§ MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
I rise to move an Address forCopies of all Correspondence between the various Departments of Her Majesty's Government, or Officers in Her Majesty's service, and Messrs. Laird Brothers, relating to the two Iron-clad Ves- 956 sels, the El Tousson and El Monassia, building by that firm, and seized by order of Her Majesty's Government; and of any Papers or Correspondence that have passed between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States, or their representative, Mr. Adams, relating to the said vessels.Sir, I am not insensible of the delicacy of the task I have undertaken in calling the attention of the House to the circumstances which are the subject of the notice I have put upon the paper. A very few days ago, in addressing this House in reference to some events that have taken place, and the conduct pursued by the cruisers of the American Government towards our merchant ships, I expressed a desire that nothing should fall from me calculated in the slightest degree to aggravate the feeling of irritation which I felt unhappily existed between the two countries. Sir, in the same spirit I shall to-night call the attention of the House to that portion of those transactions which implicate and concern the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. I shall scrupulously avoid, except by an incidental allusion for the sake of illustrating the subject in hand, referring to the Correspondence which we all know was addressed to the Minister of the United States in this country, but which he, in the exercise of discretion and good sense, which, from his first arrival amongst us, has not ceased to characterize him, thought it best not to present. I will only, in passing, make this remark upon that Correspondence, that looking at the arrogant and almost insolent tone in which it was couched, if the writer had desired to find out some means of making the adoption of the policy he wished to enforce impossible, he would have exactly taken the course he did, and addressed a letter of that kind to his Minister at a Foreign Court—a letter which, in my opinion, did little credit to the diplomacy of the American Government, and was highly insulting to the dignity of this country. Sir, I am equally aware that the hon. and learned Gentleman whom I see opposite will meet the Motion which I am about to make by the objection, that it has reference to matters which are still the subject of judicia investigation. Well, Sir, I am fully aware that there is great force in that objection, but not in a case like the present; and I will tell the House why. I think that to discuss circumstances which are the subject of judicial investigation is a highly inconvenient and very often injurious proceeding; and if we were now to discuss the question, 957 whether these vessels were rightly or wrongly seized under the Foreign Enlistment Act, then I think there would be considerable force in the objection which my learned Friend will urge against me. But, inasmuch as that is not my object, my desire being to obtain from the Government papers which may show whether before that seizure took place the conduct of Her Majesty's Government was consistent with law or not, then, I say, the objection of my hon. and learned Friend must necessarily fail, and I think the House will not refuse me the papers for which I ask.
Now, Sir, it will be necessary for me, in bringing the matter before the House, shortly to refer to the history of the events connected with these steam rams. It appears from the papers which I have here, and which are the papers laid by the American Government before both Houses of Congress, that Mr. Adams having learned that certain vessels of a formidable kind were being built at Birkenhead, at the yard of Messrs. Laird Brothers, addressed Earl Russell on the 11th of July, and accompanied his letter with depositions which, he thought, seemed to prove that those vessels were intended for the use of the Confederate States. And he not only gives, as far as he can, the fullest depositions within his reach at that time, but he urges the subject upon the notice of Earl Russell in terms the most forcible; for Mr. Adams described the building of these two rams as being regarded by the Government and people of the United States as tantamount to a participation in the war by the people of Great Britain to a degree which, if not prevented, could not fail to endanger the peace of the two countries; and he gives him, as far as he can, the fullest depositions by which Earl Russell is to determine whether it is in the power of the Government to interfere or not. This communication of Mr. Adams, dated the 11th July, is followed by others on the 16th and 25th of the same month, and the 14th of August; and upon each one of those occasions Mr. Adams presents to Earl Russell additional depositions, calculated in his opinion to prove to Earl Russell that it is the duty as well as the interest of the Government to stop at once the progress of these steam rams. Well, Sir, these depositions are at once forwarded by Ear! Russell to the proper quarter—to the Law Officers of the Crown — and during the whole period from the 11th July down to the 1st September the circumstances 958 brought under the notice of Earl Russell by Mr. Adams received the careful consideration of the Law Officers of the Crown and the careful attention of the responsible advisers of the Crown. Now, the next question is, what is the result of this investigation entered into by the Government, assisted by the Law Officers of the Crown? The result is communicated by Earl Russell to Mr. Adams in a despatch of some length, bearing date the 1st September. I will not trouble the House with the despatch in full, but there are portions which it will be necessary I should bring under notice. Earl Russell, after saying that he has submitted the papers during this long course of time to the Law Officers of the Crown, states—In the first place, Her Majesty's Government are advised that the information contained in the depositions is in a great measure mere hearsay evidence, and generally that it is not such as would show the intent and purpose necessary to make the building and fitting out of these vessels illegal under the Foreign Enlistment Act.The despatch, referring to the statement that the vessels were built for M. Bravay, of Paris, said that there was no legal evidence against M. Bravay's claim, or to show that the ships were built for an illegal purpose. The noble Lord then goes on to say that the responsible agent of the Customs at Liverpool affirms his belief that these vessels have not been built for the Confederates, and he concludes finally by saying this—Under these circumstances, and having regard to the entire insufficiency of the depositions to prove any infraction of the law, Her Majesty's Government are advised that they cannot in any way interfere with these vessels."—Correspondence, No. 4 (1864), p. 12.Now, it is perfectly clear that up to that time Earl Russell had had the fullest information given to him by Mr. Adams, and that the decision of the Government and Law Officers of the Crown was that they could not, with any respect for law, interfere with the rams building at Birkenhead. The House then will, I think, scarcely be prepared to hear that on the 4th of September, only three days afterwards, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, at the direction of Earl Russell, wrote to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury to request that these rams should be detained. What had happened in the mean time? Had any new information reached Earl Russell? Upon that, Sir, again referring to this book, which gives very full information to Congress as to all that passed— information which I could hare wished to 959 have seen as fully in the possession of the House of Commons—I find that the only thing that had happened in the mean time was that Mr. Adams had again addressed Earl Russell. Of that communication, on his part, Mr. Adams gave this description. In a despatch addressed to Mr. Seward, and dated the 3rd of September, 1863, Mr. Adams wrote—As the case seemed doubtful, I concluded that the wisest course would be to put in one more remonstrance. Accordingly I have taken advantage of some depositions of no great additional weight, furnished to me by Mr. Dudley and others.Upon the face of the matter it appears, then, that having the fullest information the Law Officers of the Crown decided that there was no ground to interfere; but afterwards, upon Mr. Adams presenting to Earl Russell depositions which he himself says were of no greater additional weight, Earl Russell immediately proposes to seize and detain these steam rams. The question immediately arises, was there anything besides this additional information presented to Earl Russell's mind which caused this change of view? I will point out presently what was the opinion of the American Government, and the statement of Mr. Adams himself upon the subject. But the first question I wish to ask is, how it came to pass that not having any evidence whatever, according to their own account, to seize these rams, Her Majesty's Government should have proceeded to detain them? I wish them to point out to me under what Act of Parliament, or by what authority it was done; and how it was that having waited during the whole month of September, without seizing the rams, or putting the facts in any shape for legal investigation, they proceeded to detain them, particularly in the form and with the language in which it was done? What is the first announcement made to Messrs. Laird as to the stopping of the rams? It is in a letter signed by G. A. Hamilton, dated September 9, 1863, and it announced to them that the vessels would not be permitted to leave the Mersey till satisfactory evidence could be given of their destination, or at least until the inquiries which were being prosecuted to obtain such evidence should have been brought to a conclusion. [The ATTORNEY; GENERAL: Hear, hear!] The hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity of giving an answer which will convey something more definite to the 960 House than that cheer. Is it a principle of the English law, in the enforcement of a highly penal statute, not to proceed according to the requirements of the statute, not to put those implicated upon their trial, not to put the whole circumstances of the case under a course of legal investigation, but to say, "We, by the prerogative of the Crown and the act of the Executive, will take care that your vessels shall not leave the Mersey till you have proved to us that you are engaged in an innocent transaction, or until some roving Commissioners that we have about the world may have returned and reported that they have no evidence to give us on the subject?" One of the most remarkable things in reference to this matter is, that the Government have announced that they have no sound ground to go upon. What is the whole course of their proceedings with Mr. Laird from the first of September to the time when the vessels were eventually seized? Notwithstanding what has been said by the noble Earl in another place, that on the 3rd of September he directed those vessels to be seized, I believe there must be some error as to the date, for I cannot conceive it possible, if the noble Earl directed the Under Secretary of State to write to the Lords Commissioners to stop the rams on that day, that he would have the vessels stopped that day, he would have done so without giving the slightest notice to Messrs. Laird that this interference was impending, and he would have allowed a friendly note to be written to Messrs. Laird, asking them to furnish Her Majesty's Government with information, with as little delay as possible, on whose account these vessels were being built. For a letter was written to Messrs. Laird in these terms:— "Lord Russell is led to understand that, while you are not in a position to volunteer information, you would furnish it upon official application." [Mr. LAYAED: Hear, hear!] It was all very well for the hon. Gentleman to cheer, but the question is, was not that letter written at the very moment the Government were directing a prosecution, and yet they did not tell the Messrs. Laird that the information which they were ready to give might be used against them in an information which was being then prepared? But that is not all. Her Majesty's Government having been informed by Messrs. Laird that the person for whom they were building these rams was M. Bravay, of Paris, and that; they were 961 intended for the Pacha of Egypt, they could only have made an application to M. Bravay to purchase them themselves, on a conviction in their minds that his title to them could be proved. They said that they were going to detain the rams, and to institute a prosecution, because they were convinced that the vessels were intended for the Confederate Government; but in the same week they applied to M. Bravay to sell them to the English Government. This, however, was not a solitary application. Long after they had determined that these vessels must be detained, the Government, through the Chief Constructor of the Navy at Liverpool, proposed to buy them of Messrs. Laird. The reply that was given to Mr. Reed was, that they must have some better authority for entering into the negotiations, and thereupon an authority from the Admiralty to negotiate the purchase was produced by him. Thus, the very Government which tried to purchase the rams on the ground that those who were represented to be the real owners were the owners, during the whole month of September and up to the 27th of October, never turned one moment from the position they had taken that they would detain the rams until satisfactory evidence of their destination was given them. There is a remarkable letter of Earl Russell's, dated the 11th September, 1863, which conclusively proves that the noble Earl persisted in his intention to detain these rams long after he was convinced that the story told by M. Bravny, that they were ordered by him for the Pacha of Egypt, was true. Writing to Mr. Adams, the noble Earl said, it was important to show that the iron-clads were not intended for the Pacha of Egypt, and he went on to say that—In respect to the Egyptian Government, it was only on the 5th instant that Her Majesty's Government received a despatch from Mr. Colquhoun, Her Majesty's Consul General in Egypt, which is conclusive on the subject. It was reported on the 28th August that M. Bravay, a French subject, had stated to Ismail Pacha that the orders were given when Said Pacha was last in Paris, and M. Bravay seems to have asked Ismail Pacha to fulfil the verbal agreement of his predecessor, and to purchase the vessels on which M. Bravay has paid a very large sum on account; but Ismail Pacha refused to purchase.Earl Russell went on to sny—From this example, and that of the vessels built for the Emperor of China—the vessels which Captain Sherard Osborne took out—the President will gather how necessary it is to be dispassionate and careful in inquiries upon subjects so grave as this.962 That despatch either meant that Mr. Colquhoun's despatch was conclusive that M. Bravay was the owner of the vessels, or that the statement of Mr. Colquhoun proved satisfactorily that the story of M. Bravay was not correct. But how could it prove the latter, when the only contradiction was that Ismail Pacha bad refused to fulfil the contract which his predecessor had entered into? I appeal to the House, looking to the two statements side by side—to the case of the vessels ordered by M. Bravay and of the vessels ordered by Captain Sherard Osborne for the Emperor of China, which vessels were universally said to be intended for the Confederate States—is it not perfectly clear from the despatch of Earl Russell that at the time it was written, on the 11th of September, the noble Lord believed that the story of M. Bravay was true, or, at any rate, that it was true that Mr. Laird had built those vessels for M. Bravay on the distinct understanding that they were intended for the Pacha of Egypt? How came it that when the law provided a distinct course of action —if the Government had a just suspicion that the Foreign Enlistment Act had been violated, and it was their duty to proceed to seize the vessels—how came it that, not having evidence sufficient to justify the seizure, they proceeded, in the absence of all evidence, to detain the rams?
But the question remains, what passed to lead to this sudden change of opinion on the part of the noble Earl? That has been answered by a despatch from Mr. Adams himself—a despatch addressed to Mr. Seward. and dated September 8, 1863. It states that—At the last moment on Saturday I sent a despatch by the ordinary mail, containing a copy of a despatch from Earl Russell to me of the 4th inst., just then put into my hands, signifying that the decision of the Government announced in his previous note of the 1st instant had, under the effect of my notes on the 3rd instant, been subjected to 'reconsideration.'There, Sir, is the secret of the whole matter. The real truth is, that while using language milder than the officials at Washington, Mr. Adams had yet used language so forcible as almost to be menacing, and in his despatch of the 3rd of September, couched in the most temperate language, the American Minister pointed out distinctly that, the event of the rams leaving the Mersey and inflicting injury on American commerce, would infallibly lead to a war between this country and the United States ["Hear, hear,"from the Ministerial 963 benches]. I scarcely know what hon. Gentlemen are cheering at when the statement I make is this, that the Government, without having any legal authority, and having stated that they had no legal authority to stop these rams, yet under the pressure of a menace, held out that war would ensue if they did not stop them, proceeded to take that course. [Mr. DUNLOP: Hear, hear!] Is that the statement which the hon. Member cheers? Is it that we should have a Government who, having themselves announced that they had no legal authority for the act, yet, in spite of the law, seized the property of a British subject, because they were told by the representative of another Power, that if they did not do so the consequences would be serious? I do not think that such will be the feeling of the House generally, still less of the country. I can say with truth that there is no man who would more deprecate any difference or hostility between this country and the United States than myself. I believe that such a war would be a fatal war and a most unnatural war, and I hope I may never live to see the day when it is entered upon; but if I am to be told that the English Government, in order to avoid such a war, is to trangress the law, and seize the property of a British subject without any justification, then I say that I will never approve the conduct of a Minister who would take such a course; but, on the contrary, am prepared to accept any consequences than pursue such a line of policy.
