§ THE EARL OF DERBY
, who had given notice ''to call attention to the published Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and Mr. Laird as to the Steam Rams, "said: My Lords, early in the present Session, I asked the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary, Whether he would lay on the table a Correspondence which had taken place between her Majesty's Government and that of the United States —perhaps I might borrow the noble Earl's own phraseology, and say the "so-styled United States,"—in regard to various matters of deep interest, and, among others, the construction of Steam Rams in the Mersey, alleged to be intended for the Confederate States? The noble Earl informed me that there were objections to producing that Correspondence, inasmuch as it might prejudice a legal question that would shortly come on for decision. I yielded, I must confess, rather to the authority of the noble Earl's position than to his arguments. Soon after, however, a 1863 Motion being made for the production of the same papers in the House of Commons, they were granted without hesitation by Her Majesty's Government. I then called on the noble Earl to explain the apparent diversity of opinion between himself and his colleagues on the subject of this Correspondence; and I was told that the objection for giving the papers was not his, but the Attorney General's; and that the Attorney General had since seen that his first impression was erroneous, and that mischief at least would not be done to the extent he had apprehended from the production of the papers. Now I beg to enter my protest against that doctrine altogether. We have here nothing to do with the Attorney General. Those who are responsible for the production or withholding of documents connected with the public service are not the Law Officers, whom, however, it is quite right that the Government should consult, but the Ministers of the Crown themselves. It is by no means a satisfactory answer to us, that the Attorney General has changed his mind on a point which rests within the discretion of the Government and not of the Attorney General. Shortly afterwards a Motion was made in the House of Commons for the production of another Correspondence—that between the Government and Messrs. Laird on the subject of the Steam Rams. The question was argued very ably in the House of Commons, and was finally rejected by a majority not very large, but perhaps as large as Her Majesty's Government usually deem sufficient—a majority of twenty-five. The refusal of the papers was based on the ground that their production would be prejudicial to the public service. As in the former case the first class of papers had been laid before Congress, and therefore was open to the examination of any one; so in the second case the whole of the papers are in the possession of one of the parties, by whom they have been published. I hold the Correspondence in my hand. I can assure your Lordships it is quite genuine; it is neither intercepted nor forged; it is entire, and has not been garbled or mutilated. It is the whole Correspondence between the two parties; consequently, if I now move for the formal production of that Correspondence, I must confess that the answer which the noble Earl may give is a matter of comparative indifference, because I make my Motion for the purpose of commenting on the papers as I go on, having them in my 1864 hand, and being able to compare them with the documents laid on the table of the House, by which a very considerable amount of light is thrown upon what hitherto has been a very partial disclosure of facts.
I am afraid, my Lords, in bringing this Question before you, that it will be necessary to trespass on your patience for a considerable time, and that I shall have to do that which I know is most distasteful to your Lordships—to call your attention to a number of quotations from the printed documents. I beg your Lordships' attention to what I consider of no less importance — the several dates to which I shall refer as illustrating this Correspondence. At the outset I must express the conviction, in which I believe I am not at all singular, that this Correspondence discloses, on the part of the Messrs. Laird, the most unlimited frankness and openness, the most complete desire to meet the reasonable and even the unreasonable demands of the Government, a perfect alacrity to satisfy the Government on every point on which they are asked to give an explanation, an entire absence of all concealment, and a very ready, if not cheerful, submission to consequences which they must have felt to be very hard. On the other hand, I have come to the painful conclusion that, on the part of the Government, the Correspondence has been of a character most unusual, most vexatious, most arbitrary, and I will even go the length to say illegal. Who are the gentlemen with whom the Correspondence has been carried on? They are young men now conducting one of the most extensive shipbuilding establishments in the country—a firm of the highest possible reputation, and personally of unimpeachable integrity and character. As to their works, I may mention that at this moment they are engaged in building for Her Majesty's service a most powerful iron-plated steam frigate. The father of these young men for many years conducted the same business, and during that time constructed numerous vessels for our own and other Governments. Unfortunately for him, perhaps, he entertained strong Conservative opinions. Perhaps more unfortunately still, it was his desire to have an opportunity of giving effect to those opinions by obtaining a seat in Parliament; and most unfortunate of all, having, for the purpose of entering Parliament, transferred his business to his sons in order to divest himself from any objection of being 1865 a "contractor." Such was the respect and esteem in which he was held by his neighbours that he was elected the first representative of the newly-constituted and important borough of Birkenhead, in opposition to a gentleman of great local influence, and a strong supporter of Her Majesty's Government. These are the gentlemen with whom and against whom this Correspondence has been carried on.
My Lords, it is not necessary for me to call attention to any document in the Correspondence earlier than the 1st of September, except to point out that, as far back as the 7th of August, the United States Consul at Liverpool informed Mr. Adams that one of the rams had her masts up, her boilers and machinery in, and might be got ready for sea in a week's time. On the 3rd of September the same Consul wrote to Mr. Adams that the ram was taking coal on board, and that she might go to sea at any time, if not detained. Mr. Adams, of course, accepted the report of his Consul, and made various representations on the subject to the noble Earl opposite, on the 11th, 16th, and 25th of July, and again on the 14th of August. To none of these does the noble Earl appear to have given any answer till the 1st of September. During the whole of that interval he was carefully, elaborately investigating the matter, and endeavouring to ascertain whether there was a scrap of evidence which would justify him in detaining the vessel. On the 1st September the noble Earl then came to the following conclusions:—Whatever suspicion may be entertained by the United States Consul at Liverpool as to the ultimate destination of these vessels, the fact remains that M. Bravay, a French merchant residing at Paris, who is represented to be the person upon whose orders these ships have been built, has personally appeared, and has acted in that character at Liverpool. There is no legal evidence against M. Bravay's claim, nor anything to affect him with any illegal act or purpose; and the responsible agent of the Customs at Liverpool affirms his belief that these vessels have not been built for the Confederates. Under these circumstances, and having regard to the entire insufficiency of the depositions to prove any infraction of the law. Her Majesty's Government are advised that they cannot interfere in any way with these vessels… But I am sure you will be disposed, in justice to Her Majesty's Government, to admit that in the absence of all evidence, upon mere hearsay, surmise, conversation, and conjecture, Her Majesty's Government could not properly direct a prosecution or action under the Foreign Enlistment Act. A court of justice would never condemn in the absence of evidence, and the Government would be justly blamed for acting in 1866 defiance of the principles of law and justice long recognized and established in this country.Mr. Adams on the 3rd of September wrote a more pressing letter, which appears not to hare reached the Foreign Office till the 4th. On the 4th of September, the noble Earl informed Mr. Adams that these matters were under the consideration of the Government. Some discussion has already taken place as to the time when the directions were issued, and how far they were or not to be attributed to the representations, couched in strong language, of Mr. Adams; and I can only account for the singular involution of dates about this period by imagining that the noble Earl about that time assumed a sort of double character, and that his mythical and epistolatory form was in Downing Street, but that his physical and bodily part was, during the whole of September, in Scotland, where he was delighting and astonishing the world in general, and, not the least, his own political supporters, by making some astonishing revelations respecting the foreign and domestic policy of the Government to the inhabitants of Dundee and Blairgowrie. I do not trace the noble Earl's precise migration, but that lie was present in Scotland previous to the 9th is clear, because on that day he harangued the people of Dundee; and that he had not departed on the 26th is clear, for on that day he was displaying his oratorical powers to the admiration of an audience at Blairgowrie. But during the month of September he seems to have been in bodily presence in Scotland, and carrying on a correspondence by proxy from Downing Street, which may certainly account for some little confusion of dates. The noble Earl must I think, however, have been misunderstood — certainly he was understood—to have stated that the letters of Mr. Adams could have had no influence upon him, because the decision to detain the vessels was taken so early as September 3, while Mr. Adams only wrote on the 3rd, his letter being received on the 4th, and the subsequent and stronger letter was only received on the 5th. I think that must be a mistake, because I find it mentioned in the Correspondence—That the determination to detain the rams was not come to until September 5, on which day the second letter of Mr. Adams was written.That is not a point of much importance, because I will admit to the noble Earl that in all probability the last letter had no influence upon the determination of the 1867 Government. But on the 5th September there is a letter from Mr. Layard, M.P., to Mr. Stewart —We have given orders to-day to the Commissioner of Customs at Liverpool to prevent the two iron-clads leaving the Mersey. These orders had scarcely been sent when we received the note from Mr. Adams, of which I send you a copy. Mr. Adams is not yet aware that orders have been given to stop the vessels; you may inform Mr. Seward confidentially of the fact.This seems a most extraordinary conclusion; though the decision was come to on the 5th of September, no communication of it appears to have been made to Mr. Adams, to whom it was most important to have the earliest information, until the 8th, though his Government was confidentially informed by a despatch on the 5th that that decision had been come to. I think it unfortunate that that delay should have taken place, because if a communication of it had been made to Mr. Adams on the 5th, it might have induced him very considerably to modify the language of the despatch which on that day he addressed to Her Majesty's Government. Now comes a matter which appears to me still more extraordinary. On the 8th Mr. Adams has a communication addressed to him from Her Majesty's Government, stating that the iron-clads would not be allowed to leave Liverpool. On the 9th he acknowledges the receipt of that communication, and states the pleasure he shall feel in transmitting a copy for the information of his Government. One would have thought that the matter was closed there; or at all events that, by private communications, any further unpleasant correspondence might have been rendered unnecessary; but the noble Earl's epistolary penchant was too strong for him, and although the matter was settled to the entire satisfaction of Mr. Adams, he cannot resist the opportunity of entering into a critical discussion on the 11th of the despatch dated on the 5th. This correspondence leads to a rejoinder, this rejoinder leads to a further answer, after which a correspondence of considerable warmth seems to have taken place, which was not concluded till October. Now, I think Mr. Adams was hardly dealt with in not having had the communication of the determination of the Government made to him earlier. But there is another party who were still more hardly dealt with—the Messrs. Laird—who had no information given them of the determination to detain the vessels until the letter dated the 9th; and meantime a correspondence had been 1868 going on, the Messrs. Laird being in utter ignorance of the facts of the case. I cannot but confess the hope that the noble Earl will inform us what were the circumstances which so materially influenced the views of the Government. I can only say that it is a most unfortunate circumstance that, having waited patiently for six weeks, and having determined that there was no ground for proceeding against the builders of those vessels, they should, forty-eight hours afterwards, have received such a flood of information as to justify them in coming to such a contrary conclusion. I assume, of course, that they did receive such information; but it is an unfortunate coincidence that they did not receive it rather sooner, or that they did not communicate it at once. It appears from the Correspondence that on September 4 Messrs. Laird wrote to Mr. Price Edwards, the Collector of Customs at Liverpool —As the many rumours afloat in respect to the two iron steam rams built by us, and now lying in our dock, have induced frequent and unusual visits of Mr. Morgan, the Surveyor of Customs, to our works, we are desirous of saving you any further unnecessary trouble about these vessels by giving you our promise that they shall not leave the port without your having a week's notice of our intention to deliver them over to the owners, and we shall inform the owners of this engagement on our part. We may add that the first vessel will not be ready for a mouth, and the second for six or seven weeks from this date.In the meantime the Collector of Customs thanks Messrs. Laird for the communication, which, he feels certain, will be highly satisfactory to the Board of Customs. And I here take the opportunity of saying that throughout the whole of this Correspondence all those who had to deal with these gentlemen—the authorities of the Customs, Captain Inglefield, Admiral Dacres—one and all express in the strongest language their entire and absolute reliance on the good faith of the Messrs. Laird. Messrs. Laird, against whom no suspicion of bad faith can be entertained, on the 4th of September promise to give a week's notice of their intention to deliver the two iron steam rams to the owners. But on September 4 the noble Earl, well aware that these vessels are the property of the shipbuilder, writes to say that he has beenLed to understand that you have intimated, that while you were not in a position to volunteer information respecting the iron-clad vessels, lately launched and now being fitted out at your yard, you would readily furnish information upon an official application, in writing, being made to you for it. Under these circumstances, Lord Russell 1869 has instructed me to request you to inform him, with as little delay as possible, on whose account, and with what destination these vessels have been built.On September 1st, the noble Earl had told the American Minister that he had sufficient information. Why, then, should he ask for further information on the 4th? Messrs. Laird were not inclined to with hold anything; the character of the vessels was known, and hundreds of people had had the opportunity of inspecting them. On the 5th of September, Messrs. Laird, in reply to the communication from the Foreign Office, wrote —That, although it is not usual for shipbuilders to declare the names of parties for whom they are building vessels until the vessels are completed and the owners have taken possession, yet, in this particular case, in consequence of the many rumours afloat, coupled with the repeated visits of Mr. Morgan, the Surveyor of Customs, to our works, we thought it right to ask permission of the parties on whose account we are building the vessels to give their names to the English Government, in the event of such information being asked for officially in writing. They at once granted us the permission we sought for. We therefore beg to inform you that the firm on whose account we are building the vessels is A. Bravay and Co., and that their address is No. 6. Rue de Londres, Paris, and that our engagement is to deliver the vessels to them in the port of Liverpool when they are completed according to our contract. The time in which we expect to have the first vessel so completed is not less than one month from this date, and the second not less than six or seven weeks from this date.Now, my Lords, when I read this Correspondence it occurred to me that possibly it, might be said that the arrangement to deliver the vessels in the port of Liverpool might appear a questionable matter, and I asked whether that was the usual arrangement? I was informed by Mr. Laird, the father of the Messrs. Laird, that he had; built fifty vessels for the English, Indian, and foreign Governments, and that invariably his contract was, unless when a different stipulation was expressly made, to deliver the vessels in the port of Liverpool. Therefore, there was nothing unusual in that form of contract. Not satisfied with having received that information from Messrs. Laird, Her Majesty's Government