§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the course pursued by the agents of the Confederate States of America in fitting out vessels of war and enlisting seamen in the ports of this country, in violation of the laws of neutrality. He hoped he should not be considered as obtruding himself on the notice of the House in bringing before it a subject of so much importance. He should not have ventured to do so had he perceived that any other Member was prepared to present the subject from the point of view which, in his opinion, the House should view it. He did not propose to re-open the question of the detention of the iron-clad rams, nor to discuss the meaning of the Foreign Enlistment Act. He intended to point his observations not at the offenders against that Act within the jurisdiction of this country, but at offenders beyond that jurisdiction, for whose benefit and by whose direction the Acts we have to complain of were done. He should show, beyond all question, that the authorities and agents of the Confederate Government had deliberately and systematically violated our neutrality by fitting out hostile expeditions from this country to make war upon our allies, to cut up the commerce of the United States; 1476 and he should maintain that it is our right, our duty, and our interest to take such steps as would vindicate our neutrality, and prevent the possibility of a recurrence of such acts. The papers before the House and before the Congress of the United States proved that the Confederate Government had for the last two years been occupied in building vessels of war in this country; that they had sent over several officers to superintend them, had raised money for the same purpose, had enlisted seamen in our ports to man them, and had in too many cases been successful in sending out these war ships. They had, at the present moment, but five vessels of war on the high seas; of these four were built, armed, and manned in and from this country, and the fifth, the Tuscaloosa, being a prize of the Alabama, was affected by the same taint. The first vessel sent out by the Confederates was the Florida, which left Liverpool early in 1862. That vessel was undoubtedly commissioned in this country by the Confederate Government. He should not have dwelt upon that point had it not been for the observations made the other night by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns). That hon. and learned Gentleman had said that that vessel had undergone a judicial investigation, which showed that she was free from any suspicion of being a Confederate war vessel when she left this country. Such might have been the result of the investigation, but he submitted that the papers which had since been published in the United States and in this country showed conclusively that at the time she left England she was a vessel commissioned by the Confederate Government. On the 12th of July, 1862, Mr. Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy, wrote from Richmond the following letter to Captain North, of the Confederate naval service, who was then in London:—Sir—The department notified you on the 11th of January last that you would receive orders to command the second vessel then being built in England, but for reasons satisfactory to the department you were subsequently assigned to the command of the first vessel, the Florida, now at Nassau; and any just ground for the surprise and astonishment in this respect at the department's action is not perceived. A commission as commander for the war was sent you on the 5th of May, and your failure to follow the Oreto, which left England about the 21st of March, and to take command of her as was contemplated, and as you were apprized by Captain Bullock on the 26th of March, is not understood, and has been productive of some embarrassment.From the same papers it would be observed that, as early as the 11th of January, 1862, 1477 Captain Bullock was employed in Liverpool by the Confederate Government to superintend the fitting out of two vessels of war. One of those vessels was the Florida. She left this country on the 2nd of March, and proceeded to Nassau, where she underwent the judicial investigation. Now, although there was no evidence before that court upon which she could be legally condemned, subsequent events showed what was her real character. She took in her armament at Nassau, and hoisted the Confederate flag on leaving that port, and ever since she had been preying on the commerce of the United Slates. The other vessel referred to in the letter of Mr. Mallory was, no doubt, the Alabama, or "290," which was built by the Messrs. Laird, of Birkenhead, and left this country on the 1st of July. A month before she left, the Commissioners of Customs at Liverpool wrote to say that she was in every respect a vessel of war, a fact not denied by the builders, though they would not give the name of her owners. He would not go into the question why she had not been stopped by Her Majesty's Government, as that would come before the House on a discussion of the claims made by the Government of the Federal States in respect of the vessel; but it was, in his opinion, a very great misfortune for this country that she had not been stopped. He thought the Government ought in her case to have adopted the course which they afterwards followed in the case of the steam rams—that they ought to have detained her on suspicion. He had, however, no doubt that at the time the Alabama left Birkenhead, neither the Government nor the country duly appreciated the importance of stopping such vessels. When she left Birkenhead in July she had a party of visitors, including the Messrs. Laird and several ladies, on board—the pretence being that she was going on a trial trip—but she subsequently evaded the Custom House officers, and forfeited her bonds. The hon. Member for Birken head had aptly described her course in saying, "she sneaked from the country as a fox leaves the cover scenting the hounds." She had a crew of 50 men, whom she took on board in Beaumaris Bay; and afterwards, at Terceira, met two vessels which brought her armament, the remainder of her crew, and her future commander, Captain Semmes, who re-enlisted the crew, and the Confederate