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Opening of Parliament

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1130, p. 144.

February 8,1862


The Imperial Parliament was opened on Thursday afternoon by Royal Commission....


My Lords and Gentlemen,

We are commanded by her Majesty to assure you that her Majesty is persuaded that you will deeply participate in the affliction by which her Majesty has been overwhelmed by the calamitous, untimely, and irreparable loss of her beloved consort, who has been her comfort and support.

It has been, however, soothing to her Majesty, while suffering most acutely under this awful dispensation of Providence, to receive from all classes of her subjects the most cordial assurances of their sympathy with her sorrow, as well as of their appreciation of the noble character of him the greatness of whose loss to her Majesty and to the nation is so justly and so universally felt and lamented.

We are commanded by her Majesty to assure you that she recurs with confidence to your assistance and advice.

Her Majesty's relations with all the European Powers continue to be friendly and satisfactory; and her Majesty trusts there is no reason to apprehend any disturbance of the peace of Europe.

A question of great Importance, and which might have led to very serious consequences, arose between her Majesty and the Government of the United States of North America, owing to the seizure and forcible removal of four passengers from on board a British mail-packet by the commander of a ship of war of the United States; but that question has been satisfactorily settled by the restoration of the passengers to British protection and by the disavowably [sic] the United States' Government of the act of violence committed by their naval officer.

The friendly relations between her Majesty and the President of the United States have therefore remained unimpaired.

Her Majesty warmly appreciates the loyalty and patriotic spirit which have been manifested on this occasion by her North American subjects.


>The Royal Speech having been read by the Lord Chancellor and again by the clerk at the table,

Lord Dufferin moved an Address in reply, which, as usual, was a mere echo of the Speech from the Throne.... Adverting to America, he pointed out the ties of Interest and parentage which bound us to the United States, and expressed his approval of the neutral attitude the Government had assumed from the very outbreak of the civil war now desolating that country. He regarded the disputes which had arisen between the Northern and Southern States as the result of an incompatibility of temper; but, at the same time, he held that her Majesty's Government, in the wise precautions they had taken to protect the vast commercial interests of the nation and to maintain unimpaired the prestige of our naval prowess, had received the full sympathies of every British subject. Amid loud cheers from all sides of the House, he briefly adverted to the patriotism and determined spirit which had been manifested by Canada when a war with the United States appeared even more than imminent. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that the course her Majesty's Government had taken, in conjunction with France and Spain, in reference to the state of Mexico, would result in the establishment of order and the resumption of commercial tranquillity....

The Earl of Shelburne briefly seconded the Address.

The Earl of Derby concurred with the mover and seconder of the Address in the tribute they had paid to the memory of Prince Albert; and said he felt that the peculiar circumstances under which they had met rendered it most desirable that there should be no unnecessary differences of opinion. With regard to the American difficulty, he was bound to admit that her Majesty's Government had no alternative in the course they had taken. The moment they found that the act of Captain Wilks was not sanctioned by international law, a grave, serious, and imperative duty devolved upon them from which they could not shrink. However great might be the horrors of war, far greater must be the ignominy of forfeiting the honour of the country. He deeply regretted the course which the Federal Government had taken, because, although they had assented to the just demands of this country, they had done so with a very ill grace, though feeling that they were in the wrong, and had placed themselves, their Government, and their people in a position of undeserved humiliation. They had yielded not to their own sense of justice but to a demand by force, because they knew that this country would be satisfied with no less. Yet, though he approved the course the Government had taken in reference to the American difficulty, he thought they ought to be cautious how they entered upon negotiations which had for their object an alteration in the principles upon which international law was now regulated....

Earl Granville expressed his satisfaction at the course which Lord Derby had taken, and said that throughout the whole of the differences with the American Government her Majesty's Government had entertained but one desire, and that was the preservation of the neutrality of the country, so far as the internecine disputes with America were concerned, but not at the cost of dishonour to the British name. The moment the outrages upon the Trent occurred the Government felt that they had but one duty to perform, and that was instant and satisfactory reparation; and it afforded him the utmost pleasure to find that in the course they had taken they had been unanimously supported by the feelings of the country....Earl Russell stated that all the papers which related to the American difficulty and to the affairs of Mexico should at an early day be laid before Parliament. He expressed his satisfaction at the manner in which the efforts of the Government to maintain the honour of the British flag had been supported by the country, and drew a contrast between the unanimity which prevailed on the present occasion with what had been the course adopted in former times when, whatever might be the proposition which might be submitted by the Ministers, it would be sure to meet with the dissent of the Opposition. Adverting to the present position of American affairs, he stated that there could be no doubt, from the rapid success which had attended the efforts of the Confederates to break the blockade, that it was of a most ineffectual character, but at the same time the Government had no desire to press hardly on the Northern States, but hoped that they would be able themselves to settle their difficulties with the Southerners. Whether this struggle ended in the total disruption or in more firmly cementing the Union, her Majesty's Government would feel that they had done their duty to both sides by preserving a strict neutrality.


