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Imperial Parliament

The Illustrated London News, vol. 44, no. 1255, p. 414.

April 30, 1864

...HOUSE OF COMMONS.--Friday, April 22.

...Outrage On A British Subject.--Lord R. Cecil said he wished to put a question to the Under-Secretary for the Foreign Department relative to an outrage on a British subject on the Northern coast of America. He wished to know whether any information had been received by the Foreign Office on the subject, and, if so, what steps had been taken.--Mr. Layard said information had been received similar to that which had appeared in the public press. Correspondence had been going on between her Majesty's Government and the United States Government, and redress had been demanded for the outrage...


...The Tuscaloosa.--Lord Chelmsford called the attention of their Lordships to the mode in which the Government proposed to deal with prizes brought by the belligerent Powers of America into ports within her Majesty's dominions, as described in the correspondence presented to Parliament with respect to the Tuscaloosa. The noble Lord condemned the course of procedure contemplated as most objectionable and dangerous, and totally opposed to the comity of nations.--Earl Russell observed that the law of nations required that prizes captured at sea should be legally condemned in the prize courts of the captors; but the Confederates had no power to take prizes into their own ports on account of the Federal blockade--a circumstance which rendered the present war altogether anomalous. He contended that the captain of a belligerent cruiser had no right to put guns on board her and claim to have her treated as a commissioned ship of war. If that could be done, the Confederate cruisers might dispose of every one of their prizes in her Majesty's ports, and this would have the effect of at once violating the Royal proclamation and the neutrality of the country. In his opinion the Government were bound to regard the Tuscaloosa as an uncondemned prize; but the law officers of the Crown felt that under all the circumstances of the case it would have been sufficient to warn her off. He denied that the Government had truckled to Federal menaces and threats, and asserted that whatever demands Ministers had made upon the Federal Government had been promptly and fairly attended to.--After a short discussion the subject dropped...


American Affairs.--Sir G. Grey, in reply to Mr. Hopwood, said it was not the intention of the Government to propose a conference of European Powers on American affairs; that there was no ground for making such a proposal, as they were certain that the United States Government would not concur in it...

The Tuscaloosa.

On the order of the day for going into Committee of Supply,

Mr. Peacock called attention to the case of the Confederate vessel Tuscaloosa, and the instructions to seize her contained in the despatch of the colonial officer to the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, dated the 4th of November last, and which he held were a weak concession to the menaces and demands of the United States. The hon. member argued, from the dicta of Sir W. Scott and other learned jurists on questions of international law, that the Tuscaloosa was sufficiently clothed with the character of a man-of-war to exempt her from seizure under the Queen's Proclamation, and that the commander of the Alabama, who had captured her and converted her into a Confederate cruiser, had as much right to commission her in that capacity as a commodore. He charged the Government with cowardice in evading the responsibility that rested only on themselves and endeavouring to cast it upon the shoulders of Sir P. Wodehouse. He complained that the instructions of November remained virtually unrepealed, and called upon the House to demand their recall; for, if we enforced them against one Power, we were bound to enforce them against another; if we acted upon them in the case of a weak Power, we must likewise do so in the case of a strong Power. Supposing, then, we applied them against a strong Power, the result must be to plunge the country into war; and if against a weak Power, it would cover the country with intolerable shame. It was in the interest of peace that he invited the House to assist in obtaining a revocation of those instructions, for as long as they stood unrepealed they were at once a source of danger and disgrace. In conclusion, the hon. member moved that the instructions contained in the despatch of the Duke of Newcastle, dated the 4th of November, 1863, and which remained still unrevoked, were at variance with the principles of international law.

The Solicitor-General, in resisting the motion, observed that at present we were neutrals, but the day might arrive when we should become belligerents, exercising belligerent rights; and when we again exercised those rights it might be that another armed neutrality would be formed against us. It behoved the House, therefore, to think well before they furnished such an armed neutrality with weapons forged by ourselves. The question was, whether the Tuscaloosa, when she entered Simon's Bay, was still a prize to the Alabama or had lost that character of a vessel of war. There was no disputing that she was a prize, that she had not been taken into any port of the Confederate States, for the purpose of being adjudicated upon; and the evidence showed, moreover, that her supposed conversion into a Confederate ship of war was a mere sham and pretence. Sir B. Walker had no doubt about her real character from the first; but he was overruled by the opinion of the Attorney-General of the Cape. In his (the Solicitor-General's) opinion there was no doubt but that she was a prize of war, and that her supposed conversion into a Confederate cruiser was a mere plan and pretence.

Mr. Whiteside contended that we had shamefully violated our alleged neutrality, as there could be no doubt whatever but that the Tuscaloosa was lawfully converted into a tender to the Alabama, that her Commander had a legal commission, and that we had no right whatever to detain her. If the Tuscaloosa had been a prize of the Alabama instead of her tender she ought to have been warned off, but under no circumstance was her seizure to be justified.

After a lengthened debate, which was chiefly confined to the members of the legal profession, the House divided, when Mr. Peacock's motion was defeated by a majority of 219 to 185.

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