world that the House had, on an occasion when discussing matters relating to the conduct of the American Minister, suffered reflections to be made on the conduct of Americans generally, which must be offensive not only to those who supported the Federal Government, but to every American. He did not feel the disappointment which the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had expressed with reference to the failure of the institutions of the United States. The hon. and learned Member spoke with the temper of a disappointed man. He (Mr. Newdegate) had never indulged the same hopes of those institutions which the hon. Gentleman had entertained, because he thought that the American people, by departing from the example which the constitution of this country afforded them, had introduced into their constitution an element of weakness, which had been manifested in a most remarkable manner, and from which consequences had ensued they must all regret; against these evils Englishmen were secured by the nature of the constitution under which they had the happiness of living. It was inexpedient, in the highest degree, to taunt those of their own blood on the other side of the Atlantic with misfortunes which we hoped, for their and for our own sake, would soon cease; nor did he agree with the hon. and learned 588 Member for Sheffield that the principle of self-government ought to be abandoned because the constitution of the United States had failed, for he hoped that the result of the present failure would produce an approximation, on the part of the American people, to those principles of government which could alone secure peace and prosperity. The misfortune of the constitution of the United States was that neither the people nor the Government had any recognised code of morality to which, as forming part of the constitution, they could refer as the basis of their laws and judicature, the best security for the maintenance of peace. He (Mr. Newdegate) was ready to support Her Majesty's Government in vindicating the honour of the country; bat if they were to engage in a contest with America, let them not be carried away by feelings of disappointment and spite, but enter on that step in a temper befitting the exertions and the misfortunes which it must entail.
§ MR. LAYARD
The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Peacocke) stated it was highly inconvenient that a discussion on so important a subject as that now under consideration should be had on the money article of a newspaper. I quite agree with him; and therefore I am the more surprised that he should have risen in his place to continue it. It equally surprised me that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Bentinck) should have proceeded with the subject after the answer given by the noble Lord at the head of the Government to the Question of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck); and I am still more surprised that the hon. Member for Maldon should call for papers on a matter still under consideration, and of the gravity of that which is now under discussion. I can give no answer to the hon. Gentleman opposite further than that already given by the noble Lord; but there are one or two other points to which I feel it my duty to advert, with a view of answering some of the observations which have been addressed to the House. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bentinck) said that the deputation which had waited on the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had made an insulting and humiliating proposal, to which proposal the noble Earl made no reply.
§ MR. BENTINCK
I beg pardon. I did not say that the proposal was an insult to the noble Lord. I said it was an insult to the country.
§ MR. LAYARD
I know the words of the hon. Gentleman were "insulting and humiliating." But the hon. Gentleman's correction makes the matter worse. For whatever the noble Earl might have done if the proposal were humiliating and insulting to himself personally, I feel certain that no hon. Member in this House who knows the noble Earl will believe that he is the man to bear patiently any proposal insulting or humiliating to this country. But I say that nothing either insulting or humiliating was put forward by way of proposal to Earl Russell. As hon. Gentlemen know, vessels leaving this country under a mail contract are accompanied by a Government mail agent. The proposal made by the deputation was that their vessels leaving this country with ship letters for Matamoras should have a mail agent on board. The noble Earl, as he felt bound to do when such a proposal was made to him, said, that it was one which required mature consideration. On such consideration it was found that great inconvenience would result from such an arrangement; and the reasons why this course would be open to grave inconvenience must be evident to the House. Vessels like the Peterhoff are different from those which sail under a mail contract. They are bound under an Act of Parliament to carry what is called a "ship-letter bag." The gentlemen who waited on Earl Russell represented, that if these vessels declined to take a ship-letter bag they would render themselves liable to a penalty; while if they carried one, their vessel might be seized and forfeited, owing to some document having been put in the bag which might compromise the ship that carried it. The gentlemen connected with the vessels have made a disingenuous and unfair statement with reference to those mail-bags. They would make it appear that the Government had deprived them against their wish of a privilege or a right, whereas the correspondence with the Government will show that it was the desire of the Government to relieve them at their own request from the difficulty in which they were placed, and that they still have the option of carrying the bags. If the House will permit me, I will read the correspondence which passed between the Post Office and the Foreign Office, and between the Foreign Office and those gentlemen. That correspondence will be laid on the table, and as the discussion has proceeded so far, it is important that no delay should take place in letting 590 the House know what has really taken place on the subject. Immediately after the deputation left the Foreign Secretary this communication was sent from the Foreign Office to the Post Office.