flag was hoisted. Though the farce the vessel went through at Birkenhead and 1478 Terceira might have baffled the authorities, when hon. Members looked back at all the circumstances they could not doubt that from the first this was a Confederate vessel. The Alabama had been ever since that time occupied in burning and destroying commerce. She had not followed the ordinary course of sending her prizes into port for condemnation, nor had she confined herself to burning American properly. She had also destroyed British property on board American ships. She even had destroyed a British vessel — the Martaban — off the Straits of Malacca. The latter was originally an American vessel, but had been transferred to the British flag. He mentioned these facts merely to show the lawless character of the operations undertaken by the Alabama. Before the Alabama left this country, the Messrs. Laird had already commenced laying down the two iron rams which, after producing a most profound feeling of suspicion and alarm in America, had been seized by our Government in October last. He would not go into the question whether these vessels had been lawfully detained or not; but this he would say, that not one hon. Member who spoke on the discussion on the subject a few nights ago, ventured to assert that they were not intended for the Confederate Government. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Laird) was in his place during that discussion, and he could have thrown every light on the subject; but he was silent. He did not think, therefore, he was wrong in concluding that these rams were intended for the Confederate Government. A few months after the date of the sailing of the Alabama, a correspondence of that Government which had been found in a blockade runner, fell into the hands of the Federal Government, and was forwarded to our Government. The correspondence was dated October, 1862, and showed conclusively the nature of the plans of the Confederate Government, and the organized system which they carried out in this country. On the 27th of October, 1862, Mr. Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy, wrote to Mr. Memminger, Secretary of the Confederate Treasury, in these terms—Sir,—I have the honour to call your attention to the copy of the recent joint resolution of Congress which was sent you on Saturday. Under this authority, contracts have been made with Mr. George W. Sanders, by this department, for six ships, to be paid for in cotton, a copy of which contract is herewith enclosed.1479 On the 30th of October, Mr. Memminger wrote to Mr. Mallory—Sir,—I approve the suggestions made by you of making your contracts for building iron-clad vessels in Europe conform to the arrangements of the cotton certificates sent to the Hon. T. M. Mason. I enclose a form of each of these certificates. Upon the meeting of Congress an appropriation must be made to meet your contracts.… The only limit to these combined operations will be the quantity of cotton which the Government can purchase, which I hope will be found ample.The next letter of the same date was from. Mr. Mallory to Mr. Mason, who at that time represented the Confederate Government in this country—Mr. Sanders has, as you are aware, contracted with this department for the construction in England of six iron-clad steamers, combining the capacities of freighting and the fighting ships in a manner which will enable them to force the blockade of our ports. The interests of the country will be much benefited by the prompt construction of these vessels; and I beg leave to invoke your interests, not only on behalf of enterprises already in progress, but in behalf of this also.In a letter from Mr. G. W. Sanders it was observed—Bunglers entering the European market might endanger the whole scheme. Great skill and diplomacy must be exercised to avoid the interference of European Governments.And in a letter unsigned, but directed to Mr. Mallory, and enclosed to Mr. Mason, this passage occurs—I am satisfied that with the professional knowledge of these gentlemen (Commodore Forrest and Commander Sinclair, who are mentioned as being sent to England), we cannot fail to subserve our interests, and render high and important service to our cause, both in superintending and constructing the vessels built to cut up the enemy's commerce.It appeared that some of the vessels mentioned in the correspondence were to be built at Glasgow, and others at Liverpool, and that officers were appointed to superintend what was being done in those places. Fortunately the iron rams building in Liverpool and Glasgow had been seized by the Government. The Alexandra had also been detained, but the Japan, afterwards called the Georgia or Virginia, got off much in the same way as the Alabama. She was built at Glasgow, and sailed on pretence of making a trial trip; she shipped her crew at Greenock; and afterwards, on the high seas, somewhere between Alderney and Brest, a similar farce to that enacted in the case of the Alabama at Terceira was gone through, and she became an avowedly Confederate vessel. A prosecution wag pending against a Mr. Jones for re- 1480 cruiting men for the Georgia, and he could not but presume, therefore, that there was very strong evidence before the Government showing that the Georgia from the time she left this country belonged to the Confederate Government. It was discovered that two other vessels were building in Glasgow—the Pampero, which had been stopped, and therefore he would not further allude to the case; the other had since been sold to the Danish Government. Then there was the Rappahannock, formerly called the Victor in the Royal Navy, a vessel which had been sold by order of the Admiralty. She had been bought by Confederate agents in Sheerness. She was actually fitted out in one of Her Majesty's dockyards, and the day on which the Government got an intimation of her destination, she left Sheerness in an unfinished state. She hoisted the Confederate flag within sight of Sheerness dockyard, and went over to Calais, where she claimed admission, on the pretence of being injured at sea, and requiring repairs. A large number of men had been enlisted in this country for that vessel, and a prosecution was pending on that