[In the Course of a Debate in the House of Commons]The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1215, p. 117.
August 1, 1863
In the course of a debate in the House of Commons some time ago, Mr. Laird stated that soon after the outbreak of the civil war in America a gentlemen from the United States waited upon him "with the view of getting vessels built in this country for the Federal Government." Mr. Welles, the Federal Secretary to the Navy, has written a letter, in which he states that no person was ever authorised by the Northern Government to apply to Mr. Laird, or any other foreign builder, to supply ships to the United States. On the other hand, the Navy Department had been solicited for orders by persons professing to represent English ship-building firms; and Mr. Welles has an "indistinct remembrance" that "more than one person" "importuned" on behalf of the Messrs. Laird. But he "pursued a uniform and undeviating policy in regard to each and all of those applications, declining, in every instance, any proposition to build, or procure to be built, vessels for our (Federal) navy abroad." Mr. Laird, however, adheres to his original statement, and has offered to place in Lord Palmerston's hands the documents upon which he relies for the vindication of his veracity. He has since replied to the letter of the Federal Secretary to the Navy, by publishing what we presume are the documents he offered to place in the hands of Lord Palmerston, with the view of showing that he only stated the truth when he told the House of Commons that overtures had been made to him for the construction of ships of war for the service of the United States. Mr. Laird withholds for the present the name of the gentleman who represented himself to be the authorised agent of Mr. Gideon Welles; but we infer from one of the letters that the hon. gentleman may yet consider himself bound, in self defence, to make a disclosure which, in the interest of his correspondent, he has been anxious to avoid. Mr. Laird further states that if any person has "importuned" the American Navy Department in behalf of his firm, he has done so without any authority.