I ask the House to give me these papers to enable the public and this House to judge whether the Government have done their duty, whether they have overstepped the law, whether they have strained the law, and, if so, for what reason and under what circumstances it has been done. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, I am told, will decline to give the papers on the ground that they refer to matters still under judicial investigation. I have already said that if the question of the legality of the seizure of these rams was the question involved in my Motion, I should admit there was force in the objection; but that is not the ground I take. My ground is, that the Motion does not relate to matters which are the subject of judicial investigation, but to the legality of the preceding steps of the Government in detaining the rams. I take still higher ground. I think, that in the interests of justice these papers should be produced. There is nothing for which the people of this country are more remarkable 964 than their respect for the law. There is only one thing of which they ought to be still prouder, and that is, that with all their respect for the law, there has always existed in every class a feeling of jealousy of the powers of the Executive ever being so strained, or the law ever being so overstepped as to injure the interests or endanger the privileges or rights of even the meanest of Her Majesty's subjects. And if I am told that this question is now under judicial investigation, let us look at the case of the Alexandra, and see what is the course of judicial investigation in this country. It means investigation that may last for years. In this very case the Government began the investigation in July; they detained the ships early in September, and they were seized in October; but it was not until February that the slightest step was taken to bring the case to trial. It is only within a short time that Messrs. Laird have been informed that an information has been filed against them; and that it would probably be the duty of the Government to send a Commission abroad to take evidence in support of their information. Taking every thing into account it will probably be the end of the year before the case can be sent for judicial investigation. And is the House of Commons to be told, upon a question where the Government have overstepped their authority and violated the neutrality which they profess, that they must wait two years for information, because the question was under judicial investigation. Such a reply can scarcely, I think, be regarded as satisfactory. I have limited, in order that there may be the less difficulty in giving the information, my Motion to two particular subjects, one being the Correspondence which has passed between Her Majesty's Government and the Messrs. Laird with regard to those vessels; and why on earth the Government should decline to produce that part of the Correspondence I cannot understand. All the letters of the Government are in the hands of Mr. Laird, who, of course, has copies of their own to the Government, and he has only to send them to the newspapers to have them published at once; and I do not see why the House of Commons should not have placed in their possession an authoritative version. The other papers I require are the Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and the Representative of the American Government. I think I see a copy of that Correspondence 965 on the knee of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster), and half-a-dozen hon. Gentlemen have copies. The principal letters hare been published in every newspaper in the United States; some have been quoted in the newspapers here; and why should the House of Commons be prevented from inquiring into the conduct of the Government by the withholding of papers which are already in print? Upon these grounds I hope the House will enforce the production of the papers, and then we shall see whether Her Majesty's Government have or have not acted in that way which alone entitles them to the support of the British people.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Sir, my hon. Friend does not hesitate to admit that he is sensible of the existence of some force in the objection to his present Motion, founded on the fact that this case is the subject of judicial investigation; but he seems to think that he will be able to evade that difficulty by limiting the scope of the inquiry to the conduct of Her Majesty's Government antecedent to the seizure of these vessels. He is of opinion that the papers for which he asks, having been produced, the House will be in possession of all the information which is necessary in order to enable them to form a judgment as to whether the Government have or have not in this matter done their duty. Now, by the very limitation which my hon. Friend has made in the terms of his Motion, he himself clearly admits that he knows, and that the House must be well aware, that to ask for all the papers in the hands of the Government—which would place hon. Members, as well as the country, in a position really to understand the grounds of the action which the Government have taken—would be directly to interfere with the administration of justice in this case, and to make the House of Commons instrumental in facilitating the objects in their litigation against the Government of private claimants, who doubtless would find it very convenient, by means of such a Motion as this, to get behind the scenes and possess themselves of all the information in the hands of the Government, so as to enable them to defeat its case, if possible, however just it might be Why, such a thing was never heard of as that while a case was waiting for trial, the Government, or any other litigant party, should be called upon to produce all the 966 materials in their possession from which a sound and correct judgment could be formed in justification of the course they have adopted. My hon. Friend says his object is to obtain the production of papers which would enable the House to know whether the Government has done its duty, at the same time that he is well aware he does not move for those papers, without which a fair decision cannot be arrived at on the subject. He wishes, in short, not for the case of the Government, but for the production of fragmentary and garbled extracts, consisting in part of documents which have passed between the Government and Mr. Adams, and which though I think there will be no advantage in laying them on the table, yet we are ready to produce, although they will not put the House in a position to form a correct judgment on the merits of the case. But my hon. Friend also wants to have the Correspondence which passed between the Government and Messrs. Laird, the constructors of these vessels, and who are now in part claimants of them; and he asks for that Correspondence without the other documents showing the grounds on which the Government acted, notwithstanding the professions of openness and candour made in that Correspondence. The production of those letters alone would be tantamount to laying on the table of the House, by the authority of the Government, that which is not the case of the Government, and would really not enable the House to understand why the Government were not satisfied with those professions, and why the Government, conducting for a long time and with caution an important inquiry, found in the end that it was their duty to take the step they did of seizing the vessels on their own responsibility, being prepared hereafter to justify that course at the proper time and proper place. My hon. Friend calls upon us to do the very thing he said he would not do—namely, to rehearse our case to the House; and, in the absence of materials, he at the same time tries to persuade the House that Earl Russell and the Government acted on grounds not warranted by law, and under the influence of representations almost of a menacing tone made by Mr. Adams. The House will excuse me if I follow my hon. Friend only partially into the statement he has made. First of all, to take up the commencement of the matter, on the 11th of July Mr. Adams sent to Earl Russell a letter, representing the affair to be of grave importance, and urging the 967 vernment to fulfil their professions of neutrality and execute the law by preventing the departure of the vessels in question. I ask the House whether any person could blame Mr. Adams, or the representative of any foreign nation, for urging a matter of that description in the most pressing and serious manner on the attention of the Government. In this case, the matter was pressingly urged by the Minister of the foreign country most interested in it, if his belief turned out to be correct; and are we to be told, that because his expressions might in certain instances overstep that moderation which is always desirable in questions of this kind, we ought to deviate one inch from doing our own duty, or in any way abstain from redeeming our own professions of honest neutrality? What would have been said if the United States, to whom we applied to enforce their own Foreign Enlistment Act during the war with Russia, had turned round and said that they would not enforce it, because it was Great Britain that asked it to be done? Should we have thought such a course consistent with the dignity of that country, or with the honesty of its profession of neutrality? Undoubtedly, it is the right of a foreign State, injured by proceedings of that description, to represent the injury and to call on a friendly Power to enforce the laws and observe the obligations of neutrality; and it is, I venture to say, the duty of that Power, not overstepping the limits of its own laws, but acting fully, firmly, boldly, and courageously, up to the extent of those limits, to attend to the representation made to it, and to put its laws in force. What was this case? Here are ships of that formidable character which, even according to the view taken in the Court of Exchequer, in the recent case of the Alexandra, by one of the Judges not in favour of the Crown, are, if intended for the Confederate Government, contrary to our Enlistment Act, and capable of doing the most extensive mischief to the commerce of the United States the moment they pass beyond the limits of our waters. The character of the ships was patent and known, and the only question was, whether they were intended, as Mr. Adams believed, for the Confederate Government. What was the course taken by Her Majesty's Government? They desired to have such evidence as would justify them in acting, as would produce a conviction in their own minds of the truth of the facts alleged, 968 and as they could produce in a Court of Justice. The depositions forwarded to the Government, though containing some matter which was properly evidence, and capable of being produced in a Court of Justice, contained more that was not capable of being so produced; and, on the whole, it did not appear to the Government proper then to treat the vessels as liable to confiscation. That decision was announced to Mr. Adams on the 1st of September. It is said, however, that Mr. Adams, on the 3rd of September, repeated his instances, and that on the 4th an order was given to detain these vessels, or to prevent them from leaving the port of Liverpool. That order, however, was not the result of a decision adopted by the Government after the receipt of Mr. Adams's letter of the 3rd of September, but, as stated in another place, of a decision arrived at previously. The hon. Gentleman asks, whether any new information reached Earl Russell in the mean time? That is just the one thing contained in the papers asked for by the hon. Gentleman, and which we do not mean to tell him; but he may be sure that the Government had grounds for what they did. They were themselves, during the whole period, actively prosecuting inquiries, and information reached the Government which determined the measures they took at every stage and every step. The hon. Gentleman asks, what right the Government had to detain the ships. [Mr. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman cries "hear;" but I do not hesitate to say boldly, and in the face of the country, that the Government, on their own responsibility, detained them. They were prosecuting inquiries which, though imperfect, left on the mind of the Government strong reasons for believing that the result might prove to be that these ships were intended for an illegal purpose, and that, if they left the country, the law would be violated and a great injury done to a friendly Power. The Government did not seize the ships, they did not by any act take possession of or interfere with them; but on their own responsibility they gave notice to the parties interested, that the law should not be evaded until the pending inquiry should be brought to a conclusion, when the Government would know whether the inquiry would result in affording conclusive grounds for seizing the ships or not. If any other great crime or mischief were in progress, could it be doubted that the 969 Government would be justified in taking steps to prevent the evasion from justice of the person whose conduct was under investigation until the completion of the inquiry? In a criminal case we know that it is an ordinary course to go before a magistrate, and some information is taken of a most imperfect character to justify the accused's committal to prison for trial, the prisoner being remanded from time to time. That course cannot be adopted in cases of seizures of vessels of this description. The law gives no means for that; and, therefore, it is that the Government, on their own responsibility, must act and have acted in determining that what had taken place with regard to the Alabama should not take place with respect to these ships—that they should not slip out of the Mersey and join the navy of the belligerent Power, contrary to our law, if that were the intention, until the inquiry in progress should be so far brought to a conclusion as to enable the Government to judge whether the ships were really intended for innocent purposes or not. There is all the distinction in the world between giving a notice, which had the effect of detaining the vessels, on the responsibility of the Government, and seizing them; for the latter the Government desire never to do, unless on such evidence as would clearly justify the seizure. In point of fact, this detention has been neither more nor less than an announcement to the builders that the ships were under the surveillance of the Government, and that if any attempt were made to withdraw them suddenly from the river, the Government, on their own responsibility, would take the necessary measures to prevent it. Practically, this made during the time no difference, because the ships were incomplete, and the moment had never been reached, when, even according to the statement of the builders, they were actually stopped or detained before the seizure took place. On the 9th of September Mr. Layard wrote to Mr. Hamilton, of the Treasury, that the ships were not to be allowed to leave the Mersey until either satisfactory evidence of their destination was obtained, or the inquiries which had been commenced were brought to a termination. Of course, if any satisfactory information could be afforded in the mean time, showing that they had an innocent and lawful destination, that was all which the Government could by possibility aim at or desire. But, if no information of that kind could be given, the Government 970 were determined that the inquiries which they were making should be brought to a legitimate conclusion, that it might be seen whether those inquiries resulted in evidence or not of the vessels being intended for the Confederates, and that in the mean time they would not permit the ends of justice to be baffled by the sudden removal of the ships from the river. Messrs. Laird had early intimation of this determination. About the same time, the note which we have heard quoted was written to Messrs. Laird making inquiry who was the owner or the person representing himself to be the owner. I asked the hon. Gentleman to read the earlier part of that note, because I knew it would then appear to have been written upon the invitation of Messrs. Laird themselves. They had given the Custom House agent to understand that, although they would not volunteer information, yet if the inquiry were made officially they were quite prepared to answer it. Nothing was more desired by the Government than to receive satisfactory-information which by possibility might show the destination of the ships to be lawful, and might put an end to the whole question. Accordingly, they wrote that they had been informed Messrs. Laird had the information ready to give, and that the information would be acceptable. Then Messrs. Laird mentioned the name of the French gentleman who has been referred to—M. Bravay—and stated that he was the owner of the ships.
The next objection is, that during this period the Government were willing to become purchasers of the vessels from M. Bravay or Messrs. Laird. This is during the period when they were not fully satisfied that they had evidence on which they would be justified in seizing the ships. It was during that period that inquiries were in progress, and while those inquiries were incomplete. I venture to say that a course more just or liberal could not well have been taken than this. The Government did not wish to enforce the forfeiture of valuable property against individuals. If it be true, they said, that a private French gentleman is speculating in two ships of this description—if he is a dealer in large steam rams—it must be presumed that, as he is not a belligerent, he must wish to sell them to some one or other. Messrs. Laird or M. Bravay might either be under some delusion as to what the law of England permitted; or, strange as it might seem, it might possibly be a 971 real bonâ fidespeculation in steam rams of war by a private French gentleman having no intention to send them to the Confederate States. But, if so, probably they would be quite ready, and it might be an easy solution of the matter, to sell them to the British Government. They were not obliged to sell them to the Government, but what harm there could be in offering them an opportunity of proving their good faith and at the same time avoiding loss and finding a customer, I am unable to see. I abstain, purposely, from going more fully into the facts; whenever all the facts are known, it will be seen that the application of such a test to M. Bravay's statements was entirely justified by the nature of those statements; and that the object of the Government was not at all to acquire the vessels for themselves. The next passage of the Correspondence to which my hon. Friend referred was Earl Russell's letter to Mr. Adams of the 11th September, 1863. It is there stated that the Government, as I read the letter, had been perfectly satisfied that there was no truth in the representation that the ships were meant for the Egyptian Government; because inquiries had been made which did indeed show that there had been something said by M. Bravay on the subject, but the Government of Egypt entirely repudiated the existence of any contract whatever for the purchase of such vessels, and said they had nothing to do with these vessels. An Egyptian destination having been alleged, so far it appeared they had not an Egyptian destination. The next thing done was to seize them. I, of course, abstain strictly from informing my hon. Friend of those facts which the Government had ascertained, which satisfied them beyond doubt that illegality had been committed, and that there was a forfeiture; but it will be a satisfaction to the House to have some good ground for believing and knowing that, as a matter of fact, they were not Egyptian vessels which the Government seized, and that they were really intended for that service which was supposed when they were seized. My hon. Friend has read from papers which have been laid before the Congress of the United States. Other papers have also been laid before another Congress, and in a document which has been made public as the report of the Secretary of the Confederate Navy to his own Congress I find this passage contained—In accordance with the order of the President, 972 early in the present year, I despatched several agents to England and France, with orders to contract for eight iron-clad vessels, suitable for ocean service, and calculated to resist the ordinary armament of the wooden vessels of the enemy. These ships were to be provided with rams, and designed expressly to break the blockade of such of their ports as were not blockaded by the iron-clad Monitors of the enemy. Five of these vessels were contracted for in England, and three in France. Due precautions were taken against contravening the laws of England in the construction and equipment of these vessels. Three have been completed; but, owing to the unfriendly construction of her Neutrality Laws, the Government of England stationed several war vessels at the mouth of the Mersey, and prevented their departure from England. Subsequently they were seized by the British Government.We shall have to discuss with M. Bravay and Messrs. Laird the validity of this seizure, and it can be more conveniently done in another place than it can be done here. But, as between this country and the Confederate Government, we seem to have information from head-quarters of a character perfectly unquestionable; and we know, therefore, as a matter of fact, that these ships were being built in violation of our laws, and for the purpose of being used in the belligerent service of the Confederate States. When I say "in violation of our laws" it is not, of course, for the purpose of entering into any legal argument. But I invite any one who wishes to inform himself to read the judgment of Baron Bramwell, which was adverse to the Government, in the case of the Alexandra, and then I would ask whether it is not perfectly clear that, applied to ships of this character and description, it would not establish an infraction of our Foreign Enlistment Act.
