The Case of the Emily St. Pierre.The Illustrated London News, vol.41, no.1153, p.58.
July 12, 1862
The official correspondence respecting the above vessel has been published.
On the 24th of April Mr. Adams wrote to Earl Russell on the subject, and transmitted certain depositions relating to her seizure. Mr. Adams contended that the act committed by Captain Wilson, the master of the neutral vessel, entailed her confiscation and that of the cargo, and asked that directions might be given for their restoration.
On the 7th of May Earl Russell replied that, having taken the opinion of the law officers, the Government were unable to comply, inasmuch as acts of forcible resistance to the rights of belligerents on the high seas were not cognisable by the municipal law of England, however punishable as offences against international law in the prize courts of the captor administering such law.
Mr. Adams replied by quoting the language of Lord Stowell, by which he considered the restoration of the vessel is called for, and by pointing to the language of her Majesty's proclamation, which, he thinks, was intended to apply to precisely such cases as this.
The Foreign Minister rejoined that Lord Stowell's language was limited to the action of a prize court of the captor, and does not extend to the municipal law of a neutral country. Chancellor Kent is quoted at some length by the noble Lord, who concludes by saying that the meaning of the proclamation was that any breach of the statute would be punished under the statute by the same national authority by which the statute was enacted.
In a despatch which occupies three pages and a half of the printed return Mr. Adams reviews the arguments of the noble Lord and what he considers the recognised doctrines of international law, coming to the conclusion that the claim for the restoration of the ship rests on the soundest principles of equity and law. The restitution, he says, of Messrs. Mason and Slidell was not required by any portion of the municipal law of the United States, and the United States' Government restored them simply because the seizure seemed to have been wrongful, as construed by the law of nations. If the Royal proclamation is to be made so null and void, foreign nations must, he says, adopt more stringent measures of repression, "in order to bring down with real effect upon her subjects the just consequences of her Majesty's displeasure for their violation of her will." The Government and people of the United States had expected some mark of indignation on the part of her Majesty's Government. "The decision has been otherwise. Made wiser by the result, they will take the necessary precautions in like cases that may happen hereafter to protect themselves."
Writing on the 12th ult., the Foreign Minister endeavours to convince Mr. Adams that it is a general principle that each nation deals only with offences committed against its own laws, and is not called upon to carry into effect, or to aid in carrying into effect, the laws of foreign nations against persons who may have violated them and who may be found within its territory. "Not only in the case of neutrals in war, but in all cases falling within the same general principle, the nation to whom the parties complained of belong leaves to other nations who may suffer by the acts of such parties the penalty. It may happen that the nation receiving the injury may have an opportunity of resenting it should it perchance catch the offenders within its jurisdiction. Had the Emily St. Pierre fallen a second time into the hands of a United States' cruiser, a prize court of the United States would in all probability have condemned the ship and cargo. Nor would her Majesty's Government have complained of a condemnation judicially pronounced in accordance with the law of nations. Her Majesty's Government, adhering to this line of conduct, are, therefore, acting in accordance with reason, policy, and the common and universal usage of nations in like cases. You speak of the rescue of the Emily St. Pierre as being a fraud by the law of nations. But whether the act of rescue be viewed as one of fraud or of force, or as partaking of both characters, the act was done only against the rights accruing to a belligerent under the law of nations relating to war, and in violation of the law of war, which, whilst it permits the belligerent to exercise and enforce such rights against neutrals by the peculiar and exceptional right of capture, at the same time leaves to the belligerent alone the duty, and confers upon him the power, of vindicating such rights and of enforcing such law. The same law not only does not require, but does not even permit, neutral nations to carry out belligerent rights. You allude to the conduct of the United States' Government in the case of the Trent; but the flagrant wrong done in that case was done by a naval officer in the service of the United States; the prisoners whose release was demanded were in the direct custody and keeping of the executive Government; and the Government of the United States had actually the power to deliver them up, and did deliver them up, to the British Government. But the Emily St. Pierre is not in the power of the executive Government of this country, and the laws of England, as well as the law of nations, forbid the executive Government from taking away that ship from its legal owners."
Mr. Adams's reply, on the following day, is a simple acknowledgment of the above note, with the remark, "As I do not perceive that its contents materially change the nature of the issue that had been already made up, I shall content myself with the transmission of a copy, to complete the correspondence on the subject, to the Government of the United States."