directed Mr. Hoares, the naval attaché to the Embassy at Paris, to wait on M. Bravay. He did so accordingly and they showed him the whole of the documents connected with the transaction, and allowed him to inspect the books and examine the papers. The naval attaché expressed himself perfectly satisfied with 1870 the bonâ fide ownership of the vessels by M. Bravay, and so reported to Her Majesty's Government. So satisfied were Her Majesty's Government on this point that, at the close of the month of November, they directed the attaché to treat with M. Bravay for the purchase of the vessels. In this state matters remained, except that on the 8th of September Messrs. Laird wrote to the Collector of Customs at Liverpool, stating—We think it right to inform you that it is our intention to take one of the iron-clads—the El Tousson—from our graving dock for a trial trip on Monday next, within the usual limits of such trial trips; and you may rely on our bringing the vessel into the Birkenhead float when the trial is finished, it being our intention to complete the vessel in the Birkenhead float. This trial is necessary to test the machinery and other parts, but will not alter the time previously stated for the completion of the vessel.This was at a time when Her Majesty's Government had already come to the conclusion to seize the vessels, and before Messrs. Laird were aware of that determination, Messrs. Laird received the information on the following day, that the Collector of Customs at Liverpool could not allow the trial trip to take place without the leave of Her Majesty's Government. That was on the 11th; but on the 17th the Collector of Customs at Liverpool received a communication for Messrs. Laird conveying the sanction of Her Majesty's Government for the trial trip in these words—The Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury will allow the trial trip to be made by the vessel referred to in your letter of the 18th inst., relying upon the honourable engagement which has been given by you that the ship shall, after the usual trial trip, be brought back again to Liverpool, and shall not leave that port without a week's notice to Her Majesty's Government of the intention to send her away.But, in the meantime, a letter had been already received by Messrs. Laird from the Secretary to the Treasury informing them that—The two iron-clad steamers now in course of completion in your dock at Birkenhead are not to be permitted to leave the Mersey until satisfactory evidence can be given of their destination, or at least until the inquiries which are now being prosecuted with a view to obtain such evidence shall have been brought to a conclusion.My Lords, I must pause here for a single moment, becase I consider this a matter of the greatest possible importance. I hold —and I think it cannot be denied—that no one in this House, whether lawyer or layman, can maintain that the instruction 1871 to detain the vessels in the Mersey until Her Majesty's Government should obtain satisfactory evidence of their intended destination, or until the inquiries which were being prosecuted to obtain such evidence should be brought to a conclusion, was not a proceeding utterly unwarranted by law, and one for which there was not the slightest justification. I could understand the seizure of those vessels with sufficient evidence of whatever cause assigned, whether or not under a charge of having violated the Foreign Enlistment Act, because such a seizure would involve the necessity of ultimately coming to trial, and would give the parties accused an opportunity of coming forward to vindicate their conduct; but detention until such time as Her Majesty's Government were satisfied of the guilt or innocence of the owners appears to me inconsistent with the first principles of English law and justice. You are not to call upon a person to prove his innocence; you are to prove his guilt, and not throw upon the defence the onus of showing that he was not engaged in anything illegal. What was the natural reply of the Messrs. Laird? It was, in effect, this: — "We have given you the name of the owner, and forwarded a copy of your letter to Messrs. Bravay. As to what Messrs. Bravay are going to do with the vessels when they have received them it is not for us to inquire." I submit that was a very proper answer; but to say that you will detain the vessels in the Mersey until you have made inquiries, no matter what time it may take you, whether nine, ten, or twelve months — in fact, nobody knows how long—is to my mind a proceeding not consonant with law or justice. And the Attorney General was obliged to admit that that was a course taken upon the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, for the purpose of preventing and anticipating an evasion of the law. "Well, then," said my hon. and learned Friend Sir Hugh Cairns, "the answer on the part of Her Majesty's Government is, "We have violated the law for the purpose of vindicating the law.'" It is impossible to put the matter more tersely and more distinctly, and I venture to say that no lawyer in this House will take upon himself to say that Her Majesty's Government were justified in detaining the vessels without cause shown and for an indefinite period. Well, on the 17th of September, as I have already said, permission was given to go on the trial trip, which hardly 1872 extended beyond the limits of the port of Liverpool, and was not outside the light ship at the mouth of the harbour; but if Messrs. Laird had any sinister intention they would have had no difficulty in going out, with the full permission of Her Majesty's Government, and evading the law. But a change came over the spirit of the dream of the noble Earl very rapidly, almost as rapidly as the sudden influx of evidence which took place between the 1st and 3rd of September; for on the 19th, two days after the sanction for the trial trip had been received, the Messrs. Laird were informed by the Secretary to the Treasury as follows:—I am now commanded by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to inform you, that since that permission was given circumstances have come to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government which give rise to apprehension that an attempt may he made to seize the vessel in question while on her trial trip. I am to state to you explicitly that Her Majesty's Government are convinced that it is your intention, as far as it is in your power, to fulfil honourably the engagement into which you have entered; and that if any such attempt were made, it would be entirely without the privity of your firm, in whose good faith they place perfect confidence. Inasmuch, however, as such an occurrence, in whatever method it may be brought about, would be contrary to the determination expressed by Her Majesty's Government that the iron-clad vessels should be prevented leaving the port of Liverpool until satisfactory evidence may be given as to their destination, I am to state to you that this Board feel it their duty to apprize you that they cannot permit the trial trip except under provision against any forcible abduction of the vessels.Was that forcible abduction to take place by a sudden rising of any portion of the crew who were to be put on board by Messrs. Laird, by their own hands, men who had been in their employ for years; or was it to be effected by any other vessels at the mouth of the Mersey making an attack upon this powerful ram, seizing her and carrying her off to sea? And what was the time selected for such an attempt? It was the time of all others, when the whole Channel Fleet was in the Mersey; when an unusually large population was crowding the river, who must have been witnesses, and could not be passive witnesses of any such attempt. I happen to recollect the fact, because I had on Saturday, the 19th, the pleasure of receiving at Knowsley most of the officers of the squadron, and Admiral Dacres was to do me the honour of remaining with me over the Sunday, in the hope of spending a quiet day. But he was lamentably dis- 1873 appointed; for over came a messenger, post haste, to say that there was not a moment to lose, for that he was charged by Her Majesty's Government to take measures for preventing the escape of the steam rams. The gallant Admiral went over to Liverpool, and the first persons he called on were the Messrs. Laird, who acted towards him with the greatest possible openness and candour. I will not say what were the expressions of the gallant Admiral upon his return to Knowsley; but it occurred to me then, and it occurs to me now, that the gallant Admiral was sent on a fool's errand. But did the Messrs. Laird make any remonstrance? Not at all. On the 21st of September the Messrs. Laird wrote to the Government—We have the honour to reply to your letter of the 19th inst. (received and acknowledged yesterday), informing us that circumstances have come to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government, giving rise to an apprehension that an attempt may be made to seize our iron-clad steam vessel on her trial trip, and stating that authority had been given to Admiral Dacres to place, with our concurrence, a sufficient force of seamen and marines on board her to defeat any such attempt. We are not ourselves aware of any circumstance to induce us to entertain any such apprehension, but we beg to thank Her Majesty's Government, for the protection thus placed at our disposal, of which we shall gladly avail ourselves. Owing, however, to what you have brought under our notice, and the incomplete state of the vessel, and also the present crowded state of the river Mersey, it will be desirable to defer the trial trip for some days; and, in the meantime, we trust that Her Majesty's Government will be able to obtain further information as to any project that may exist to deprive us of our property.We see now the conditions upon which, on the 21st of September, Her Majesty's Government were prepared to allow the trial trip; and they were prepared to allow it so late as the 24th of September, because the Government then informed Mr. Adams that they had given permission under those, engagements and with those precautions which have been described to make the trial trip. I hope your Lordships will bear these dates in mind, as they throw light upon the grounds upon which Her Majesty's Government took the very extraordinary steps of which I complain. On the 7th of October a further communication was made to Messrs. Laird in these terms—Referring to your ready acceptance of the offer of Her Majesty's Government to prevent any attempt at the forcible abduction of your property, the iron-clad vessel now nearly completed 1874 at Birkenhead, and understanding that the trial trip which has been the subject of former correspondence has been abandoned, I am directed by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to acquaint you that, from information which has been received, it has become necessary to take additional means for preventing any such attempt.On what grounds it is assumed that the trial trip was abandoned I do not know. It is because it was stated by the Messrs. Laird that it was desirable to postpone it until Her Majesty's Government should obtain further information as to the dangerous plot against their property? But what were the additional means for guarding against these supposed enemies—these anonymous depredators?Their Lordships have therefore given instructions that a Custom House officer should be placed on board that vessel, with full authority to seize her on behalf of the Crown, in the event of any attempt being made to remove her from the float or dock where she is at present, unless under further directions from their Lordships; and likewise to obtain from the officer in command of Her Majesty's ship Majestic any protection which may become necessary to support him in the execution of this duty. My Lords request you to understand that these precautions arc taken, not from any distrust of your intention to fulfil your engagement of giving a week's notice before the removal of the vessel, nor with the view of interfering in any way with your workmen in the completion of her, but exclusively for the purpose of preventing an attempt which may be made by other parties to nullify your engagement.Still no objection on the part of Messrs. Laird, for they say in reply—We have given the necessary order for admission to the vessel (called by us the El Tousson) to Mr. Morgan, the Surveyor of Customs.Well, Mr. Morgan thanks the Messrs. Laird, and acknowledges their frankness and openness throughout the whole business. And now what was the position of this injured vessel at this time? It was lying in the Great Float of Birkenhead, under the protection of the dock authorities, the police, among a number of other vessels; it could not be removed without forcing open the entrance gates of the dock, a measure not easy at any time, and only possible at certain times of the tides, and consequently the attack must be very summary—a coup de main, in fact—by which the Custom House officers, the authorities of the dock, the harbour-masters, were to be suddenly overwhelmed by an inroad which should force open the docks, lay hold of the ship, carry her out to sea; and all that time the ship was incapable of moving because she had neither fuel on 1875 board nor her steam up. That was the danger apprehended, and against which it was thought the placing of a Custom House officer on board was an effectual provision. My Lords, the Custom House officer might seize the vessel; but if the danger apprehended were a real one, he would stand a very good chance of being seized himself, and he would be very fortunate if he were allowed to go on shore. But if danger really existed, there were very simple precautions that might have been taken, The authorities might have detached the screw, might have taken off the rudder, or might have displaced some portion of the machinery, so as to render it impossible for any force to have removed the vessel suddenly. Could anything be more ridiculous than the apprehension of the seizure of such a vessel in its incomplete state in the middle of the port of Liverpool? But this was not enough. On the 9th of October, Messrs. Laird wrote to the Treasury as follows:—We have received this day a letter from Mr. Morgan, the Surveyor of Customs, giving us notice that, by direction of the hon. Commissioners of Customs, he has this day seized the iron-clad vessel now lying in the Great Float at Birkenhead. Since the receipt of your letter of the 7th inst. no attempt has been made to remove the vessel from her moorings at the quay in the Great Float, and we are therefore at a loss to understand this apparent deviation from the decision of their Lordships, as expressed in their letter of the 7th, above referred to. But we consider this has been done not with any distrust of our intentions to fulfil our engagement of giving a week's notice of our intention to remove the vessel, nor with the view of interfering in any way with the workmen in the completion of her, but exclusively for the purpose of preventing an attempt which may be made by other parties to nullify our engagement. Although we are not aware of any circumstances to induce us to entertain any apprehension of any attempt being made to deprive us of our property by force, we gladly avail ourselves of any protection Her Majesty's Government may think necessary for its security. The vessel is still far from being ready for sea, and the work has been so much retarded by the excessively wet weather, that it will be some weeks before she is finally completed.Not satisfied with what they had done, the Government, on the 9th of October, wrote to say—In consequence of information that has been received by Her Majesty's Government as to the probability of a forcible abduction of one or both of the iron-clad vessels in course of completion in the Float at Birkenhead, their Lordships have felt it their duty to order the seizure of both these vessels, and have issued the necessary directions to the Commissioners of Customs accordingly.The Messrs. Laird replied— 1876We have made the fullest inquiry, and have not been able to ascertain any circumstance to induce us to apprehend the probability of a forcible abduction of one or both of the iron-clad vessels in course of completion by us at Birkenhead—one, the El Tousson, in the Great Float, the public dock, and the other, the El Monassia, in our own dock, on our own premises. Both vessels are incomplete, and unfit for seagoing; the second vessel has not even got masts or funnel in, and both are in the sole charge of our own people. We believe, further, that if any such project as the forcible abduction of these vessels had ever been thought of, it could not successfully have been carried out in the port of Liverpool. Their Lordships have so often assured us that they are convinced that it is our intention, so far as in our power lies, to fulfil honourably the engagement which we have entered into with Her Majesty's Government, that we have deferred making any formal protest against the seizure of these vessels, or the arbitrary and extraordinary measures that have been carried out in placing an armed force in charge. We can only suppose that their Lordships have been induced to act as they have done by some information, which will be found, on further investigation, to have been entirely erroneous or greatly exaggerated, and that they will, on the termination of the inquiries they have set on foot to investigate the case, feel justified in removing the vexatious restrictions they have placed upon our property, which have already caused, and are still causing us an amount of loss and annoyance not easily estimated.What was the position of this second vessel? She was a mere hulk, without masts, funnel, or steering apparatus. She was lying, not in the floating dock, but in the private yard of the Messrs. Laird, which, was secured by a caisson that blocked up the entrance. This could only be removed so as to allow of the launching of the vessel within an hour or so of high water, and which could not be removed even then at low neap tides. The vessel, further, could not be floated out of the dock unless the sluices were opened, the keys of which were in Messrs. Lairds' own custody, or in that of their chief superintendent. This was the state of things up to October 9.