The House, I hope, will believe that the Government have not merely stumbled on the prevention of a gross and most dangerous infraction of our laws—that we have not done what we have only by accident— but that we had some information—that our inquiries did lead to a result which, in the judgment of Her Majesty's responsible advisers, not only authorized them, hut made it their absolute duty to seize these vessels. As to Mr. Adams's despatch to Mr. Seward, stating that the matter had been reconsidered, owing to the effect of Mr. Adams's note of the 3rd instant, Mr. Adams may credit himself with his note having such influence; but I believe that the effect of the note of the 3rd was the same as the previous notes which had not led Her Majesty's Government to determine to take action against these vessels until 973 the course of their own inquiries led them to believe there was decisive evidence of their destination. Undoubtedly the note of Mr. Adams was entitled to attention as the representation of a friendly Government. But nothing is further from the fact than the supposition that Her Majesty's Government, having no other grounds for the action which they took except the suggestions of Mr. Adams in that note, took it only under the influence of the considerations presented to them by him. Her Majesty's Government took the step of detaining the vessels during the continuance of their own inquiries, and when the evidence was as yet incomplete, because those inquiries at that time had reached a point which led them to believe they would lead to actual and positive information, making it clear, one way or another, that those ships were or were not intended for the Confederate States. If they were not, there would be a satisfactory end of the entire matter. If they were, it was our duty to prevent any evasion of the law of the country. With regard to the present state of the case, I frankly confess that I regret having to speak of it as pending and awaiting decision. I confess that it would be satisfactory if the case were further advanced. All I can say is that the Law Officers of the Crown have been, and are most anxious that it should be, proceeded with with due despatch. On the other hand, I think the House would blame those whose duty it is to prepare for trial, if they did not take pains to proceed to that trial under circumstances most favourable to the country and the Government. It was considered impossible to prepare for trial after last term, and no trial can now take place until May next, but then the case will be quite ready, and it will turn out, as I believe, that no time has actually been lost. I have stated now all that it is the necessary duty of the Government to state upon this subject. It is impossible that the case of the Government can now be brought before the House. But the Government have acted under a serious sense of their duty to themselves, to Her Majesty, to our allies in the United States, and to every other nation with whom Her Majesty is in friendship and alliance, and with whom questions of this kind may be liable hereafter to arise. Under a sense of that duty they have felt that this is not a question to be treated lightly or as one of no great importance. If an evasion, of the Statute Law of the land was 974 really about to take place, it was the duty of the Government to use all possible means to ascertain the truth and to prevent the escape of vessels of this kind to be used against a friendly Power. It was their duty to make inquiries and to act if there was good ground for seizure, taking care only to adopt that procedure which was justified by the circumstances. On the other hand, the Government will act, as they always have acted, upon the principle that no seizure of this kind ought to be made, except upon evidence satisfactory to their minds of an actual violation of the law. Upon such evidence we have acted in this case. The only question which really arises is this:— Were the Government justified, or were they not justified, in taking upon themselves to say that, at a time when they were already in possession of some, though imperfect, evidence, and pending inquiries which might result in attaining, and which, in their judgment, did attain, such satisfactory evidence, they would not permit the ships to be removed until that inquiry was complete, and until they had the means of knowing whether further evidence, which would prove the guilt or innocence of these vessels, was likely to be forthcoming? The House will judge whether or not the Government did exceed their duty, but they would certainly have been grossly wanting in their duty if, after the experience they had had in the case of the Alabama, and while their inquiries were pending, they had not been willing to take on themselves the responsibility of saying that they would not permit justice to be evaded until they could fully satisfy themselves whether the ships ought to be seized or not; and if they had not relied on the fair and candid judgment of the country, knowing, as the country must know, that they had been actuated by no other motive but that of vindicating the law, and of doing to other countries that which they expect other countries to do to them.
§ MR. HORSFALL
said, he wished, in the first instance, to thank the hon. Member for Horsham for the very able and clear manner in which he had brought the subject under the consideration of the House. The Attorney General had said that his hon. Friend had asked for papers which were just the papers the Government could not place before the House— namely, the documents intervening between the 1st and 3rd September; but the hon. and learned Gentleman had forgotten to re- 975 mind the House that Mr. Adams had stated that those papers did not add any additional evidence to that already known. The Attorney General had told the House that the Government had no wish to oppress the commercial interests of the country; but he (Mr. Horsfall) should like to know upon what ground they had refused to Messrs. Laird their permission to complete the vessels whilst they were in possession of the Government — a course which would have increased the value of the vessels to the Government, and would have enabled the Messrs. Laird to receive the List instalments payable for the vessels. That course of conduct certainly amounted to oppressing the commercial interests of the country. The hon. and learned Gentleman had alluded to the case of the Alexandra; but he (Mr. Horsfall) should have thought that that was the last case to which he would have alluded—a case in which a jury of British gentlemen had given a clear and unanimous verdict against the Crown, and in which the Judges had refused an appeal. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, took a different view, and thought that upon a further appeal that decision might be reversed. He (Mr. Horsfall) did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman had improved his position by reminding the House of the course which had been pursued by the Government in the case of the Alexandra. Upon a recent occasion, however, he had stated in an admirable speech made in that House, that it was the duty of the Government not to enforce English law against English subjects upon mere suspicion, or without satisfactory evidence. He should like the House to consider where the satisfactory evidence was against the rams. Although Her Majesty's Government would not give them information, some information had been laid before the American Congress. From the papers published in America, it appeared that one of the principal evidences against these rains was a person named Chapman, who, as the Attorney General would perhaps recollect, had been very properly designated at the lute trial as a spy. Another witness in the case was a Mr. Clarence Randolph Young, who had to give a most extraordinary account of himself in cross-examination at the trial of the Alexandra. It appeared that he had deserted his wife and child at Savannah—that he went to Kingston, and married a mulatto woman with some money, and that, having sold all her property, he 976 deserted her in Liverpool and came up to London to be a witness in that case. Certainly the Government could not be congratulated on the witnesses they brought forward. In the same case a Mr. Wilson, a very respectable man, was called on to speak to the character of the ship, but it turned out that he had never built a ship for twenty years. It would be curious to know something of the evidence brought before the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office. On the 31st of August, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs wrote to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Laird) in reference to the Alabama in these terms —In a note which Earl Russell has lately received from Mr. Adams the Alabama is described as a vessel 'fitted out and despatched from the port of Liverpool,' and his Lordship directs me to say that he would feel much obliged to you if you could inform him how far it is true that the Alabama was fitted out as a vessel of war at Liverpool before she left that port.Mr. Laird's reply, with his characteristic frankness, was as follows: —In reply to your letter of the 31st of August, stating that Earl Russell would feel much obliged to me if I can inform him 'how far it is true that the Alabama was fitted out as a vessel of war at Liverpool before she left that port.' I request that you will inform his Lordship that I am not able, from my own personal observation or knowledge, to reply to his Lordship's inquiry, as I did not see the Alabama after the first week in July, 1862, being some weeks before she sailed. In order to obtain for his Lordship from a reliable source the information he has asked for, I have made inquiries from my successors in business, the firm of Laird, Brothers, the builders of the vessel now called the Alabama, and I am authorized by them to state that the vessel referred to was delivered by them at the port of Liverpool, and that at the time of her delivery she was not fitted out as a vessel of war.That letter appeared to have been transmitted to Mr. Adams by the noble Earl, and he was sorry to say that he could not join in the eulogium which had been passed by his hon. Friend the Member for Hors-ham on the American Minister. Writing to Earl Russell, Mr. Adams said —I cannot but regret that your Lordship should have adduced the evidence of Mr. Laird in support of any proposition made to my Government. I trust that I may be pardoned if I remind you that the statements made heretofore by that person in Parliament respecting their action are not such as are likely to lead to their implicit credence in any relating to his own.Such language from Mr. Adams was insulting to the hon. Member for Birken-head, insulting to Earl Russell, and insulting to the House of Commons. He had known the hon. Member fur nearly forty 977 years, during which time several severe contests had taken place between the Cheshire and Lancashire sides of the Mersey, and he defied any man to cast a slur on his character. Earl Russell had allowed this language to pass entirely unnoticed, and he could not help thinking that such conduct on his part was undignified and unbecoming a British Minister. In a letter to Mr., Adams, Earl Russell pointed out that the Government were advised that the information contained in the depositions was in a great measure hearsay, and that it was not such as to show the intent necessary to make the building and fitting out of these vessels illegal Now, there was not one word in the Foreign Enlistment Act about "building," and why should Earl Russell introduce the word? If these vessels were not to be built, surely that was an oppression of the mercantile interests of the country. It ought to be the policy of this country to encourage the building of vessels in every possible way, and no doubt that was the intention of those who passed the Act. If the nations of the world were allowed to come here to get their vessels of war built, and to have their munitions of war manufactured, they would not be at the trouble of getting shipbuilding yards and manufactures of ammunition of their own. There fore, if we went to war we could shut out our adversary from the means of procuring arms and ammunitions of war. It would, in his opinion, be a most fatal policy on our part to declare that no ships of war should be built in this country for other nations. It was very easy for the Government, with the large public funds at their disposal, to crush the commercial interests of the country by law proceedings, but the public eye was keenly watching the Government in the course they were now pursuing. For his own part, he held that the whole proceedings in the case of the Alexandra and in the case with regard to the Messrs. Laird constituted an act of the most cruel injustice, and a useless expenditure of the public money.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, he should not have presented himself to address the House had he seen any intention of rising on the part of any hon. Gentleman opposite. Indeed, they generally left the lion's share of the debate to those on his own side of the House. In the refusal of information and the absence of discussion lay, perhaps, their great, if not their only means of safety. He would not travel 978 over the same ground as his hon. friend behind him, who had treated so ably of the law and the facts. He would confine himself to the constitutional aspect of the question. The subject before them was really the legitimate jurisdiction of the House of Commons. On his side hon. Members claimed the right to inquire into the whole of the proceedings which the Government had taken. The Attorney General, on behalf of the Government, refused to acknowledge that right, and drew a very narrow circle, within which they were to exercise the privilege of inquiring into the conduct of the Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that as long as any matter was the subject of judicial inquiry, or as long as any point germane thereto was in that position, the House must not inquire into it. It was high time for the House to consider to what that principle amounted. It was obvious, as his hon. Friend had said, that the Government, if it chose, without a vestige of proof to support its case, without an atom of law to justify its action, could ruin any man against whom, for any reason, whether of political apprehension or of private grudge, it determined to point the artillery of the law. The Government paid no costs, and law was costly. If it were defeated in one Court, the Government could carry the case to another; if it were again defeated, it could turn off the question on a point of form, and thus it could so prolong and multiply proceedings that the resources of no citizen in the realm could bear up against the pressure. No similar power was known to the Constitution. The Government could not deprive a man of his liberty or of a sixpence of his money unless it could adduce adequate proof and valid law. Yet it could fine a man to the amount of his whole fortune, under the pressure of legal proceedings, at the end of which it would have neither law nor evidence to justify its action. No costs, however, could be awarded against it. [The SOLICITOR GENERAL: That is a mistake.] At all events, in the Court of Exchequer costs had not generally been granted against the Government; and, even if they were, it was well known that they would cover but a slight portion of the expenses incurred by the defendant. Now, there was no check on the exercise of that power, so vast and tyrannical, save one, and that was to be found in this House. It was only by the action of the House of 979 Commons that this power of ruining a subject by process of law could be brought within any bounds or limits. Such being the state of the case, the learned Attorney General told them they had no right to inquire into any matter which was the subject of judicial investigation. He (Lord Robert Cecil) granted, that on ordinary occasions, it would be exceedingly inconvenient in them to do so. Usually, matters must be left to the slow operation of the law. But, surely, when the Government was putting a subject of the Queen under the screw, and squeezing out of him all his fortune by legal proceedings, trenching on his rights, and in spite of adverse decisions against itself carrying the matter from Court to Court, the House of Commons had a right to satisfy itself that the Government was acting from legitimate motives, and that no secret and unworthy object had led it to take a course so detrimental to the interests of the country. He was bound to say, that in the case under consideration there were grave grounds of suspicion. The first thing that struck one was that the rams were seized six months ago, yet only the first legal proceedings had been taken, and that with an intimation that a very lengthy commission was to issue. The peculiarity of the action of the Government was that it took advantage of every possible legal machinery in order to put off, to the moat remote date, the final trial. That might be accidental, but it might be intentional. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the language of Mr. Adams as only slightly passing the bounds of moderation. Perhaps he might admit that Mr. Adams's own language warranted that description; but Mr. Adams was the representative of a Foreign Government, and that Government had used language to which the designation of the hon. and learned Gentleman was scarcely applicable. What of Mr. Seward's despatch of the 11th of July? There had been a good deal of talk about that document in the House, and a good deal of difficulty in arriving at the real facts of the case. From the statements which had reached them from another place he thought he was justified in coming to the conclusion, that although no official communication was made by Mr. Adams to Earl Russell of the contents of that despatch, yet the noble Lord knew perfectly well what they were. [Mr. LAYARD: No.] He would not discuss the matter with the hon. Gen- 980 tleman, for he would no doubt call it special pleading. Any hon. Member who would take the trouble to consult the more trustworthy representations which were made in another place, and which were not vouchsafed to the House of Commons, would probably arrive at the conclusion he had just expressed. Mr. Seward's language was as follows:—Can it be an occasion for either surprise or complaint, that if this condition of things is to remain, and receive the deliberate sanction of the British Government, the navy of the United States will receive instructions to pursue these enemies into the ports which thus, in violation of the law of nations and the obligations of neutrality, become harbours for the pirates? The President very distinctly perceives the risks and hazards which a naval conflict thus maintained will bring to the commerce and even to the peace of the two countries. But he is obliged to consider that in the case supposed the destruction of our commerce will probably amount to a naval war waged by a portion, at least, of the British nation against the Government and people of the United States—a war tolerated, although not declared or avowed, by the British Government. If, through the necessary employment of all our means of national defence, such a partial war shall become a general one between the two nations, the President thinks that the responsibility for that painful result will not fall upon the United States.That was a distinct threat of war. The language in the despatch read by his hon. Friend the Member for Horsham, was also a distinct threat of war. In arguing the case of the Alexandra, the Attorney General intimated to the Court, in language not to be misunderstood, that the result of a decision adverse to himself might possibly be war.