HL Deb 23 April 1863 vol 170 cc554-72

said, that before their Lordships adjourned, he wished to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs two or three Questions, of which he had given him notice, upon a matter of the greatest importance—namely, the proceedings of naval officers of the Northern States of America with respect to British ships in the West Indian and Mexican waters, which was apparently sanctioned by their Government. He was well aware of the gravity of this subject; but he thought the circumstances which had taken place were so gross, and were so notorious, and of a character so deeply affecting some of the best interests, as well us the honour of this country, that he did not think any further time should be allowed to elapse before it was made known to the world that Parliament could not hear of these transactions without strong feelings of disapprobation. He did not know what answer the noble Earl would be prepared to give him; but he was sure that if he did not give good reasons for forbearance, or such an assurance as would tend to allay the feeling which he knew their Lordships and every other Englishman had, some action must without delay be taken in Parliament. The first case to which he wished to advert was the ease of the ship Dolphin. The accounts of the capture of that vessel, he presumed, were correct; and he must say, that a greater outrage on property, or a greater insult to the British flag, had seldom or never been offered. The Dolphin was a Liverpool ship, trading to a port in the British Colonies. Her papers were perfectly correct. She was a legitimate trader from Liverpool to Nassau, with orders to touch at Madeira and St. Thomas. As she was coming out of St. Thomas, she was visited and seized by an American cruiser, and carried away as prize, her crew being detained upon the ship of war which seized her. If the accounts received were correct, there was something very striking in the details of the way in which the commander of the ship of war behaved. While some of the crew were sent to Key West, or some other port, with the vessel, to be dealt with by a prize court, the Englishmen were detained on board the American ship of war, and she did not stir to put them on shore either at an English port, of which there were several in the vicinity, or at Porto Rico; but they were detained on board until Her Majesty's ship the Nile had left the port of St. Thomas's, and they were then taken to and put on shore there on Danish ground. Supposing there was any pretext—which there was not—for seizing the Dolphin, it was quite contrary to the proper course to set the crew on shore on a foreign soil; and it was perfectly evident—at least, it was a fair inference to draw—that when they waited for the departure of the English ship of war, the captain of the American ship well knew that the outrage he had committed was of such a character that it would probably not have passed unavenged by the ship on the spot, had her captain been aware of it. He should like to know whether any official account had been received at the Foreign Office of this transaction; and, if so, what had the Government done in the matter? They could not view this as a mere case of reckless imprudence of a foolish officer, for it was impossible to look at it as an isolated case. Their Lordships must remember that the case of the Peterhoff, which occurred about a month ago, was very similar to this. In many instances, as in the case of the Adela, there was no foundation whatever upon which any charge could rest; and their Lordships must not forget that these transactions took place immediately under the eye and by the command of Commodore Wilkes, who had brought his Government to shame and humiliation in the affair of the Trent, when he committed an outrage for which the Federal Government had to make an apology and give reparation. These were things that the common sense of the country could not overlook; and therefore he thought it necessary that the Government, Parliament, and the country should bestir themselves not to allow the commerce of the country to be attacked in such a manner. The effect of treating these cases with too much forbearance hitherto was that other agents of the United States behaved in a manner that was wholly unprecedented, unlawful, and unjustifiable. A deputation that waited upon the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary recently, according to the newspapers, laid before him an example of such audacity as had seldom taken place in any country, certainly never before in London. Mr. Adams actually gave a certificate to ships in order to enable them to reach neutral ports in safety. Ships sailing from London were held to require an American licence to enable them to pass freely the waters of the West Indies and Mexico. He apprehended that his noble Friend had said something officially on this subject, as he saw that today in the newspapers there was a sort of excuse put forward by Mr. Adams, stating that there had been some misapprehension of what he had done, or attempted to do, in giving a certain certificate. It appeared that the owners of a ship called the Sea Queen, now at Falmouth, applied for one of these certificates. Mr. Adams seemed to be quite surprised that he should have had such an application, and in a letter dated yesterday, in which he acknowledged the receipt of the letter, he said — I regret to perceive that you labour under some misconception with regard to the course taken in reference to the certificate. It must be obvious to you that I have no authority to exercise any direction in regard either to the vessels or the voyages of Her Majesty's subjects. Then came what seemed a grave piece of irony— When they are engaged in a lawful undertaking they have a right to rely upon the protection of their Government, and undoubtedly they will obtain it. When it is otherwise, of course they will not expect it from them, or seek it of the representatives of the United States. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) suspected that that reply was produced by some sort of hint that Mr. Adams had received after the first certificate he issued, and he asserted in that letter that he would not issue any certificate to Her Majesty's subjects or to English vessels. This naturally inclined them to consider to what persons or what ships the United States Envoy did issue his certificate, and what were the circumstances under which the matter became known to the public. He thought their Lordships would agree with him that both the ships of another Power and the subjects of another Power, so long as they wire in this country, were under the municipal authority of the country, and under the law of the land, and that no ship clearing from the port of London was under the necessity of obtaining a paper from Mr. Adams to manifest her lawful character. Now, what were the facts? A Mr. Howell, a New York contractor, in conjunction with a Mr. Zerman, made a contract to supply the Mexicans with arms to fight against the French. There upon the representative of the Power which insisted so much upon neutrality gave his certificate to this New York contractor and Mexican captain; who, having purchased £80,000 worth of arms, went to Lloyd's to get a ship and insure with the underwriters. But would any one tell him (the Marquess of Clanricarde) that Mr. Adams, when he gave the certificate, did not think it would be a British ship that, would convey those arms to Matamoras? What was the use made of the certificate? If it was not for a British ship, and for Her Majesty's subjects, why was it taken to the underwriters at Lloyd's in order to effect an insurance by showing that the ship would be secure from capture by Americans? This transaction was altogether a gross departure from all rule, all propriety, and all the practice of diplomacy, such as could not be allowed to pass unnoticed by that House. He did not know, but he concluded that it could not pass without the notice of his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office, and he should therefore like to hour, as far as official convenience and the interests of the public service would permit, what representations had been made upon the subject. There was a third topic upon which he wanted explanation, which he approached with more sorrow, because it was a matter which appeared to rest very much with Her Majesty's Ministers themselves — he meant the withdrawal of the mails from on board a ship called the Sea Queen, and the issuing of a notification, that for the present British ships trading in the Gulf of Mexico to Matamoras and the Mexican ports in general would be what was politely termed "relieved from the necessity of carrying any ship letters." This might not mean that they would be relieved from the necessity enforced by law; but that, as had been announced by the Foreign Secretary, the, Post Office did not intend, for the present, to send any ship letters by traders trading to those ports. He should like to know if Her Majesty's Government could give any reason for taking such a step except that of fear of the American fleet? He used the words with shame and with some indignation. But what else could it mean? The letters had been put on board; but the owners of the vessel said they would not let her sail with them on account of what had occurred in former instances, unless the Government gave them some protection. They alluded to what had happened in the cases of the Adela and the Peterhoff, in which the grossest violation of international law took place, and acts were perpetrated which could not he described otherwise than as piracy. In those cases a direct insult had been offered to the British Crown by the violation of the seals of the royal mail-bag. And for what purpose was this done? In the case of the Adela the mail-bags, bearing the seals of Her Majesty's Post Office, were opened, find the letters searched, in order to find some correspondence on which they might fix a charge against the ship which carried the letters. Could they bear such things with temper, and could they submit to them tamely? Of course, the official position of Ministers required them to assume a calmness which he was sure they could not as Englishmen feel in the matter. But he thought it was time that Parliament spoke and spoke strongly. He had spoken strongly because he felt strongly, but he thought the time had come when they should act. The owners of the ship, to which he sail alluded, stated that they were willing to sail if the Government put a mail agent on board, as his presence would afford some guarantee to any officer of the United States who might visit the ship that she was engaged in legitimate trade, and therefore would serve as a protection against capture. The Postmaster General and the Secretary for War refused, he thought very properly, to send a mail agent on board. But he thought that they ought to have afforded them protection of another kind. They ought to have immediately applied to the Admiralty for a reinforcement of our naval force in the Gulf of Mexico, and to have sent out a fast sailing steamer to the Admiral in command in those waters, telling him that such a reinforcement was at hand, and that he would he held responsible that no further outrages of this kind should he committed on British ships, It was a farce to talk of sending the ships to prize courts. In January, 1862, the noble Earl laid down, in an able despatch, the rules and principles upon which we must insist, and which the