I will now ask your Lordships to bear. with me—although I feel I am detaining you at undue length—while I endeavour to connect by means of the Parliamentary papers the extraordinary steps taken by Her Majesty's Government on the 19th of September, and again on the 7th and 9th of March. Here is a despatch from Mr. Adams, dated the 24th of September, which will cast some light on the circumstances that threw the Government into this state of panic. Mr. Adams says—I am credibly informed that seventy or more of the men belonging to the insurgent vessel the Florida, formerly the Oreto, nearly all of them 1877 British subjects, have been sent over from Brest, and are now in Liverpool. They were provided with a letter to the person acting on behalf of the insurgents at Liverpool, a copy of which is herewith transmitted. I need not point out to your Lordship the fact, that the last sentence implies habitual action in direct violation of the law of the realm; such, indeed, as if committed by any agent of the United States, would be likely to attract the immediate notice of Her Majesty's Government. It corroborates all the evidence heretofore presented by me on the same subject, I have further reason to believe that under this sentence is intended a transfer of many of these men to one of the iron-clad war vessels now in preparation at Liverpool with intent to carry on war against the United States. It is known to me that the intention to despatch that vessel is not yet abandoned by the parties concerned in the enterprise.That letter was received on the 26th of September at the Foreign Office, but not by the noble Earl, who was then in Scotland, addressing the people of Blairgowrie, It was answered by the Foreign Office on the 30th of September, probably by the desire of the noble Earl, as follows: —I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 24th inst., calling my attention to the arrival at Liverpool of a large party of men belonging to the Confederate steamer Florida; and I have to acquaint you that I lost no time in communicating to the Secretary of State for the Home Department copies of your letter and of its enclosures. I have to add, however, that the attention of Her Majesty's Government had been, some days previously to the receipt of your letter, attracted by paragraphs in the public papers to the arrival of these men, and that inquiries were at once set on foot, and that the course which can be taken in regard to them is under the serious consideration of Her Majesty's Government.Now, some days before the 24th—that is to say, on the 19th of September—the Government retracted the permission they had given to Messrs. Laird on the 14th to make a trial trip, and which permission was received by the Messrs. Laird on the 17th of September. On the 25th of September, Mr. Adams was informed that per mission to make a trial trip had been given to Messrs. Laird. On the 26th, a letter was received from Mr. Adams, which I have read to your Lordships, announcing the arrival of the seventy men of the Florida, and the rumour that they had formed a plan for carrying off the iron-clad That letter was answered on the 30th of September, when the Government stated that their attention had been for some days attracted to the subject; and on the 7th of October, the further step was taken of seizing these vessels in the dock and works of Messrs. Laird. A comparison of 1878 these dates will show that there is some connection between the alarming information conveyed in Mr. Adams's letter and the steps taken against Messrs. Laird. I must admit that the alarm of the Government appears to have been genuine, because, when the Channel Fleet left Liverpool on the 24th or 25th, the Government thought the danger so great that they considered it necessary not only to leave the Majestic in the Mersey, but also the Liverpool and a gunboat, to watch this steam ram. And when it was proposed to withdraw the Liverpool, so serious was the danger and so imminent the probable catastrophe, that the Government, on the 23rd of October, despatched to Liverpool, in an incomplete state, one of the first ironclads in the service, which was within an ace of foundering in the Channel. That vessel, accordingly, did not reach the port of Liverpool, and did not contribute to the safety of that port. What were the facts in regard to these seventy men from the Florida, who were to carry away this vessel by main force, to cause an insurrection in Liverpool, and overbear all law and order there? The noble Earl will say that he was bound to take measures to prevent the possibility of such an occurrence. But does he know the circumstances connected with the cruize of the Florida? Because I think, if your Lordships will allow me, I can throw a little light upon it. It is true that sixty or seventy men of the Florida did arrive in Liverpool, and that they were dispatched with a letter from Captain Maffit, commander of the Florida, to Captain Bullock, the Confederate agent at Liverpool. But they arrived, not as an organized body of men in the Confederate service, not having their officers with them, but simply as discharged seamen, with their discharge papers in their pockets, and with their accounts and notes giving them a title to receive the wages they had earned according to length of service. They had left the ship at Brest, they had been refused leave to go on shore before their discharge, and they came to Liverpool to obtain payment of their wages. Captain Bullock was not then in Liverpool, but before the 17th of September they went to a firm which they thought had authority to pay them. This firm demurred as to their liability and disputed the claim; and these dreadful depredators, conspirators, and incendiaries, who in their mad love for the Confederates were about to venture upon a deed of unparalleled audacity—where did 1879 they go to? Why, to the United States Consul. Upon the refusal to pay their wages they proceeded to the United States Consul, showed him their claims, placed themselves in his hands, and entreated him to procure for them the money unjustly withheld. This was just before the 17th; and who is supposed to have put those paragraphs into the papers which attracted the attention of Her Majesty's Government? Why, of course, the United States Consul. He obtained this information, and thinking it much too good to he lost, sent off and frightened the Government into preventing the trial trip of the vessels. And what did the United States Consul do with the seamen? He recommended them to his own attorney. He sent them to a very respectable attorney—Mr. Carr, of Capel Street, if the noble Lord wants to know who he is. On the 17th of September, this gentleman made a formal demand on the firm in question for the money due to the men. On the 23rd of September, a second demand was made, accompanied by an intimation that the men had been with the United States Consul, and on the 25th the attorney served five writs on the parties in order to enforce payment. The liability was disputed; but upon a conference between the attorneys for the parties respectively, and after communicating with France, the money was paid. Some of the sailors had received their pay previously, but the whole of them, fifty-five in number, were paid on the 13th of October, with the exception of a few, who, being tired of waiting, had already engaged in other ships. On receipt of their money, and on procuring employment, they went away, declaring one thing —that no power on earth should induce them to re-enter the Confederate service, where they had been so scurvily treated. These are the men whose arrival in Liverpool put the noble Earl and the Government entirely off their balance, and led them to take such extraordinary precautions against dangers which never existed, and which I should have thought would never have been entertained seriously by any Government in its sound senses. After the events I have just stated took place, Messrs. Laird renewed their application for permission to hold the long-delayed trial trip, subject to the conditions originally agreed upon, of having sufficient guard placed on board the vessel. On the 24th of October, the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury stated that, after duly 1880 weighing all the circumstances of the case, they were unable to consent to the trial trip of the El Tousson, neither could they allow the removal of the armed force which wag stationed for the purpose of upholding the Custom House officer in possession of the vessel. Messrs. Laird explained that they did not wish to dispense with the presence of an armed force if the Government still thought it necessary; but they respectfully renewed their application to make the trial trip in the course of the next week, or within any suitable time. The only answer to that was the following:—Gentlemen,—In reply to your letter of the 24th instant, I am commanded by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to acquaint you that they are unable to comply with your request to make a trial trip of the El Tousson, one of the iron-clad vessels fitting in your yard in Birkenhead, in the course of this week, or within any other suitable time.Then we come to a fresh step in these proceedings, not perhaps illegal, but involving further injury to those gentlemen. On the 27th of October, the Collector of Customs at Liverpool wrote to Messrs. Laird, saying—Gentlemen,—I hereby beg to inform you that your two cupola vessels are now detained, under the 223rd section of the Customs Consolidated Act, the ground of detention being a violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act; and I take leave further to state, that the officers in charge have received directions to remove your workmen at once from on board the ships.Not only were directions given to seize the vessels for this alleged breach of the Foreign Enlistment Act, but so strong were the apprehensions entertained that these two unfinished vessels might be carried away by force, that the most extraordinary order, as it appears to me, was given— that the vessels should be taken out of the docks, where they were in perfect safety, and moved out into the estuary, where no protection whatever existed, except that they were under the guns of Her Majesty's ship. Messrs. Laird wrote to the Foreign Office, saying—Captain Inglefield informs us that his orders are to take the two iron-clads into the river Mersey. We protest against the probable destruction of our property in having ships (one of which is a mere hulk without masts, funnel, or steering gear) taken out of docks, where they are now in safety, and moored in the river at this inclement season of the year, and we trust that the orders sent to Captain Inglefield will be reconsidered.To this protest the following reply was sent by telegraph from the Treasury: —Captain Inglefield will, no doubt, in his dispositions regarding the iron-clad vessels, take 1881 every proper precaution for the preservation of the property. The orders have been well considered, and cannot be revoked or altered.I may say, in passing, that Captain Ingle-field, in the discharge of his very painful and embarrassing duty, certainly appears to have conducted himself with the most perfect courtesy, in the most gentleman like manner, and without the slightest feeling against the parties towards whom he must have known that his orders were compelling him to act very harshly. On the other hand, Captain Inglefield bears positive testimony to the ready and cheerful compliance of the Messrs. Laird with all his requirements, and to the facilities which they afforded him in every way in carrying his orders into effect. Indeed, so far did he rely on the entire readiness of the Messrs. Laird to meet his wishes, that actually, when, contrary to their protest, he was about to take the vessels out of dock and moor them in the river, he applied to them for the loan of an anchor and cable to enable him to moor the vessels in safety, which otherwise he could not do. This was a stretch of politeness even beyond the Messrs. Laird, and they accordingly wrote to say, that although they should offer no obstruction to the course proposed, upon Her Majesty's Government would rest the whole responsibility of that course, as they were not going to make themselves parties to an act of which they entirely