account. He thought there could be no doubt that she was a Confederate vessel. About 100 men had been sent over to Calais to her; but as she had at present only eight men on board, and as he was informed these were all confined in irons, there seemed to be not much chance of her sailing. That circumstance did not, however, make the offence of the Confederate Government the less. He did not think it necessary to say anything about the report of Mr. Mallory, the Secretary of the Treasury, quoted in that House by the hon. and learned Attorney General; for he did not think it added much to the facts already before them. The genuineness of that report had been denied by Lieutenant Maury; but that gentleman, who was himself employed here in superintending the building of vessels for the Confederate Government, had not said that the facts mentioned in Mr. Mallory's account were not true. Another vessel had escaped from the Clyde, but she was driven on shore by the blockading squadron before she could do any mischief. Pour Confederate vessels had escaped from this country and four had been detained. He was right, therefore, in saying that there had been an organized scheme on the part of the Confederate Government to send men over here and carry on operations for the purpose of building and manning these vessels in the ports of this country, and 1481 sending them out as privateers. That scheme was a gross violation of our neutrality and an evasion, if not a breach, of our laws. He had the authority of a writer on international law for saying that an evasion of the laws of a country by the Government of another country was quite as bad as a direct breach of them. The result of the operations of these four vessels on American commerce had been the destruction of 187 vessels and upwards of £3,000,000 worth of property. For that purpose they had gone over the seas, burning and destroying. They had never attempted to send their prizes into port for condemnation in prize courts, according to the law of nations and the usages of war; they had made a constant practice of flying the British flag for the purpose of decoying and destroying innocent merchant vessels; they had made use of British ports, they had been coaled from British ships, and in every respect but one they were virtually British ships. They were armed by Englishmen, built by Englishmen, manned by Englishmen, coaled by Englishmen, paid for by money raised in England, and the half-pay of many of their men was regularly paid in English seaports. They had a few Confederate officers on board, and they had received Confederate commissions; but in everything but a technical point of view they were essentially British ships. He was not aware whether any question had been raised as to what would be their position since the Declaration of Paris, but in his opinion they were privateers—and British privateers. It was a farce and a sham to call them Confederate men-of-war. Looking through the correspondence laid before Parliament, it must be allowed that Her Majesty's Government had endeavoured honestly and in good faith to carry out the Foreign Enlistment Act, though it was to be regretted they had not detained the Alabama. The insufficiency of that Act, however, was so complete, that something more ought to be done to prevent these breaches of neutrality. In his opinion we ought to go direct to the Confederate Government. [Lord ROBERT CECIL: Hear!] He had shown that that Government had entered into a direct conspiracy, and had sent agents over here for the express purpose of breaking our neutrality and evading our laws, and we ought to go to them and say, "We will stand this no longer; we have acknowledged you as belligerents, and as belligerents you have duties as well as 1482 rights, and unless you desist from these violations of our neutrality we will take some other measures to stop these vessels." He did not propose direct hostilities, but there were other ways in which it could be done. The Confederates were not entiled to do wrong because they were not recognized as a nation. There was no greater difficulty in dealing with a Government which had not been recognized than there was in dealing with a country with whom we had broken off diplomatic correspondence. From the very first we ought to have prevented these ships from coming into British ports. In 1794 the American Government, although great sympathy for France was felt at that time by the American people, did not content itself with passing a Foreign Enlistment Act and dismissing M. Genêt, but it dismissed all the French privateers from its ports and told them not to return. If we had taken that course long ago we should have deprived these vessels of most of their opportunities of doing mischief. Another course we might adopt would be to say to the Confederates, "We have evidence of your plans, and unless you desist from them we will send our cruisers and take these vessels." In so doing we should only be following the precedent of the Duke of Wellington's Government, which sent out cruisers after an expedition which had been despatched from our shores to Terceira by some Portuguese in this country —a step which was afterwards defended in that House on the ground that our neutrality laws had been fraudulently violated. Thirdly, we might say to the Confederate Government, "We have acknowledged you as belligerents, but only for so long as you observe the law of nations; if you do not we shall withdraw that recognition, and your ships will then sink into the character which properly belongs to them"—that of pirates, he apprehended. There could be no doubt that they had broken the law of nations, for no belligerent had a right to send out hostile expeditions from a neutral country without the consent of that country. It was our duty to the American Government—not, perhaps, a perfect duty, such as they could call upon us to perform, but morally binding—to take some steps for the purpose of putting a stop to the violation of our neutrality. The conduct of the American Government towards us in 1794, and during the Crimean war, had been deservedly praised. An impression 1483 had got abroad that vessels had been fitted out for Russia, and particularly one —the Maury—in American