[Diplomacy is now 'On Its Trial.']The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1338, p. 355.
October 14, 1865
Diplomacy is now "on its trial." It has a difficult and delicate task to perform, but the call is peremptory, and the object noble. If diplomacy should now fail, it will be discredited for ever, and we shall not be disinclined to listen to those who declare it an effete conventionalism which should be discarded by enlightened nations. We, however, hope better things from the accomplished masters of the art who have been for some months exchanging despatches in secret, and whose efforts have this week been laid before the world. Diplomacy has to preserve the peace between the two great nations, England and the United States.
Five despatches have just been published. They form a correspondence between the representative of America, Mr. Adams, and our Foreign Secretary. The first is dated the 7th of April, the last is not a month old. We therefore have before us the dispute as it stands. It may be convenient to add here that Earl Russell, refusing the demands of Mr. Adams, has made a proposition which the latter has undertaken to refer to his Government, but which it is, apparently, unlikely that he will be instructed to accept. The reply to this will be the next diplomatic news from America.
The requisition of the United States, of course, takes no one by surprise, as we have been for a long time informed, by more trustworthy organs than the generally-demoralised press of the States, that Mr. Seward would insist upon compensation to such American citizens as have suffered by the ravages committed on Federal property by vessels of British origin. The demand is now solemnly made, and as seriously met. Mr. Adams, in April, called the attention of Earl Russell to the official reports which the American Government had received upon the subject, and, while giving our own Government credit for a desire to prevent the ravages complained of and to act in a friendly manner towards America, Mr. Adams endeavoured to fix upon us as a nation responsibility for the acts of the vessels in question. He pointed out that the sea was swept of United States commerce, to the advantage of this country, and he thus by implication assigned a selfish character to the conduct of our Administration. He further asserted that the system took its rise in the precipitate action of England in hastening to invest with the character of belligerents those who had not when so proclaimed a single vessel of their own to show floating. British harbours had been open to the Confederate vessels, which had been sheltered and assisted there, and had been received with an unmistakable sympathy. We are charged in express terms with having not only given birth to the Confederate naval belligerent but with having nursed and maintained it to the present hour. Mr. Adams having, as was his duty, made out the strongest case in his power, protested against the conduct of England and demanded the immediate withdrawal of belligerent rights from the rebels.
After due consideration, Earl Russell replies nearly a month afterwards. He asserts that England has done its duty, and has faithfully obeyed both international and municipal law. In reference to the alleged advantage gained to us by the acts of the Confederates, the Foreign Secretary points out the fearful losses entailed upon us by the war, which shut up from us the provinces which supplied the material of an enormous trade. The constituting the rebels belligerents was the act of the President of the States, not ours. He proclaimed a blockade, which he could do only on the ground that the South was waging war with him. We could do but one of two things--acknowledge the blockade, and, by consequence, the belligerency, or refuse to acknowledge it, and go on trading. The latter would have been an act of hostility towards the States. We had, of course, a right to be neutral; but had we done as the Americans desired, and treated the South as pirates, we should have ceased in the most signal manner to be neutral; for we should have become active agents in the war. Having argued out this question--and it will be perceived that no argument had been introduced into the discussion which had not been exhausted in the English journals--Earl Russell proceeds to show that in regard to her dealings with the Confederate vessels we did all that the law enjoins or permits. The Alabama was stolen from us under a false pretence. Mr. Adams declares that the harbour officers were all actuated by secret sympathy with the South, and that they would do nothing to assist his efforts; but, whether this be true or not, it is impossible to rest a case against an honourable Government on the belief that its inferior agents were unfaithful. Earl Russell, however, makes a fair point of a strong expression of Mr. Seward's satisfaction at the just and friendly proceedings of the English Government in regard to the vessels. He then cites history, and brings a valuable precedent forward. The United States had refused compensation to Spain and Portugal for losses which their merchants sustained from vessels fitted out in American harbours when the States were at peace with those nations; and Mr. Adams himself, then Secretary of State, declared that, when a Government had done all in its power to prevent the fitting out of hostile cruisers against a friendly country, it was not bound to make individual indemnification. In the case of the rams at Birkenhead, Government acted so decidedly as to be accused in Parliament of having gone beyond its powers.
In rather more than a fortnight the representative of America returns to the charge, and re-states his case in a wider manner. It is not necessary to analyse his replies to Earl Russell, or his attempts to show that we did not, as asserted, faithfully perform our duties with regard to the vessels which escaped. Suffice it to say that Mr. Adams, after three months more, is very fully met by Earl Russell, who seeks to show that we had not only acted with perfect faithfulness, but had precisely copied the conduct of the Americans under similar circumstances, He then refers to Mr. Adams's proposition, made in October, 1863, that arbitration between the countries should be resorted to. Earl Russell absolutely declines this. "The Government of England are sole guardians of their own honour." They will not admit that they have acted wrongly. Their law officers mast understand our laws better than a foreign Government can do. They will make neither reparation nor compensation for anything done by the Alabama, nor will they refer the question. But they will assent to the appointment of a commission to which shall be referred all claims arising out of the war which claims the two Powers shall agree so to refer.
Mr. Adams writes again on the 18th of last month, reiterates his charges in stronger language, says that he will await further instructions, and begs that he may not be thought to imply that the English Government has made a proposal in the knowledge that it could not be accepted, He adds, in reply to Earl Russell's assurance that the efforts by which America has shaken off slavery have the warm sympathies of this country, that he is glad to receive such assurance, but is painfully convinced that a large and influential class here have shown great coldness and apathy towards America. And here the correspondence terminates. It is of a grave character; but diplomacy, as we have said, is on its trial, and is bound to see the two great nations, to whom quarrel would be as loathsome as mischievous, through the difficulty. We hear that an English war ship is chasing the Shenandoah, which has been mercilessly destroying the poor whalers. The capture and hanging of her pirate crew would much smooth the diplomatists' work.