disapproved, and against which they had strongly protested. With regard to the process of getting the vessels out of dock, the difficulties were such that it was a considerable time before Captain Inglefield could get a favourable opportunity of raising the caisson and moving them out; and, for the greater security of the vessels, an order was made and assented to by the Messrs. Laird, that whenever it was proposed to raise the caisson, twenty-four hours' notice should be given and permission obtained. Looking at all these transactions, it is impossible to say that submission to arbitrary demands could be carried further, or greater willingness to meet the Government in a fair spirit shown than was exhibited by the Messrs. Laird. On the 29th of October, Messrs. Laird thought it time to protest energetically, going in detail through all the circumstances of which they complained, and they concluded by saying—We made no objection to these means, provided by the Government for our protection, though we were then, and still are, unable to discover any grounds whatever for these precau- 1882 tionary measures, and we are satisfied that Her Majesty's Government have lent too credulous an ear to the inventions of designing persons. But when Her Majesty's Government, without giving us any information to show us that they have any just grounds for doing so, proceed to seize our ships and turn off our workmen, and threaten to remove a helpless hulk from a place of safety into the open roadstead of the Mersey, we feel it our duty to enter our indignant protest against proceedings so illegal and so unconstitutional. We have dealt candidly and openly with Her Majesty's Government. We have, with the owners, permission, given the names of the owners, and we believe we have a perfect legal right to build ships for a French subject without requiring from him a disclosure of his object in having such vessels constructed. It forms no part of our duty to interfere in any way with his affairs, and we shall not do so. We need hardly say that we hold the Government responsible to us for the large pecuniary loss we shall sustain by these arbitrary proceedings,That remonstrance was addressed to the Admiralty, the Foreign Office, and the Treasury. The Admiralty forwarded the despatch to the Foreign Office, the Foreign Office forwarded both despatches to the Treasury, and the Treasury took no action whatever upon them. On the 7th December, Messrs. Laird wrote—My Lord,—We beg to call your attention to the present condition of the two steam vessels, the El Tousson and the El Monassia, which have been removed by Captain Inglefield from dock into the river Mersey. On Thursday last, it blew a very heavy gale of wind here, and several large vessels, one of them a large steamer, were driven from their moorings within the estuary. We understand that no steps are as yet taken to bring the rights of the Crown before a jury, and in the meantime the vessels are exposed to great risk. It is a matter of serious importance to us, as in case the vessels should be lost or burned in the Mersey before we can deliver them to the owners, we shall be thereby prevented from completing our contract. Our attention is more immediately called to this subject by the fact that one of the fire policies of the El Monassia expires to-day, and we are in doubt what, under the circumstances, we ought to do. It is evident that the vessels ought to be insured, both against sea-risk and fire, and we shall be glad to know whether Her Majesty's Government have taken these precautions for the security of the property, and if not, whether they intend to do so. We may further state that we trust the Government have given strict orders that proper precautions are taken for the preservation of the property from the injury and deterioration it is liable to from exposure to the damp and wet at this inclement season.On the 18th of December, the policy referred to having expired on the 7th, the Treasury condescended to inform the Messrs. Laird—Gentlemen,—With further reference to your letter of the 7th instant, respecting the present condition of the two steam vessels. El Tousson 1883 and El Monassia, I am desired by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to acquaint you, that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government that the existing insurances on these vessels should be kept up or renewed, ad interim, at the cost of the public, and in the name of some person on Her Majesty's behalf, who, if you will agree to repay the cost of such insurance in the event of the property in the vessels being hereafter adjudged to you, may be constituted a trustee for the policy of Her Majesty, or for such person or persons as may hereafter be adjudged to be the owner or owners of the vessels, according to the result of the proceedings which may be taken for the purpose of deciding on the validity of the seizures. As regards the precautions to be taken for preserving the vessels from injury by weather, my Lords are satisfied that every possible precaution has been already taken, and will continue to be taken, by the naval officer in command at Liverpool, and that no deterioration of any kind need be anticipated.The Messrs. Laird had very naturally refused to comply with the condition which was thus demanded of them, and they stated their objection to it in the following communication of the 22nd of December: —To the Secretary to the Treasury.Sir,—We have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 18th instant, stating that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to keep up and renew, ad interim, the insurances of the El Tousson and El Monassia, at the cost of the public, provided we will agree to repay the cost of such insurances in the event of the property in the vessels being hereafter adjudged to us, according to the result of the proceedings which may be taken for the purpose of deciding on the validity of the seizures. In reply we beg respectfully to submit to you that the condition we are asked to agree to is not reasonable. For, not only do the vessels incur marine risk by being exposed in the estuary of the Mersey, which risk would not have arisen if the vessels had remained in the docks, but the time has expired during which they would have been in our possession at all. If they had remained in dock no marine insurance would have been necessary; and if they had not been seized they would, ere this, have been delivered to the purchasers. Under these circumstances we respectfully submit that the vessels should be insured, and kept insured, at the public cost, without any such condition being imposed on us. We beg to inform you that another policy against fire for £20,500 expires on the 24th inst.A postscript to the same letter mentioned the fact that two further policies against fire, one for £14,000 and another for £5,000, also expired on the 24th inst. One would have thought this a pressing matter, deserving of early consideration on the part of the Treasury. But on the 30th of December, Messrs. Laird write again to draw attention to their letter of the 22nd, and still no answer is returned. On the 9th of January they write again to the 1884 same effect, the policies having expired in the meantime; and ultimately, on the 20th of January, a response is vouchsafed from the Treasury, saying that Her Majesty's Government would do what from the first they were bound to have done—namely, provide in the manner they might consider requisite against the risks from fire and other damages to the iron-clad vessels while they remained in possession of Her Majesty's Government.
My Lords, I pass now to another transaction. On the 12th of January, no answer having been given with regard to the insurance, and no steps having been taken to bring the question to trial, Messrs. Laird wrote again, making the following proposals to the Government:—That the vessels should be moved into the Birkenhead public docks, and placed at the top end of the Great Float, about a mile from the entrance, the Government retaining possession by an armed force, or otherwise, as they may think requisite, so that we may be able to complete our contract, which we are desirous of doing, although the value of the additional fittings which we should put on board would be very considerable.I think it will be apparent that it indicates no consciousness of guilt on the part of Messrs. Laird, that they were willing to go to much further expense upon vessels which had been seized by and were in the possession of the Government. They put the case very fairly—In the event of the Government proving their right to retain the vessels, they will, if our proposal be agreed to, be in a much more perfect state. On the other hand, should the Government not succeed, the vessels will be sooner ready for delivery by us to the owners, and consequently any claim for damages against the Government would be reduced.Could there be a more reasonable proposal than that the vessels should be taken to the top end of the Great Float, a mile from the entrance, under the charge of an armed force, and that Messrs. Laird should be allowed to complete the vessels, thus adding to the security which the Government possessed? What was the answer?Gentlemen,—In reply to your letter of the 12th inst., proposing that the El Tousson and El Monassia should be placed in the Birkenhead docks, and there completed, I am commanded by the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury to inform you that their Lordships regret that they are unable to comply with your request.'No reason assigned! no objections taken! but a mere absolute refusal to permit the owners to do that which if they had been allowed to do it would have been materially to the advantage of the Government. My 1885 noble and gallant Friend behind me (the Earl of Hardwicke) says," I cannot understand that." I am not surprised at this difficulty. It was a self-stultifying policy on the part of the Government. On the 25th of January, Messrs. Laird say—In the meantime, we beg to call the attention of the Lords of the Treasury to the fact that, though it is now several months since the vessels were seized, yet no steps have as yet been taken to bring the matter to a legal decision, although our attorneys have repeatedly pressed this course on the Law Advisers of the Crown.That remonstrance met with the same plain refusal. Again, on the 3rd of February, these unfortunate owners, who had been kept out of their property for four months, say—We beg, however, to call your attention to the fact, that no information has yet been afforded to us in reply to our repeated requests to know when the legal proceedings in the Court of Exchequer will be brought to trial before a jury. We are informed by our legal advisers that they have repeatedly pressed this matter on the attention of the Law Officers of the Crown, but are unable to obtain any satisfactory information, although the case might have been brought to trial in November last, or in January last. We therefore feel ourselves entitled to urge upon Her Majesty's Government the propriety of their at once informing us as to the time when they propose to bring this matter to trial.In answer to that communication they at last, on the 8th of February, received this letter from the Secretary of the Treasury—Gentlemen,—In reply to your letter of the 3rd inst., I am commanded by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to acquaint you that they are informed that an 'information,' in the case of the iron-clad vessels built by you, and now under seizure by Her Majesty's Government, will be filed in a few days, and that it may be necessary to send a commission abroad for the purpose of collecting evidence.To send a commission abroad for the purpose of collecting evidence on the 8th of February! Why, four months before the Government had actually seized those vessels on a charge of violating the Foreign Enlistment Act, and a month before that they had illegally detained them upon no evidence or information whatever; and at the end of four months they inform the owners of these vessels, which had been lying through the whole winter unprotected in the open estuary of the Mersey, whereby they had been prevented from completing their contract, that they are about to send out a commission for the purpose of obtaining evidence.