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, he accepted, of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation of the construction he himself put on his words, but it was very evident, from the remarks of the presiding Judge, that such an impression as he had adverted to had been created in the mind of the Court. What he wanted to impress on the House was that, throughout these proceedings there had been a threat of war on the part of the United States. The Government had failed to obtain from the Courts of Law and from British juries that application of the law which it desired, and consequently the only course that was open to it, under these circumstances, was to procure the utmost possible delay, which the greatest dexterity in lengthening legal proceedings would enable 981 them to obtain. They were threatened by the United States; they knew they were unable to obtain a decision in their favour in the Courts of Law; after the threats which had been made by the United States, they did not dare to come to the House of Commons for an alteration of the law— what were they to do? The only course open to them was to lengthen out the proceedings to the greatest possible extent, to detain these ships by the mere prolongation of proceedings until, perchance, the complications on the other side of the Atlantic might cease, and so to obtain by an indirect and illegal method that which they could not achieve, either by coming to the House of Commons for a change of the law, or by a straightforward and fair application of the instrument which existing statutes placed in their hands. But that was not the most important part of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman. We had had a distinct avowal that the Government had broken the law. The hon. and learned Gentleman had acknowledged that upon their own responsibility, without any authority from the law, they had ventured to stop vessels which had a legal right to leave the country. Now, it seemed to him that it would be an evil day in our history when it was recorded that the Government, under threats of war from a Foreign Power, without any authority from the law to do so, had broken through every right which the subject possessed, had set at defiance every security of the Jaw, had seized his property in violation of the law, and that then Parliament had taken no notice whatever of such an illegality. What possible inference could be drawn from the silence of the House of Commons in these circumstances? Was there any other period of our history at which such an act would have been permitted? Was there any other period at which it would have been endured, that the Government should violate the rights of the subject in deference to a Foreign Power, and yet that Parliament should take no notice of the matter? Nor must it be supposed that this was a solitary case. Last summer there was a case of precisely the same kind, to which he thought it his duty to direct the attention of the House at the time. A vessel called the Gibraltar was freighted at Liverpool, with a cargo of guns for Callao. The Government sent down an order that she should he detained. They did not attempt to seize her; they detained her, 982 as the hon. and learned Gentleman had expressed it, upon their own responsibility for three weeks; no application that could be made would induce them to let her go; and it was not until the matter was mentioned in the House of Commons, and pressed upon the hon. and learned Gentleman, that leave was sent down from the Treasury to allow her to depart. For three weeks she was detained; the contract under which she sailed was so far broken; but yet no justification of the illegality had ever been offered—no compensation given to the unfortunate individual who suffered. There was a curious circumstance connected with the case of the Gibraltar, which he thought would show the spirit in which the Government had acted in reference to vessels of this kind. Among the Parliamentary papers would be found a letter from the freighter of the Gibraltar, in which he said—We are informed by the Collector of Her Majesty's Customs for this port, that if we permit you to ship the two large fort guns on board the steamship Gibraltar, that vessel will not be allowed to clear, thus preventing us from performing our charterparty with you. This action, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, is based upon the suspicion that ultimately your fort guns may find their way into the Southern Confederacy; the Collector, in reply to our question, having informed us that, if the fort guns were for the Federal or Northern Government, no obstacles would be placed in the way of their being shipped, stating, at the same time, that such shipments to New York were of common occurrence.That was the statement of an officer of the Government.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
Certainly not, but the writer gave the statement as one made to him by the Collector of Customs, and he presumed he was an officer of the Government, and his representation of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government, though printed and circulated among the Parliamentary papers, had never been contradicted either by the Collector of Customs himself at Liverpool or by the Government. It was all very well for the Attorney General sitting there to contradict it; his honour was safe, because if it should afterwards turn out that the Collector did make the statement, it might be said that the hon. and learned Gentleman had no communication with him; but, he repeated, no contradiction, either by or on behalf of 983 the Collector, had ever been given to that formal declaration of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. It seemed to him that the case of the Gibraltar threw a flood of light upon the motives of the Government in detaining the steam-rams, and the principles on which they acted. They claimed a right to detain vessels—not in one case, but in many—without any authority from law, upon their own responsibility, because they believed that possibly at some future time they might find evidence that some statute had been broken. They claimed that right, and in acting upon it they explained that they did so for the benefit of one side, in a contest as to which they professed to maintain a position of absolute neutrality. With such evidence before them—it being perfectly clear that their anomalous and illegal power of detaining vessels, not of seizing them, was acted upon in the interest of the Federal Government, and therefore might be supposed to be acted upon under the threats of war which that Government was in the constant habit of addressing to ours—he thought the House of Commons would deserve those reproaches which had recently been cast upon them if they tamely passed over such a case as this. They had been accused of being the "most docile" House of Commons that ever existed, of "sneaking to their places," of allowing Ministers to do what they pleased. They would really merit that charge, and should not easily be able to wipe it off, if they quietly received the threats of a foreign Power, if under those threats they applied the processes of law with merciless severity, if they used all the delay and procrastination of the law for the purpose of crushing the subject, if they allowed Her Majesty's Government to break the law, and if they suffered them at the same time to avow that they did it on behalf of those who had addressed to them threats of war. He trusted the House would hear a more satisfactory defence of the conduct of Her Majesty's Government than had yet been delivered; but if no such defence was offered, he thought the House would not be doing its duty unless it recorded formally in its journals a protest against that assumption of a new dispensing power, a new power of suspending the rights of the subject, a new establishment of despotic claims, which might, perhaps, be in place in the atmosphere of St. Petersburg or of Washington, but which were entirely out of place in the atmosphere of London.
§ MR. W. B. FORSTER
said, he was sure the House must have been struck with the great difference between the tone, of the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Fitzgerald) who had introduced the Motion, and that of the noble and hon. Member who had supported it. The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Fitzgerald), in his very clear, able, and moderate speech, had restricted himself to a demand for the production of papers; and in giving reasons why they should be produced, he had expressly guarded himself against being; supposed to wish for any interference with the action of the Government respecting the Foreign Enlistment Act. But the hon. Member for Liverpool went far beyond that. The hon. Member had read extracts from the trial in the case of the Alexandra, which could not be very intelligible to hon. Members who had not—and he confessed himself to be among the number — read through that tedious trial. The hon. Member had ended by stating that shipbuilders had been encouraged, and that they should ever be encouraged, to build ships of war. He (Mr. Forster) could not help here from remarking, that if war should break out —and ho heartily hoped it might not— between this country and Austria and Prussia — [Lord ROBERT CECIL: Hear, hear!]—he was aware of the noble Lord's bellicose tendencies; but supposing war broke out between us and a power which had no fleet, he did not think the hon. Member for Liverpool's constituents would thank him for suggesting the argument that ships of war should be built for our enemies by our friends, France or the United States—and that American and French Aldbamas should prey upon our commerce, because France and the United States thought it desirable that their shipbuilders should be encouraged. The noble Lord quoted a case with which he (Mr. Forster) had not before been acquainted— he alluded to the case of the Gibraltar. That was not the first time the House had heard the noble Lord state his opinion that the Government had broken through the principle of neutrality. It would be fairer to both the Government and the House if, instead of bringing forward such charges incidentally, noble Lords and hon. Members who made them introduced them by means of a direct vote of want of confidence in the Government, founded on their having acted in that manner. Again, the noble Lord denied that the question before them was a question of 985 papers, and stated that it was a question whether the Government should have a dispensing power. If the noble Lord, after the declaration of the Attorney General, that these vessels had been seized upon the responsibility of the Government, did not think the Government had any right to detain those rams, let him bring forward a vote of censure. Coming to the Motion of the hon. Member for Horsham, there were two sets of papers included in the correspondence. One was the correspondence between our Foreign Office and Mr. Adams, or, between our Foreign Office and our Minister in America; the other, the correspondence between the Government and the Messrs. Laird, the builders of the vessels. He was glad that the Attorney General was willing to produce the first of these series; for he thought it would be perfectly useless of our Government to refuse to publish the official correspondence that had already been printed and circulated in America and this country. If the Government did print the bulky volume the correspondence would occupy, he hoped they would not cut out too much. He hoped they would not confine themselves to the English correspondence, because, among that which referred to France, a good deal of light was thrown on the interesting negotiations which were carried on last year in that country by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) and the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) in reference to American affairs. He felt sure that when the whole of the papers were before the House, so far from confirming the insinuation that Earl Russell had made any unworthy concessions to a Foreign Power, they would contradict it; but the y would not afford that information which might be desired by the owners of the rams and those who spoke for them — they would not give the reason why the Government had come to the conclusion that they might be able to prove a breach of the Foreign Enlistment Act. That information might be useful to the defendants in the proceedings; but he hoped the House would see that it was information which the Government ought not to give these parties. The case alleged against the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs was that in the beginning of September he wrote a letter to Mr. Adams, in which he stated that he did not think there were grounds on which the Government could interfere with those rams, and 986 that within two or three days after writing in those terms, he found there were grounds, and took measures to detain the vessels. From those facts he presumed that there had been great doubt on Earl Russell's mind as to whether there were any grounds for detaining them, and that the noble Earl would not, under such circumstances, accede to the demand of a Foreign Government for interference; but that between the time at which he wrote his first letter and the date of his second he received information upon which he determined to act. Was it not fairly to be assumed that the noble Lord, having got certain information, acted upon it, and that he determined to detain these ships solely from what he knew, and not upon representations made by the American Minister? No doubt it would be exceedingly useful for the purposes of some persons to find out what induced Earl Russell to suppose that the statement which had been made as to the French destination of the rams was untrue. But would the House allow itself to be made use of for the purpose of acquiring such information? Then as to the general question, it was a matter of notoriety on this and on the other side of the Atlantic, that in the yard of the Messrs. Laird, where the Alabama had been built, to commit depredation after depredation upon American shipping, steam rams were in preparation to follow the example of the Alabama, and inflict much more serious injury on American interests. The Attorney General had read a letter detailing the plans resorted to by the Confederate Government to induce British subjects to violate British neutrality. Any hon. Gentle-man who was in the habit of watching the news which came from America would be aware, that for months previous to the detention of these rams a fear was expressed in the North and a hope in the South that they would issue forth; and that being so, and the Government having reason to believe that the rams were intended for the Confederate Government, they took upon themselves the responsibility of detaining them, under the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act. Well, then, if the noble Lord or hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that the Government deserved a vote of censure for so doing, let them boldly propose such a vote, and say that they would not have done the same thing. It was his full belief that they would have done the same, not from any fear of war with America, but solely from a sense of what was 987 required by English interests, which they, no doubt, had as much at heart as the present Government had. The noble Lord seemed to think lightly of a war with America; but that was not the feeling of the country, nor did he believe it could be the feeling of the Opposition generally. Much had been said about Mr. Seward's despatch. He was not there to defend Mr. Seward who might not perhaps write with taste or elegance, but it showed the necessities of hon. Gentlemen opposite that they were obliged to cite despatches which had never been presented. No doubt that despatch threatened England with war if these rams went forth; and if the case had been reversed—if an Alabama had sailed from an American port to prey upon English commerce, and we heard that she was to be followed by a fleet of rams—we should not merely have threatened, we should have declared positively that we should regard such an act as an act of war. These men were our descendants, and we ought, therefore, to put ourselves in their position, and to consider what we should have done in a like case. But the question was not one of peace or war alone; it was a question of English interests. If the precedent of the Alabama were to be followed, what was the use of our navy? What would be the use of blockading the ports of even a weak country? Why, in the event of war, we should be obliged, if this precedent were allowed, to blockade the ports of every neutral nation. With such tremendous interests at stake, therefore—with the possibility of a war against America, and not in a just cause—with our position as a great maritime country thus imperilled— with the enormous expenditure into which we should have been led had we allowed a breach of the law as between neutrals and belligerents—if the Government had neglected their duty in the matter of these rams, he believed that nobody would have been more ready to blame them than hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
* Sir, in the observations which it will be my duty to make, I shall endeavour to bring back the House to the precise question on which we are called to vote, and I will begin by subscribing sincerely to what was advanced by the hon. and learned Attorney General, when he called on the House to acknowledge the impropriety of discussing the production of papers which would prejudice or affect pending legal proceedings. Sir, if I thought that the production of these 988 papers would affect pending legal proceedings, or that they were moved for to answer any such purpose, I should be the last person to support the Motion. But I believe that it can have no such effect, that the production is intended to have no such effect, and that every word which has fallen from the learned Attorney General on the subject will show that it would not have that effect. The papers asked for may be divided into two classes. One is the correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States, with regard to these ships; the other consists of correspondence of a different kind, between the Government and the firm of Messrs. Laird, the builders. Now, I think, it is very material to state clearly the purpose to be served by the production of these papers. With regard to the first class of papers, the object in asking for them is not to raise any question about our municipal statute, the Foreign Enlistment Act, or as to the merits or demerits of the case of the shipbuilders under that Act, but to ascertain what the House of Commons is most interested in knowing— namely, the demands grounded upon international law which have been made by the United States' Government respecting these ships, and the answers which have been given to these demands by the Government of this country. I can conceive no question so vital as this; and, at the same time, I am sorry to say, that there is no question at the present day upon which the House of Commons has less information. I would ask hon. Members— I care not on which side of the House— "What do you conceive to be the precise demands made by the United States' Government upon Her Majesty's Government respecting the departure of ships from this country, and what do you conceive to be the attitude taken by the British Government in reply to these demands?" Why, I defy any person, judging from any paper laid before the House of Commons, to state with satisfaction what those demands and those answers have been. And yet, this is the point which the House of Commons wants to know. We do not want to know the construction of the Foreign Enlistment Act, and whether that Act has or has not been violated. That is the business of the Courts of Law, and they will attend to it. But we want to know what is certainly our business. What has Mr. Seward alleged to be an infringement of international law 989 in this matter? Has lie said that it is an infringement of international law for armed ships to leave this country, or for unarmed ships to do so if they are subsequently armed? And, if so, what answer has been returned by the Government of this country?