ports, but it was a complete error. Looking at the facts, it was distinctly and conclusively shown by the evidence given in the course of a judicial investigation, that the Maury never was intended for the Russian Government; and the merchants of New York held a meeting, at which they came to a resolution expressing their dissatisfaction that the owners of the Maury had not been compensated for the litigation they had had to undergo, nor any apology made for the imputation thrown on them, which, "if it had been true, would have rendered them for ever infamous." He doubted whether the shipbuilders of Liverpool and Glasgow were of that opinion, but he commended the sentiment to their attention. Considering what might be our position in any future war, it was certainly to our interest to take some steps. Supposing we were at war with Germany, he was afraid they would see German privateers fitted out in American ports. There, as here, the law could be evaded, and he feared that there would no longer be the same feeling of honour among New York merchants which they evinced during the Crimean war. Hundreds of American merchants, who had been losers by the Confederate vessels, were yearning for the first opportunity of fitting out privateers to prey on British commerce. One of the first vessels which the Alabama burnt was an American vessel which had been sent with a cargo of corn as a present to relieve the distressed operatives of Lancashire. She wits burnt on her return voyage, and the House could well imagine what were the feelings of the owners of that vessel and other New York merchants when they heard of such an act. It was only the other day, when we were supposed to be on the verge of a war with Germany, he saw it stated in the papers that some of the German States, who were not parties to the Treaty of Paris, and who had no ports, no navy, no seamen, and no flag, were prepared to adopt the principle of the Alabama, and to fit out privateers in neutral ports. They might send out privateers manned by American seamen, and flying a flag unknown to nautical men, in the same way as the Alabama and other vessels. It was therefore not only right, but our interest to do all we could to prevent such ships issuing from our ports. He had shown the insufficiency of the municipal law, and he contended 1484 that the Government ought to go to the fountain head to put a stop to these proceedings. There was no need of Envoys or Ministers for that purpose. If the Government would only state in that House the course which they intended to take, it would, no doubt, be reported to the Ministers of the Confederate States, and a temptation would be taken away from Glasgow and Liverpool shipbuilders which they were little able to resist. He made his Motion from no hostility to the Government. He believed they were actuated by a sincere desire to carry out the policy of neutrality, which had been approved by the country, and he hoped to hear that they had taken steps to remonstrate with the Confederate Ministers, or Confederate agents, with a view to putting a stop to such proceedings. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving his Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copy of any Correspondence between Her. Majesty's Government and the Agents of the Confederate States of America, relative to the building and equipment of ships of war in this country,"—(Mr. G. Shaw Lefevre,) —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
It is too early and the House is too thin for the learned Solicitor General to reply to the speech we have just heard, and therefore I rise to address the House, hoping that in the meantime some other hon. Member will be prepared to prolong the discussion, so that there may be a full House when the hon. and learned Gentleman replies. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just addressed the House has referred to the Foreign Enlistment Act, and it appears to me that Her Majesty's Government cannot be aware what is covered by that Act. They have still to learn that; for we have had but one trial under it in this country, and that one has not been decided—that of the Alexandra. The Americans, however, have had several. Yet it is only by the decisions of the Courts that the scope of an Act can be determined, and in this case our only precedents are those of American Courts. The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to have misunderstood what took place in America when their Fo- 1485 reign Enlistment Act was passed in 1794. M. Genét was sent from France to fit out privateers in America against Great Britain. Washington sent down a message to Congress to have them stopped. Jefferson was then Minister for Foreign Affairs, and brought in the Foreign Enlistment Act, which was passed. The hon. Member said Her Majesty's Government should have seized the Alabama and the other ships before they left this country, and his argument in support of this position was—see what the Americans did in 1794, when France wanted to equip privateers there for the purpose of using them against England. But what did the American Government do? Why, they merely sent the privateers away—they did not detain them—they made them all put to sea. So that the argument (that the Alabama and others should have been seized,) seems rather suicidal, according to the hon. Member's own account. The American law is, that American citizens shall not be allowed themselves to fit out privateers, nor be concerned in equipping expeditions against a country which is at peace with America. That is the very case in point, and I ask you, whether you can show that those who built and fitted out the Alabama and Florida intended to commence hostile expeditions against America? Not at all. They built them as commercial speculations, as I believe, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has failed to prove otherwise. He has alluded to the American law upon this case, and has quoted the Terceira case. There are other cases besides that. There is the case of the Santissima Trinidad, for instance, which was fitted out, armed, and equipped in America as a vessel of war, and was laden with munitions of war. She sailed from an American port with the ostensible object of