The last part of the subject with which I shall have to trouble your Lordships is the 1886 circumstances which led to the writing of that letter of the 8th of February. We have seen that for four months Messrs. Laird had been constantly persevering and vainly pressing Her Majesty's Government to bring this case to trial. They had done so unsuccessfully until a few days after the meeting of Parliament; and my firm belief is that no information would have been filed up to this hour if it had not been for two circumstances—one, that Parliament was meeting on the 4th or 5th of February, and some very inconvenient questions were likely to be put; and the other, the transaction to which I am about to refer, and which, I think, is one of the most extraordinary that ever occurred in the history of diplomacy. On the 19th of January, Mr. Adams writes—I have the honour to submit to your consideration a copy of what purports to be the annual report of Mr. S. R. Mallory, the person who is known to be officiating at Richmond as director of the naval operations of the insurgents in the United States. Although this paper has been received only in the form here presented, I entertain little doubt that in substance it may be relied upon as authentic.I must do Mr. Adams the justice to say, that nothing can be more artful and ingenious than the way in which he gradually arrives at perfect certainty and absolute proof. First, he says, "what purports to be the annual report of Mr. S. R. Mallory;" in the next place he entertains "little doubt that in substance it may be relied upon as authentic;" and then, having once assumed this, he proceeds to point out all the serious consequences which would result from it, and continues—In laying this information before your Lordships, I am directed to convey the opinion of my Government that the proof thus furnished is sufficient to remove all doubt that may yet be lingering over the objects, character, and designs of the builders of the steam rams now under detention in the ports of this kingdom, upon the strength of former representations which I have had the honour to make to Her Majesty's Government.Allow me to say in passing that, although the noble Earl opposite expressed great reluctance to produce any portion of the Correspondence which might prejudice the course of justice, or unduly affect the trial which is about to take place, that tender feeling for anything which might warp the views of Her Majesty's Judges did not extend to anything which would have an injurious influence upon the case of M. Bravay or the Messrs. Laird, because he made no difficulty about laying before Parliament that which purported to be the confession 1887 of the Naval Secretary of State of the Confederate States that these vessels had been built in Liverpool for the Confederate Government, Lord Lyons had shortly before communicated to the noble Earl a similar document. In the first instance he said—I have the honour to transmit to your Lordships an extract from the Washington newspaper Star of the 19th inst., containing what purports to be parts of a report of the Secretaries of the so-called Confederate Treasury and Navy…. The Secretary gives, moreover, particulars respecting contracts for building iron-clad vessels for the Confederate service in England and France, and respecting the use to which those vessels were to be put.A week afterwards, having had time to obtain more full and perfect information, Lord Lyons says—My Lord,—I have the honour to enclose an extract from the New York Times newspaper of yesterday, containing a complete copy of the report of the Secretary of the so-called Confederate Navy.Mr. Adams only speaks of what purports to be a report, but he encloses it to the noble Earl. The noble Earl at once jumps at it. I think he will find that, to use Captain Semmes' expression, he had been "misled and entrapped," and writes to this effect—Her Majesty's Government have had under their consideration the representations contained in your letter of the 19th ultimo, with regard to the alleged use of British territory for belligerent purposes by the Government of the so-styled Confederate States as shown in the Report of the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Mallory, of which you enclosed a copy.The noble Earl is delighted to find that the document bears irrefragable proof of the cordiality and sincerity with which the duties of neutrality have been fulfilled, and goes on—And I have now to state to you that this document appears to Her Majesty's Government to contain the strongest proof, if any were wanted, that they have endeavoured in good faith to observe strictly and impartially, under circumstances of no small difficulty, the obligations of neutrality which they have undertaken, and that the practical effect of their doing so has been advantageous in no slight degree to the more powerful of the two belligerents—namely, the United States. What is termed in Mr. Mallory's Report the unfriendly construction of Her Majesty's Laws' is therein made matter of grave complaint against England by the Government of the so-styled Confederate States, while to the same cause is ascribed the fact that those States have been prevented from obtaining the services of the greater part of a formidable war fleet which they had desired to create. Her Majesty's Government are fully sensible of the nature and importance of the admissions made in Mr. Mallory's report of the endeavours of the Government of the so-styled Confederate States, by their agents in 1888 this country and in Canada, to violate in various ways Her Majesty's neutrality. Her Majesty's Government have already taken steps to make that Government aware that such proceedings cannot be tolerated, and Her Majesty's Government will not fail to give to these admissions, to which you have invited their attention, the consideration which they undoubtedly deserve.As soon as this paper was made public, all those persons who were best acquainted with the character of official documents in the United and Confederate States at once pronounced it to be a forgery—and not only a forgery, but a clumsy forgery— though it did take in Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Attorney General. It was clear to any one who knew the character of these reports, that it was a clumsy forgery, because in the first place it was addressed, not to the President, as was invariably the custom, but, of all people in the world, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In the next place it stated, that no less than five rams had been ordered in England, whereas all that were ever heard of and assumed to be for the Confederate States were these two. Again, it entered into no detail whatever with regard to the internal management of the Naval department, which, practically speaking, was the main object of the reports of the Secretary of the Navy; and lastly, it gave information, as from the President, that these rams had been ordered by persons sent from Richmond in the early part of the year 1863. If that was so, the expedition displayed in their construction must have been something surprising and unheard of, because they were represented by the Consul to be ready for sailing in the month of August; and if the agents sent from Richmond in the early part of the year arrived in England, looked about them, gave their orders, had them executed, and got the vessels launched and ready for sailing in the month of August; it is the most astounding fact in shipbuilding that I ever heard of. From all these circumstances the alleged report was pronounced by gentlemen well acquainted with the subject to be a clumsy forgery. The noble Earl, on the 11th February, having received this information, was quite jubilant at the clear, indisputable, and unexpected proof which was thus furnished of the object with which these rams were being built, and at the certainty of obtaining a conviction. Had it not been for the production of this document, I do not believe that even, although Parliament had met, the information would have been filed immedi- 1889 ately after the 8th of February When this information arrived, not only was the noble Earl jubilant, but the Attorney General was jubilant too. The Attorney General in a discussion on the subject assumed it to be indisputable that the Government had in their possession facts and evidence which could leave no doubt whatever as between them and the Confederate Government that the vessels in question were being built for the use of the latter. The information, I may add, was filed on the 19th of January, and, after carefully examining the evidence, it was determined on the 8th of October to issue a commission to search for additional evidence in Egypt, and in the meantime this document was brought forward to substantiate a case for the detention of the Confederate Rams. It may be only a coincidence, but it is a very curious coincidence, that the date of the intention of the Government to file this information is to a day precisely the same as the date of the despatch to which I have already referred, in which the noble Earl stated that steps had already been taken for the purpose of remonstrating with the Confederate Government, and preventing, as far as possible, such outrages against the law. The noble Earl issued orders, on the strength of the document to which I have been alluding, to Mr. Crawford, to proceed from the Havannah on a mission to remonstrate with the Confederates on the atrocious violation of the law of neutrality of which they had been guilty. It was, however, I think fortunate for the noble Earl, and more fortunate for Mr. Crawford, that he was not allowed to land, and that he was not permitted to make those remonstrances which I am mischievous enough, for my own part, to wish that he had been permitted to make.
I wish to add a few words more before I release your Lordships from the lengthened observations which I have felt it my duty to inflict upon you. I cannot consent to pass this matter over in the light and frivolous manner in which the noble Earl on a former occasion introduced it to your notice. At the close of a discussion in this House not long ago, on our relations with America, the noble Earl at the close of his speech dropped out, in the quietest and gentlest tone, as if the point to which I am now particularly referring had no possible significance, the fact of his having discovered that this document was not a genuine document, but a hoax practised on the President by some gentleman at 1890 New York, and that it did not furnish the slightest ground for remonstrating with the Confederate Government. I certainly should have expected that the foreign Minister of this country would not have treated the transaction in so light a tone, and should see in it no peril to the proper maintenance of diplomatic relations between different States. It is, in my opinion, no trifle that a document should be forged, and that it should be transmitted by the British Minister at Washington to the Secretary of State at home, and by the Federal Secretary to the Representative of the United States in London, and made by him the ground of serious remonstrance with Her Majesty's Government, without the strictest and most rigid investigation being made to ascertain that there did not exist the slightest doubt of its genuineness. I cannot acquit even Lord Lyons of having displayed some credulity in this matter, because, being at Washington, and seeing the document in the newspapers, first in a garbled state and afterwards in full, and being aware that the Richmond papers came constantly into Washington, and that no Southern papers had any account of it, I cannot conceive how he could have imagined it to be correct. Mr. Adams, no doubt, was acting under instructions from his Government in making representations on the subject to Her Majesty's Government; but that Mr. Seward, from whom those instructions emanated, could entertain any doubt as to the genuineness of the document, and should have deemed himself, as Secretary of State, justified on the faith of a paragraph in a newspaper in addressing friendly remonstrances of a most serious character to a foreign State, without giving himself the trouble of finding out that which he might so easily have discovered, seems to me, I confess, somewhat extraordinary. I do not go so far as some, and attribute to Mr. Seward himself the authorship of this document. It first made its appearance in The Star of Washington, a very obscure paper, and being by that means transmitted to New York it appeared at full length in the New York Times, which is notoriously the organ of Mr. Seward himself. It was on the authority of that paper, at all events, Mr. Seward transmitted the document with his remonstrances to the British Government; and he certainly could have no difficulty in sending to the editor of the paper and requesting to know where the document 1891 had been obtained, what was the authority for it, and who had given it circulation in his journal. The paper, in short, is under the control of Mr. Seward, and to say that he could not have obtained the information to which I refer is absurd. There is, therefore, no excuse for his conduct in sending over here the representations which he made founded on a newspaper paragraph. I may, however, say, to the credit of one portion, at all events, of the United States press, that the Philadelphia Age, which I hold in my hand, deals with this transaction as I trust any Englishman would be disposed to do. It says—We have always regarded Mr. Adams as a man of honour, but we have not, and never had, a good opinion of Mr. Seward.It adds—There is no excuse for thus counterfeiting history.And it asks the question—What will English or French statesmen say of a man who, if innocent, seems willing to be gulled, and is ready, by any means, to obtain some temporary or paltry result?" "What," it goes on to say, "could be easier than to ascertain the genuineness of the Mallory report? But the person most to be pitied in connection with this grim joke is poor Lord Lyons. We trust for the credit of the Government this most impudent fraud will be explained…. In diplomacy truth is a good deal better weapon than falsehood.I thought it but right to bring these statements under your Lordships' notice, to show the light in which the matter is viewed by some persons in America; and I must express my disappointment that not even the last despatch from Lord Lyons contains any expression of feeling with respect to the discreditable trick which was played on him. We do not even know up to the present moment whether any apology has been made to Her Majesty's Government for, to say the least of it, the credulity with which Mr. Adams and Mr. Seward have laid themselves open to be charged. I have mentioned this subject because it is, in my opinion, one of deep importance, and because I look upon it as being closely connected with the papers which I have brought under the notice of the House; the delay in taking final proceedings in the case of the steam rams, and the period at which it was determined that those proceedings should be taken. I have, I may say, in conclusion, brought forward this subject, not for the purpose of protecting the Messrs. Laird against any consequences to which they may be fairly liable, or entering into the question whether 1892 they have or have not been guilty of a violation of the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act. All I desire is, that justice may be done; I have no wish that persons should be permitted to violate the law with impunity. I hope the noble Earl will continue in the same course which, he says, he has always adopted, of dealing with all parties with the utmost impartiality. I am anxious to see an equitable neutrality preserved between those who are engaged in the unhappy conflict raging on the other side of the Atlantic. But, while I entertain these views, I do not like to find legal proceedings unjustly and unnecessarily delayed, and I am desirous of seeing all Her Majesty's subjects enjoying the full benefit of that protection which the laws of the country were framed to confer. The noble Earl concluded by moving—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Copy of Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and Messrs. Laird with respect to Steam Rams.
