London, Saturday, December 21,1861.The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1122, p. 620.
December 21, 1861
Last week it seemed difficult to obtain attention for any subject save that of the American crisis. "Who can tell what a day may bring forth?" To-day, in the presence of the heavy affliction with which it has pleased the Almighty and Inscrutable to visit our beloved Sovereign and the nation, even the solemn situation in which we have been placed by the piratical act of the Americans is momentarily disregarded while we seek to realise the sudden sorrow. But the record of the week must be duly completed.
President Lincoln's Message, as a composition, is conceived in the same low moral tone and executed with the same maladroitness which have characterised the preceding State Papers of his Government. But such considerations are of small importance compared with the indications of policy afforded by the document. There is no mention of the Trent outrage. From this circumstance, and from a meaningless declaration that the President does not desire hostilities with England, some sanguine writers have hastened to assume that the act of Captain Wilks will be disavowed, and the Southern Commissioners handed over to us. It is urged that Mr. Lincoln did not deem the act of the American Captain as worthy of notice in the Message, or that it is one upon which England has but to express her feeling to obtain immediate atonement. And this view is supported by reference to the fact that an actual wrong to British subjects is mentioned, and Congress is recommended to make compensation. We should be too happy to believe that so wise a course was that designed for adoption by the American Government, but we are afraid to resign ourselves to so agreeable a hope. It contradicts the general expression of that part of the American public which makes itself heard, and which exercises a fatal control over the so-called government of the American press (with one or two honourable exceptions), and of the American Secretary of State. The House of Representatives has deliberately offered a vote of thanks to the pirate Wilks; and though it is technically true that this is not precisely the same thing as a vote of our House of Commons, it is equally true, and more to the purpose, that the House of Representatives expresses the sentiments of those who, to the disgrace of the higher classes in the States, are permitted to engross political power. In the face of all these demonstrations, to say nothing of an official utterance by the head of the Federal Navy, we dare scarcely believe that the despatch of Earl Russell will receive the only answer which we can accept. Still we have only to wait and hear. Our next Impression will, in all probability, contain the expected intelligence. The news regarding the struggle between the North and South merely states that General M'Clellan has not moved, "nor will he move until he is certain to win "—a somewhat indefinite date. We learn with something akin to disgust that the barbarous reprisal system is likely to come into effect, that prisoners are being cruelly treated, and may be actually executed in cold blood—facts which reduce a war to an abominable brigandage. The North, in its excess of zeal for civilisation, is also elaborately destroying harbours in the South, thus by savage acts giving the lie to the profession of belief that the territory to which the harbours belong will ever again be a portion of the Federal dominions.