Monthly Record of Current Events, November 30.
"Since that conversation was held, Captain Wilkes, in the steamer San Jaccinto, has boarded a British colonial steamer and taken from her deck two insurgents, who were proceeding to Europe on an errand of treason against their own country. This is a new incident, unknown to, and unforeseen, at least in its circumstances, by Lord Palmerston. It is to be met and disposed of by the two Governments, if possible, in the spirit to which I have adverted. Lord Lyons has prudently refrained from opening the subject to me, as he is, I presume, waiting instructions from home. We have done nothing on the subject to anticipate the discussion; and we have not furnished you with any explanations. We adhere to that course now, because we think it more prudent that the ground taken by the British Government should be first made known to us here; and that the discussion, if there must
be one, shall be had here. It is proper, however, that you should know one fact in the case, without indicating that we attach importance to it, namely, that in the capture of Messrs. Mason and Slidell on board a British vessel, Captain Wilkes, having acted without any instructions from the Government, the subject is therefore free from the embarrassment which might have resulted if the act had been specially directed by us.
"I trust that thy British Government will consider the object in a friendly temper, and it may expect the best disposition on the part of this Government."
On the same day (November 30) Earl Russell forwarded a dispatch to Lord Lyons, the English Minister at Washington, in which he details the circumstances of the seizure of the Confederate Envoys, who, he says, " were taken from on board a British vessel, the ship of a neutral Power, while such vessel was pursuing a lawful and innocent voyage — an act of violence which was an affront to the British flag, and a violation of international law." Earl Russell then presents the British demands as follows:
"Her Majesty's Government, bearing in mind the friendly relations which have long subsisted between Great British and the United States, are willing to believe that the United States naval officer who committed the aggression was not acting in compliance with any authority from his Government, or that, if he conceived himself to be so authorized, he greatly misunderstood the instructions which he had received. For the Government of the United States must be fully aware that the British Government could not allow such an affront to the national honor to pass without full reparation; and her Majesty's Government are unwilling to believe that it could be the deliberate intention of the Government of the United States unnecessarily to force into discussion between the two Governments a question of so grave a character, and with regard to which the whole British nation would be sure to entertain such unanimity of feeling. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, trust that, when this matter shall have been brought under the consideration of the Government of the United States, that Government will, of its own accord, offer to the British Government such redress as alone could satisfy the British nation, namely: The liberation of the four gentlemen and their delivery to your lordship, in order that they may again be placed under British protection, and a suitable apology for the aggression which has been committed. Should these terms not be offered by Mr. Seward, you will propose them to him."
Mr. Seward, on the 26th of December, replied to this dispatch. He maintains that embassadors and their dispatches are contraband of war, and that consequently Captain Wilkes might lawfully stop and search the Trent; and having found the supposed contrabands on board, he had a right to capture them. But they also had a right to trial before a tribunal competent to decide the questions of neutrality and contraband; and Great Britain, who had taken these men under her flag, was bound to protect them if they were not contraband, and is entitled to be satisfied upon that important question. But the laws of contraband deal directly with property, not persons. Our Government, indeed, early suggested that captured persons should be taken into port, and directly subjected to judicial proceedings. To this it was replied that the end might be reached indirectly. It was said:
"Convey the suspected men, together with the suspected vessel, into port, and try there the question whether the vessel is contraband. You can prove it to be so by proving the suspected men to be contraband, and the Court must then determine the vessel to be contraband. If the men are not contraband, the vessel will escape condemnation. Still there is no judgment for or against the captured persons. But it was assumed that there would result from the determination of the Court concerning the vessel a legal certainty concerning the character of the men."
No other form of judicial process exists than this circuitous and illogical one, and none other has yet been suggested. "Practically, therefore," says Mr. Seward, "the choice is between that judicial remedy, or no judicial remedy whatever. If there be no judicial remedy, the result is that the question must be determined by the captor himself on the deck of the prize vessel." The objections to such a course are pointed out by the Secretary, who continues:
"In the present case. Captain Wilkes, after capturing the contraband persons, and making prize of the Trent in what seems to us a perfectly lawful manner, instead of sending her into port, released her from the capture, and permitted her to proceed with her whole cargo upon her voyage. He thus effectually prevented the judicial examination which might otherwise have occurred.
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"I trust that I have shown to the satisfaction of the British Government, by a very simple and natural statement of the facts and analysis of the law applicable to them, that this Government has neither meditated nor practiced, nor approved, any deliberate wrong in the transaction to which they have called its attention, and, on the contrary, that what has happened has been simply an inadvertency, consisting in a departure by the naval officer — free from any wrongful motive — from a rule uncertainly established, and, probably, by the several parties concerned, either imperfectly understood or entirely unknown. For this error the British Government has a right to expect the same reparation that we, as an independent State, should expect from Great Britain, or from any other friendly nation, in a similar case."
The principles upon which the Administration has decided this case are embodied in the instructions given in 1804, by James Madison, Secretary of State in the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, to James Monroe, Minister to England: "Whenever," he says, "property found in a neutral vessel is supposed to be liable on any ground to capture and condemnation, the rule in all cases is that the question shall not be decided by the captor, but be carried before a legal tribunal, where a regular trial may be had, and where the captor himself is liable to damages for an abuse of his power. Can it be reasonable, then, or just, that a belligerent commander who is thus restricted, and thus responsible in a case of mere property, of trivial amount, shall be permitted, without recurring to any tribunal whatever, to examine the crow of a neutral vessel, to decide the important question of their respective allegiances, and to carry that decision into execution by forcing every individual he may choose into a service abhorrent to his feelings, cutting him off from his most tender connections, exposing his mind and his person to the most humiliating discipline, and his life itself to the greatest danger? Reason, justice, and humanity unite in protesting against so extravagant a proceeding."