going to the north-west, but she went to Buenos Ayres. She was seized, tried, and acquitted. Judge Story, one of the greatest American lawyers, in his able judgment, said it was not contrary to the Law of Nations or the American Foreign Enlistment Act, to send out armed ships as well as munitions of war, to foreign ports for sale. There is also the case of the Bolivar, another vessel, which was fitted out as a privateer, armed, and equipped by Americans. She was sent to sea and seized, and afterwards tried and acquitted, the learned Judge before whom the trial took place holding the same opinion as Judge Story, that a vessel might be fitted out, equipped, and sent to sea, because it was a 1486 mercantile adventure, and not an hostile act. The law, said Judge Thompson, does not prohibit this, even in the case of vessels built manifestly for warlike purposes, unless it can be clearly proved that the owners intended to commit hostile acts with them. Our Foreign Enlistment Act is a municipal law, it appears to me, and does not apply to other nations. It is only a law of our own, and was framed to give the Government the power to protect our own neutrality. It is, in fact, to prevent our people from levying war against other nations, that being the prerogative of the Queen alone. It was not intended to interfere with commercial speculation. War is supposed to animate the trade of neutrals. And as you may sell shot and powder, why not ships, even when they are actually armed and equipped? Any person may build a ship without intending to commit a hostile act against the North or South, and sell it to the first person who chooses to give the price for it. Surely that is not a hostile act. He sells the ship and gets for it that which he values more than the ship—namely, money. He therefore does not choose one side and give assistance to that belligerent. It is merely a commercial speculation. I do not suppose that the hon. and learned Attorney General could, upon those grounds, have advised Her Majesty's Government to seize the Alabama. As to the damage she is doing to the North American commerce, does the hon. and learned Gentleman imagine that the North American Government can establish claims on us on this ground, and go on multiplying and increasing these claims for all that the Alabama has burnt or will burn from this day till she is destroyed? If we are answerable for the Alabama, we must have a remedy. But how can we have a remedy against the Southern States until we recognize them as a nation? It seems to me that it is the Federals who are bound to stop the depredations of the Alabama. Why, have they not a ship quick enough to catch her, and strong enough to destroy her? It is, I contend, to them that the hon. and learned Gentleman should apply, and not to Her Majesty's Government. I have troubled the House with these few remarks, hoping that other hon. Members will follow and express their opinion upon the question. It appears to me the hon. and learned Gentleman has totally and entirely failed to make out his case.
§ MR. BAXTER
said, he had not intended to take any part in the discussion, but 1487 having been invited to do so by the noble Lord the Member for Huntingdon, he must Bay, that to his mind a speech more marked by force of expression and continuity of argument than that of the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Reading they had not often heard in that House. The noble Lord treated the matter as a mere question of municipal law, intended to prevent Her Majesty's subjects making war against friendly Powers, but altogether ignored the higher and greater principle of international obligation.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
On the contrary, I distinguished the Foreign Enlistment Act from international law.
§ MR. BAXTER
continued. He understood the noble Lord's argument to be, that unless it was proved that the Foreign Enlistment Act was broken, the Government ought not to take any steps against any of these ships. Irrespective of the mere wording of the Foreign Enlistment Act, we had a duty to fulfil to the other nations of the world, and Her Majesty's Government deserved the thanks of the country for taking the steps they had lately done. He deeply regretted that the Alabama was ever allowed to go to sea, and he honoured Earl Russell for those words in his despatch which had been so much sneered at on a former evening. The escape of the Alabama was certainly a scandal. At first, he believed, the eyes of the country were not opened fully to the danger of permitting vessels of such a character to issue from our ports, although, in times past, we never had tolerated such a system ourselves, and if it were sanctioned in future, the effect must be to set the world in flames and put an end to all friendly inter-course between nations. The feeling of sympathy entertained for the Confederates, merely because they were the weaker party, had prevented many from seeing the matter in its true light, and they rather laughed at the escape of the Alabama and her subsequent career; but those very persons now recognized how deeply bur own commercial interests were involved in such transactions. The noble Lord the Member for Huntingdon poohpoohed the remedies suggested by the hon. Member for Reading, and ascribed to him a proposal that we should go to war with the Confederates—a course directly the reverse of what he had really advocated. We might very fairly adopt one of the suggested courses, because at that moment the Confederates had paid agents in the country superintending the purchase and 1488 building of ships for that country. He rejoiced that the Government had at last awakened to the full importance of the question, and in stopping the steam rams on the Mersey, they had performed a great public duty. It was idle to urge that these vessels might have been built purely as a commercial speculation. Avowedly and confessedly, they were built for the Confederate States; and no hon. Member had been or would be so foolish as to insinuate a doubt on the subject. That being so, Her Majesty's Government would have been wanting in their duty had they allowed the taunts of political opponents, or the representations of interested shipbuilders, to divert them from the course they believed necessary to the honour of England, which was certainly for the interest of England, and which, he believed, a Court of Law would ultimately approve.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