§ EARL RUSSELL
My Lords, the noble Earl has not deemed it to be inconsistent with his duty to bring under your Lordships' notice, and to pass under minute review, a case which, within a month from this time, is to be tried in our Courts of Law; and this he has done in favour of one party, and that party the one against whom the accusation is brought. I do not say that there may not be instances of oppression so aggravated that it may be right to bring before the House of Lords— the great tribunal of ultimate appeal from those Courts—the preliminary proceedings connected with those cases. Such a course may be necessary in a case of notorious injustice; but I submit the noble Earl has made out no such case. He has for nearly two hours engaged the attention of your Lordships; but I venture to say he has shown no case of illegality or oppression. In treating this question, I must, in defence of the Government, make two observations to which I request the assent of your Lordships, The first is, that your Lordships are desirous of maintaining relations of amity with the United States of America — a great, a powerful, a free State, with which, for nearly eighty years, with the exception of the short interval from 1812 to 1815, we have held relations of peace, and with which it is our interest, our desire, and our duty, if possible, to maintain those relations. I am not, I hope, asking too much when I ask your Lordships to assent 1893 to that postulate. The next remark I have to make is that the Messrs, Laird, whatever may be their polities—a point with which I have nothing to do—have no right to go to war with any Power in friendly relations with Her Majesty. The power of going to war is one of the prerogatives of the Crown, and it is not a privilege of the Messrs. Laird, however respectable they may be as shipbuilders. Yet, I have no hesitation in saying that the Messrs. Laird had it in their power to commit this country in hostilities with the United States of America, and it was nothing but the vigilance of the Government—what the noble Earl describes as their over-vigilance — which prevented those respectable gentlemen from involving this country in war with the Northern States. In arguing this question, I must state many things which the noble Earl, in his long and able speech, has entirely omitted; and the first of those matters is the existence of the Foreign Enlistment Act. That Act, as your Lordships are aware, was passed in circumstances not very dissimilar to the present, when Spain was at war with her colonies, when this country had acknowledged the belligerent rights of those colonies, and when those colonies were endeavouing to procure aid from England in the shape of regiments, officers, and ships fitted out for warlike purposes. In order to counteract the mischief which those attempts, if successful, might produce, the Government of the day proposed to Parliament, and carried a Bill, which is now the law of the land, and is known by the name of the Foreign Enlistment Act. The preamble of that Act states as follows:—Whereas the enlistment or engagement of His Majesty's subjects to serve in war on foreign service without His Majesty's licence, and the fitting out and equipping and arming of vessels by His Majesty's subjects for warlike operations on or against the dominions or territories of a foreign Prince may be prejudicial to and tend to endanger the peace and welfare of this kingdom.I venture to submit there can hardly be a greater crime in its effects than to do acts which endanger the peace and welfare of this country; in other words, which tend to put us into a state of war with a foreign country with which we are at amity, and which would bring upon us all the calamities which war never fails to produce. But I shall give your Lordships a more full description of the Foreign Enlistment Act, not taken from an authority 1894 favourable to the Government, but expressed in the language of a learned and able counsel, who is arguing against our application of the Act, and whose authority will hardly be disputed on the other side. Sir Hugh Cairns says—The intention of the Act of Parliament was this, and this only, to prevent warlike expeditions leaving the ports of this country at a time when this country was neuter, issuing from the ports of this country in a shape and form in which they could do injury to either belligerent, and, thereby enable one or other of the belligerents to come to this country and say, 'Look at your port of Plymouth; there sailed out of that port on a certain day a ship fully armed, ready to capture any ship she might meet with. Your ports are being used as places of safety and shelter; armed vessels can sail out, or transports or storeships can sail out, prepared to do all the mischief in war which a transport or storeship, or an armed vessel can do.' The belligerent Government would say, 'Observe the consequences; we cannot pursue these vessels into your ports; we cannot go into your ports to take out a privateer, and yet you allow a privateer to go armed from your ports at the same time that we cannot enter your ports to destroy that vessel.' I apprehend that that was a very intelligible and clear principle, if we find that that was the principle which was proceeded on.My Lords, that statement falls somewhat short of the case, because it speaks of vessels fully armed and going out on war-like expeditions; but it does not mention the arming, furnishing, and fitting out of ships, which is likewise forbidden by the Foreign Enlistment Act. Before proceeding further, I must state to your Lordships that which is perfectly notorious. Much of it has already been proved in courts of law; and if other parts were not allowed to be proved in the Alexandra case, they are well known, and, indeed, have obtained a notoriety so great that they can no longer be concealed. I mean that the Confederate States of America—naturally enough, and not to be wondered at in an arduous attempt to establish independence —have sent agents to this country and to France, but more especially to this country, and that those agents were furnished with the means to have ships built here in order that such expeditions as Sir Hugh Cairns refers to, and as are forbidden by our own law, should be undertaken against the United States—a Power with which we are at peace. This was proved in the case of the Alexandra. It was there shown that there was an office in Liverpool and a firm there by which all these transactions were carried on. The learned, Judge prevented evidence being given as to what was the particular business trans- 1895 acted, but it was proved that a certain Captain Bullock, to whom the noble Earl has himself referred, was the chief agent of the Confederate States at Liverpool, that he drew draughts for the payment of those persons who were serving the Confederate States, that he appointed an individual paymaster of the ship, afterwards called the Alabama; and that, in short, he took upon himself all the functions of a regularly authorized agent of a foreign Power. I do not express any surprise at that, for it is not wonderful that the Confederate States, desirous to establish independence, and while they were engaged in a perilous war for that purpose, should endeavour by every means to hurt their enemies; but what I do feel surprise at— what I do feel regret at—is that the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act forbidding them to do any act against neutrality and the laws of nations having been brought to the knowledge of all Her Majesty's subjects by proclamation, any of them should engage in these undertakings, contrary to their duty to the Crown, entirely forgetting their obligations to their own country, and careless whether or not they put us in a state of war with the United States. Such appear to me to have been the character of the transactions in which those respectable gentlemen the Messrs. Laird, the Messrs. Miller, the Messrs. Fraser, and others engaged. They have done everything in their power, by fitting out ships, by engaging in contracts for supplying vessels of war to the other belligerent, to give the United States a just cause of war against this country. What I have endeavoured to avert—what I have been apprehensive of—is giving the United States just cause for war. It may be that, filled with unfounded suspicions, or animated by unjust animosities, they may make war against this country. That may befall us or any other country; and, if it does, we must bear it—we must return blow by blow, and carry ourselves through the war as well as we can. But what, I confess, I do dread is, that we should commit such acts that the United States Government can say truly, "You, professing to be neutral, are, in fact, at war with this country, and are carrying on hostilities against us under the guise of friendship and peace." The only thing with which I should be disposed to reproach myself in the present case is the degree of credulity with which I received the assurances that were made that the 1896 iron-clads were not intended for the Confederate States. The Collector of Customs at Liverpool, Mr. Edwards, said he believed it never was intended to use them for that purpose. The Law Officers, on his authority, took the same view. I was at first disposed to share that opinion; but evidence was poured in on me which there was no resisting, and I am convinced that the vessels were originally built for the Confederate States. These vessels are of themselves vessels of war. There is no need to discuss how much they are equipped or armed, or how far those various things have been done which the learned Chief Baron in the Court of Exchequer proved out of Webster's Dictionary, All meant the same thing. These iron-clads have the build and construction of vessels of war which could be used to destroy the ships of the United States engaged in blockading the Southern ports. It was necessary for me to make inquiries as to the party for whom these vessels were built. We became aware that the Confederates had got builders both in the Mersey and the Clyde to lend themselves to their projects. Only the other day my learned Friend the Lord Advocate of Scotland prosecuted a firm on the Clyde for being engaged in such transactions, and after a time the defendants pleaded guilty to one of the counts of the indictment, which charged them with attempting to furnish a vessel of war, with the view of making war on behalf of the Confederate States against the United States. With regard to the iron-clads in the Mersey the noble Earl complains that they were stopped, and that they were in the first place detained before they were seized. For the part I took in concert with my noble Friend at the head of the Government in directing that the vessels should be detained, I can only say I am not sorry. I do not regret it in the least. On the contrary, I believe that I took a course which was consistent with the peace of the country, which was necessary for the peace of the country, and which was in favour of all the commercial and political relations which we maintain with other nations. Only suppose that instead of Foreign Secretary I had been Home Secretary, and that I had information, on which I could rely, that a treasonable plot was about to break forth—that parties meditating high treason were on the eve of completing their had designs against the internal peace and welfare of the 1897 kingdom. Under such circumstances, I should have no hesitation for a moment in desiring that these parties should be detained. It might be that the information proved wrong; but if I felt I had reason to believe it, it would be my duty as Secretary of State to take the responsibility of directing the apprehension of the parties. There arc great powers be longing to a Secretary of State. There was, as I conceived, an attempt being made against the peace and welfare of the kingdom in its foreign relations, and I was as much bound to take the same precautions in that case as the Home Secretary is bound to do when the domestic peace and welfare of the country are menaced. Of course, I am not going to tell the noble Earl what was the information which I received. I am not going to detail to him the evidence on which we acted, in order that answers may be given to our allegations in a court of justice. It is clear that those who were engaged in this affair laid their plans very artfully and cunningly; and it was necessary on our part to meet the allegations they made. First, it was said that the ironclads were intended for the French. The Collector of Customs was quite convinced that they had been ordered either for the Emperor of the French or for M. Bravay, who was supposed to be entitled by the law of France to go to war against any Power he chose to select. That turned out to be an utter falsehood. Next the names of El Tousson and El Monassia were bestowed on the vessels, in order to support the allegation that they were intended for Egypt, the late Pasha having contracted for them. That story turned out to be equally untrue. But, of course, it was necessary for us to make inquiries, in order to be able to answer the various allegations which were made as to the object of the vessels.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
As far as I am informed, the builders of the vessels never made any of those allegations. The only allegation they made was that the contract was given by M. Bravay.
§ EARL RUSSELL
It does not much signify whether it was M. Bravay or Messrs. Laird who made the allegations. What the Government have to prove, and what I believe we shall be able to prove, is that the iron-clads were built for the use of the Confederate States, and consequently it has been necessary to disprove the various stories which were invented as 1898 to the destination of the vessels. The noble Earl seems to think that the prevention of this expedition from sailing is a matter calculated to excite great displeasure in this House and great disapprobation. But let me first say that if the several steam rams had gone forth from this country, two now, two on another occasion, and several following, and had destroyed the ships which were blockading the ports of the Southern States, what man would venture to say we were not making war against the United States; that the very evil which the Foreign Enlistment Act was meant to prevent had not occurred; and that under the name of neutrality we had not committed offensive war against those with whom we were ostensibly at peace? Let me ask your Lordships, was there no reason to suspect the Messrs. Laird? Were they persons so entirely innocent of any transactions of this kind that we were bound to believe every allegation which they made? Were we to accept at once, without hesitation, their assertion that the iron-clads were not intended for the purposes which we supposed? We were aware of the case of another vessel, built and partly equipped in the Mersey by these same Messrs. Laird, which had gone out from the docks in the Mersey, and had committed, as she was now committing, hostilities against the vessels of the United States. The United States Government had no reason to complain of us in that respect, because we took all the precaution that we could. We collected evidence, but it was not till it was complete that we felt ourselves justified in giving orders for the seizure of the vessel. These orders, however, were evaded. I can tell your Lordships from a trustworthy source how they were evaded. I have here a remarkable pamphlet, entitled Our Cruise in the Confederate War Steamer Alabama, and said to be written by an officer who was on board of her. The narrative is written, not with the caution of a lawyer, but with the frankness of a sailor. [The Earl of DERBY: I suppose, of course, it is genuine?] Perhaps, we may be deceived here as we were before in regard to the report. I understand, however, that this pamphlet is genuine. It is published at the Cape of Good Hope. The writer says—After the outbreak of the war the immense naval superiority of the North gave them considerable advantages over the South, who, lacking convenience and material, were not able to build 1899 vessels with sufficient despatch, and the Confederate States Government sent over Captain J. D. Bullock to England for the purpose of purchasing a war steamer. Accordingly, the No. 290 was built and intended for a Confederate vessel of war. The No. 290 was launched from the building yard of Messrs. Laird, of Birkenhead….. At 9. 15 a.m. of the 29th of July, 1862, we weighed anchor and proceeded slowly down the Mersey, anchoring in Moelfra Bay—having on board relatives and friends of the builders, both ladies and gentlemen. Our ostensible object in sailing was to go 'on a trial trip,' and the presence of the ladies and gentlemen gave a certain colour to the report. In the evening we transferred our visitors to a steam-tug. Our unceremonious departure was owing to the fact of news being received to the effect that the Customs authorities had orders to board and detain us that morning.That was the fact. However the owner came to be informed of it it is impossible for me to say, and there certainly seems to have been treachery on the part of some one furnishing the information. In what character did the vessel go out? Did she go out as a man of war completely equipped? No; she went out seemingly on a trial trip, with ladies and gentlemen on board, for the purpose of deception, those ladies and gentlemen being the friends and relatives of the builders. And yet the noble Earl speaks for an hour of the enormous cruelty and oppression of my suspecting a vessel built by the Messrs. Laird, which was clearly intended for war, and could act with great effect on any enemy it might encounter. But here is another rather strange circumstance. On the 8th of September, Messrs. Laird said that they wanted to have a trial trip for the next Monday. Mr. Laird said that he must have it without delay, and I gave my consent. That was on the 8th or 9th of September; and yet, on the 21st of September, Messrs. Laird declined the offer of a trial trip at that time, saying that the vessel was not sufficiently ready to make a trial—that she was not ready on the 21st for a trial trip for which they had urgently pressed on the 8th. Then I am supposed by the noble Earl to be the most arbitrary person in the world, because I will not believe all these assertions; that although the Alabama escaped detention by going out to sea on pretence of a trial trip, I should be suspicious with regard to the El Tousson and another vessel, and not allow them to leave port on a similar pretence. I do not mean to go through all that correspondence which the noble Earl so laboriously followed out; I shall only give my general allegation that my suspi- 1900 cious with regard to these vessels were roused; that Captain Inglefield, on whose discretion entire reliance can be placed, was consulted on every step that was taken; and if any of the precautions adopted had been omitted, the vessel might have been taken away. In that case, many of those men whom the noble Earl said are in want of employment—as no doubt they may be in consequence of this plan being defeated—would have formed the crew of the vessel, and that vessel would have been directed against the ships of the United States. Therefore this was a case in which the Foreign Enlistment Act was clearly about to be violated, and it was my duty to take care that the matter should be brought into the courts of this country. I might have made a mistake, as it might happen that a policeman in the street, apprehending a man whom he sees quitting a house at three or four o'clock 'in the morning with a sack full of plate, might make a mistake, because it might turn out, singularly enough, that the man seized was the master of the house, who desired to go out for a walk at that early hour with a sack of plate on his back. That would be a singular occurrence, certainly; but no one would blame the policeman for having stopped the man. That was the sort of case which we had to consider. It may turn out that this vessel was built for M. Bravay, because of some desire of his to make war on his own account against some State in the world; or he may think that he ought to take part in the present war in America. However, as I have said, I will not go into particular facts; I believe it will be seen, when this question comes on for trial, that there were reasons which justified the Government in the course they pursued. At all events, the reverse of the course pursued might have been very serious. If the suspicions of the Government with regard to these vessels turn out to be correct, there would have been the greatest inconvenience having allowed them to go out, as that circumstance would have tended to create unpleasant relations if not hostilities between the United States and this country. This Act was so far in my custody that I considered myself bound to sec it carried into effect; and I think the noble Earl and the public will admit that I was bound, if it appeared to me to be a case in which the parties were infringing the Foreign Enlistment Act, that I should take steps in order to bring these 1901 vessels and their agents before a court of justice.