Government of the United States must observe, or take the consequences. He knew it would he said that it was very dangerous to talk of these delicate matters; but he was not of that opinion. His experience had convinced him that, on former occasions, there had been too much reticence and reserve exercised in Parliament on patent facts, he had no wish that the country should drift into another war. He thought it heft that the American Government should know what the British people would not submit to. In the affair of the Trent there was no great difficulty in coming to an arrangement, when the feelings of the country were excited, and it was known that there was considerable activity in the Admiralty and the Military Departments. He thought it right that the Government of the United States should be called upon virtually to decide whether they did or did not mean to go to war with us. He did not think they did. But so flagrant had been the outrages committed, even independent of the two last cases, that the newspapers abroad believed that it was the intention of that Government to drive this country into a war with them. He remembered the speech of Commodore Wilkes at the dinner at which he was entertained by American merchants, when he was fresh from the glories of the Trent affair, and it amounted to this—that he would lose no opportunity of insulting the British flag or of injuring British commerce wherever he might find it. If these matters were allowed to go on as they had been; if it were a fact that Her Majesty's Government did not dare to send ship letters in their own mail-bags into those seas; if our traders did not dare to venture there, and our merchants were obliged to apply to foreign nations for ships in order that their trade might be protected, Commodore Wilkes might set a broom at his mast head, like the Dutch admiral of old, and proclaim that he had swept British ships and British trade away from that coast. That was what was at the bottom of it. They were determined to drive British ships away from that coast. Since he came down to the House that evening, The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette had been put into his hands. That journal invited attention to the following advertisement, for the bona fides of which they were in a condition to vouch:—"Wanted, a French vessel to load for a good English island in the West Indies. Apply to Kay & Co., shipbrokers, Pudding Lane, E.C." We had come to this then—we were driven to apply for French ships for our merchandise, because French ships were protected, while our own were not. This was a state of things that must lead to serious results; and he should he glad if, upon the points he had mentioned, his noble Friend would be in a condition to give satisfactory explanations. He had great confidence in the noble Earl and the noble Lord at the head of the Government; but these were things that Parliament could not pass over in silence, and it would be for the Government to satisfy Parliament and the country that it would uphold the mercan- tile interests of the country, and, above all, that it would maintain the honour of the British Crown.


My noble Friend has made a very warm speech upon this subject, and would be perfectly justified if the points to which he alluded had been facts proven, and were not, for the most part, assumed by him to be facts. For instance, he stated that various vessels had been condemned by the prize courts—the Adela, the Peterhoff, and others. That, certainly, is unknown to me, because though the Adela has been condemned by the Prize Court of Key West, an appeal has been made; and with regard to the Peterhoff we have no account that any trial has taken place. For my own part, instead of proceeding on assumptions, I have thought it my duty, in the grave and responsible position which I hold, not to proceed in any of those cases without seeking, in the first place, the best information as to the facts that could be procured, and, in the next place, without referring to the Law Officers of the Crown in order to know the character to be attached to those facts. I have not thought it right to proceed in matters of such difficulty without taking soundings at every step. That has been my course in the various instances to which my noble Friend has referred. First, with regard to the Dolphin, I thought it necessary, having received the reports with regard to that vessel, to refer those reports to the Law Officers of the Crown; and what they say is, that it does not appear to them, from the papers, that there was a primâ facie ground for seizure; they do not see any probable reason for her capture; but, they add, there may be facts unknown to me and unknown to them, with respect to the master of that vessel, which may have afforded sufficient grounds for sending the vessel to a prize court. But they say that two evident violations of neutral rights have taken place with regard to that vessel. They state that the ship of war which took the Dolphin had made use of a neutral port for the purpose of watching British merchant vessels, and that as soon as the Dolphin left the port, she was immediately pursued, and when she had passed beyond the three miles of water of the neutral Power, she was seized by this United States vessel of war. There is another point upon which they say there is great reason for complaint—namely, the taking of a part of the crew out of the vessel and landing them afterwards upon neutral territory. With regard to these two matters, they say there cannot he a doubt that Her Majesty's Government have a right to complain; and accordingly, having this day received their report, which is dated yesterday, I shall immediately, by the next mail, bring those matters of complaint under the notice of the