The Speaker having read her Majesty's most gracious speech,

Mr. Portman, who was received with cheers, rose to move that an humble Address be presented to her Majesty in answer to her most gracious Speech....

He remarked that there was one question of deep importance which might have led to serious consequences, and that was the differences which had arisen between this country and the United States. The pacific conclusion of the question was, he believed, due to the prompt and vigorous measures which had been taken by her Majesty's Government. The insult was one which no nation could have allowed to pass unatoned for. It was a breach of international law and an insult to the British flag. But the course taken by her Majesty's Government was the one that was best calculated to maintain peace and to assert the dignity of this country. It was gratifying to find that the tone adopted by her Majesty's Government had been followed by the Government of the United States. He did not wish to say anything invidious or irritating on this subject, but he might be permitted to remark that the attitudes of the two peoples were essentially different—that, whilst great numbers of the citizens of the United States were desirous of pushing matters to extremity, the people of this country desired, in the first instance, to ascertain the rights of the case, and, having once done so, they evinced a stern determination to demand reparation, and, if necessary, to enforce that reparation. Happily, the difficulty had been settled without entering into a war, and he was sure that the course which had been pursued by her Majesty's Government had received the full approval of the large majority of the nation. One of the principal results which had followed the manifestation of feeling in the United States had been the display of loyalty evinced by her Majesty's subjects in British North America, showing that they could appreciate the wise and liberal form of government under which they lived and under which they enjoyed the fullest civil and religious liberty. This country had received from our ally the Emperor of the French a proof of friendship by the readiness with which he had expressed his concurrent opinion on this matter; and he believed that the prompt and unhesitating expression of that opinion had gone far towards the solution of the difficult question. It was gratifying to find that during this painful struggle we had preserved tho strictest economy; and, although he regretted the suffering and distress which existed amongst the manufacturing population, he believed the exigencies of the case would only give an additional impetus to British energy and be the means of opening new fields whence a sufficient supply of cotton could be derived. There was another result on which he might congratulate the House, and more particularly hon. gentlemen opposite, and that was the success which had attended the organisation of our naval reserve....

Mr. Disraeli expressed his conviction that the information contained in the Speech from the Throne, both upon our domestic affairs and foreign relations, must be regarded with satisfaction by the House at large. In the threatening aspect of American affairs he most cordially recognized the propriety of the course taken by her Majesty's Government in preserving a strict neutrality; and he was proud of the dignified and honourable attitude taken by her Majesty's Government towards the Northern States in the late difficulty, while he admitted that the American Government had, all things considered, met the question at issue in a fair and honorable manner. With regard to the dispute between the Northern and Southern States, he thought all that the former had a right to demand of this country was that we should not recognise the independence of the latter prematurely and without due consideration. Taken in connection with the interposition in the affairs of Mexico, he considered this part of the question to be of the greatest importance, and he called upon the Government to lay before the House all the information in their possession on the subject of the blockade. He regarded the announcement made by the Government of their part in the Mexican intervention with very great anxiety, for this country was the first to recognise the independence of Mexico when she rebelled against Spain; and, although it had at first been stated that the grounds of interference were the insecurity of property and the non-settlement of British claims, much more extensive reasons had since been assigned....

Lord Palmerston could not permit some of the remarks made by the right hon. gentleman to pass unnoticed. With regard to the dispute between the American States, the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office had shown a discretion, a temper, and a dignity which must be gratifying to the country—equal to the occasion, and not exceeding it. From the outset of the dispute her Majesty's Government had preserved a strict neutrality, and from that strict neutrality it was not their intention to depart. They regretted the commercial and manufacturing distress to which the unhappy state of affairs had given rise in England; but they were not prepared, because of that distress, to depart from the course of conduct which they had hitherto pursued. With regard to the Mexican intervention, her Majesty's Government had no other motive of action than that which had been openly assigned, and were no party to any design of changing the form of government and imposing upon the Mexican people a form of government which might not be acceptable to them.

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