HL Deb 04 August 1862 vol 168 cc1177-87

rose to move for Copies or Extracts of any Correspondence which Her Majesty's Government have received from Mason, the Southern Envoy, relating to the Acknowledgment of the Confederate States of America by Great Britain. He said, as the Government had already laid before Parliament, in the first number of the papers on America, the despatch of Colonel Mann and Mr. Yancey, demanding the acknowledgment of the Southern Confederacy in 1861, and had also laid before Parliament a despatch of Mr. Mason at the beginning of the present year on the blockade, there could be no technical objection to present any correspondence of a later period. It was well known that the Southern envoys, both in London and in Paris, had recently demanded the acknowledgment of the States they represented, and of which the power to defend their capital against an invading force was in the last days of June triumphantly asserted.

In one sense, indeed, the papers would be useless; they could do little to enhance—so strong was it already—the conviction which appeared to pervade society and Parliament, that the war ought to end in separation of the Northern and the Southern Powers. It was not too much to say that no class or party in the country any longer desired to see the reconquest of the South and the reconstruction of the Union. The unanimity might be traced to many different causes. It was owing in some measure to the seasonable flood of light which Mr. Spence, in his well-known work, had thrown upon the subject. It was owing in a still greater measure to the speech of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, on the 10th of March, in which he told the world that separation was the issue of the struggle which he contemplated, and that at a period not distant from the time when he was speaking. It was owing also to the labours of enlightened men in the House of Commons, of whom Mr. Gregory had been the most conspicuous. But still more should the unanimous desire for separation and aversion to reconquest in this country be traced to the conviction that the interest of the negro race would be promoted by the former and retarded by the latter; that the area of slavery must be limited when separation happened, and would most likely be extended if reconquest unhappily occurred. It was further strengthened by the fact that the limited advance of the invaders during part of the year, and the capture of New Orleans, had disproved the existence of any Southern party for the Union—had revealed in the South a self-sacrificing heroism and inexhaustible endurance which could not have been counted on before; had shown, in point of fact, that the South could only be restored to the Government which formerly possessed it, by an exterminating war, as well as an aggressive one. Besides the devastation and destruction it would bring upon the South, it was generally seen that reconquest of the Union threatened the North with military despotism, trade with insupportable restrictions, and Europe with prolonged uneasiness.

These papers were not wanted to give new force to a conviction so prevailing, but they might throw light upon the course which Great Britain ought to follow amid the dangers which surrounded her in consequence of this civil war. The first danger of Great Britain—namely, the possibility of Southern subjugation, and all the evils it involved, might be, perhaps, dismissed as a remote one. The second danger, which arose from the continuance of the war—the manufacturing distress it must occasion—was far more serious and imminent. So long as the war continued, a scarcity of cotton must be apprehended. If, indeed, the American supply were utterly and finally extinguished, the means would not, perhaps, be wanting to replace it; but so long as the American supply was constantly impending on the market, they could not hope to gain a large amount from Africa or India. And who should say what degree of social or political disorder might not follow manufacturing distress if it extended over four years or upwards? Another danger for Great Britain, more likely to remain unnoticed, but not less easy to describe, was, that if the war should end in separation before this country had merited alliance from the Southern Power, Canada was exposed without an adequate defence to at least a possible invader. If Canada was unable to support a numerous militia, if Britain was unable to send large armies to her succour, what defence could they rely on except a firm ally upon that continent, prepared at any moment to cross the frontier of the Power by which an unjust attack was made upon our dependency? It should never be forgotten that we were not able to secure the duration of the contest—that after the exhaustion of the combatants we could not prevent other Powers by their influence from bringing the war to a conclusion, although we might refuse to share so great and meritorious an effort. Some persons had ingeniously contended, that looking to British objects, we ought not to bring about or to desire a termination of hostilities; that the evils arising from such a termination were greater than the evils which the war itself inflicted on us, and that our policy and business was to stand still and let it rage as long and burn out as gradually as possible. Such counsels might be just if we had any guarantee for its continuance. But we clearly had not. Suppose Great Britain held aloof completely in the present autumn, while the other Powers of Europe, swayed by the French Government, employed their moral force to terminate the war in Southern independence. In two months Canada might be assailed, and Great Britain be without the least support on that continent.