said, the country attached the greatest importance to the maintenance of a course of strict neutrality, but the main element of neutrality was impartiality. Expressions, however, had been made use of from time to time in debate which he would not say encouraged the breaking of the law, but certainly tended towards a stretching of the law. To use a common phrase, we had declared that the South might steal a horse, while the North would not be allowed to look over the hedge. When the war broke out both parties considered that we should give them our support: the North because we were opposed to slavery, and the South because cotton was king. But both had been disappointed. And what since the war had been the attitude of the two parties towards England in regard to her rights as a neutral? The Federal Government had behaved most loyally towards us. The House had been told by the Attorney General, that he was not aware of any decision in the American prize courts which did not bear on the face of it signs of an honest intention to fairly administer the law. That testimony possessed all the more force, inasmuch as the British Government was not at first influenced in favour of the Northern States, as was clearly made manifest from time to time. The Government had, however, ventured to take a more honest course, evidently led by the necessity for upholding the honour of England and by a regard for the future security of the country when hereafter she would no longer be a neutral, but a belligerent. The tone, he complained, which had characterized some of the speeches in 1489 that House with respect to the United States was unfair and impolitic, while sufficient allowance had not been made for the provocation received by them. He put it to hon. Gentlemen, what would they think, supposing we were at war with France, and a vessel, built in an American port with American money, manned by American seamen, and all but equipped under the American flag, were let loose upon our commerce? Would time have been given for explanation or negotiation, or would there not rather have been an immediate declaration of war? What made the case more exasperating was, that a hon. Gentleman, associated or connected with the builders of such a vessel, actually got up in that House and boasted of the building of it. With respect to the steam rams, which he thanked the Government for having stopped, no question had been raised on any side as to the intention with which they were built, nor was it disputed that they were destined to attack Federal shipping. Supposing the Government could not legally have stopped them, what ought to have been the language of those who objected to the detention? They ought to have said, "We are sorry to our hearts that we cannot stop them." But what was the language used in reference to the detention of vessels directed against an ally? It was said, "There is something ridiculous in stretching the law in order to vindicate the law." He, however, thought that nothing was more rational than to stretch the municipal law to vindicate the higher international law. The detention of the rams was only like the detention of a burglar, who, though not actually caught in the fact, was found going about his work with his implements sticking out of his pocket. He thought, therefore, that it would have been the duty of the Government to stop these ships even if they had had to come to Parliament for a Bill of Indemnity. Contrasting the honourable course taken by the United States' Government in respect of vessels fitted out in their ports to act against this country with the tone assumed by hon. Members in respect of the Alabama, he would ask, how had the Confederate States treated us? They only existed upon the ocean by the systematic violation of our neutrality, and had no locus standi upon the sea but by the evasion of our laws. What, again, was the conduct of the Danish Government when a vessel was fitting out in one of their ports with an alleged hostile intent against the Germans? That Government 1490 did not indulge in cheatery or evasion. When appealed to, they gave their word that the vessel should not be employed against the Germans throughout the war. Again, it was a principle of international law that property captured at sea must be submitted to a prize court before it could become the property of the captors; and, if that were not so, such property would be at the mercy of any one who might be strong enough to take it. But Confederate cruisers had recourse to no prize court; they simply seized property and burnt it. Whether it was true or not that British property had been destroyed in that way, the British Government was interested in putting a stop to such a breach of international law. It had been said by the noble Lord, and he believed the hon. Member for Sheffield cheered the statement, that no justice could be got from the Confederate States until we recognized them. What was that but saying that a pirate could hoist his flag on any rock, and do any amount of damage without incurring punishment until recognized as a Power? He wished to know, whether Her Majesty's Government had made any reclamations to the Confederate Government on this subject? The tone of discussion in that House was tainted too much with sympathy for a cause which he was surprised hon. Gentlemen opposite should support, since it was the cause of unjustifiable rebellion, even if it did not stand condemned by the common hatred of slavery.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, that Her Majesty's Government had up to that time been attacked for unduly favouring the Federals, and it was said that, having acted under their dictation, the Government had borne very hardly upon the Confederates. It was now alleged that the Government had not taken sufficient steps to vindicate the law in favour of the Federals and against the Confederates. These counter-statements might be left to answer each other, and might be taken as a proof of the neutrality of the Government. In truth, it was with nations as individuals—impartiality of conduct towards two irritated antagonists gave offence to both. His hon. and learned Friend had complained that the Government had permitted the escape of four vessels that ought not to have left these ports, and they were also accused of not taking means to repair the mischief thus done. Without entering into a formal statement of our relations with America, he would offer a few remarks on those vessels. 