Sir, I will assign one good reason for complaining of the state of doubt in which we have been left upon this point. In the wretched scrap of correspondence which has been laid before the House—the correspondence which is said to have passed during last autumn between the United States' Government and the Government of this country; it ought not to be called a correspondence, for it consists only of three letters, with a great number of claims sent in by the United States' Government—in these papers I find that Earl Russell, on the 27th of March last, wrote a despatch, to be communicated to the American Minister, and in that despatch he said, that he wished the United States' Government to understand that he considered the case of the Alabama and the Oreto to be a scandal. The hon. Under Secretary of State (Mr. Layard) nods his head in approval of that expression. Now, I can assure the House that I am not going to express the least opinion upon the subject, because I know nothing about the facts relating to the Alabama. Of course, I know what she is doing now. That is a matter of notoriety. But what did Earl Russell mean by saying that the case of the Alabama and the Oreto was a scandal? Did he mean that it was a scandal because, having laws to punish such a case, we did not enforce them? The Under Secretary of State shakes his head at this. Well, then, did Earl Russell mean that it was a scandal that we had no laws to punish such cases? He must have meant one of these two things. I have the disclaimer of the Under Secretary as to the first. [Mr. LAYARD: No!] Oh, then, that shake of the head is withdrawn. It is always dangerous to pin yourself to one horn of a dilemma until you have heard the other. Now, let us suppose that the noble Lord thought the case of the Alabama and the Oreto was a scandal, because that, having laws to punish, they were not put in force. Then I will ask this question — I know it is true that it is said, and it has been repeated here to-night, that the Alabama left this country without there being an opportunity for the Government to seize her as a forfeited ship. 990 But I want to know this. The persons who were concerned in building the Alabama, and in sending her out of the country were well known, and they never disputed the fact. I believe that in this House an hon. Member stated the whole circumstances connected with the case, and the names of all the parties concerned. There is no doubt about the facts relating to the Alabama, and I want to know this:—Supposing that the ship did leave this country, and that there was not time to seize her as a forfeited ship; yet if the laws of the country were violated, why did not the Government indict the persons who admitted openly that they had sent the Alabama out of the country? Remember, if there is a case for seizure there is also a case for an indictment for a misdemeanour. If the noble Earl meant that it was a scandal, because, having laws, those laws were not enforced, I want to know why the Government has not put them into force in place of having these desultory and repeated allusions to the Alabama as a case in which some misdemeanour and infraction of the law has been committed.
Now, take the other case of the Oreto. That case was mentioned in this House last year. I remember well that the hon. and learned Attorney General stated that the Oreto left this country and went to Nassau, and these were his words, "We strained a point." The Attorney General has strained more than one point, as we shall see before all is over. He said on March 27, "To show our good faith to the American Government we strained a point, and we seized the Oreto at Nassau, where she was tried and was acquitted." And the Crown brought no appeal against the decision of the Vice Admiralty Court at Nassau, so that the Oreto stands a ship pronounced free from any breach of the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act. I want, then, to know as to the Alabama and the Oreto, what it was the noble Earl meant when he said the case was a scandal?
But I have not done with the case of the Alabama. It was a most singular coincidence that, on the very day the noble Earl was writing his despatch to the United States' Government, containing those remarkable words, which we may be sure will not be forgotten by our friends across the water, upon that same day the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) in this House appealed to the noble Lord at the head of the Government as to the 991 case of the Alabama. The hon. Member stated fairly and ably, as he always does, his views as to the Alabama, and he called upon the noble Lord to say that the Alabama had been guilty of an infringement of our laws, and to smooth over the matter to the American Government by acknowledging that there had been some remiss-ness which was much to be deplored. Upon the same day that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, writing to the American Government, said the case was a scandal, the noble Lord at the head of the Government, addressing an English audience and the House of Commons, said—I have myself great doubt whether if we had seized the Alabama we should not have been liable to considerable damages. It is generally known that she sailed from this country unarmed and not properly fitted out for war, and that she received her armament, equipment, and crew in a foreign port. Therefore, whatever suspicions we may have had—and they were well founded, as it afterwards turned out, as to the intended destination of the vessel, her condition at that time would not have justified her seizure.That is, to justify her seizure for any infringement of the law. But if there had been no infringement of the law, why was the case a scandal? If there had been any infringement of the law, why were not the persons—whose names were well known —who sent out the vessel, why were they not indicted? Then, as the Oreto was tried and acquitted, why is her case a scandal?
Now, let us take the other branch of the dilemma. Did the noble Earl mean that the case was a scandal because we had not a better law to deal with the cases of the Alabama and the Oreto. Then, I ask, why have not the Government—if such be their opinion—why have the y not proposed an alteration of the law? The noble Earl the Foreign Secretary has more than once suggested that the Government might come to this House and propose such an alteration. I ask if it was the opinion of the noble Earl that this case was a scandal to our laws, because we had no law to meet it, why, as he remained in the Government, did he not propose an alteration of the law? Then, again, we have upon the very same day a declaration from the noble Lord at the head of the Government. While the noble Earl was sending off his despatch to the Government of the United States, the noble Lord said in this House, as to any alteration of our law—I do hope and trust that the people and Government of the United States will believe tha 992 we are doing our best in every case to execute that law; but they must not imagine that any cry which may be raised will induce us to come down to this House with a proposal to alter the law. We have had—I have had—some experience of what any attempt of that sort may be expected to lead to, and I think there are several gentlemen sitting on this bench who would not be disposed, if I were so inclined myself, to concur in any such proposition.That, I think, was a sensible view, and I can only wonder at and want an explanation of the despatch to our good friends across the water, leading to the belief that the opinion of our Government was wholly different. I must say another word as to this. We are told that these words of the noble Earl—and very strong words they were for a Minister to use—were referred to elsewhere, and the noble Earl was asked to explain them. The noble Earl explained them in this way. He said, in substance, "I adhere to the opinion, and my reason is this—How can you describe in any other words an Act of Parliament as to which the chief of one of our courts of law has said, 'You might sail a fleet of ships through it?'" That explanation again will go across the water, and will be read by our friends on the other side of the Atlantic, who will find it asserted that the chief of one of our courts has declared of the Foreign Enlistment Act that a fleet of ships might be sailed through it. Will the House believe it possible that the noble Earl could have fallen into the error I am going to expose? What that very eminent and learned person said was this—If I were to adopt the construction which the Crown desires to put upon the Foreign Enlistment Act, which I do not adopt, which I reprobate as false and erroneous, then, indeed, you might not drive a coach and six, but might sail a fleet of ships through the Act of Parliament.Now, I think I have shown sufficient reason why the House of Commons should be anxious to have a full statement not merely from American reports and publications, but a full statement from our own Ministers of the correspondence which has passed between the British Government and the Government of the United States.
I now come to the second portion of the papers which have been moved for—the correspondence between the different departments of the Government and the Messrs. Laird, who are said to have been the builders of these ships. I wish to repeat most emphatically, that I will endeavour not to say one word which can by any possibility verge upon whatever may be the 993 merits of the case to be tried between the Government and the persons connected with these ships. I agree that nothing should be said in this House to prejudice the pending case, but I wish the Government had followed a similar course. I cannot help reminding the House, as it has been referred to prominently by the Attorney General, of what the Government have been doing all the time these ships have been detained or under seizure. The Attorney General, as I understand his views, says that nothing must be said to prejudice the case of the Government, but anything that will prejudice the case of the individuals with whom the Government are in litigation is fair and right, and all the more fair and right if it comes from a Member of the Government. Let us take as a specimen a speech of the Foreign Secretary to the people of Blairgowrie, which we may presume is correct, as the American Minister has reported it to his Government, observing that the altered tone of Lord Russell greatly pleased him. Now, what was the new tone which so delighted the American Minister? Upon the 9th of September these rams were seized. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: Detained!] Yes; detained. The correction is important. They were detained on the 9th or 10th of September. About a fortnight or three weeks afterwards, addressing a select audience, who, no doubt, were most competent judges upon these matters, the noble Earl treated them to his views upon the Foreign Enlistment Act, He said—There are other matters with regard to ships that have lately been prepared within this country, because these ships are not like ships that receive the usual equipment, they are not like vessels you sent in former times of war, but are in themselves, without any further armament, formed for acts of offence and war; they are steam rams, which might be used for purposes of war, without ever touching the shore of a Confederate port.The good people of Blairgowrie, no doubt, attached a different meaning to the word "rams." The noble Earl went on to say—Well, gentlemen, to permit ships of this kind knowingly to depart from this country, not to enter into a Confederate port, not to enter the ports of a belligerent, would, as you see, expose our good faith to great suspicion.I wish the House to remember what was the condition of affairs at that time. Messrs. Laird were the builders of these ships. They were said to have been built for a foreigner, M. Bravay of Paris, and 994 the allegation was that that statement was incorrect, and that, instead of being built for M. Bravay, there were intended for the Confederate Government. That was a matter to be proved by proper evidence. While the question is in this state, the noble Foreign Secretary thinks it is not prejudiced by his going to a select audience of his own choosing and telling them that it is quite clear that these rams were intended for the Confederate Government. And the American Minister says, "This is the true tone!"
But now I come to my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. He, following the example of the noble Earl, addressed his constituents, and what did he tell them?—On the other hand, he hoped and believed that the people of the country at large would not be inclined to identify themselves in feeling with those merchants of ours who seemed to think that they were bound by no obligation to our laws at all.No doubt, if such an expression had fallen from the hon. Member who sits below the gangway it might not have been of the slightest consequence. No importance would have been attached to it; but it is very different when it falls from the first Law Officer of the Crown, who is charged with the prosecution of such offences—He hoped and believed that the people of the country at large would not be inclined to identify themselves in feeling with those merchants of ours who seemed to think that they were bound by no obligation to our laws at all, and that it was perfectly fair for them if they chose to carry on an unlawful trade with a belligerent Power, while at the same time they knew that Government were anxious for the sake of the nation to preserve a strict neutrality.Who were referred to? Of course, I must pay the Government the compliment of saying, that if there were any merchants evincing a total disregard to the law they would have prosecuted them. Therefore, this could only refer to the cases sub judice —the Alexandra and the steam rams, and yet we have the first Law Officer of the Crown going down to his constituents, and saying, before the cases were tried, that the defendants in these cases had clearly violated the law. But this is not all, because we find the President of the Board of Trade also followed suit. He went down to Ashton and addressed his constituents, and I must say he went deeper into the subject than either of those who preceded him. He told the people of Ashton—I don't know whether any gentleman here has taken the trouble to read the legal arguments 995 upon this question; but really I confess, for one, that I am unable to understand much of what has been said upon the subject. I am told that you may sail a fleet of ships through the Foreign Enlistment Act. It may be so; but I -will undertake to say that I will sail another fleet of ships through the construction which any of the lawyers has hitherto put upon that Act. Common sense tells mo that the Confederate Government are the parties who have, directly or indirectly, caused these ships to be built in this country, and that in so doing they entered upon a deliberate course of violating and evading the laws of England. I am no lawyer, but that is my construction, and I do not think you can sail a fleet of ships through that.Yes; the laws of England, which the right hon. Gentleman says he does not understand—he nevertheless maintains have been violated—the common sense which does not enable him to understand the law does enable him to say that these parties had entered on a deliberate course of violating the laws of England.I am no lawyer, but that is my construction, and I don't think you can sail a fleet of ships through it.That was followed by great laughter. Well but this is not, after all, a matter for drollery. Suppose this were a question of life; suppose a prisoner waiting his trial on a Government prosecution for high treason, and suppose the Attorney General, a Secretary of State, and another Cabinet Minister, went about addressing their constituents, and saying, "Dont talk about the law — never mind that; there are, no doubt, forms of law to be gone through—but it is as certain as the sun shines the man is guilty." The Attorney General deprecated any word which might drop from any speaker that might prejudice the case of the Crown; but he talked much of doing to others what you would desire others to do to you, and then he said, You talk of papers laid before Congress, another paper was laid before another Congress, and he read a paper said to be signed by the Under Secretary of the Confederate Government, stating something about ironclad vessels being built in England, and connecting them with the rams in the Mersey. And he said, as matter of fact, there could be no doubt these rams were intended for the Confederate Government. Now, that is the very point sub judice. But does the Attorney General not know—what I suppose every other Member but himself knows—that a gentleman, as I am informed, of high position in the Confederate States has written a letter to the newspapers, in which, refer- 996 ring to the paper which the Attorney General read to-night, and which was also published in the newspapers, he has declared it to be a gross forgery? But so the fact is; such a statement has been made, and made as publicly as the other document, and the person who has made that statement has added, that any one conversant with the manner in which documents are laid before Congress would know that it was not usual for documents in that shape or form to be laid before Congress.