United States Government. My noble Friend says that this impunity which the United State? have affected to claim is owing to our neglect of outrages which have taken place on the part of the United Stales in time past. Now, with regard to that particular point to which the Law Officers have referred—namely, the unneutral use of a neutral port—the placing there of a belligerent vessel to watch a neutral one and pursue her immediately after her departure—a case of that kind took place last year at Madeira with respect to the Tuscarora. It was immediately brought to the attention of the United States Government; they laid down rules by which such conduct should not be permitted, and said that the officer who had committed the offence, if it could be shown that he had done so, should he censured. That was the reply of the United States Government, and I must say it seems to me a very fair reply. It was, in fact, a proper reparation for the offence that had been committed. Well, then, again we complain that in certain cases there are no searches. With respect to that they say that no vessel was to be seized without a search. They lay it down, which, I believe, is a correct interpretation of the law of nations— That when that visit is made, the vessel is not then to be seized without a search carefully made so far as to render it reasonable to believe that she is engaged in carrying contraband of war to the insurgents and to their ports, or otherwise violating the blockade; and that if it shall appear that she is actually bound and passing from one friendly or so-called neutral port to another, and not bound or proceeding to or from a port in the possession of the insurgents, then she cannot be lawfully seized. Now, that is the rule which the United States Secretary of State has laid down for the guidance of the Secretary to the Navy, and of the United States navy itself. Well, then, it is not fair to assume that in a case where the rule is apparently violated the United States may he able to show that the vessel that has been seized was not proceeding from one neutral port to another, but that she was proceeding to a port of the belligerent States, while apparently on her way to n neutral port. That is a case which the Law Officers of the Crown say frequently occurs, and in such case we should not be able to make good our complaint of the vessel being carried before a prize court. Even supposing— as I think probable—that Admiral Wilkes and other officers have violated those rules, we have no reason to assume that reparation when asked will not be given, and that the United States Government will not conform to the rules they have themselves laid down. I do not think, then, it is convenient—I will say more, I think it tends to interrupt the friendly relations between the two nations, as soon as you have a report of an outrage, to say that the Government of a friendly people will act in contravention of the law of nations; that they meant to commit an offence, and that they will refuse reparation. On the contrary, we are bound to assume either that there were some facts not known to us, which will show that the act was not indefensible; or else, the act being wrong, that the Government of a friendly nation will, even from regard to its own character and honour, give reparation. This, then, is the case of the Dolphin. There are no apparent primâ facie grounds for the seizure; and if it turns out that there were no grounds, then we must not assume that the United States will refuse to conform to the rules which they have themselves laid down. My noble Friend then adverted to the letter of Mr. Adams which has appeared in the public prints. I must pay that the act of Mr. Adams was a very extraordinary, and, in my opinion, a most unwarrantable act—I cannot conceive that it can be proper for a person holding a diplomatic position in this country to issue such a permit to a vessel. That is making a distinction between vessels departing from the ports of this country, and giving a security to one vessel as distinguished from another. It is not possible, as it appears to me, that he can bestow that favour on one vessel without making an invidious, and perhaps dangerous, distinction as against other vessels. There can be no doubt that the conduct of Mr. Adams is entirely unwarrantable; but I should not think of complaining to Mr. Adams. I shall bring that conduct before the consideration of the United States Government. It is for them to say in what manner such an act should be visited. My noble Friend next went on to name a case which he described fairly enough, according to the facts known to him. But the whole facts were evidently not known to my noble Friend. He spoke of an inter view at the Foreign Office between myself and several owners of ships and persons connected with the trade of the port of London, with respect to vessels sailing to Matamoras, The account of that inter view, although, generally speaking, fairly given, was certainly marked by many omissions. The persons who came to me complained of this grievance. They said it might happen that the letter-bags that were sent by their vessels by the Postmaster General might contain letters that were written by persons connected with or favourable to the Federal Government, and that those persons might invent a story that the ship was conveying stores to the Confederates, that they might put false names to those letters, that those letters might be opened, and used as evidence against the vessel, and that there was not sufficient security against such practices being resorted to, because they could not avoid taking the mail-bags, in consequence of shipowners being liable to a penalty of £200 if they refused to take the letter-bags. They therefore complained that