§ MR. H. BAILLIE
I rise to order. I submit that the hon. Gentleman cannot read documents that have been moved for and not produced.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman can state the contents of the documents which the Government is going to produce.
§ MR. LAYARD
These documents will be laid on the table of the House. This is the communication from the Foreign Office to the Postmaster General:—Foreign Office, April 16.Sir,—I am directed by Earl Russell to request that you will state to the Postmaster General that it has been represented to his Lordship, by persons interested in vessels employed between this country and Matamoras, that the circumstance of those vessels being obliged to carry a ship-letter mail may in many cases have an injurious effect on the vessels if visited by United States ships of war, inasmuch as although the persons interested in such vessels and cargoes may, as far as matters are within their control, be well assured of the innocence of both, yet they can have no such assurance in regard to the contents of mails intrusted to them by the Post Office, which, for aught they know, may include correspondence to which the United States as a belligerent Power might fairly object. I am therefore to request that you will state to the Postmaster General that Lord Russell is of opinion that under the peculiar circumstances of the present time vessels bound to Matamoras, either from ports in this country or from ports in Her Majesty's Colonies and possessions, should be relieved from the obligation of carrying ship-letter mails; and if the Postmaster General should concur, Lord Russell would be glad to be informed of his doing so, in order that he may apprise the parties by whom there presentation was made to him.—I am, &c.,E. HAMMOND.F. Hill, Esq.To that letter the following reply was received from the Post Office:—General Post Office, April 17.Sir,—Having laid before the Postmaster General your letter of yesterday's date, I am directed by his Lordship to request that yon will state to Earl Russell that he sees no objection to the proposal made in that letter that, under the peculiar circumstances of the present time, vessels bound to Matamoras from ports in this country should be relieved from the obligation of carrying ship-letter mails, and orders will immediately be given, that for the present no ship-letter mail be put on board any vessel sailing for Matamoras, unless with the full concurrence of the commander. With respect to vessels sailing from ports in Her Majesty's Colonies and possessions, the Postmaster General would suggest that Earl Russell should communicate with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, as, except at Malta and Gibraltar, the, management of the posts in the Colonies is now 591 entirely under local control. As bearing upon the present question, I am to add that on the 2nd inst. the brokers of a steam-vessel called the Sea Queen, bound for Matamoras, wrote to this office stating that they should be glad to take a mail by her; but on the 11th inst. a further letter was received from them, pointing out, that for reasons similar to those mentioned in your letter the owners wished to decline taking the mails for which they bad previously applied. Before the receipt, how ever, of that letter, three mails, containing eight letters and two newspapers, had been put on board the ship at Gravesend, and the vessel had sailed. This circumstance was communicated to the brokers yesterday, but the Postmaster General has now directed a further letter to be written to them, informing them, that if they still desire that the mails should not be carried by the Sea Queen, and will instruct the commander to put them on shore at Falmouth (where it is understood the vessel is to call), his Lordship will authorize the Postmaster of Falmouth, by means of the electric telegraph, to receive the mails and to return them to London.—I am, &c., "F. HILL.E. Hammond, Esq.On the same day this letter was written to Mr. Crawford—Foreign Office, April 17, 1863.Sir,—I am directed by Earl Russell to state to you, with reference to what passed at the interview which he had the pleasure of having with you yesterday, that he lost no time in suggesting to the Postmaster General that, under the peculiar circumstances of the present time, vessels bound to Matamoras from ports in this country should be released from the obligation of carrying ship-letter mails, and that he has been informed that in consequence of his communication orders will be immediately given, that for the present no ship-letter mails shall be put on board any vessel sailing for Matamoras, unless with the full concurrence of the commander.I have now to read a letter addressed to Mr. Spence, owner of the Sea Queen—Foreign Office, April 17, 1863.Sir,—I have laid before Earl Russell your letter of this day's date, requesting that instructions may he given for placing a Government mail agent in charge of the mail which has been put on board your vessel, the Sea Queen, which is now at Falmouth; and I am directed by his Lordship to state to you in reply, that Lord Russell has been informed by the Postmaster General that the brokers of the Sea Queen will be apprised, that if they desire that the mails should not be carried by the Sea Queen, and will instruct the commander to put them on shore at Falmouth, his Lordship will authorize the postmaster at Falmouth, by telegraph, to receive the mails and to return them to London. I am further to state to you, that, at the recommendation of Earl Russell, the Postmaster General will immediately give orders that no ship-letter mail be put on board any vessel sailing for Matamoras, unless with the full concurrence of the commander.An exactly similar letter was written to Messrs. Bennett and Wake—Foreign Office, April 18, 1863.Gentlemen,—I have laid before Earl Russell 592 your letter of yesterday's date, requesting that instructions may be given for placing a Government mail agent on board the Sea Queen, which is now at Falmouth; and I am directed to state to you in reply, that, at Lord Russell's recommendation, the Postmaster General will for the present relieve vessels proceeding to Matamoras from the obligation of carrying ship-letter mails.It is therefore clear to the House that it was left to the option of the owners of these vessels to carry ship mails or not; and what the Government has done was to relieve them from what they considered an unpleasant obligation. I am authorized by Lord Russell to correct a misrepresentation contained in the report to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. The noble Lord has been represented to have expressed his surprise at hearing the fact that the officers and crew had been treated as prisoners; but he must have been misunderstood, for all the facts had been laid before him, and had been read by him before he received the deputation. