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London, Saturday, January 11, 1862

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1126, p. 38.

January 11, 1862


The dove has come and not the eagle. On Wednesday evening a telegram from Lord Lyons was brought by the City of Washington mail-steamer announcing that the act of Captain Wilks was annulled by the surrender of Messrs. Mason and Slidell and their two secretaries. The relations between England and the Northern States are, therefore, placed upon their former footing.

That Mr. Lincoln has performed this act of justice is sufficient. In what way it has been done, what the document with which Mr. Seward has accompanied the notification to Lord Lyons may be, what the American journals may say, what indignation may be expressed by mob meetings—are all considerations which may be set apart from the main point. A Government has had the wisdom to do justice and to repudiate, by deed if not by word, an outrage upon the flag of another Government. It may be that the right thing has been done in the wrong manner, and that there may be little cause for sentimental outbreak upon the subject. But right has been done, and the horrors of war have been averted; and in this there is surely enough to prompt the myriads who will assemble to-morrow in the House of Prayer to offer grateful thanksgivings to Him who " heareth and answereth prayer."

It would, at the same time, be an absurd affectation to pretend any doubt as to the human means that have wrought this most desirable issue. England has made at once an unmistakable manifestation of feeling and a magnificent demonstration of power, and public opinion and wise statesmanship have acted in unison. It was made clear to the American Government that we should enforce our rights, and the President has had the prudence to risk unpopularity for the hour instead of encountering defeat and disgrace for his country. We do not see that it is either necessary or generous to examine too closely the reasons which he may offer to the excited people of America. If he chooses to tell them that they are engaged in what has, up to the present time, been an unsuccessful war, which is costing them a million and a quarter of dollars every day, and that for the sake of detaining four gentlemen in a State prison it was not worth while to engage in a new contest, in which the overwhelming force of the most powerful nation in the world, supported by the opinion of Europe, would instantly be brought to bear upon the North, we have no right to complain that he should take that line, instead of boldly declaring that he unhesitatingly reversed a wrong. Mr. Seward's State paper, be it what it may, has been framed rather for his own countrymen than for England, and will in due course be answered, no doubt, by the terse dialectics of the Foreign Office. Some of the journals will, of course, be venomous, and will threaten us with signal chastisement when the empire of the North shall be re-established and the South, trampled, shall be unable to interfere. For this, and for the Greek Kalends, we will wait patiently. The single point on which it is possible that the good-hearted John Bull may feel he would like to reply is the allegation that he made his demand "in the hour of America's disasters and distress." This is altogether a bran-new statement of the case. Six weeks ago we were solemnly and vauntfully assured that America was exceedingly rich and powerful, and had nearly three-quarters of a million of soldiers ready for anything. The South was to be repressed the moment General M'Clellan should be ready to move, and then the army of the North could move upon Canada, or Ireland, or Yorkshire, if necessary. Therefore we had no right to know anything about distress or disaster, and might consider ourselves as doing a bold thing in asking the flushed and fiery champions of the Union to surrender their prey. But, even supposing that the North were unfavourably circumstanced, it could not justify her in doing a wrong or us in submitting to one. It is not because a man is irritated and upon bad terms with his wife and family that he is to be allowed to rush into another man's house and carry off his property. We have, however, made the demand for reparation in the most considerate way, have done everything to conciliate, and, by means of a graceful and informal piece of diplomacy, we left it open to Mr. Lincoln to seize the opportunity of making an unenforced atonement for a pirate's action. We are therefore clear of all blame in the whole transaction, and legally, morally, and even sentimentally, we have shown ourselves friends to the Americans. When the storm shall have gone down this will be admitted by all except the viler of the journals. It is said that a man whose position may, at no distant date, be a far higher one than is now supposed—the Commander of the American Army—has already declared that England has acted rightly.

We must now wait details, but we wait in a far different attitude from that in which we were to be found until Wednesday. We welcome the dove, and Britannia throws down the lanyard, rejoiced that she is spared the pain of a straggle with those for whom, despite all their unkindness, she ever retains a warmer sympathy than she can feel for any other nation in the world.

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