The learned Judge who tried the case of the Alexandra stated as a point of history, that the object of the Act was to prevent two belligerents from building ships in the same port and coming into collision in that port. That is not a correct history of the Act. On the contrary, it was passed, as Sir Hugh Cairns correctly said on the trial, for the purpose of preventing this country being involved by the acts of our subjects against the views of the Crown in hostilities with another country. And here, having stated what was the course which I took, let me again say that I think we are bound — more especially in this case where there is a conflict between two parties on the continent of the United States of America—to preserve our neutrality and to remain at peace with both. Great issues are there under decision; and no issue can be greater than the question of what is to become of the four millions of the negro race who have been hitherto retained as slaves in the United States. I, for my part, have never been able to feel much sympathy with either of the contending republics—the United States or the Confederate States. I saw that on one side there was a declaration in favour of the perpetuity of slavery; on the other side there seemed no measures taken even to undo that unholy compact contained in the constitution of the United States, by which a slave brought into a free State, however much he may have suffered in endeavouring to fly to that free State, is again restored to his master. It is to be hoped that this contest, with whatever calamities it may have been accompanied — with whatever slaughter may have been committed in their battles—with what fields that have been subject to devastation, and industry interrupted—that Providence has in store some reward for those services which are engaged in an issue that will place those four millions of the black race in a condition of freedom that may hereafter lead to their prosperity and the enjoyment of that liberty which the United States themselves have proclaimed as the most sacred principle of the constitution. But it must be left to these contending Powers to work out this great problem, and I, for my part, should think it was the greatest misfortune that could befal this country, if we were obliged by any paramount considerations to take part in the contest. Our policy is to remain neu- 1902 tral. I believe that Providence will work out her own ends, forThere is a divinity that shapes our ends,Rough-hew them as we may;and that the result of this contest, the beginning of which we all deplore, and the continuance of which we all regret, will be, that that stain—that that crime—that detestable state of slavery, may be for ever abolished from among civilized nations.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
said, he agreed with the noble Earl (Earl Russell), that it was most desirable that we should preserve amicable relations with the United States, and also that neither Messrs. Laird nor any other person should be allowed to levy war upon a nation with which we were at peace; but he did not think the noble Earl justified in assuming that the Messrs. Laird were levying war, as that was the very question which was to be tried. Strongly as the noble Earl had asserted that the Messrs. Laird were levying war, he (Lord Chelmsford) was entitled as strongly to deny it. The noble Earl adverted to the conduct of Captain Bullock, concerning whom he said that he had strong proof that he had been connected with the fitting out of the Alabama. But if the noble Earl had that proof, he knew very well that, under the Foreign Enlistment Act, a person engaged in fitting out vessels of war for a belligerent without licence from Her Majesty was guilty of a misdemeanour— why, then, had there not been an indictment against Captain Bullock? Why had not Captain Bullock, Messrs. Laird, or any other person so engaged, been called to account for their illegal conduct? The noble Earl also said that he was perfectly justified in not trusting the Messrs. Laird. But that was not always the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, because in the Correspondence to which his noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) had called attention, it would be recollected that Her Majesty's Government had expressed, in the most explicit terms, their confidence in Messrs. Laird's honourable conduct. They say, in their letter of the 19th September—I am to state to you explicitly that Her Majesty's Government are convinced that it is your intention, as far as it is in your power, to fulfil honourably the engagement into which you have entered, and that if any such attempt were made it would be entirely without the privity of your firm, in whose good faith they place perfect confidence,And again, Captain Inglefield stated—I consider that your proposals that the keys whereby these sluices are worked should be re- 1903 moved from the place they are at present kept to another of greater security, under your personal care, is deserving of my thanks, and is again suggestive of the good faith which has marked your transactions with me in this unpleasant matter.The noble Earl had said that he considered it right to prevent the trial trip of these vessels, because it was extremely probable that they might be seized by force and taken out of the possession of the Government. But the noble Earl had entirely forgotten that he had desired that a number of seamen and marines should be placed on board to prevent her forcible seizure, to which Messrs. Laird had assented; and how, under such circumstances, the noble Earl could have believed such an attempt likely to be made, he (Lord Chelmsford) was utterly at a loss to understand. He denied that the object of his noble Friend's Motion was to obtain a sort of Bow Street inquiry—a preliminary examination into the guilt or innocence of the Messrs. Laird. He had done no such thing; for he had confined himself partly to the Correspondence that had been laid upon the table of the House, and partly to that Correspondence to which his Motion was directed. It must be apparent to all that the excuse made by the Government against producing the Correspondence, on the ground that it would prejudice the pending trial, was utterly without foundation. Either the facts contained in it were admissible in evidence, or they were not. If they were not admissible, no prejudice whatever could be reated; and if they were admissible, then there was no doubt whatever that Messrs. Laird's counsel, being properly instructed, would extract from the witnesses on the part of the Crown all those facts to which his noble Friend had called attention, and show from them the detention without seizure, and all that had been done from that time up to the present.
He intended to confine his remarks to the simple view of the case, that the detention of the vessels was an illegal act, and that it was done in consequence of the pressure that was brought to bear upon them. The first letter which introduced the subject to the notice of the noble Earl (Earl Russell) was dated 11th July, 1863, in which Mr. Adams complained of the determined perseverance of persons at Liverpool, the agents of the so-called Confederate States, to obtain vessels for the purpose of committing hostilities, and that it had formed the subject of his remonstrances almost ever since he had been in 1904 this country; and he drew the noble Earl's attention to the latest evidence of hostility— namely, the construction of a steam-vessel of war of the most formidable kind. With that letter he sent numerous depositions to prove that this vessel was constructed for an illegal purpose. On the 1st of September the noble Earl wrote a letter to Mr. Adams, which appeared to him to be of great importance, because it showed what was the evidence upon which the noble Earl acted, and which led up to the 5th September, when Her Majesty's Government illegally, as he contended, detained the ship. The noble Earl in that letter said—But I am sure you will be disposed, in justice to Her Majesty's Government, to admit that, in the absence of all evidence, upon mere hearsay, surmise, conversation, and conjecture, Her Majesty's Government could not properly direct a prosecution or action under the Foreign Enlistment Act.Now these expressions were used at the time when the depositions had been furnished by Mr. Adams, consisting of nothing but hearsay, conjecture, surmise, conversation. On the 3rd September, Mr. Adams forwarded further depositions to the noble Earl, accompanied with a very strong remonstrance, in which he said—At the same time I feel it my painful duty to make known to your Lordship, that in some respects it has fallen short in expressing the earnestness with which I have been in the interval directed to describe the grave nature of the situation in which both countries must be placed in the event of an act of aggression committed against the Government and people of the United States by either of these formidable vessels.Their Lordships had an opportunity of ascertaining the American Minister's opinion of the value of the additional evidence, by referring to the despatch of Mr. Adams to Mr. Seward of the 3rd September, 1863, in which he said he thought it was the wisest course to make a remonstrance, and for that purpose he had taken advantage of some additional depositions "of no great additional weight." Up to the 3rd of September there was no evidence to warrant any interference with the vessels; but on the 5th September a rather extraordinary letter was written by Mr. Adams. After pointing out that one of the iron-clad war vessels was on the point of departure from this kingdom on its hostile errand against the United States, Mr. Adams said this was war, no matter what theory of neutrality was adopted. He added that it was impossible that any nation retaining a proper degree of self-respect could tamely submit to a continuance of relations, 1905 so utterly deficient in reciprocity. This was a very strong remonstrance. Well, on the 5th of September, orders were issued to prevent these iron-clads leaving the Mersey. But there were some very curious circumstances connected with this case. On the 5th September, Mr. Layard was most anxious to show that the orders were given before the threatening despatch was received, and he wrote to Mr. Stewart as follows—We have given orders to-day to the Commissioners of Customs at Liverpool to prevent the two iron-clads leaving the Mersey. These orders had scarcely been sent when we received the note from Mr. Adams, of which I send you a copy. Mr. Adams is not yet aware that orders have been given to stop the vessels. You may inform Mr. Seward confidentially of the fact.And the noble Earl also wrote, on the 8th September, to Mr. Adams, as follows: —Lord Russell presents his compliments to Mr. Adams, and has the honour to inform him that instructions have been issued which will prevent the departure of the two iron-clad vessels from Liverpool.On these papers, however, there was no proof that the instructions were given to the officer at Liverpool to detain those vessels till the 9th September. The noble Earl thought it was right to answer the letter of the 5th September on the 11th. He then wrote rather a strong letter to the following effect:—Her Majesty's Government have for the most part succeeded in this impartial course. If they have been unable to prevent some violations of neutrality on the part of the Queen's subjects, the cause has been that Great Britain is a country which is governed by definite laws, and is not subject to arbitrary will. But law, as you are well aware, is enforced here, as in the United States, by independent courts of justice, which will not admit assertion for proof, not conjecture for certainty…. I have to add that instructions have been issued for preventing the departure of the iron-clad vessels in question from Liverpool until satisfactory evidence can be given as to their destination, or, at all events, until the inquiries which are now being prosecuted with a view to obtain such evidence shall have been brought to a conclusion.It was to this part of the case to which he (Lord Chelmsford) wished to draw particular attention, because he said that the noble Earl had no right to issue the orders for the detention of these vessels at all, much less their detention, "until satisfactory evidence was given as to "their destination." It was not, as his noble Friend had observed, that Government would detain the vessel, until it obtained information as to its destination, but until evidence was given by the parties themselves as to 1906 its destination. First, then, the Government committed the illegal act of seizing the vessel, and next of throwing upon the parties who were charged with a criminal act the onus of showing their innocence. He apprehended from what the noble Earl had said, that he was not at all prepared to defend the legality of the act of detaining the vessels, as he said he had no right to do it; but that the Government did it on their own responsibility—and that he observed was also the language of the Attorney General. He said they knew that in ordinary criminal cases the parties went before a magistrate; information was taken to justify a committal, and the prisoner remanded from time to time. That course could not be adopted in the case of the seizure of vessels of this description; the law gave no means of that nature; and on their own responsibility they had acted to prevent a repetition of what took place in the case of the Alabama with reference to these ships until the Government was satisfied for commercial purposes. It was also necessary to consider whether the Government were acting under International Law or the Foreign Enlistment Act; and he could not do better on that point than quote the words of the noble Earl himself, in his letter to Mr. Adams, of the 11th September, where he said—I deem it right, however, to observe that the question at issue between yourself and Her Majesty's Government relates to two separate and distinct matters—the general international duties of neutrality and the municipal law of the United Kingdom. With regard to the general duties of a neutral according to International Law, the true doctrine has been laid down repeatedly by Presidents and Judges of eminence of the United States, and that doctrine is, that a neutral may sell to either or both of two belligerent parties any implements or munitions of war which such belligerents may wish to purchase from the subjects of the neutral, and it is difficult to find a reason why a ship that is to be used for warlike purposes is more an instrument or implement of war than cannon, muskets, swords, bayonets, gunpowder, and projectiles to be fired from cannon and muskets.It was clear that at that moment the noble Earl was intending to proceed under the Foreign Enlistment Act; and it was clear that under that Act the Government had no right to act as they did. It was also clear that supposing they had no evidence of the vessel being fitted and equipped for the purpose of serving in the Confederate navy, the only course open to them was to hold their bunds until they had sufficient evidence to justify the seizure of the ves- 1907 sel. Because the House would observe that the seizure of the vessel was the commencement of the