1491 First, with respect to the Florida. Before she left the shores of this country the Government had no sufficient information— no evidence—that she was destined for the Confederate service. She was, however, detained at Nassau, and inquiries were made there by the Consular Court, which acquitted her. That might have been, as his hon. and learned Friend had said, for want of evidence, but in the face of that acquittal the Government could not declare that her equipment was a violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act. Nor was there any reason to suppose that she was manned from this country. There were some few Englishmen among her crew, but there was no ground for believing that the greater part of her crew did not belong to the Confederate States. It was, therefore, impossible for Her Majesty's Government to have stopped the Florida, or to treat her now otherwise than as the properly commissioned vessel of a belligerent they had recognized. In the case of the Georgia, there was no sufficient evidence before she left that she was intended for the Confederate States. The Government, however, had since received information that she was manned in a great measure from Liverpool, and proceedings had been taken against a firm of that town who were charged—he would not saw whether rightly or otherwise— with having organized a system of enlisting men for the Georgia and other vessels. As the inquiry was pending, he would say no more, but he mentioned so much for the purpose of showing that the attention of the Government was directed to the question. The next case was that of the Alabama, which was different from those of the Florida and the Georgia, and also differed from that of the Alexandra, which was also before the Courts, and to which it would be unbecoming in him to allude. Although the Alabama was not armed, yet a portion at least of her equipment might be called exclusively warlike in its character—such as sockets for guns. Depositions were made and laid before the Law Officers of the Crown, that the Alabama was manned at Liverpool, that the agents of the Confederate States at Liverpool enlisted men for her as fighting seamen, and that forty or fifty embarked, some knowing their destination and others being ignorant of it. Now, the Law Officers of the Crown at that time were of opinion that the Alabama ought not to be allowed to leave Liverpool, and in that opinion he had only to say that he entirely 1492 concurred. But the vessel escaped, and he quite agreed with his hon. Friend who spoke last that her escape was a misfortune. But, at the same time, it was not a misfortune for which Her Majesty's Government could fairly be held responsible. As soon as the evidence was presented to Government it was laid before the Law Officers of the Crown, their opinion was given without delay, and immediately it was given a telegram was sent to Liverpool directing that the vessel should be stopped. She escaped by a ruse, under pretence that she was going on a trial trip. Her Majesty's Government could not give assurance to other countries that no vessel could possibly escape, or that our laws would not be evaded. All they were bound to do was, to bring a fair and reasonable amount of vigilance to bear in order to prevent violations or evasions of the law. But if it turned out that not merely the Alabama had escaped by a ruse, but a number of other vessels—if several steam rams—and to the subject of the steam rams he should not further allude—had been permitted to escape by similar means, so that the American Government could have said to Her Majesty's Government, "You are maintaining not a real but a fraudulent neutrality; you are conniving at violations of your laws which are notorious to everybody; you won't put your Foreign Enlistment Act into effect"—then they might have just ground of complaint. But the answer to all their complaints, and to all their claims—and that there might be no doubt upon the matter, these claims the Government distinctly resisted—was, "We have fairly and honestly enforced the Foreign Enlistment Act, and have done our bust to preserve our neutrality." With respect to the Rappahannock, his hon. and learned Friend was not correct in saying that she was fitted out in one of Her Majesty's dockyards. She was certainly fitted out in the proximity of one of the dockyards. She was bought by agents of the Confederate States, and was equipped at Sheerness, and the authorities of the dockyard were so much imposed upon as to lend artificers to equip her. But he could say that neither Her Majesty's Government nor the Law Officers of the Crown—so secretly was the equipment managed — had any information that the vessel was being-fitted out for the service of the Confederate States until she escaped. He believed that her equipment was managed with so much secresy as to elude the vigilance of 1493 Mr. Adams. It was, therefore, unreasonable to blame the Government for not having prevented her departure. The greater part of the men on board were not aware of the purpose for which they were enlisted, and therefore it would have been extremely harsh to have instituted a prosecution against them. But he regretted to say Her Majesty's Government had too much reason to suppose that an officer in their employment, whose name he need not mention, was more seriously compromised. They had, therefore, thought it their duty to institute a prosecution against him, which would shortly come before the Queen's Bench, and he need not say it would give Her Majesty's Government great pleasure if that gentleman could prove his innocence. He could not agree with the position of his hon. and learned Friend that those ships should be treated as English vessels. He denied they were English vessels. They