their ships and cargoes might be put in danger by acts of Her Majesty's Government which were beyond their control. I considered that matter, and also a proposal which they made to me, that an agent should be put in charge of the bags, as is done on board the Queen's packet ships. Upon consideration, there appeared to me to be many objections to my taking such a course. I should have fallen into the same error as that of Mr. Adams; I should have singled out particular vessels and given them a protection which others would not enjoy. At all events, that should not be done without consideration There was, however, one obvious redress which I could give; I could reply to them, "You say that you are compelled to take these mail-bags, and that your ships and cargoes are put in jeopardy by the act of the Postmaster General. Well, I will relieve you from that danger, and I will ask the Postmaster General not to oblige you to take the mail-bags." It appears to me that was a remedy for the grievance of which they complained; but it seems to have been understood out of doors as if it were a declaration that we would not send mail-bags to Matamoras, and, that as my noble Friend says, we were afraid of the consequences that might happen. What we really did was to Bay to shipowners, "If you like to take mail-bags in these vessels, you shall he at liberty to do so; but we will not compel you to do so." I have, now in my hand a letter written to the Foreign Office by the Postmaster General, which states that for the present no shipletter mail shall he put on board any vessel sailing for Matamoras "unless with the full concurrence of the commander." It is only that we do not use the compulsory power that the law gives us in these cases. I confess it would have been hard upon the owners of vessels to have refused to give them the security for which they asked. I have no doubt there will be many vessels the commanders of which will be quite ready to take these letters; but if they do, we ought not to leave them to say they have been put in jeopardy by the act of the Government, nor ought the law lo be put in force to their injury. My hon. Friend states truly that the fears of the owners of the Sea Queen, and other vessels were founded on what had been done in the case of the Adela—namely, that the United States authorities had got possession of her letter-bags. Now, in the letter of Mr. Seward, dared August 8, 1862, there is the following order: — And, finally, that official seals, or locks, or fastenings, of foreign authorities are in no case, nor on any pretext, to be broken, or parcels covered by them read by any naval authorities of the United States; but all bags or other things conveying such parcels and duly sealed or fastened by foreign authorities will be, in the discretion of the United States officer to whom they may come, delivered to the consul, commanding naval officer, or Legation of the foreign Government, to be opened, upon the understanding that whatever is contraband or important as evidence concerning the character of a captured vessel will be remitted to the prize court, or to the Secretary of State at Washington; or such sealed bags or parcels may be at once forwarded to this department, to the end that the proper authorities of the foreign Government may receive the same without delay. The President desires especially that naval officers may be informed that the fact that a suspected vessel has been indicated to them as cruising in any limit which has been prescribed to them by the Navy Department does not in any way authorize them to depart from the practice of the rules of visitation, search, and capture prescribed by the law of nations. That is the general direction given by the Secretary of State to the Secretary of the United States navy, to be forwarded by him to the officers commanding vessels of the Federal navy, It may be that complaints have been made in this country which are not without foundation; it may be that United States officers have not observed these rules, but have gone be- yond the directions that they have received; it may be that they have seized vessels that were really going to Matamoras or some neutral port without sufficient evidence that the cargo was of a contraband character; but it does seem to me, in spite of what my noble Friend says, that the Government of this country is bound to take a calm view of these matters, to represent them fairly to the United States Government, and not to presume that the Government of the United States would fail in their duty to a friendly Power, or that they would countenance outrages which are against the law of nations. These representations will be made, and I expect, that if they are just, reparation will not be refused. I have already said that what took place at the interview which I had with the shipowners has not been fully given. One mistake has certainly been made. It is said that I expressed surprise at the information that certain British subjects had been made prisoners, and detained in a place of confinement by the authorities of the United States. I certainly did not express any such surprise, for I had been reading that very morning the representations not only of our Consuls, but of those British subjects themselves who had been so detained, and detained apparently with great and unnecessary harshness, the object being merely to detain them in order that they might give evidence in the prize court. It cannot be doubted that there are precedents showing, that when a case is brought before the prize court, the master of the vessel may give evidence of the real character of the cargo and the destination of the vessel, and that he may be detainee for that purpose. But it seems to me that the United States authorities have gone