If, however, Great Britain had united with the other Powers of Europe (after showing every observance to the Government of Washington) in acknowledging the independence of the South, she would not be unsupported in America when separation happened. Such a mode of acting, if it did not at once remove the chance of Southern subjugation, was calculated to remove it. If it did not at once arrest the civil war, it was calculated to arrest it. Of the three dangers, therefore, he had ventured to enumerate, it provided against one, and had a tendency, at least, to neutralize the others.

But if no one could allude to the line of action which became us without the greatest caution and reserve, there was one point on which any man might speak with openness and firmness. Re-conquest being put out of the question, the civil war could never end until foreign Powers had recognised the Government of Richmond. Since modern Europe came into existence no civil war had ended in the sovereignty of the insurgent Power until that Power had been recognized by neutral States, giving an example to the State which aimed at its re-conquest. It was not till Portugal had been acknowledged by Great Britain twenty-five years, that Spain consented to acknowledge her existence as an independent Power. It was not till long after nearly all the Governments of Europe had acknowledged the United Provinces of Holland, that Spain gave up the hope of re-absorbing them. The same circumstance applied to the United States, the South American Republics, to Greece, to Belgium, and to Italy. The acknowledgment by neutral Powers had always preceded the acknowledgment by the Power which first endeavoured to control the insurrection. It was not too much to lay down as a principle, that war must go on against an insurgent State until neutral Powers had acknowledged it. The war for a re-conquest could not be abandoned while neutral Powers sanctioned its continuance. At least it never had been. And that prin- ciple would have the strongest application to the Government of Washington. However sickened of the war, it was only by the voice of Europe they could be delivered from the horrible necessity of waging it. Some new and powerful authority was requisite to pave the way for so great a change of system upon their part. Having undertaken to coerce the Southern States; having drawn 500,000 men from peaceful avocations; having sent the tax-gatherer to range among homes which he had never darkened; having ensnared the people of the North into unprecedented sacrifices by a vision which ninety days would always enable them to grasp, but which after two campaigns remained impalpable as ever; with what face could they recede from their engagements, renounce their aspirations, avow at once their error and their guilt, while Europe still declined to acknowledge Southern independence. Separation was impossible, until the effort to reconquer was discarded. The effort to reconquer must go on, until foreign Powers granted to the South the recognition which it asked for. So long as they withheld it, they compelled the Government of Washington to persevere in its unnatural and sanguinary labours.

The whole question as regarded acknowledgment appeared to turn upon the moment. If other Powers of Europe were prepared, had England a right to count upon a better one? Operations of gunboats were retarded by the dryness of the navigable rivers; operations on land, by the fearful heat and the diseases it engendered. Richmond was no longer menaced. Securities at New York had undergone a great depreciation. The war, as far as they could judge, had lost its hold on popular opinion. The Abolitionists who followed Mr. Sumner had ceased to give it their support. Mr. Lincoln in vain endeavoured to raise 300,000 men. The invading army, under Halleck, near the Mississippi was not able to advance. And if many of the most reflecting men believed that in December and January last Europe lost an opportunity of taking that step without which the war could scarcely end, and which would then, perhaps, have closed it, with what decision and despatch ought not a new conjuncture which invited to such a mode of acting be made use of. There was this difference between the present and the former opportunity. In January the Federals had never been victorious in battle, and, however resigned to separation, however hopeless of re-conquest, might still prolong the war in order to recover their prestige, and to repair their military losses. Now, the greater balance of success was likely to extinguish such a difficulty.