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he need feel no alarm as to the honour and dignity of the country not being in safe keeping.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
The hon. Gentleman, no doubt, has made a very ingenious speech, but I am surprised that he should have expressed surprise at everything which has taken place to-night. The only thing that did not surprise him was the answer of the noble Viscount. I wish to ask him one question:—Is it at all an unusual circumstance, or is it unbecoming, when events have happened which have arrested the attention of every man in the country, that hon. Members of this House should seek for information, not for the purpose—God forbid!—of stimulating to war, but for the purpose of getting at the facts and applying to them the principles of international law, and not hesitating to apply those principles against powerful as well as against weak States? I remember some years ago hearing a very distinguished orator making a speech on the affairs of the East. He sat below the gangway then, on that side of the House, and I recollect him saying, with great emphasis and effect, that if the Government had been manly and decided in the first instance, and if they had expressed clearly and firmly the opinion of England in reference to the conduct of Russia, the Crimean war might have been averted. I thought there was great force in what that hon. Gentleman said on that occasion; but, perhaps, the House will be surprised to find that that hon. Gentleman is now 593 the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. I avail myself of his high authority, and I think that a clear expression of opinion, clearly but not intemperately conveyed, would not provoke war, but would avert it. But of this the hon. Member may he sure, that whenever any question arises touching the honour and interests of the country, the Members of this House will not fear to call for explicit information.
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
Sir, I should have been well content to allow this conversation to come to an end—especially having regard to the Motion which the noble Viscount has given notice of his intention to bring forward in Committee of Supply—but for what has fallen from the hon. Under Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman has thought it right to quote certain despatches which have passed between the Departments of the Government and the parties interested in these vessels. I do not know that much information has thereby been conveyed to us, for I think I recognised in them documents which I had previously read in the ordinary sources of information. When I read these despatches, I was under the impression that there must be some mistake, and I rise now to ask some Member of the Government to explain whether they mean to give colour to the idea that the circumstance of there being found in any mail-bag, carried by a merchant vessel from a port of this country to a neutral port, a letter regularly mailed and put into the bag, to be carried and delivered in the ordinary way, which, in the opinion of an American prize court, may be supposed to deserve the character of a treasonable or belligerent despatch, will justify the detention, trial, and perhaps forfeiture of the merchant vessel? Do the Government mean to give colour to that idea? There can be no mistake now as to the course which the Government has taken. The hon. Gentleman tells us that certain merchants have represented at the Foreign Office, that because they carry mail-bags, in their opinion those bags might be searched; and if letters were found in them partaking of a hostile character, their vessel might be condemned. The Foreign Secretary does not tell them that their idea is quite a mistaken one. He says, "Your suggestion is a very reasonable one, and I will at once communicate with the Postmaster General, and suggest to him that you shall be relieved from the responsibility of carrying a mail-bag." Let us come nearer home. There are mail-bags 594 carried in our steamers running between Dover and Calais. Do the Government mean to say that an American ship of war which happens to be cruising in the neighbourhood may overhaul a Dover packet, search it, and carry it into an American port, and that the letters in her mail-bag may be perused in the prize court, and the packet forfeited if, in the opinion of that prize court, they partake of a belligerent character? If that is the case, how is the commercial correspondence of this country to be carried on? The timidity of one firm, obliged by law at present to carry a mail-bag, leads them to represent to the Foreign Office the consequences which may follow to them; and the Post Office, moved by the Foreign Office, says, "You need not carry a bag at all." Other shipowners, of course, will do the same thing, and in a while we shall have every shipowner in the country relieved from the legal obligation to carry the commercial correspondence from this country to foreign ports. I trust we shall hear from the Government that there has been some mistake, and that this is not the view which they take.