Now, I want to state precisely the objects for which, I think, this second class of documents, the correspondence between the Government and the Messrs. Laird, ought to be produced. It is not for the purpose of affecting the merits of the case, either as against the Crown or the Messrs. Laird, that I support their production. It is for the purpose of seeing what course was taken by the Government anterior to the seizure of these vessels, a course which raises constitutional questions of as great importance—I say so deliberately—as were ever brought before this House. I speak with full consciousness of the gravity of the expressions I use when I charge the Government—let there be no mistake—I charge the Government with having done, and after hearing the Attorney General tonight, I say having done on their own confession, what was illegal and unconstitutional, without law, without justification, and without excuse. We are told, not by documents laid on the table—we have had to search as we best could for documents elsewhere—we are told that on the 31st of August, Earl Russell answered a memorial presented to him by four representatives of the Peace Society, who asked him to detain these rams in the Mersey. I will read to the House the material parts of that reply—Gentlemen,—I have received your letter, calling my attention to a subject of very grave and pressing importance—namely, the fitting out and equipping of two powerful iron-plated steam rams, which you are informed are intended to commit hostilities against the Government and people of the United States of America. My attention has long been directed to this subject. Both the Treasury and the Home Department have, at my request, made the most anxious inquiries upon the subject of these steam rams. You are aware that, by the Foreign Enlistment Act, a ship is liable to be detained, and its owners are subject to penalties, when the ship is armed or equipped for purposes of war, and its owners intend to use it against some State or community in friendship with Her Majesty. It is necessary to prove both the equipment and the intention. 997 But in order to prove the equipment and the intention it is necessary, for conviction in a British Court of Justice, to have the evidence of credible witnesses. I was in hopes, when I began to read your memorial, that you would propose to furnish mo with evidence to prove that the steam rams in question were intended to carry on hostilities against the Government and people of the United States of America; but you make no proposal of the sort, and only tell me that you 'are informed' so and so, and' it is believed' so and so. You must be aware, however, that, according to British law, prosecutions cannot be set on foot upon the ground of the violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act without affidavits of credible witnesses, as in other cases of important misdemeanours and crimes. Such, likewise, is the law in the United States of America.That was on the 31st of August. On the 1st of September the noble Lord wrote to Mr. Adams, and said this—In the first place, Her Majesty's Government are advised that the information contained in the depositions is in a great measure mere hearsay evidence, and generally that is not such as to show the intent or purpose necessary to make the building or fitting out of these vessels illegal under the Foreign Enlistment Act. Secondly, it has been stated to Her Majesty's Government at one time that these vessels have been built for Frenchmen, and at another that they belonged to the Viceroy of Egypt, and that they were not intended for the so-called Confederate States. It is true that in your letter of the 25th of July you maintain that this statement as regards French ownership is a pretence, but the inquiries set on foot by Her Majesty's Government have failed to show that it is without foundation. Whatever suspicion may be entertained by the United States' Consul at Liverpool as to the ultimate destination of these vessels, the fact remains that M. Bravay, a French merchant residing at Paris, who is represented to be the person upon whose orders these ships have been built, has personally appeared, and has acted in that character at Liverpool. There is no legal evidence against M. Bravay's claim, nor anything to affect him with any illegal act or purpose; and the responsible agent of the Customs at Liverpool affirms his belief that these vessels have not been built for the Confederates. Under these circumstances, and having regard to the entire insufficiency of the depositions to prove any infraction of the law, Her Majesty's Government are advised that they cannot interfere in any way with these vessels.That was the conclusion of the noble Lord on the 1st of September, that having regard to the entire insufficiency of the depositions to prove any infraction of the law, Her Majesty's Government were advised that they could not interfere in any way with these vessels, either by seizure or in any other manner.
Well, the next step was this:—The noble Lord has stated elsewhere that on the 3rd of September, the next day but one, he had made up his mind to detain the rams, and that he wrote a private letter to the noble 998 Lord at the head of the Government, stating that he had given orders for their detention. Facts of an important description, which, of course, he was not in any way obliged to mention — and I quite agree that it would be wrong for him to mention them—but important facts came to the knowledge of the Government between the 1st and 3rd of September, which led to their entirely changing their intention, and resolving to take proceedings against the rams. At some future time we may perhaps hear what these facts are which, in so brief an interval, came within their cognizance. But what we find was this:—The noble Lord determines to detain the ships on the 3rd of September; and I cannot help thinking there were very just grounds for the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald), if you had determined on that day even to detain these rams, do you think it was fair, candid, and above-board for you to write to the Messrs. Laird on the 14th of September a letter which—even granting that they invited it, and that it was in consequence of some statement they made—was entirely calculated to mislead them as to your views and intentions? For what does that letter amount to but this, "We understand you to be good enough to say, that although you will not volunteer the information, yet if you are asked officially for whom you are building these ships you will tell. Be good enough, then, to let the Foreign Secretary know for whom they are being built?" And, accordingly, on the 5th of September the Messrs. Laird unsuspectingly say that "the Messrs. Bravay allow us to send you their name." Yet all the while the Foreign Secretary, in concert with the noble Lord at the head of the Government, had resolved to take that step which he never breathed to the Messrs. Laird, and which he never communicated to them till the 9th of September. Well, on the 9th of that month, this letter was written to those gentlemen, and I ask the House to reconcile it if they can—I confess I cannot— with the statement we have heard as to the important information which arrived between the 1st and the 3rd of September, and which made the Government change their views. It is written by the Secretary of the Treasury to the Messrs. Laird, and runs thus—Gentlemen,—I am desired by my Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to acquaint you that their Lordships have felt it their duty to 999 issue orders to the Commissioners of Customs that the two iron-clad steamers now in course of completion in your dock, at Birkenhead, are not to be permitted to leave the Mersey until satisfactory evidence can be given of their destination, or, at least, till the inquiries which are now being prosecuted to obtain such evidence shall have been brought to a conclusion. "G. A. HAMILTON. "Messrs. Laird, Brothers.Well, but if all the facts bad come to the knowledge of the Government—
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
Well, then, let it be "some information;" this information, according to the Attorney General, entirely changed the views of the Government, and produced a conversion as sudden as anything we have heard of in history. Remember, I am willing to attribute the conversion to this information; and not to the force of Mr. Adams's letter. I take the statement of the Government by their organ in this House to-night—that "important facts"—"some" facts if you like —had come to their knowledge, between the 1st and 3rd of September, which satisfied them as to the destination of these rams. But, if that were so, how came you, on the 9th, to write, as regards the detention of the rams, that your intention was to keep them "till the inquiries which are now being prosecuted to obtain such evidence shall have been brought to a conclusion?" But so it was, and then the detention of the rams took place. The detention occurred on the 9th of September, and the seizure on the 9th of October, exactly one month afterwards. It is said also that during this time the detention had this operation, that the Messrs. Laird were not allowed to take the ships out of their dock on a trial trip, although they gave their personal undertaking to bring them back again after the trial trip was over. It is said, I know not how truly, that that permission was first given by the Government and then withdrawn; but I do not care about that, or about the case of the Messrs. Laird. I beg the House to dissever this matter from the case of individuals. It may, or it may not, have been more or less irksome to the Messrs. Laird, but I ask the House to look to the grave constitutional question involved. I demand to know from the Government—for we have not been told yet—what was their authority for detaining those rams on the 9th of September. Does the Attorney General say there was law for it? No; 1000 there is none. Does he say there is constitutional practice for it? No; there is none. But what he says—and I commend his answer to the House for their edification—is this:—"We violated the law in order to vindicate the law." For he says, "There was no reason to seize—there was no evidence—nothing had been done which gave us that right; but we remembered what we thought had occurred in other cases—we remembered that ships had been expeditiously fitted out and sent from this country, and we had been unable to stop them; we were determined that that should not occur again." And, therefore, while no crime had been committed ["Oh!"]—why, if a crime had been committed, you had a right actually to seize—but while no crime had been committed, while no evidence was obtained, while the Government wore afraid to seize the ships, they detained them, in order that, it might be in the course of weeks or of months, they might procure their evidence, and make out their case.
Now, I will take the Attorney General's own analogy. He asks, "What do you do with a person accused of committing a crime? You take him before a magistrate, who receives certain evidence and may remand him for a certain time that more evidence may be obtained." The Attorney General forgot that here there is a seizure. The seizure is the arrest. The moment you arrest a man, which the law allows you to do, on a charge of felony or misdemeanour, you act strictly within the law. The moment you arrest him you have made the seizure, and the law also says in the interests of justice that the magistrate may remand him within certain limits, and for a certain time while evidence is being produced; and, moreover, there are safeguards in the habeas corpus against the abuse of authority there. But that is not the case here. You say, indeed, that you acted on your responsibility. Is not that the same wretched pretence which from the worst days of despotism downwards has always justified the acts of the executive Government? Has not every breach of law committed by the Executive been done on their own responsibility? Were not general warrants issued on the responsibility of the Government? It is no answer to say that the individual may have his action for damages where there has been a breach of the law. If I remember rightly, the persons who were arrested under general warrants had 1001 rights of action and recovered damages. Yet, although that was so, although the Government said they had acted for the safety of the State, and on their own responsibility, the House of Commons solemnly pronounced the sentence that general warrants were illegal and unconstitutional. And I say again, that what was done in regard to these steam rams at Liverpool was as illegal and unconstitutional as any act ever committed by the executive Government since the time of which I have spoken. Well, it has been suggested on behalf of the Government, that after all a seizure and a detention are not very different — that seizure is the greater and detention the less—that there was no greater interference with the Messrs. Laird and the enjoyment of their property by the one than by the other. I care nothing about what the exact amount of that interference may have been, but I do want to know from the Government, and I hope we shall have this question plainly answered before this debate is over —I want to know whether the Government really mean to claim the right to detain ships building all round the various ports of England, on the request of the American Government, until inquiry shall have been made, or until the shipbuilder, having the onus cast upon him, shall discharge it —the onus of showing the destination of the ship? If that is the claim of the Government let us hear it, and we shall know how to deal with it. If that is not their claim, how do they justify the detention of the ships in the Mersey? If they were right in September in detaining these vessels for a month, they will be right anywhere in England in detaining any ship merely on suspicion.
But is it the fact that detention is less injurious than seizure? It requires no great skill to answer that question. If the Government seize the ship they do the very thing that an Act of Parliament authorizes—they commit no aggression on the law; and, moreover, the person whose ship is seized has a right to drive on the Government—to make them continue the proceedings in a court and bring the ship to trial, and then it will be declared whether or not he is an offender against the law. But if you detain the ship, how can the owner bring the case to trial? I want to know from the Government, and I trust that the House of Commons will demand from them, an answer to this—How long do they claim a right to detain a ship? 1002 Do you claim it for one month, for two, for three, for six, or for twelve months? If you do not, where do you draw your line? What right have you to detain her for one month if you cannot detain her for twelve? Sir, I cannot help contrasting the course taken by the Government in September, 1863, with some words which fell from the noble Lord the First Minister on the 27th of March, 1863. Speaking in this House on that occasion the noble Lord said—Her Majesty's Government 'will continue, as I maintain they have done hitherto, to enforce the law, whenever a case shall be brought before them in which they can safely act upon good and sufficient grounds; there must, however, be a deposition upon oath, and that deposition must be made upon facts that will stand examination before a Court of Law; for to call upon us arbitrarily and capriciously to seize vessels with respect to which no convincing evidence can afterwards be adduced, is to ask the Government to adopt a course which would cast discredit upon them, and lead to much subsequent difficulty and embarrassment.If you cannot capriciously seize a ship, what is that to be called which is the detention of a ship without cause for seizure, in order that you may, if it may be, obtain a case for seizure? On the same day, the 27th of March, the Attorney General, then Solicitor General, laid down some very good constitutional law, which I am afraid he has forgotten. He said—The United States' Government have no right to complain of the Act in question—the Foreign Enlistment Act is enforced in the way in which English laws are usually enforced against English subjects"—Now, where is your English law which authorizes you against an English subject to detain property under such circumstances?On evidence, and not on suspicion; on satisfactory testimony, and not on the mere accusations of a Foreign Minister or his agents.And the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say—I might, perhaps, understand such a complaint if grounded on some such theory as this:— That because the safeguards of liberty have been suspended under circumstances of civil war in the United States, therefore, that they should be suspended in this country too, and the officers of our Government should do illegal acts and violate the I law on mere accusation and suspicion.Six months have not passed over before the hon. and learned Gentleman—advising, as I suppose, the Government—was guilty of the very offence which he reprobated then, when he said that it was unjustifiable in the United States to ask us to imitate their conduct. There is another matter 1003 connected with this which is of great importance, and to which I invite the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The House is aware that very large and extensive demands have been made by the Government of the United States against this country for injuries occasioned by the Alabama. These demands were made during the whole of last year, and now amount to a sum which I am afraid to mention. Last year I heard the Government on more than one occasion defend themselves against these claims, and I thought on very good grounds. I thought that the claims were most unfounded. I thought there was no pretence for alleging them. I accepted the defence of the Government. But what was that defence? The defence of the Government was this:—" You complain of the Alabama. Well; assume for a moment that at the time of her departure from England she had been guilty of a violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act, which we think doubtful; but, assume that she had, she was built under such circumstances, and with such speed, that no reasonable diligence on our part could have prevented her leaving." But, said the American Minister, "Oh, yes; but I told you a considerable time before— I told you many weeks before—the reason that we had for suspecting her destination; and I gave you statements—some of them upon oath, and some not upon oath— which made it impossible but that any one should at all events feel a doubt whether that was not her destination." "Yes," said the Government, "but we have no law which enables us to interpose in a case of that kind. We cannot detain a ship— we cannot act upon suspicion. If you show us a case which enables us to seize, then we can seize and abide by the consequences, because the law enables us to do that; but the law does not enable us to do what your American law may do," and I believe does—"it does not enable us to detain a ship merely on circumstances of suspicion, in order to make inquiry. Therefore," said the Government to the United States last year, "your claims with regard to the Alabama are unfounded; for we did all that the law and constitution of the country allow us to do." But what becomes of that now? What will you say to the American Minister now? Do not you suppose that the American Minister will come to you and say, "You told me last year that unless 1004 you had a case for seizure, and proof by proper evidence, you could not arrest a ship at all—that you could not detain her. Although you admitted that the facts I brought before you created very great suspicion, you said that you could not seize the Alabama; therefore, you could not touch her. But look at what you did in September. For a whole month you detained these steam rams in the Mersey while, according to your own words, you were collecting evidence and endeavouring to see whether your suspicions were well founded." Now, I do not accept that view of the case. I do not accept the view that the Government were justified in what they did; but I maintain that when the United States hold this language, either our Government must contend that what they did in September was unconstitutional, or they ought to have done the same with regard to the Alabama, and are liable.