beyond what they fairly had a right to do. When we were belligerents, many cases involving belligerent and neutral rights were brought before a very eminent Judge, whose decisions are generally and universally respected; and though I believe he carried the principle favourable to captors to perhaps rather a severe length, beyond doubt they were in conformity with the law of nations. I allude to Lord Stowell. We were the belligerents; we are now neutrals. But, as I have already said, I think it would not become the character of this nation, because we had changed our position, to invoke another law, and another measure; to declare that those decisions of Lord Stowell, which were advan- tageous to us when we were belligerents, should be thrown aside and rejected by us when we became neutrals. Accordingly, those persons who think, that whatever nay be the destination of a ship, and whatever papers she may have on board showing that she is about to break the blockade, or to carry arms to some one of the Confederate States now in hostility with the United States, they are to be protected by the power of the British nation in contradiction to all our own decisions, and in contradiction to the declared law of nations, will, I hope, know that the British Government never will place itself in that position. Let us look impartially at these cases which lave occurred. It may be that we have suffered grievous wrong; it may be that we have a right to considerable reparation; but let the two Governments treat the cases fairly. We have on this side of the Atlantic the decisions of a great Judge; in America they have the views laid down by Judge Story and by such a writer as Mr. Wheaton. With these authorities to guide us, let us see who is in the right and who is in the wrong. But let us discuss the circumstances with a wish to do justice to each other. Do not let us be led by passion into anything which is not founded on justice, and which cannot afterwards be justified in the face of the world.


said, he was anxious to obtain from his noble Friend an explanation of one part of the observations he had addressed to their Lordships. In recapitulating the circumstances connected with the Sea Queen, his noble Friend stated that the owners of the vessel complained of the difficulty in which they were placed by the apprehension that they might ultimately be compromised by the supposed contents of the mail-bags, which might induce American cruisers to commit acts of aggression. The terms of that answer appeared to imply a certain doubt or confusion in the mind of his noble Friend with regard to the supposed right of the American Government to arrest any ship, to open any mail-bags, or to take from them treasonable correspondence which they might contain. He spoke under the correction of noble and learned Lords present, when he ventured to say that no amount of treasonable correspondence within those bags, once they were sealed with the broad seal of England, would warrant the officers of any foreign Power in stopping the vessels which conveyed those bags, in breaking the seals, and in taking from them the letters which were therein. Why, in the letter which had been read from Mr. Seward he distinctly disclaimed any such right, and said it should not be exercised. But, according to the inference which might be drawn from the answer of his noble Friend, it was obvious that a ship passing from Dover to Calais, and happening to have treasonable correspondence on board, would be just as liable to capture by American cruisers as vessels sailing between Nassau and Matamoras, Nassau and Liverpool, or any other neutral ports. He hoped his noble Friend would be able to explain the unsatisfactory impression which had been created by his words.


I did not for a moment suppose that a naval officer of the United States would have a right to open these mail-bags. But as the members of the deputation said such a thing might happen, however contrary to law and justice, I thought it was my duty to relieve them from a fear of that possible contingency. Mr. Seward had, in fact, admitted, as my noble Friend has said, that such a proceeding would not be regular, and has given orders to stop it.


But the admission made by the Foreign Secretary that there is reason to suppose the United States officers might commit an illegal act—an admission which is involved in their relieving these vessels from the necessity of carrying the mail-bags—does imply a sort of contemplation on their part of the probability of that illegal act, without any accompanying declaration that such an act, if attempted, must call for the intervention and very serious notice of Her Majesty's Government. I think the noble Earl was quite right in refusing to put a mail agent on board vessels carrying mail bags, because he could not appoint one to a particular ship without likewise sending out agents in all the others, or without exposing those which had not an agent on board to still greater risks than they at present incur. But I think he was to blame in admitting as a ground of exemption from the duty of carrying the mail-bags, and that a practical and serious injury was done to British commerce in admitting, that there was a risk of officers of the American Government so misconducting themselves as to take these vessels, and to break open the mail-bags on board. I think he ought to have held this language — that shipowners are bound to carry the mails, and that we are bound to protect our commerce in the instance of those vessels. Of this I am quite sure—that if those vessels had been captured, whatever might be the result of the investigation, this country would never have submitted quietly to acts affording so serious a ground for complaint against the American Government.