§ MR. MALINS
said, the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had deprecated the tone of the discussion. He had also said that from the answer of the noble Lord to the hon. Member for Sheffield, the House might be assured that the honour and interests of England were in safe keeping. He (Mr. Malins) did not think the House ought to be satisfied with so vague an answer. He, for one, felt himself humiliated every morning. In common with all Englishmen he felt humiliated day by day by the increasing evidences that the commerce of England was carried on by the sufferance of a foreign nation. How was the commercial correspondence of the country to be carried on if the Post Office was to relieve merchant vessels of the obligation imposed on them by law to carry mail-bags? Had this country become so timid that it dared not enforce this obligation to carry mail-bags, which was the only means our merchants had of carrying on correspondence with many foreign ports? The feelings of the country would not allow this matter to be trifled with, and they had a right to an explicit answer to this question:—Was the Government prepared to submit to the dictation of America, or all the Powers of the world united, or were we to carry on our trade, 595 as we always had done, in the manner in which we thought fit? He believed there was a general dissatisfaction with the answer which had been received, and which left them in a state of uncertainty as to whether or not they were succumbing in a disgraceful manner to apprehensions which had never influenced this country up to the present time. He, for one, hoped that he should never see the day in which this country would desist from carrying on its affairs, commercial or otherwise, in consequence of the dictation of foreign nations or any apprehension whatever. It was the duty of the Government to tell the merchants that the law must be obeyed, instead of authorizing them to infringe it and relieve them from their obligations to observe it.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
—I should not have said a word, after what has fallen from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, but for the misapprehension into which my hon. and learned Friend the hon. Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns) seems to have fallen. I certainly was not prepared to hear that he drew from the correspondence read by my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs the inference, which I think is entirely unwarranted by it, that the Government are prepared to admit that the United States are justified in capturing a vessel on the ground of the possibility that the mails which she carries by compulsion of law may contain letters which they may regard as of a hostile character; or, secondly, that if a ship were so captured, and no other reason appeared to justify her capture, she could be condemned for carrying such letters. I do not hesitate to say that that is a doctrine which the Government would not submit to for a moment. But without entering into the question of these recent captures, about which — until we know what there is to be said on both sides—it would be premature to give an opinion, let me remind the House that they have had before them, more than once, statements of the views entertained by Her Majesty's Government on the general principles which may be involved in these affairs, and from them they may be able, I conclude, to collect without difficulty the principles, upon which, in case of necessity, the Government would be prepared to act. On the 28th of November last year, Earl Russell, writing to Lord Lyons, placed upon record the minute of a conversation which had taken place some 596 time before between my noble Friend at the head of the Government and Mr. Adams, and in which my noble Friend is represented to have expressly stated —That Her Majesty's Government could not permit any interference with any vessel, British or foreign, within British waters; that, with regard to vessels met with at sea, Her Majesty's Government did not mean to dispute the belligerent rights of the United States ships of war to search them, but that the exercise of that right, and of the right of detention in certain conditions, must in each case be dealt with according to the circumstances of the case; and that it was not necessary for him to discuss such matters then, because they were not in point; but that it would not do for the United States ships of war to harass British commerce on the high seas, under pretence of preventing the Confederates from receiving things that are contraband of war.That is what my noble Friend stated some time before November last; and the House will recollect that on the occasion of a certain seizure—that of the Adela—when it appeared that a kind of black list had been issued and that the cruisers of the Federal States had thought themselves justified in detaining vessels and carrying them into port for adjudication, not on the ground of any reasonable cause of suspicion discovered in course of a search, but on the ground of information received from this country, no time was lost in intimating that this