Now, I have only a few words more to say with regard to the course which was taken after the seizure, and again I will not say a word as to the merits of the case, of which I know nothing. What was the course the Government took? On the 9th of October they seized these rams. The House are tolerably aware that the next step to be taken is one almost of form—at all events, a very few days suffices if they have, as the Government say they had at the time of the seizure, a full knowledge of the case—the next step is to file an information in the Exchequer; but I am sorry to say that the law of the country is such, because it was a law made to deal with seizures of bales of tobacco and things of little value, that the Crown cannot be actually driven to take a step in the Court of Exchequer for twelve months. In a case of this sort, however, where the property was of the value of nearly a quarter of a million of money— something like that amount has, I am informed, been expended on these ships— surely it was the duty of the Government, when they did seize the ships, to use promptitude and despatch to bring the case to trial. Well, now, will the House believe it, that from the 9th of October until the 8th of February, which is exactly four months, not a single step was taken, no information was filed in the Exchequer, and I do not think I am going too far when I say, that if this House had not assembled a very few days before that time the information would not have been 1005 filed to this day? But that is not all. What was done with the ships in the mean time? We saw from the ordinary sources of information that they were taken out of the dock and laid up in the Mersey under the charge of the Government. Now, if a quarter of a million of money has been expended on these ships, I ask the House to consider what the loss per month must be to the persons who have laid out that sum. I do not suppose that it is an inordinate estimate to treat money in commerce as worth 10 per cent, and at that rate you will get a loss of something like £2,000 a month, in addition to the inconvenience, which cannot he exaggerated in mercantile affairs, of what is called "Lying out of the money." I suppose I am not going too far in saying that if any but a large and well-established house with great resources had been subjected to an occurrence of this kind, it must have occasioned its ruin. But is that all? We have had another confession from the Government to-night. While the ships are under detention, be it observed, after the Government have put their embargo upon them, when they will not let them go out for a trial trip, when they have announced that they are getting up evidence to make a ease for the seizure and forfeit of the ships if they can, they send down an officer of the Admiralty to deal with the owners for the sale of their ships. I was quite amused at the manner in which the Attorney General dealt with this. He said, "Well, it was a very kind thing, a very humane thing. The Government did not wish to push the owners to extremity. They thought there might be difficulties, and it would be as well if they paid the money to the owners for the ships." I want the Attorney General to tell me what does he think of dealing with a man round whose neck the Government has got the fangs and talons of the revenue officers. The hon. and learned Gentleman is accustomed to deal with what are called questions of equity in contracts and bargains of this kind. Is it his idea that it is a fair thing for a Government to use, not a process of law, for there was no process of law used or that could be used, but to use the strong, violent, and unconstitutional hand of the Executive to detain these ships, to tell those who had built them that the Government were getting up a case to confiscate them, and then while that is being done to send down au agent of the 1006 Admiralty to treat? "To treat!" Is it not a mockery? Is not that word a mockery? Was that fair dealing? Was that a seller and buyer at arm's length, and on an even footing? The Government with its hands upon the ships, the Government asserting that the day was coming when the ships would be forfeited, and then going and saying to the builder, "Come now, sell us these ships; let us buy them of you." But what is the climax? The climax is this. The month of February comes at last. Parliament meets, and the information can no longer be delayed. It must be filed, and then we have the last letter from the Treasury to Messrs. Laird, which I hope the House will have printed for its perusal in the papers about to be produced. It begins with another piece of mockery, for it is headed "Immediate." After four months the Treasury woke up and said—
§ "Treasury Chambers, Feb. 8, 1864.
§ "Gentlemen,—In reply to your letter of the 3rd inst., I am commanded by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to acquaint you that they are informed that an information in the case of the iron-clad vessels built by you, and now under seizure by Her Majesty's Government, will be filed in a few days, and that it may be necessary to send a commission abroad for the purpose of collecting evidence.
§ "GEO. A. HAMILTON.
§ "Messrs. Laird Brothers."
§ Collecting evidence! The seizure, according to the Government, could only be made upon evidence, and four months after the seizure the Government are going to collect evidence abroad. Sir, we have not got many papers from the Government this year, but I trust that the House will insist upon the production of these.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
Sir, I am happy to agree with my hon. and learned Friend in one or two of the propositions which he laid down. He stated that the latter class of papers, the production of which is required, would not affect the trial of this case, and would not, indeed, be evidence in it. I agree with him. He also said that it was proper that the House should know the tone of the correspondence between the American Government and our own. I agree with him. The House has a right to know that, and the papers will be produced. I therefore cannot help thinking that my learned Friend might have saved a great portion of his argument which referred to the production of those papers, knowing very well before he got up that it was the intention of the Govern- 1007 ment to produce them. He went on to give the House his opinion as counsel for Mr. Laird.—[Sir HUGH CAIRNS dissented.] — Why, we all know that.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
My learned Friend, I am sure, will forgive me if I was under a misapprehension, but my hon. and learned Friend appeared in the last case of the Alexandra, and I certainly supposed from the tenour of his address, a good part of which appeared to me in some measure calculated for a jury, that it was a rehearsal of the speech which he intended hereafter to deliver in the case. He gave his opinion, whatever it may be worth— and I do not at all wish to detract from the value of that opinion—that the production of the first class of documents, namely, the correspondence between the Government and Messrs. Laird, would not in any degree affect the trial. The House will do my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, upon whom the responsibility of this prosecution rests, and myself the justice to suppose, that it is not one which we should have undertaken lightly or hastily. The Attorney General is of opinion that the production of this correspondence would tend to prejudice the case. The distinction between the two kinds of correspondence is, that one is admissible as evidence in a court of justice, and the other is not. Now, we all know that the production of only one portion of a case may lead to an utterly wrong and unfounded conclusion, and that if we desire to form an opinion according to the evidence, we ought to have the whole of that evidence before us. If the correspondence written, of course, under advice by Mr. Laird and the answers of the Crown be produced, without any explanation of the circumstances under which those letters were written, or the information obtained which induced us to write in those terms, it would be impossible for any one reading the correspondence to come to a right eon-elusion. If the House should think that we have improperly instituted this prosecution, and that Her Majesty's Government ought not to be intrusted with the powers they possess, it is proper for the House to say so. But I ask the House, if we are permitted to conduct this prosecution, to 1008 allow us to conduct it in the same way as all other Government prosecutions are conducted. I never remember hearing of a case, and I do not believe there is an instance, in which a Government conducting a prosecution has been called on to produce to the House of Commons before the trial, a correspondence which is to form a portion of the evidence for the prosecution.
As my hon. and learned Friend expressed a desire not to prejudice the trial, or at all to discuss the merits of the case on this occasion, I might have been satisfied with that answer, which is all that applies to the particular Motion before the House; but the debate has travelled much further afield. The noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil) and other Members of this House have accused the Government of pusillanimity, of acting under the dictation of the American Government, and of sacrificing the honour of this country. It appears to me that nothing more vitally concerns the honour of this country than the strict and scrupulous observance, now that we are neutrals, of those rules which we laid down when we were belligerents. And if there be any rule of international law on which we have insisted more strongly than another, it is that neutrals should not be permitted to supply ships of war to belligerents. Allow me to call attention to the position we have taken on this subject; for I cannot conceive anything more disgraceful, or more calculated to lower this country in the eyes of the world, than the reproach, assuming it to be well founded, "Your rules of international law are elastic, contracting or expanding, according to your temporary interest. You lay down a law as belligerents which you will not, as neutrals, submit to." As long ago as 1793 we emphatically insisted that the American Government should not supply France, with whom we were then engaged in hostilities, with vessels of war. We required them to detain those vessels, and Washington did detain them, before any Foreign Enlistment Act was passed. Washington not only detained the vessels at our instance, but he proposed and carried in Congress the American Foreign Enlistment Act, as his enemies then said, at our dictation. Precisely the same attacks which are now directed against Her Majesty's Government in this House were then directed against Washington in Congress. There were members of Congress 1009 who said that he was truckling to England, and allowing the English Ambassador to dictate to him; they lamented the humiliation of their country, and declared that the stars and stripes had been dragged in the dust. But that great man despised the imputation of cowardice, he was strong enough not to fear to be thought afraid, and in Spite of clamour—for there will always be violent and excitable men in all popular assemblies—Washington pursued the course which he knew to be just, and at the same time best calculated for the interest and welfare of his own country; he passed the Foreign Enlistment Act, and a treaty was subsequently entered into, stipulating among other things for the restoration of prizes captured by vessels that were fitted out in American ports. I will not say, whether we have any grievances against the Federals or not; no doubt, irritating language has been used; no doubt, the press in America at times has been very offensive; and objectionable expressions have been used at times by public men. But I wish to impress upon the House that, as far as the enforcement of their Foreign Enlistment Act is concerned, we have absolutely no grievance against them. They have again and again restored prizes, captured in violation of that Act. As recently as the Russian war, in a case where we complained that a vessel, called the Maury, was fitted out in violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act, they immediately detained that vessel, her clearance was stopped, and an inquiry was subsequently directed—precisely the same course as that pursued by Her Majesty's Government in this case—and that inquiry, conducted entirely to our satisfaction, ended in our expressing a belief that there were no real grounds for the suspicions entertained.
In the interests of peace and amity between the two countries, therefore, I wish the House to understand that we have no grievance against them with regard to the Foreign Enlistment Act, and that it deeply concerns our honour to enforce the Foreign Enlistment Act. But can we doubt that it also concerns our interests? I do not desire to reflect on any Gentleman entertaining Confederate sympathies. I can quite enter into those sympathies. It is in keeping with the generosity of the English character that we should forget that the Southern party were at one time most bitter in their hostility to this country; that we should even lay aside for a time our 1010 abhorrence of slavery, and view the Confederates only as a brave people, maintaining an unequal struggle for their independence. Our sympathies are always on the side of the weak against the strong—on the side of those who are struggling for independence, against those who are struggling for conquest. But I think we should be doing very wrong if we allowed our sympathies to blind us to the interests of our own country. Why do the Federals insist that neutral nations shall not be permitted to supply the Confederates with vessels of war? Why, because they are the stronger maritime Power. And why would it be for our interest to insist upon the same rule against all the world? Because we are the strongest maritime Power. And are we now to promulgate the opposite doctrine—the doctrine that a weak Power is to be put on a footing of equality with us by using the ports of neutral States for the purpose of fitting out vessels of war? That would be a doctrine hailed with delight by the enemies of this country all over the world, because it would go to the very foundations of our maritime supremacy. Suppose, unhappily, we were at war with the United States—a consummation, I suppose, which no man desires, although speeches in this House sometimes seem to have that tendency—and we had blockaded all their ports, should we permit steam rams to issue from the ports of France? That is a question which I desire to have answered. Would my hon. and learned Friend, if he were the adviser of the Government, be imposed upon by representations that those vessels were intended for the Pasha of Egypt, or for the Banish Government? He would very properly decline to be duped by any such assertions. We have done that which we should expect others to do for us, and we have done no more. What, then, was the conduct of the Government which has been made the subject of such invective by my hon. and learned Friend. Circumstances came to the knowledge of the Government which excited grave suspicion as to the destination of the rams. On the Messrs. Laird volunteering to give information on the subject, the Government intimated their readiness to receive, it. Well, information was given, but I confess it was not satisfactory to the Government, and, so far from removing, it increased their suspicion. The Government had the depositions of sworn witnesses which confirmed those suspicions, and they felt it 1011 to be their duty to seize or detain the ships. The hon. and learned Gentleman has found fault with them because they took the milder instead of the more severe course; because, instead of actually seizing them, they give notice that they would be seized if they attempted to depart. The House will bear in mind that it was not necessary, in order to justify the seizure, that the evidence should be sufficient to satisfy a jury; it was enough that the Government had a primâ facie case such as would induce a magistrate to remand a prisoner. The Government had in their possession depositions on oath, which, to a certain extent, made out a case. The Government determined to make inquiries whether these vessels were really being made for M. Bravay or other parties. They offered to take these persons at their word, and they said, "Will you sell these vessels?" If they were really being made for these gentlemen, if the speculation was really a commercial one, they would have been too glad to accept the offer. But the parties concerned would not sell them. Could any human being doubt that they were intended for the service of the Confederates? My hon. and learned Friend finds fault with the Attorney General and other Members of Her Majesty's Government for stating their belief that these vessels were intended for the Confederate States. If they had not entertained that belief, they would have done very wrong in seizing them. Of course, we entertained that belief, or we should have been guilty of taking an unjust course. Has any gentleman on the other side expressed a contrary opinion during all this vituperation and all these attacks on Her Majesty's Government? Nobody doubts they were intended for the Confederate service, and not for a French gentleman or the Pasha of Egypt. What was the Pasha of Egypt to the shipbuilders, or they to the Pasha? Then, what was the use of disguising a belief that was entertained by the whole country? It would only be a mockery— it would only be trifling with the House to pretend that the Government did not entertain that belief. [An hon. MEMBER: That was not enough.] I quite agree that if it were notorious that the vessels were intended for the Confederate service, but if no evidence could be procured, the ships must be acquitted. It would be better that any number of ships should leave our ports for the Confederate service than the rules of law should be violated. 1012 We must prove our case, but the House will not expect me now to say what our case is. We believe the evidence we shall produce will be sufficient; if we are wrong, the jury will do justice between the Crown and the subject. My hon. and learned Friend endeavoured to fix the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office on the horns of a dilemma, in regard to what he said about the Alabama. But this, like many other dilemmas, has three thorns, and might more correctly be called a trilemma. What the noble Lord meant, in saying that the case of the Alabama was a scandal, was, that in the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, the vessel ought to have been stopped before she left Liverpool. That opinion was given just before the vessel got away by stratagem. A telegram was sent down to stop the Alabama, but she had gone away that morning on a pleasure trip, and she had not returned. When a notorious criminal escapes from justice it is said "that is a scandal to the law," and that was about all that the noble Lord meant. The House will believe me when I say that, in dealing with new and difficult questions for which precedents cannot be found in the books, the Attorney General and myself have followed the lights of the highest authorities in Europe and America, whose decisions on these subjects command respect. I shall not have the presumption to say that we have always been right. But this I will say, that we have endeavoured to pursue the straight path, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, showing no sympathy for the weaker nor fear for the stronger, and suffering no indignity from either. When our territorial rights were infringed, as in the case of the Chesapeake, we applied for and obtained redress. We have done the same in other cases, and in the case of the Saxon, where a murder was committed, we lost no time in demanding that the murderer should be put upon his trial. But it is only just to act towards the American Government as we should ask them to act to us if our positions were reversed. We have endeavoured to do as we would be done by, and I venture to say, that in taking that course we have best consulted the interests and the honour of this country.