were not officered by British officers. They were Confederate vessels having Confederate commissions; and because some Englishmen had enlisted in them, and some more might have been employed in fitting them up, that was no ground for calling them British vessels. His hon. and learned Friend had said, in the first place, that they ought to pursue and capture those ships. Capture the Alabama! But they should catch her first. He would remind his hon. and learned Friend, that when a vessel was commissioned by a recognized belligerent, no inquiry could be made into her previous history. It had been decided in the American Courts that a commission from a recognized belligerent obliterated the past offences of the vessel. Therefore, as they had every reason to suppose that the Alabama and the other vessels referred to were public vessels of war, commissioned by a recognized belligerent, it would not be in accordance with the law of nations to pursue and capture them on account of the original illegality in their proceedings. An act of that kind might be construed as no less than an act of war against the Confederate States. That, therefore, was a course which the Law Officers of the Crown could not advise Her Majesty's Government to pursue. But, secondly, his hon. and learned Friend had said, "You ought to keep them out of your ports." No doubt there was more to be said for that. Her Majesty had a right to prohibit the entrance of any vessel into her ports. But, at the same time, Her Majesty's Government thought that, while 1494 preserving neutrality and admitting Federal vessels into our ports, if Confederate vessels, or even a limited number of them, were to be excluded, they would be accused of oppressing the weak and truckling to the strong. On the whole, therefore, it was thought more consistent with a fair neutrality to allow the vessels of both parties to come into our ports. There might, however, be conduct on the part of the Confederate Government and of those vessels which would justify Her Majesty's Government in revoking that permission. His hon. and learned Friend next said, that they ought to make the attempts to violate the neutrality of this country by using our ports for the building and equipping of vessels of war the subject of remonstrance to the Confederate Government. He did not understand his hon. and learned Friend to have recommended war. On the contrary, he deprecated any such idea. "Because," as he said, "you do not recognize the Confederates as an independent State, but as a belligerent merely, that is no reason for allowing them to pursue any course of wrong-doing." He agreed with that opinion. They did not recognize the Confederates as an independent Power, and for the simple reason that they were not. They had recognized them as belligerents because they were belligerents. But that was no reason why they should allow wrong to be done to the neutrality of this country. There was, however, some difficulty in approaching the Confederates. It was by no means so easy to make communications to the Confederate Government, nor was the difficulty lightened by their having expelled our consuls. But that was a matter which was under the consideration of the Government, and he believed steps would be very shortly taken for the purpose of conveying to the Confederate Government the remonstrances of this country, and giving them an opportunity of explaining why their agents had acted in the manner described. Her Majesty's Government trusted they would be able to repudiate the conduct of their agents, and to state that what had been done was done against their authority.[Laughter.] The hon. Member would not surely advise any stronger measures until they had made their remonstrances. He did not propose to go at length into the Question, and he had avoided matters which had been from time to time alluded to in the course of the debate, but which were not directly before the House. He had 1495 made a statement which he trusted would in the main be satisfactory to his hon. Friends, and he would say, in conclusion, that it had been the most anxious desire of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General and himself, as well as of Her Majesty's Government, to maintain a strict and impartial neutrality, under very delicate and difficult circumstances, because nothing could be more difficult than to preserve a perfect neutrality between two jealous and exasperated belligerents.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, that if shipbuilders at Liverpool or Glasgow built vessels of war with an intention to evade the Foreign Enlistment Act, he would not stand up to defend them; but the hon. and learned Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) seemed to maintain that those who bonâ fide built vessels of war, and sold them to a belligerent, were guilty under that Act.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I did not intend to say that they were guilty under the Act, but I conceive that they would be virtually and morally breaking the law if they knew that they were selling the vessels to a belligerent.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
begged to remind the hon. Member, that that was a point sub judice, and that up to that time many persons competent to give a legal opinion on the subject considered that an act which a British shipowner might fairly do without any breach either of the laws of this country or of international law. Unless he was mistaken, the same doctrine had been upheld by those who represented the United States in former times. If the law was ambiguous, it might be a question whether it should not be made more clear; but until the law was either altered or amended, he contended that those who did such an act were not liable to the animadversion of that House or of Foreign Governments. It would be unfair to interfere with the law unless at the same time the wholesale supply to the other belligerent of the means of carrying on war were prevented.
§ MR. J. C. EWART
was understood to express his conviction, that no shipbuilder or merchant of Liverpool had broken the law, and he hoped that the most strict neutrality would be preserved.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.