was an abuse of belligerent rights to which Her Majesty's Government could not submit. Was it vindicated by Mr. Seward? Nothing of the kind. Mr. Seward issued instructions which, if they have been obeyed, will be an answer to the complaints now made. Those instructions were as follows: —That when a visit is made, the vessel is not to be seized without a search carefully made, so far as to render it reasonable to believe that she is engaged in carrying contraband of war to the insurgents and to their ports, or otherwise violating the blockade; and that if it shall appear that she is actually bound and passing from one friendly or so-called neutral port to another, and not bound or proceeding to or from a port in the possession of the insurgents, then she cannot lawfully be seized.MR. Seward then proceeded to give directions as to what was to be done with mail-bags found on board any vessels which might be seized on any ground of suspicion appearing upon search, the effect of the instruction being that they would not be opened, but would be delivered to the agents of the Government to which they belonged, "upon the understanding that whatever is contraband, or important as evidence concerning the character of a cap- 597 tured vessel, will be remitted to the Prize Court, or to the Secretary of State at Washington." The House, therefore, will see that there is no controversy with respect to principle between the two Governments. The United States do not claim the right to intercept our trade with Mexico. [An hon. MEMBER: They have done so.] If they have done so, it is to be presumed, of course, that they will not attempt to vindicate or persevere in such a line of conduct. A few words now upon the correspondence which has been rend to the House. Certain British merchants engaged in the Mexican trade, which is in the same line with the contraband trade, but which in itself is perfectly innocent, said, they were apprehensive that they might be exposed to the inconvenience, delay, loss, and injury of capture, which in their case would be quite unjustifiable, but for which a pretext might possibly be found in the real or supposed contents of the letter-bags. Lord Russell, not at all admitting that any such pretext could justify a capture, saw that loss and injury might accrue to individuals from the mere fact of their being put in such a situation; and as no guarantee could be given against the possibility of any such unfounded pretensions on the part of American cruisers, he thought it reasonable to relieve them, if they wished it, from the obligation to carry letters. I am not now going into the question whether that was or was not a wise course to pursue, though I am quite prepared to justify it as a course which was considerate on the part of Lord Russell towards the persons who had applied to him, which involved no departure from the dignity of this country, and which certainly gave no countenance to the principle which my hon. and learned Friend has given me an opportunity of disclaiming. I thank my hon. and learned Friend for having stated that it appeared to him open to that construction. I am quite sure it did not seem so to the noble Lord; and the fact that it has impressed others in a different manner is a reason why we should be glad to have an opportunity of publicly disclaiming the interpretation which has been put upon that part of the correspondence.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman would be satisfactory to the House if we could say it was founded on facts. What are the facts? These outrages on the British flag are not things of yesterday; they be- 598 gan in June last. The Adela was seized, in precisely the same manner as the Peterhoff and the Dolphin, nine months ago. The Peterhoff was seized two or three months ago. Complaints were made before Easter, and yet the hon. and learned Solicitor General tells us it is not fitting we should ask the Government whether they have made up their minds on the subject, because they have not had time to ascertain the facts. I suppose they will have ascertained the facts some time within the next five years. The hon. and learned Solicitor General has not even so much as given us the slightest intimation relative to the period when the facts of the case may be discovered. There has been ample opportunity for correspondence with the United States on the subject of the Peterhoff. We know there has been a correspondence with respect to the Adela. She is still before the prize court, but we know that our Government, though they have declared her seizure unjustifiable, have not attempted to exact reparation for the wrong. But what I wish to impress upon the hon. and learned Gentleman is, that while our Government are idling and thinking what they shall do, Mr. Adams is master of the field. The trade of England is carried on now by the permits of a foreigner. In the City an extra premium of insurance on ships trading between English ports and Nassau is taken, against the risk of being unjustifiably overhauled by American cruisers. There is now a direct tax upon British merchants, charged every day, for no other reason than because Admiral