Imperial ParliamentThe Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1200, p. 455.
April 25, 1863
Lord A. Churchill gave notice of his intention to ask the Solicitor-General, on Friday night, whether British merchant vessels trading between neutral ports would be justified in defending themselves by force of arms against Federal ships of war.
...Seizures by American Cruisers.--A discussion took place, originated by the Marquis of Clauricarde, respecting the right of capturing British vessels supposed to contain contraband of war. Earl Russell, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Carnarvon, and Earl Grey took part in it. It was of a precisely similar character to that which took place in the House of Commons, of which we give brief summary.
Mr. Roebuck called attention to the conduct of Admiral Wilkes in seizing British vessels, and strongly commented upon the unwarrantable course of proceedings of that officer.
Lord Palmerston said the question was one of great importance, and all he could say at present was that it was receiving due consideration on the part of her Majesty's Government, but he was not then in a position to say what the result would be.
On the motion far going into Committee of Supply,
Mr. Bentinck called the attention of her Majesty's Government to a statement in the City article of the Times newspaper of the 17th inst. referring to the seizure of British vessels by the cruisers of the Northern States of America, and moved for certain papers on the subject.
Mr. Peacock expressed a wish for the production of certain other papers connected with the subject.
Mr. Newdegate deprecated the tone of Mr. Roebuck's speech, and thought that if we were compelled to enter into a contest with America it should be upon a question where the honour and dignity of the country were concerned.
Mr. Layard expressed the greatest surprise at the conduct of certain hon. members on the opposite side of the House, particularly after the explanation of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. The hon. gentleman then proceeded to read the correspondence which had taken place between Earl Russell and the Postmaster-General, in which they decided that, as a ship was liable to seizure by the Americans for any letter to the Confederate States that might be in the letter-bags, those vessels that were under contract should not be compelled to carry those letter-bags. He then defended the Government, generally, in the course they had taken in their negotiations with the American Government.
Mr. Whiteside said, however surprised the hon. Under-Secretary might be at the conduct of members on the opposite side of the House, he might rest assured that whenever the honour or the interest of the country was concerned the members of that House would not be deterred by any feeling of surprise on the part of the hon. gentleman, or of the Government generally, from asking those questions which they deemed necessary in order to gain information which would guide them in their councils.
Sir H. Cairns wished to know whether the Government had really assented to the principle that the Americans might seize any of our vessels trading with neutral ports, drag them into a prize court in the United States, and compel them to undergo a lengthened litigation before justice could be done to their owners.
The Solicitor General said that, so far back as November last, Earl Russell protested against the seizure of our vessels by American cruisers, unless after careful search and reasonable grounds to justify the capture being found on board. Mr. Seward had never attempted to justify the indiscriminate seizure of our merchant vessels, and had sent out instructions to the American officers to be very careful not to seize upon any vessels but those that were carrying contraband of war.
Lord R. Cecil said that the Federal ships had unjustifiably seized some of our ships, and, while our Government was considering what it should do, Mr. Adams was master of the field, and our commerce was smarting under their conduct. Already the insurance rates were raised on our shipping in consequence of the state of our relations with America, and he thought that the protestations of Mr. Seward were not of much value, when it was notorious that Admiral Wilkes was making the most piratical attacks upen our vessels.
Mr. B. Osborne hoped that the House would repose their utmost confidence in the judgment and discretion of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and deprecated a continuance of a discussion calculated to precipitate this country into war.
The subject then dropped, and the motion was withdrawn.