proceedings, and it was unlawful to detain the vessel for the purpose of prosecuting inquiries to see if evidence could be obtained, or till the parties could prove their innocence; therefore the detention of the vessels from the 5th or 8th September to the 9th of October was an illegal act. The American Minister had succeeded in leading the noble Earl into the detention of the vessels; but he was not satisfied with that, but on September 16th wrote another strong letter to the noble Earl, in which he said—You are pleased to observe that Her Majesty's Government hopes my Government may take a calmer and more dispassionate view of the matters involved in that discussion than seems to be inferred from my note. If in that note I should have unfortunately led Her Majesty's Government to any inference of the kind, I can only assure your Lordship that the fault must be exclusively mine. At the same time, I feel it my duty not to disguise from you the very grave sense it entertains of the danger that Her Majesty's kingdom may be freely used by the enemies of the United States, in conjunction with numerous ill-disposed subjects of her own, to carry on a war against them in manner and spirit wholly at variance with the rules of neutrality which Her Majesty's Government has prescribed for itself in the present contest, as well as with the stronger obligations of amity and good-will imposed by solemn treaties long since entered into between the parties.He also states—I respectfully submit that the interests of two nations are of too much magnitude to be measured by the infinitesimal scale of the testimony permissible before a jury and the common law courts.It was curious that this letter and one connected with the Alabama were both written on the 16th of September and received by the noble Earl on the 18th, the very clay before that upon which the permission previously granted to take these vessels out of dock for their trial trip was withdrawn; and the inference was not an unfair one that these letters, coupled with all the circumstances affecting the Florida. had exercised some influence upon the course taken by the Government. There was another letter written on the 17th of September, in which Mr. Adams, addressing the noble Earl, expressed regret that he should have adduced the evidence of Messrs. Laird in support of his own despatches, the statements of one of those gentlemen in Parliament regarding others not being such as to exact implicit credence for any assertions regarding his own affairs. 1908 That letter arriving with the others at a time when the mind of the Government was agitated—the American Minister, indeed, seeming to impute that it was in a state almost of paralysis—Ministers found it necessary to interpose in the case of the Messrs. Laird. It might be a mere coincidence, but it certainly was an extraordinary fact that throughout the whole of these transactions, whenever a step was taken affecting the members of that firm, there had always been a previous letter from the American Minister, having the appearance, at any rate, of urging on the Government. He maintained that the delay which had taken place in the institution of proceedings was not a fair and proper course to adopt. The seizure of the vessels on the 9th of October was virtually the commencement of proceedings, and had proper diligence been used, the commission might already have returned from Egypt. In the two Terms, Michaelmas and Hilary, which had since elapsed, the proceedings might have been closed, and a trial at bar, if a trial at bar were necessary, have taken place. His noble Friend had shown that the conduct of the Government, from beginning to end, had been most unjust, oppressive, and arbitrary; and that, yielding to the pressure of the American Minister, they had stretched the law far beyond its proper limits. The Motion of his noble Friend had not in the slightest degree affected or prejudiced the trial which was to take place in the Court of Exchequer. But where injustice and oppression had been practised by the Government, it was the duty of Members of Parliament, both in that and the other House, to bring forward the facts, in order that these might be fully and publicly known.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, he had listened to the debate with some surprise. In the discussion which took place a few evenings ago regarding the Tuscaloosa, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack expressed the regret with which he was led to express any opinion upon any legal questions which might afterwards become the subject of judicial decisions in that House, and that evening his noble and learned Friend had apprised him distinctly that he would not take any part in the discussion. The case of the Tuscaloosa had been decided by the action of the Government, and it was scarcely possible that it could come in any shape under the judicial consideration of their Lordships' 1909 House. But the present question was still in issue; it might come up by way of appeal from the Courts below, and the noble and learned Lord who had last spoken might be one of the judges of the legality or illegality of the conduct of the Government. He regretted that the noble and learned Lord should so have expressed himself in debate as to show that he had prejudged the question, and that he viewed it somewhat under a political aspect. He regretted to detain the House at such an ungenial hour, but when the Government had been bitterly attacked, and when the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack; —owing to scruples which were not shared by the noble and learned Lord opposite— had withdrawn from the debate, it was only natural that a Member of that Government should rise in its defence. The noble Earl who introduced the debate laid great stress upon the perfect frankness and openness of the Messrs. Laird; but, for his part, he (the Duke of Argyll) had never known conduct less frank or open. In accordance with a verbal intimation previously given to the Government, that the Messrs. Laird, though unable to volunteer information, would willingly supply it if questions were asked by the Government, Earl Russell wrote the letter already quoted, asking on whose account and for what destination the vessels were being built. Messrs. Laird did not explain that this answer would refer to one of these questions only, and that they must refuse to answer the other; but they sent back a letter purporting to be a reply to the whole; and in this they begged to inform the Government that the name of the firm on whose account they were building was the Messrs. Bravay. He maintained that this was an evasion, and an intentional evasion, of the real and important question put by the Government. Messrs. Laird knew well enough that what the Government desired to ascertain was, whether these vessels had been built under contract for the Confederate Government, and not whether, by any collusive transaction with third parties, they had tried to divest themselves of their responsibility. Messrs. Laird might have refused to answer the questions put to them, or to give any information; no one could blame them for being careful or secret if they thought it necessary to be so; but they certainly were not entitled to that credit for candour and openness which was claimed for them by the noble Earl. He contended that they had not 1910 acted in accordance with their duty to the Crown, and with what other subjects of the Crown in similar circumstances had felt to be their duty. A vessel much of the same character as the Alabama was building upon the Clyde, and, acting under instructions from the Government, a close watch was sot — latterly, he believed, a gunboat had been anchored alongside— and when the vessel approached completion his noble Friend thought it right to address to the builders the same questions which he had put to the Messrs. Laird. They replied immediately that it was perfectly true the vessel had been built for the Confederate Government; but that as soon as it appeared that by so doing a violation of the law was committed, the contract had been broken and the vessel was now at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government. That was a case in which the builders had acted with perfect frankness; and an arrangement had been come to under which, while a verdict would be entered for the Crown, the vessel would be freed, subject to certain bonds and restrictions preventing it from falling into the hands of the Confederates. He confessed that he could not understand the tone in which this question had been debated by noble Lords opposite. He could understand a certain amount of sympathy with Messrs. Laird, and of irritation and dislike against the American Government, which had been manifested on more than one occasion; but what he could not understand was, that noble Lords opposite should forget that this was not a mere question of a municipal statute, but that there was a great question of International Law and international obligation lying under it; and that if they were called to office it would be their duty to protect the neutrality of the Crown against the dangerous attempts of belligerent Governments to make them parties to the war. The noble and learned Lord had treated the question as one with which International Law had nothing to do, and had quoted some words of the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary, to prove that that was so. The language of his noble Friend proved nothing of the sort. The Foreign Enlistment Act was a municipal statute, enabling the Government to fulfil its international obligations; but he did not believe that the provisions of that statute entirely limited the action of the Government upon such question. Take the famous case of 1793. In that year, ves- 1911 sels of a formidable character were being built and armed in the ports of the United States. Mr. Hammond was instructed to remonstrate with Washington, then President, and Mr. Jefferson; and although the Americans had at that time no Foreign Enlistment Act, yet, after a celebrated correspondence, they seized the vessels under the obligations of international neutrality. In the year 1793, the United States Government had acted towards us precisely as his noble Friend had recently acted towards them. He entreated noble Lords opposite to put aside party feelings, and to remember the immense national importance of this question. For many centuries England had been almost uniformly a belligerent Power, and she had raised for herself and other belligerents a great system of belligerent law, which told very severely against neutrals. We were now almost for the first time neutral in a great maritime contest, and some of our subjects had been wincing and were still wincing under the operation of those rules which we had formerly applied to others. He believed, however, that with the good sense and spirit of fairness which characterized the people of this country, they perceived that it was our duty and interest to submit to the application to ourselves of every one of the rules which we had before enforced against others; and he trusted that now we were neutral we should not pursue the suicidal policy of encouraging or permitting other nations to fit out vessels of war in our ports—a policy which would have the double effect of endangering our neutrality and seriously impairing our power as a belligerent if we should ever again be compelled to engage in war. When it was alleged in the Court of Exchequer that Messrs. Laird had evaded the law, Sir Hugh Cairns said that that was all he cared for, because if they had evaded the law they could not be guilty under it; but we could not get rid of international obligations by quibbles like that, and it was the duty as well as the interest of public men of all parties to do their best to encourage a high tone of morality among the commercial classes as to those obligations. When, during the Crimean war, a charge which turned out to be unfounded was made at the instance of our Government—that a vessel which was building in New York was intended to be employed in warlike operations against this country, the Chamber of Commerce of that city adopted a series of resolutions 1912 in which they described the charge as a disgraceful impeachment, which ought not to be made lightly or without serious inquiry. He should like to hear Messrs. Laird treat this matter in a similar spirit, He should like to hear them say that they thought such a charge an impeachment of their honour, and declare that they had never entered into any contract with the Confederate Government to build vessels to be employed in this war. Much had been said about the yielding to the demand of Mr. Adams, the American Minister. He (the Duke of Argyll) contended that it was our duty, in obedience to International Law, to attend to the representation of Mr. Adams. It was as much for the interest of the commercial community as of the Government that the principles of International Law should be strictly adhered to; and that this was felt to be so by merchants themselves was proved by the fact that a petition had been presented in favour of the improvement and strengthening of the Foreign Enlistment Act, which was signed by thirty-seven of the largest and most respectable mercantile firms in the town of Liverpool. It was pre-eminently for the advantage of England to maintain those principles, and he therefore hoped that nothing would be done to weaken or endanger them. Under these circumstances, the course which had been pursued by his noble Friend near him and his Colleagues was, he contended, in accordance with the solemn obligations imposed on them as Ministers of the Crown, and they deserved the thanks of the country for the manner in which they had equally upheld the principles of International Law and vindicated the honour of the country.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, after so long a discussion, he was unwilling to offer any observations in reply. Certainly the temptation to do so was not increased by the present state of the House. He had formally moved for the production of those papers merely for the purpose of enabling himself to bring forward all the material facts connected with the case, and to show that Her Majesty's Government had performed their indisputable duty with unnecessary harshness and severity, and not according to the terms of the law, but rather in a manner evading the law. Not having heard anything from the noble Earl or the noble Duke opposite to controvert that statement, he (the Earl of Derby) was perfectly satisfied with having thus 1913 performed his duty. If he did not desire to continue the discussion in the present state of the House, he was still less desirous of pressing his Motion to a division, looking at the overwhelming majority that would meet him from the Ministerial bench. He had made the Motion for the production of papers which he had already possession of. His object was, therefore, achieved, and he was utterly indifferent whether the noble Earl consented to produce them or not.
§ EARL RUSSELL
said, he would rather not produce the Correspondence, seeing that it had been refused in the other House of Parliament.
§ Motion (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Nine o'clock, to Monday next, half past Eleven o'clock.