Wilkes chooses to perform piratical acts upon the high seas. The hon. and learned Solicitor General has told us that Mr. Seward has repudiated the doctrine which has so justly been denounced to-night. What is the use of Mr. Seward repudiating doctrines one day, if he puts them in practice the next? It is an easy way of conducting the Government of a country, to tell foreign nations you intend to adopt one course, and then to instruct your Admirals to adopt another. Mr. Seward first informs our Envoy that ships trading between two neutral ports will not be touched, and then he sends Admiral Wilkes, already notorious for his outrage upon British vessels, to a station where he carries out the very doctrine which is said to be repudiated. It is therefore of no use for the hon. and learned Gentleman to tell us that he has obtained a verbal repudiation of the doctrine from Mr. Seward, while acts in contravention of 599 it are done every day. A good deal has been said about the Peterhoff, but very little of the Dolphin. The latter was a ship trading between Liverpool and Nassau, and there is evidence to prove that she was honest in her intention, and that her trade was legitimate. She was stopped by an American cruiser. The captain and crew were taken prisoners and carried on board the American man-of-war. Her cargo was broken up by the American seamen, and the British sailors were absolutely turned out destitute at the harbour of St. Thomas. It is under that insult you are now meekly resting. We have just heard a gallant speech from the Solicitor General. I have no doubt from him it is sincere. I was glad to hear doctrines worthy of England propounded by his mouth, but I cannot forget that this is not the first time we have had gallant speeches from the same quarter. Three weeks ago we heard a speech from the hon. and learned Gentleman which we on this side cheered vociferously. Next morning some misgivings arose in my mind, when I saw that the American organs were not very angry with the hon. and learned Gentleman. It occurred to me that his gallant speech might be nothing but a mask for a cringing policy. The hon. and learned Gentleman publicly declared the right of British shipowners to be free from American interference in their own ports, but the moment he had obtained the cheers of the House of Commons, the Foreign Office, at the bidding of Mr. Adams, sent down detectives to do Mr. Adams service in the dockyards and on the quays of Liverpool. I have no doubt that precedent will be followed; I have no doubt that the gallant speech of the Solicitor General, and the assurance of the Under Secretary that British honour is safe in his hands, will be succeeded by an absolute surrender of all the rights which belong to our merchants and shipowners. There can be no doubt, at least, that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield has been completely justified for bringing on this discussion, which I think will be useful, because it will show the Government that they cannot trifle with the feelings of the country, We all of us have a deep respect for the noble Lord at the head of the Government, but we know historically he has appeared in two characters. There is the Lord Palmerston of the Russian and Chinese wars, the Lord Palmerston who Lords it over Greece and Brazil; but there is also the Lord Palmerston who introduced the Con- 600 spiracy Bill. We wish to know which of these two characters the noble Lord intends to fill on the present occasion. The country waits anxiously for his decision, and I can assure him the country expects it immediately.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Sir, I do not know what meaning the noble Lord puts upon the word "useful," but I think a more mischievous debate never took place than that which has been raised by the two warlike lawyers who represent Sheffield and Wallingford. In proportion, Sir, as we are treading almost on the living ashes of a war, we are bound to be the more careful in the language we use; and I wish that the noble Lord, who can make valiant speeches too, although he twits others for making them, had shown a little of that better part of valour —discretion. If at such a time as this we are to go on reviewing American institutions, inflaming the American Government, and casting out taunts as to cases in respect to which we have not yet the papers to inform us, I do not see how any Government can prevent our being plunged into a war. Sir, I am no degenerate Englishman, no Member of the Peace party; but as an independent Member of Parliament I do not think I risk the respect or the dignity due to that position by disclaiming altogether the sentiments uttered by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield, and asking the House to drop this discussion and proceed to the business into which we ought to have gone long before. We all have confidence in the noble Lord as a War Minister. Leave the matter in his hands, and do not let us precipitate a question which may assume unusual proportions.
§ MR. PEACOCKE
said, he would consent, as the papers were to be produced, to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.