No doubt there would be a serious ground of complaint, and I will not suppose that the United States Government would sanction any such proceeding on the part of their officers. But we have seen, both in the case of the Tuscarora and in that which happened the other day, that naval officers have acted in entire contravention of Mr. Seward's instructions; and therefore I certainly did suppose it possible that some United States officer might in this respect likewise violate the general rules and directions of the American Secretary of State. No doubt, we might have insisted on the shipowners taking the mail-bags and exposing themselves to the risk; but I think it would have been very harsh to put in force against gentlemen who made these representations to us the compulsory powers as regards the carriage of mails which the law places in the bands of the Government.


The noble Earl says he does not mean to contend that the United Slates Government would have sanctioned such a proceeding, but he does think it possible that without the sanction of that Government some indiscreet officer might adopt this unwarrantable course. Evidently the danger which was apprehended from the breaking open the mail-bags was that letters would be discovered leading to the condemnation of the vessel. [Earl RUSSELL: I did not say the condemnation.] Well, if not exposed lo condemnation, what was the injury done by having the letter-bags on board? If the vessel was subjected to no greater inconvenience from carrying the letter-bags than she would have been if she carried no mails at all, I do not see what was the ground for exempting her from liability to perform this duty. But I understand the case to be argued on the ground of the risk which it is supposed would be incurred if an officer of the United States navy by an illegal act obtained possession of traitorous correspondence on board a British ship. Does the noble Lord mean to admit, that if such a course were pursued, this country would recognise the right of the United States to condemn the vessel on evidence so procured, which could not be legally brought into court? Would he not be bound to protest against the use of information acquired in such a manner, as well us against the original act of illegality itself?


There can he no doubt that we should have a very good ground of complaint, and that we should have a right to redress, which, no doubt, would be afforded. Still, I think it would be a very serious injury to the owners of a vessel to insist on a course which would expose her to the danger of her being taken first to Key West, and afterwards to some other port, possibly to Boston or New York.


My Lords, I think it is greatly to be regretted that my noble Friend, in stating the course he meant to I pursue, did not explain himself more clearly to the parties concerned. The noble Earl should have said, "If you carry these bags, you will incur no danger, because, if, they are opened, the officer who opens them will commit an offence against this country, which we shall be bound to notice, and to obtain for you ample pecuniary compensation for any damage or loss which yon may sustain." It further appears to me, that the parties interested in these vessels might very fairly and reasonably desire to carry these letter-bags; because, if I am not mistaken, by shipping mails to a neutral port they come under a contract with the British Government to go to that port. They are bound to deliver the bags which they receive from the British Post Office at the neutral port to which they are consigned, and I presume, that if they failed to do so, they would incur the penalties attaching to a breach of contract with Her Majesty's Post Office. It might, therefore, be of importance to them to have the bags on board, as affording presumptive evidence that they were bound to Matamoras, and not to one of the Confederate ports, and I do not think that it is just or reasonable that British owners who are trading to a really neutral port, and who, as long as their destination is that port, are at liberty to carry contraband of war—I do not see any reason why they should be deprived of any security which may be afforded to them by the presumption which might arise from the carrying of letters. The only fault I have to find with the Government, is that they omitted to explain this more fully to the merchants concerned. With regard to the other vessels, I cannot doubt that they will pursue a right course. Whatever ground there may be for fearing that the American Government will not act fairly by us, we are at present bound to assume that they will do so. Unless there is a denial of justice, we have no right to make a quarrel with them upon the subject. I hope and trust that the prize courts, before which the vessels are brought, will do their duty honestly and fairly; and if the facts are as alleged, will award proper pecuniary compensation to the owners of the vessels.