But if the present moment is abandoned, what are we to wait for? Not for Northern victories. Such victories would clearly limit our capacity to acknowledge Southern independence, as it was limited from the defeat and death of Zollicoffer in the winter down to the events which have lately driven General M'Clellan to the river. We are to wait, therefore, for new misfortunes to the Government of Washington before we grant to this unhappy strife the possibility of closing. If so, how hard a situation do we place them in. The language of the noble Lord in March, the tenor of events, and the impressions of the world, forbid them any longer to aspire to re-conquest. But yet, until their prospects are more dark and their embarrassments more fatal, we will not help them to conclude the war by separation. Is it not enough to see their armies driven back, their capital alarmed, their spirit gone, and their finance exhausted? Before we grant the extrication they must owe to neutral Powers, are we to wait until the Southern forces are again aggressive and triumphant; until the invaders are invaded; until the avengers are the victims; until the Northern States are overrun; until Washington is occupied; until, at least, its Government has encountered new humiliations, losses, and disasters at the hands of the people whom they had rashly undertaken to chastise and to subdue? At least, England is hardly justified in waiting for new reverses to the Federals, unless it is the only conduct in which the other Powers of Europe would support us. In that case, no doubt we are entitled to pursue it. Perhaps the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs will describe such a case as being the real one. If not, his silence will explode it. The noble Lord concluded by moving for the Correspondence.


I am sorry to have to say that I do not think it expedient to give the papers which have been moved for. The Envoy of the Southern States has never been officially received here; and as the correspondence has been entirely of an un-official character, I do not think it would be advisable to produce it. There is, however, a despatch of Mr. Seward's communicated to me by Mr. Adams and another to Mr. Seward in reply, in which the views of Her Majesty's Government are stated. We remain as we were a few months ago—we have not altered our position, and there is little more than that fact contained in the dispatch. If in the course of the recess we should think it desirable to adopt any new line of policy, I should think it necessary to communicate with the maritime Powers of Europe before taking any steps. I make that statement because my noble Friend seems to understand that the maritime Powers wish to recognize the Southern States, and that some objection on our part has prevented the recognition. Now, I have had no communication from any foreign Power stating any wish or making any proposition with regard to the recognition of the Southern States of America. Under these circumstances I hope my noble Friend will not press his Motion, as it would not be convenient to give the papers now, though I may produce them hereafter.


said, the noble Earl had, he thought, used a wise discretion—such as might be expected—in not producing communications from a person who was not officially recognized. He did not know whether the noble Lord would think it necessary to exercise the same reserve with respect to one or two points which he might be excused for mentioning, because of the period of the Session. They were now, at a most anxious moment, about to separate for five months. The country was very ignorant of the state of our foreign relations in regard to the American war, and felt a great anxiety to know a little more, if the noble Earl thought it within his duty to give the information. One point of great interest was this. He (the Earl of Malmesbury), from the first day of the Session, had always said that the whole question of the blockade, or of interference by way of recognition or mediation, was one of time, and must be left to Her Majesty's Government, who alone were responsible for choosing the proper time for acting. It would, however, be very interesting to know whether, when that time did arrive, the noble Earl had ascertained that he would be assisted in a policy of recognition or mediation by any or several of our allies. He did not think it possible that anything could be done by this country alone. We should be doing more harm than good if we were to attempt it, in consequence of the very unjust feeling which seemed to exist in the United States. But he could not but hope, when the moment arrived for something to be done, that we should be backed by our ally on the other side of the Channel, by Russia, and by other Powers of Europe. He should be glad to know if the noble Earl had hopes of bringing the opinion of those Powers to bear on the question. Such an immense force of public opinion could not but have great weight in America. There was another point of importance. He could not but think that this country had some expectation of this question being discussed. He thought the time, moreover, was approaching when it might be discussed with the United States if Lord Lyons were at his post; but he feared that Lord Lyons's absence, if it were much prolonged, would, besides being a disadvantage to the noble Earl's policy, make it appear to many persons that the time when Her Majesty's Government could interfere was not very near at hand. He did not believe that Lord Lyons had been recalled by anything but very pressing business of his own. He should be sorry to interfere with any pressing concerns on the part of Lord Lyons; but the noble Earl would agree with him that for the sake of appearances, as well as for practical considerations, it was not desirable that Lord Lyons should be very long absent from his post.


