§ LORD REDESDALE
said, their Lordships would no doubt recollect that last evening he put a question to the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office with reference to an expression as to the claim of the United States over foreign mail-bags, which he thought the noble Earl had misunderstood. On looking over the reports contained in the papers that morning, he found that the extract from Mr. Seward's note of August 8, 1862, which the noble Earl had referred to, was in these words—And, finally, that official seals, or locks, or fastenings, or foreign authorities are in no case, nor on any pretext, to be broken, or parcels covered by them read by any naval authorities of 654 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.He understood the noble Earl to express himself satisfied with that statement from Mr. Seward. He confessed that on reading that statement it appeared to him that it required the Consul, or whoever the authority might be who received the bags, to open them and to see whether any correspondence was to be found in them disclosing the character of the captured vessel. That seemed a demand on the part of the United States, or of any Government, which could scarcely be justly or properly supported. At all events, he wished to know, Whether it was the opinion of the noble Earl and of the Law Advisers of the Crown—whose opinion no doubt had been taken—that the United States authorities were justified in demanding, that when their vessels took a ship, the sealed mail-bags found in her were to be delivered up for search, to see whether they contained any correspondence throwing light upon the character of the captured vessel?
§ EARL RUSSELL
was understood to say, that the directions referred to came, in his opinion, within the terms of the decisions of Lord Stowell in relation to this question, and that the authorities of the United States had a right to require that any letters or papers found on board a captured vessel should be examined in order to see whether there was anything which would be evidence to condemn the vessel as prize.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
wished to ask the noble Earl whether this was really the doctrine to which he gave his assent—that when a vessel was taken on suspicion, the scaled mail-bags which she carried were to be handed over to the British Consul, and that the British Consul was to undertake the duty of opening them and of searching through the correspondence, for the purpose of procuring evidence for the service of the United States Government, and handing the evidence so pro- 655 cured to the United States Prize Court. He wished to know whether that was a doctrine to which the noble Earl assented on the part of Her Majesty's Government. He confessed he had heard with surprise the noble Earl apparently acquiesce in the doctrine laid down by the United States Government, and he should certainly hear with much more surprise that Her Majesty's Government gave their adhesion to such a doctrine.
THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE
said, that this question seemed to him of such great importance, and had been so little considered, that he thought the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary should take time to consider the matter before giving an answer. He would suggest that the noble Earl should give an answer on Monday next. He had not had an opportunity of referring to the best authorities on international law on the subject; but though there might be nothing in reference to this point in the older authorities, yet, possibly, in later authorities some dictum or opinion had been laid down which might, perhaps, be allowed to guide the usage. The question had an importance in its hearing at the present time very different, from that which it possessed when former judgments were delivered. He should like to know on what grounds any British Consul had a right to open any letter. He did not believe the British Consul had any such right whatever. The point was one which must be decided before long, and the course taken by the Government might very likely rule the practice in regard to it for a very long time. It was for this reason that he thought that the subject should be considered very gravely; and unless the noble Earl was prepared to distinctly deliver the judgment of the Government, and to state the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown on the matter, he recommended the noble Earl to take the question into consideration before he gave an answer.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
inquired whether the Government had received intelligence confirming the statement which appeared in that evening's papers, that four more British vessels had been seized by the Americans?
§ EARL RUSSELL
was understood to say that the Government had not received such information; but what was certain was, that for many months English vessels had been running the blockade, and a great boast had been made that some had been 656 successful in so doing, although others had not been successful, but had been captured in the act.
THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE
hoped the noble Earl would answer the Question just put to him by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees.
§ EARL RUSSELL
said, what had happened was this:—Mr. Seward, in order to satisfy Lord Lyons, had given him a copy of the letter which he had written to the Secretary of the Navy, in which the passage quoted by him (Earl Russell) yesterday occurred. The Law Officers were fully aware of that letter. That letter had been before Parliament for some time; but if it would be more satisfactory to noble Lords, he would ask the Law Officers as to their opinion upon the point in reference to the law of nations.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
wished to know how a British Consul was to ascertain the character of the letters found in captured mail bags? Was he to judge by the superscription, or was he to open them?
§ EARL RUSSELL
should say, that if, upon opening the mail-bag, he found a letter addressed to the Secretary of State of the Confederate States, it should be forwarded to the Prize Court.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
said, he regretted to find, from the answers elicited from the noble Earl, that British Consuls were to be employed as engines of attack upon Her Majesty's subjects, and that the United States Government would have it in their power to say that they condemned vessels on the showing of the British Consul. That was a position very painful and unfair to place a British Consul in, and one which was alike unjust to this country and to the merchant service. If the United States Government had any charge to make against any of our ships, let them bring their charge upon their own grounds, and not compel a British Consul to be their instrument in condemning any of such vessels. After all, the point was not new. This country had been a neutral in wars before. What he wanted to see was an impression made upon the United or rather dis-United States that our Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was not disposed to hesitate a moment upon the matter, but was prepared to take a straightforward 657 English course. It appeared that the conduct of the officers of the American service was very likely to bring about a collision. The best way to prevent that was to show that we were most resolutely determined to support the honour of the country. If we deviated from that position, the Americana would be too ready to attribute our vacillation to a sense of fear. He did not wish to use hard words, but the taste of the Americans led them to suppose that we were afraid, and that we would submit to any indignity rather than have recourse to hostilities. He should like to see the Foreign Secretary rise in his place and say at once that such a proceeding as that referred to was contrary to all law and precedent, and upon no pretence whatever should any of our Consuls be placed in such a position.
§ LORD TAUNTON
said, he could not join in censuring the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in being cautious in such affairs as were now the subject of discussion. When he reflected on the grave consequences that might result, it was impossible for the noble Earl to exercise too much care in every step that was taken. He concurred with the noble Earl who last spoke in the opinion that it was by a firm and distinct resistance to anything like aggression on the part of the Americans that peace could best be preserved; and were he to suspect any hesitation on the part of the Government in adopting such a course, he should be ready to join in any censure of them. He was, however, so far from blaming them for the line they had pursued, that he had observed with satisfaction the careful and cautious course that the noble Earl had adopted in this grave matter. A war between this country and America was no light affair; but if it must be encountered in defence of the vital interests or the honour of this country, then no one would wish to shrink from it. But he trusted their Lord ships would not permit the difficulties of the case to be aggravated by passion, and that they would not embarrass the Government by pressing inconsiderate questions.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
rose to remind their Lordships that the letter of Mr. Seward was dated the 8th of August, and consequently it had been six months before the Government. He wished to know whether the noble Earl had admitted the principle assumed by Mr. Seward, or whether he had repudiated it?
§ EARL RUSSELL
said, he had not ex- 658 pressed any opinion with regard to the order which the American Secretary of State had given to the Secretary of the Navy. There was a modified order given subsequently. With regard to this particular question he thought it would be better if he stated on a future day—say Monday—what was the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown upon this subject. In the mean time he should suggest that noble Lords should make inquiries as to the decisions of Lord Stowell with regard to papers and despatches carried by neutral ships.