said, the noble Earl (Earl Grey) was under a misapprehension as to the obligation owners of vessels entered into when they carried letters. There was a threat distinction between an ordinary ship taking letters and a packet which took them under contract. In the former case there was no contract either expressed or implied between the captain or owner of the ship and the Post Office, the authorities of which had no means of controlling the voyage of the ship. There was nothing in the engagement to prevent such a ship deviating from her course—as, for instance, calling at a Confederate port before she went to Matamoras. It would therefore be no advantage to the owner of a ship to have letters on board. On the contrary, it was considered an onerous obligation, as was proved by the imposition of a penalty of £200, imposed by a recent Act, for a refusal to take letters. It was of this that the shipowners complained in their interview with his noble Friend. They said— It is hard that we should be liable to a penalty for not taking letters which may render us liable to condemnation or interference by American cruisers, because it is possible that ship letters may be written by friends of the Federals to compromise us and our interests. It was no answer to say that the American captain would be doing an illegal act if he opened the letters, because, although redress might ultimately be obtained from the Government at Washington, the ship would be subjected to great delay and loss, which might make shipowners unwilling to incur the risk, and induced them to ask to be released from the obligation. He did not see what remedy for the immediate inconvenience his noble Friend could have given them except to recommend that the right of the Post Office to put these letters on board all ships should not be insisted upon, and that they should, at their own request, be relieved from the obligation which, according to law, rested upon them.


rather thought that there was an expression in the speech of the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs which intimated that there might be a question as to whether a neutral vessel might not he lawfully captured, if the ultimate destination of goods conveyed to a neutral port after they had been landed was for a belligerent consumer, [Earl RUSSELL: No. nothing of the kind.] He was glad he had misunderstood Ins noble Friend on this point, but the particular point to which he wished to advert was the injury done to the public by being deprived of the opportunity of sending ship letters by any vessel that might he going to a friendly or neutral port The answer of the noble Earl to the deputation of shipowners should have been: —"We are not bound to estimate the disadvantage to British ships going into the neighbourhood of blockaded ports; but of this we can assure you—that the American Government has declared that it has issued instructions to its cruisers to respect the rule of international taw, that the seals of bags of foreign letters should not be opened; and further, if, notwithstanding these instructions, such bags were opened, and the correspondence found in them led to the condemnation, that—as the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) said—was a proceeding which this country would never submit to, and consequently any shipowner who incurred such a risk would have the support of the Government in seeking for redress." And he would add this—that whilst he concurred with the noble Earl the Secretary of State in thinking, as he was sure every Member of that House and every Member of Parliament would think, that these questions, so grave and delicate in their nature, should be conducted in the most calm and considerate spirit; yet, on the other hand, he must express his conviction that such was the temper of the people of the United States that it was absolutely necessary that this country, while acting in a calm, should also act in a firm spirit. Their Lordships might rely upon it that the only way to preserve peace in these dangerous complications was by not bating one jot or tittle of our rights, while we carefully respected the rights of others.


Both my noble Friends the noble Baron (Lord Wodehouse) and the noble Earl (Earl Grey) have stated, though in somewhat different terms, the answer which my noble Friend ought to have given to the merchants who waited upon him with reference, to this matter. The impression upon my mind is that it was prudent of him to have given neither of those answers, it would have been taking a great deal upon himself to have insured the owners and guaranteed them against any possible loss. We know that when a vessel is seized and taken before a prize court, and the court, in compliance with international law, afterwards releases the vessel and awards damages to the owners, the compensation which is made never covers the whole amount of loss and damage which is sustained by her owners; and if my noble Friend had given the assurances which have been mentioned, he might have been understood as assuming a responsibility to secure something more than this Compensation. Nor do I think that it would have been wise for him to have made a grandiloquent speech promising that these merchants and shipowners should be protected against outrages committed upon them in breach of international law. I trust that such assurances are superfluous. I think that there is no defect in the course which the Government have taken, or are prepared to take, which shows that they are not ready in every case in which the honour or the interests of the country are concerned to net with all duo regard to the observances of international law with equal firmness and calmness.


asked, whether the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary admitted that the United States Government had a right to interfere with the mail-bags? His observations seemed to go that effect.


was understood to say, that he had not said that.