I will answer as well as I can the questions put to me by the noble Earl. With regard to the first question, I agree with the noble Earl that if any steps are taken, it would be desirable that they should be taken by all the principal Powers of Europe. I do not doubt that the opinion of the maritime Powers of Europe would carry much weight with the Government of the United States; but it is very desirable that all the great Powers should join in any representations that may be made. With regard to France, all I can say is that hitherto there has been an intimate and unreserved communication between Her Majesty's Government and that of the Emperor of the French, and I do not recollect any instance in which a difference of opinion has arisen between them on this subject. With regard to the Government of Russia, I am not in the same constant communication with that Government; but if I were to state the in- clination of my mind, it would be that Russia would be ready to consider any step that might be thought necessary, and that both Russia and France would weigh in a most impartial spirit any proposition that might be made to those Governments. With regard to the other Powers of Europe, I should say that they are disposed to take the same view. If, however, I thought it my duty, and if Her Majesty's Government thought it their duty to make any such communications, they ought very deliberately to consider the matter before any such step is taken. I say so the more particularly because, unfortunately, an opinion prevails in the United States with regard to this country which is not justified by any conduct on our part, because it has been as friendly and as straightforward as possible. With regard to the second question, as to Lord Lyons, I would say that no man ever attended more assiduously to the duties of his mission than Lord Lyons, and those duties have been not only onerous, but have caused him great anxiety from time to time. Lord Lyons has acted with perfect discretion on every occasion on which he has had to transact business with the United States Government; but after two or three years' discharge of the duties to which he was recommended by the noble Earl, and after filling the position he occupied at Washington, his health gave way. We felt that we could not expect to obtain the full benefit of his advice and assistance if he were in a bad state of health; and when Lord Lyons asked for a short leave of absence, to spend the summer here, his request was granted. About the beginning of October—or earlier, if necessary—he will return to his post, and in the mean time the duties of the mission will be adequately and effectively performed by Mr. Stuart, who is in friendly communication with the United States Government.


said, that their Lordships had reposed a most unusual confidence in the Government in reference to American affairs; for during the whole of the Session, with, perhaps, only a single exception, matters of extreme nicety and importance had been left to the judgment and discretion of Her Majesty's Government. He did not complain of this; but one reason for this reticence had been that the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary had entertained and expressed a more sanguine view of the termination of this dispute than the event had justified. The noble Earl had expressed a confident belief that in the space of two or three months the dispute between the North and South would be so far settled that any interference on the part of the Legislature in the mean time would be prejudicial rather than advantageous. He did not blame the noble Earl for being mistaken, for it was impossible to anticipate the course of events in the United States. But one result of the noble Earl's deprecation of discussion had been, that a question of very great moment, and one which well deserved the most serious consideration of their Lordships, which was at that time at issue—namely, the principle of the efficiency or inefficiency of the blockade then established of the Southern ports—had not been discussed, as it might very advantageously have been discussed, three or four months ago. It was now perfectly useless to enter upon this question. If this country were to recognize the independence of the South, the right to blockade the ports of the South would remain, and any interference on our part with that blockade would probably be followed by a war with the Northern States. He trusted that the noble Lord would withdraw a Motion which could not be attended with any good results.


said, he felt very grateful to their Lordships for their abstinence from interference with the discretion of Her Majesty's Government, which he trusted had been wisely exercised in this matter.


said, that as the noble Earl (Earl Russell) thought it inconsistent with the public interest to grant the papers, he would not press the Motion, but withdraws it. Even if the papers were withheld, it was notorious that since the battles before Richmond Mr. Mason had renewed his demand for the acknowledgment of the State he represented. As regards the observations of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Kingsdown) he appears to be so much engaged with the blockade as to have closed his mind to the remainder of the subject. He (Lord Campbell) never once alluded to the blockade, or raised a question with regard to it. Nor had he, as the noble and learned Lord ascribed to him, suggested any kind of mediation. He recommended the acknowledgment of Southern independence, in concert with the other Cabinets of Europe, because that course would guard against three intelligible dangers, and because, according to all apparent probabilities, the civil war would go on until that course had been adopted.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.