§ MR. WALPOLE
Sir, if it were not for some observations made by the Solicitor General, in which I cannot concur, but which upon reflection I think he will see reason to qualify, I should not venture to 1013 trespass on the attention of the House after the great and constitutional speech which we have heard from my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Hugh Cairns). I believe that since the days of Sir William Grant and Sir James Macintosh, a greater speech has not been made on questions of international and constitutional law. And I venture to remind my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, that to the points of the speech for which my hon. and learned Friend below me asked for an answer, no answer has been given. The Solicitor General rests the whole of his argument on these two propositions—that we ought to do to America, as we would have America do to us. That no one disputes. The other argument is that we, being neutrals now, ought to act as we expected neutrals to act to us when we were at war. In both these propositions I cordially agree; but I would ask him whether, by the doctrine he has laid down, he is asking us, as a neutral nation, to exercise merely neutral rights, or whether he has asked us to abandon neutral rights? I have observed that the fallacy which ran through the argument of my hon. and learned Friend, and in some respects through that of the Attorney General also, is that of confounding the obligations of our municipal law with those of international law. My learned Friend the Attorney General runs from one of these to the other, as if they were identical. Now, I take leave to say that the two things are essentially distinct. Municipal laws, unless they are embodied in conventions and agreements, give no right to Foreign States to call on a Government to interfere, either on the ground that they are new rights to be enforced, or new duties to he observed. But the Foreign Enlistment Act is a municipal law which has not been embodied in any international convention, and I will undertake to say that if the arguments advanced on behalf of the Crown are pushed to their legitimate consequence, no Government could ever sanction such a convention. But the rights arising out of international law are entirely different. They are as universal as the world; the same in America as in England. In dealing with other States on grounds of international law, your municipal laws are not worth a rush, but you are bound to recognize the principles of international law, though no municipal laws exist on the subject, That shows the utter fallacy of the arguments of my learned Friends. They have confounded 1014 the duties of a neutral State with the duties of the commercial subjects of a neutral Power. This distinction is most important. A neutral State cannot favour either belligerent, cannot supply them with arms, ammunition, or ships of war, or allow its citizens to be enlisted in their army or navy. But it has always been a principle affirmed by the greatest jurists, and recognized by America as well as by this country, that the commercial subjects of a neutral Power have no rights taken away from them with regard to carrying on any lawful trade whatever, in time of war as in time of peace, subject only to this one qualification, namely, that if they deal with articles contraband of war, they must take the consequences of the risk they run. In carrying on that trade, they are perfectly at liberty to supply belligerents with arms, ammunition, ships, or other articles contraband of war; they have a right to carry on their customary trade; but in carrying on this trade they are subject to this penalty — that they know their property may be confiscated if they violate the law of nations. My hon. and learned Friend would do well to bear in mind the distinction. But, acting on the notion upon which he has grounded the whole of his arguments, he says, "Look what America has done in your case. Did America allow ships of war to go out of her ports when you were at war?" And, by a slip of the tongue, I hope it was, he seemed to say that it was absolutely contrary to the laws of nations to furnish any country with a ship of war. Where did my hon. and learned Friend learn that doctrine? What country has ever laid it down? Has America? Go and consult Judge Story. He has told you that ammunition, and ships, and arms, and all kinds of contraband of war may be furnished by a neutral to a belligerent, but at the risk and peril of those who furnish them. My hon. and learned Friend quotes the case of 1793, and also the case of the Maury at the time of the Russian war. He quotes those cases, but, pardon me, he rather misquotes them. Why, in 1793 it was the case of ships built, fitted out and armed, and ready to go out to sea as privateers. These were the ships that Washington stopped. What was the case of the Maury? That ship had her guns in her, and she was only stopped when she was so fitted out, contrary to their own Foreign Enlistment Act as much as it would be contrary to ours. The only authorities, therefore, which my 1015 hon. and learned Friend quoted were not the least in his favour. But I must say, if you are to run your municipal laws into your international laws, and mix them up so that you cannot sever them, as the learned Attorney General has unfortunately done, what will be the consequences? I have always understood that when a municipal law which is of a highly penal character is passed, the Crown can only enforce it by strictly adhering to its provisions. But my hon. and learned Friend, deviating from the only ground he could have taken up, says that the Crown, on its own responsibility, and exercising its prerogative, will import into this statutory obligation—for it is only a statutory obligation — a prerogative greater than was ever exercised by any arbitrary Sovereign. Your laws,if they are to be maintained—the peace of the world, if it is to be preserved— can only be maintained and preserved by adhering strictly, regularly, and consistently to those great principles of international law which are not the laws of Europe only, but of America also. And the greatest principle of all is this, that when other countries chance to go to war, neutrals are deprived of no rights which they before possessed in the ordinary course of their business. Well, my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, in attempting to answer the only other portion of the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Belfast, tries to explain away the dilemma in which my hon. and learned Friend had placed Earl Russell. I thought his explanation anything but satisfactory. But I was glad it was attempted, because it reminded me of the line of policy which Earl Russell had taken with regard to the Alabama, and which is totally different from that which the Law Officers of the Crown are now pursuing. The hon. and learned Member for Belfast reminded the House that Earl Russell said the case of the Alabama was a "scandal." But such was not Earl Russell's opinion a year ago. Nay more, I will say that, as recently as last October, Earl Russell's opinion was much sounder, because it was more just, because, in fact, it was in exact conformity with the great principles which I have endeavoured to sustain. If the American Government has a right to call upon us to stop ships which it cannot prove to be built, and equipped, and armed, and fitted out in violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act, upon what do they ground that right? I will show you upon what 1016 Mr. Adams grounds it, and I will give you the answer of Earl Russell. Mr. Adams, writing to Earl Russell on the 23rd of October, 1863, says—The United States are compelled to assume that they gave due and sufficient previous notice to Her Majesty's Government that this criminal enterprise was begun, and in regular process of execution, through the agencies herein described, in one of Her Majesty's ports. They cannot resist the conclusion that the Government was then bound by treaty obligations, and by the law of nations, to prevent the execution of it." [What treaty obligations? I know of none.] "Had it acted with the promptness and energy required by the emergency, they cannot but feel assured the whole scheme must have been frustrated. The United States are ready to admit that it did act so far as to acknowledge the propriety of detaining this vessel for the reasons assigned, but they are constrained to object that valuable time was lost in delays, and that the effort when attempted was too soon abandoned. They cannot consider the justice of their claim for reparation liable to be affected by any circumstances connected with those mere forms of proceeding on the part of Great Britain which are exclusively within her own control."—Correspondence, No. 1 (1864), p. 26.Now, the gravity of that sentence must not be forgotten. The claim is made upon two grounds—treaties and the law of nations. But there are no treaties, and the law of nations is as I have stated. But what is the meaning of the claim for all the injuries done by the Alabama? Are the Government going to admit that such a claim is to be entertained for a single moment? What does Earl Russell say? And here I find the sound view upon which the Government ought to act. They will be found in page 42 of the papers. Earl Russell, writing on the 26th of October, 1863, says—With this declaration, Her Majesty's Government may well be content to await the time when a calm and candid examination of the facts and principles involved in the case of the Alabama may, in the opinion of the Government of the United States, usefully be undertaken. In the mean time, I must request you to believe that the principle contended for by Her Majesty's Government is not that of commissioning, equipping, and manning vessels in our ports to cruise against either of the belligerent parties—a principle which was so justly and unequivocally condemned by the President of the United States in 1793, as recorded by Mr. Jefferson in his letter to Mr. Hammond of the 13th of May of that year. But the British Government must decline to be responsible for the acts of parties who fit out a seeming merchant ship, send her to a port or to waters far from the jurisdiction of British Courts, and there commission, equip, and man her as a vessel of war. Her Majesty's Government fear that if an admitted principle were thus made elastic to suit a particular case, the trade of shipbuilding, in which our people excel, and which is to great numbers of them a source of honest livelihood, would be seriously embarrassed and im- 1017 peded. I may add that it appears strange that, notwithstanding the large and powerful naval force possessed by the Government of the United States, no efficient measures have been taken by that Government to capture the Alabama."— Correspondence, No. 1 (1864), p. 42.Now, with great deference to the Law Officers of the Crown, I prefer the international and constitutional view taken by Earl Russell to that which is taken by my lion, and learned Friends. That view, I am persuaded, is sound; and when I hear my lion, and learned Friend the Member for Belfast go over step by step the course which the Government have taken—when I find they were actually, as it were, inviting evidence against the builders of those ships by communications the answers to which might be turned against them— when I see they were acting without any authority in detaining the ships, the Act of Parliament giving them no such power— when I hear, and it was not contradicted and cannot be contradicted, that the seizure was made on the 9th of October, I think, and that no proceedings whatever were taken until the 6th or the 8th February— I must put it to the merchants of this House and beg them to consider, in behalf of their great mercantile interests, whether they are to be—I was going to say — trifled with by arguments like those of the learned Solicitor General. Shipbuilders are no more acting contrary to the law of nations in building ships for sale than merchants are in sending goods to break the blockade or in manufacturing arms to be used by the Federals. When I see all these things, and find the other side of the House echoing to the roof the observation of the Solicitor General, that the merchants of this country would do well not to violate the law of nations and the obligations imposed upon them by the proclamation of their Queen, my answer first is, that they do it at their peril if they send out articles contraband of war, and secondly, that they do no more wrong, they act no more contrary to the Royal proclamation in building ships to sell them to the Confederates than they do in sending out arms or ammunition to be sold to the Federals, or swift-steaming vessels to break the blockade. Let it not be supposed that I wish to show my sympathies to the one side rather than the other in that tremendous conflict which is now raging beyond the Atlantic. I have never spoken on that subject in this House. If I were to give expression to my sympathies, it would be seen that they are not those which the 1018 Solicitor General imagines exist on these benches. They would be partly in favour of that brave people who are endeavouring to assert their independence against the oppression to which they think they are exposed; but my sympathies, as well as those of the country, were, I believe, in the commencement of this fearful struggle so far enlisted with the North as to lead us to hope that the Union of all the States might still be preserved. It is not, therefore, because I sympathize with one side rather than the other, but for the purpose of maintaining intact the great principles of international law that I have deemed it right to address these few observations to the House.
MR. T. BARING
Sir, I had not intended to trouble the House with a single word on this occasion, but as my right hon. Friend who has just spoken has appealed to the merchants of his country in support of the sentiments to which he, as well as the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, has given expression, I, as an humble member of the mercantile community, and not assuming to myself, in any way, authority to represent it here, cannot help protesting against the doctrines which he has laid down. I, for one, cannot think that, by sanctioning measures which would lead to privateers and war vessels being fitted out at neutral ports, to take part in the contest now raging across the Atlantic, we should benefit the commercial community. What community, let me ask, would suffer more than the mercantile classes of this country if that system were generally supported, and that principle adopted? What would take place in the event of a war breaking out between us and another nation, if it were allowed to a neutral country to arm vessels as pirates to destroy our commerce? We are not uninterested in this matter. As merchants, we are interested in maintaining that principle, which we supported and propounded ourselves when we were engaged in war. We are interested in the principle adopted by Jefferson at our recommendation, and acted on by ourselves so lately as during the Crimean war, and which, if it be broken through now, may be acted upon to our injury hereafter. My right hon. Friend says that neutrals are authorized to trade. Yes, but there is a law which says we are not to equip vessels for warlike purposes; and does my right hon. Friend, I would ask, mean to contend that these vessels, the case of which we are discus- 1019 sing, armed as they were with rams, are merely innocent commercial ships, intended to be used simply for commercial purposes, and which would be misused if adapted to the purposes of war? Will he not allow that the mode in which they were constructed shows the object for which they were destined? My right hon. Friend says, that the Solicitor General did not answer the question put by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast; but there was another question which he himself did not answer. Does he believe that these vessels were equipped for warlike purposes? That is a question which I am sure he would not undertake to answer in the negative. But be that as it may, I, as an humble member of the commercial community, speaking in support of my individual interests as a merchant, rejoice to say that those interests are identified with the blessings of peace and the maintenance of amity. I may add, that on the continuance of those blessings rests not only the progress of civilization, but the greatness of this country; and when I hear hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House taunting the Government, as it were, with not precipitating us into a war, I have, I confess, no sympathy with them. In speaking thus, I am, I allow, advocating my own interests; but, in doing so, I feel I am advocating also the interests of my country and of humanity. This I would say in conclusion, that if the speeches of my right hon. Friend, and the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, are to be taken as furnishing the grounds on which we are to divide to-night, they seem to me to have arrived, by simply moving for these papers, at a most lame and impotent conclusion. Why do not they at once move a vote of censure on the Government, or on the Law Officers of the Crown, for the course which they have pursued? For my own part, I offer to the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, and to those Gentlemen by whom he is advised in those matters—although I think they are open to grave censure for not having prevented the departure of the Alabama — my thanks for their conduct on this occasion, deeming it, as I do, to be calculated to promote the welfare of the State.
§ MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
I might have been well content to have left the argument on this question where it was left by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Belfast, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge Uni- 1020 versity; but I must say that in listening to the speech just addressed to the House by the hon. Member for Huntingdon, there was only one sentence which gave me satisfaction and pleasure—namely, that he did not assume to represent the mercantile community of England, but that he merely spoke in his own name. We all know the high and distinguished position which that hon. Gentleman holds among the merchant princes of England; hut I am glad to hear from him that the words he uttered expressed his own opinions alone. The hon. Gentleman has tendered to the Law Officers of the Crown his thanks for the course they have taken. I must confess that I do not agree in those thanks. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) admitted that a more important question had never been brought before the House. I quite agree with him, though on a different ground from that on which he put it. He said it was important because it concerned the commerce, the trade, and the possible position of the country in the event of another war. These are grave and important considerations; hut I hold further, that this is a most important question, on the ground that this is the first time for many a year that a Minister has stood up in this House to justify, in the face of the House of Commons, a deliberate breach of law. The hon. Gentleman opposite has referred a good deal to the word "responsibility." That is an elastic word, and is one capable of wide application, and if the Executive can act thus, if the Law Officers of the Crown can arrest ships, why may they not arrest men also? To what extent may not the doctrine of the Solicitor General be extended? Is that a doctrine likely to secure peace, that the Executive should thus break the law, and seek to justify themselves to the House of Commons? But there is one point which I wish to put to the Attorney General. He has said that these ships were detained upon grave suspicions of the intentions of the builders, and that they were not seized till sufficient evidence was obtained of the use for which they were designed. I wish to ask him what the result would have been if it had been shown that the intention of the builders was lawful and innocent? Would not the right hon. Gentleman then have to admit that the law had been deliberately broken, and that the power of the Executive had been brought to bear against persons who were blameless? I think a great advantage has been obtained 1021 by the discussion of to-night, and I am glad that it has been from this side of the House that the principle has been advocated, that nothing will justify, on the part of the Executive, a deliberate breach of the law, on the grounds which the Government have taken to-night, that the end will sanctify the means.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he wished it to be clearly understood, before the House proceeded to a division, that the papers asked for in the latter part of the Motion, the Government were ready to grant; and that the negative which the Government gave to the Motion applied only to the former part, relating to the correspondence between the various departments of Government and Messrs. Laird.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copies of all Correspondence between the various Departments of Her Majesty's Government, or Officers in Her Majesty's service, and Messrs. Laird Brothers, relating to the two Iron-clad Vessels the El Tousson and El Monassia, building by that firm, and seized by order of Her Majesty's Government.
And, of any Papers or Correspondence that have passed between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States, or their representative Mr. Adams, relating to the said vessel.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 153; Noes 178: Majority 25.