London: Saturday, December 23, 1865The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1348, p. 602-603.
December 23, 1865
It is satisfactory, at the season when peace and good-will are most strongly inculcated, to be able to record that in the only quarter from which it was possible for England to expect unfriendliness a demonstration has been made which may fairly be assumed to indicate that no rupture with this country will be sought. President Johnson's Message has been delivered. We naturally look, in the first instance, to see what the President has to say about England, and we find, as was expected, a paragraph specially directed to the question of the relations between the United States and ourselves. We had no right to suppose that the arguments which have been urged by American diplomacy should not be condensed and affirmed in the Message. The President reiterates that we were hasty in acknowledging the belligerency of the South, and refuses to accept Earl Russell's interpretation of the law of nations in reference to the damages done by the vessels which escaped from our ports. Were we disposed to complain, it would be that no credit is accorded to our Government for the seizures it did effect, in defiance of certain strongly-expressed feelings here, and that implication of self-interest on the part of England is attached to what the people of this country assuredly regret as an accident, for the nation had no sympathy with blockade-runners, and had something less than sympathy with the pirates that destroyed defenceless vessels. But it would be unfair to lay stress upon points which were obviously necessary to the completeness of the Presidential argument. It is more to the purpose to observe the general tone and bearing of the paragraph which relates to England, and to notice that there is not the least attempt to inflame the mind of America against us, or to do more than place upon record the view which the Cabinet of Washington takes in opposition to that of St. James's. The modified arbitration offered by Lord Russell is declined, as Mr. Adams had all but stated that it would be; but, so far as words and the absence of words mean anything, we may believe that the American Government is too well aware of the mighty interests committed to its charge to be disposed to disturb the minds of men and the relations of commerce by raising a
Page 603quarrel on a question which, compared with the gigantic interests it might imperil, may indeed be called miserable. Diplomatists may continue to argue it out, or the issues may be left for future treatment; but it is clear that the head of the great Republic has too Christian and statesmanly a sense of his duties to mock the thanksgivings for deliverance from a terrible war, in which a great and real stake was involved, by hazarding another disruption of society for the sake of a very doubtful right, and a very contemptible cause. England, therefore, while supporting the view of her own Government, cannot but admit that America is fortunate in the magistrate who had greatness so strangely and so sadly thrust upon him.
The rest of the Message, with the exception of a congratulation to the people upon friendly relations with Russia and with China, and with the exception also of a guarded reference to Mexico--the President being unwilling to consider what opportunities might present themselves should it be necessary to provide against foreign interference--is devoted to topics exclusively American. An exposition of the indissoluble character of the Union and of the policy of reconstruction is followed by a reference to the four millions whom the war has called into freedom. The negro suffrage question is declared to be one with which the general Government is not competent to deal, and it is pronounced to be one for the several States. The freed men are counselled to show patience and the manly virtues. The President predicts a happy future for the Southern States if they accept the changes with wisdom and use due energy in recovering what has been lost by the cessation of unpaid labour. The finance question occupies a large space in the Message, but it may suffice to state that America finds herself with a debt of £600,000,000, but with resources which an improved system of taxation will render equal, it is believed, to the work of rapidly reducing this burden. In the eloquent adjuration to the citizens of the States to remember the vast amount of solid happiness which they possess, and in the prayer for the long-continued prosperity of the great Republic, every Englishman will join, and not the less cordially that he is invited to do so at a time when all Christians are called upon to remember and humbly to imitate Him whose name they bear.