Mr. Seward thus concludes his dispatch:
"I express my satisfaction that, by the adjustment of the present case, upon principles confessedly American, and yet, as I trust, mutually satisfactory to both of the nations concerned, a question is finally and rightly settled between them which, heretofore exhausting not only all forms of peaceful discussion, but also the arbitrament of war itself, for more than half a century alienated the two countries from each other, and perplexed with fears and apprehensions all other nations.
"The four persons in question are now held in military custody at Fort Warren, in the State of Massachusetts. They will be cheerfully liberated. Your lordship will please indicate a time and place for receiving them."
Messrs. Mason and Slidell, with their Sacretaries, M'Farland and Eustis, were accordingly, on the 1st of January, put on board the English sloop of war Rinaldo, which had touched at Provincetown, Massachusetts, for that purpose.
In the mean while, on the 3d of December, M. Thouvenel, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, addressed to the French Minister at Washington a note setting forth the views of the French Government upon this question. It assumes that the prisoners can not be regarded as "contraband of war," that they do not come within the category of persons who, under the special stipulations concerning military people, inserted in treaties, could be seized
400upon by belligerents; and that if they were arrested as rebels, "whom it is always lawful to seize," it was still done in "misapprehension of the principle which makes a vessel a portion of the nation whose flag it bears, and in violation of that immunity which prohibits a foreign sovereign, by consequence, from the exercise of his jurisdiction." In every view of the case, therefore, the French Government considers the seizure to have been unwarrantable. The note concludes:
"Lord Lyons is already instructed to present the demand for satisfaction which the English Cabinet is under the necessity of reducing to form, and which, consists in the immediate release of the parsons taken from on board the Trent, and in sending explanations which may take from this act its offensive character toward the British flag. The Federal Government will be inspired by a just and exalted feeling in deferring to these requests. One would search in vain to what end, for what interest, it would hazard to provoke by a different attitude a rupture with Great Britain.
"For ourselves, we should see in that fact a deplorable complication, in every respect, of the difficulties with which the Cabinet of Washington has already to struggle, and a precedent of a nature seriously to disquiet all the Powers which continue outside of the existing contest. We believe that we give evidence of loyal friendship for the Cabinet of Washington by not permitting it to remain in ignorance, in this condition of things, of our manner of regarding it. I request you, therefore, Sir, to seize the first occasion of opening yourself frankly to Mr. Seward, and, if he asks it, send him a copy of this dispatch."
Mr. Seward, in reply, refers to the decision of the President in this case, adding:
"When the French Government shall come to see at large the views of this Government, and those of the Government of Great Britain, on the subject now in question, and to compare them with the views expressed by M. Thouvenel, on the part of France, it will probably perceive that, while it must be admitted that these three Powers are equally impressed with the same desire for the establishment of principles favorable to neutral rights, there is, at the same time, not such an entire agreement concerning the application of those principles as is desirable to secure that important object. The Government of the United States will be happy, if the occasion which has elicited this correspondence can be improved so as to secure a more definite agreement upon the whole subject by all maritime Powers."
Our Record closes on the 9th of January. In Congress much time has been spent in considering various propositions looking to the enfranchisement of the slaves of those who have taken part in the insurrection. In the House, all propositions of this nature were, on the 17th of December, referred to the Judiciary Committee. — The most important bills actually passed in either House, are the following: Appointing a Joint Committee to inquire into the conduct of the War. — Providing for the construction of twenty iron-clad gun-boats, to be built by contract, or otherwise, as the Secretary of the Navy may deem expedient. — Appropriating $1,500,000 for the construction of gun-boats on the Mississippi. — Increasing the duties, imposed by the tariff of August, on tea, sugar, and coffee. It imposes upon tea 20 cents instead of 15; upon coffee 5 instead of 3Ë; upon clayed sugar 3 instead of 2; upon brown sugar 2Ë instead of 2. By a joint resolution, subsequently passed, those articles now in the bonded warehouses may be withdrawn upon the payment of the duties imposed by the tariff of August.
The National finances present the most important business before Congress. In the House, the Committee of Ways and Means have resolved upon raising $150,000,000 by taxes. They have also reported a Bill authorizing the issue of $100,000,000 in Demand Treasury Notes. The immediate passage of this Bill is anticipated. The following is its essential provision:
"Be it enacted, etc., That, for temporary purposes, the Secretary of the Treasury be, and he is hereby, authorized to issue, on the faith of the United States, $100,000,000 of Treasury Notes, not bearing interest, payable on demand, without specifying any place of payment, and of such denominations as he may deem expedient, not less than $5 each, and such Notes and all other Treasury Notes not bearing interest that have been heretofore authorized to be issued, shall be receivable for all debts and demands due to the United States, and for all salaries, dues, debts, and demands, owing by the United States to individuals, corporations, and associations, within the United States, and shall also be a legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private, within the United States, and shall be exchangeable at any time at their par value, the same as coin, at the Treasury of the United States, and the offices of the Assistant Treasurers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and the depository in Cincinnati, for any of the coupon or registered bonds which the Secretary of the Treasury is now, or may hereafter be authorized to issue, and such Treasury Notes may be reissued from time to time as the exigencies of the public service may require."
The essential points in which these notes differ from those formerly issued are, that they are made legal tender for all private and public debts, and that each note is receivable at any of the branch Treasuries in exchange for all Government securities. The Committee have also prepared a Bill for a General Banking Law, embodying the main features suggested by the Secretary of the Navy, as noted in our last Record.
The military operations of the month have been of some importance, though nothing decisive has taken place. — On the 13th of December, a sharp action occurred at Alleghany Camp, in Western Virginia, between the Union forces under General Milroy, and the enemy under General Johnson. It lasted from daylight till dark, when General Milroy withdrew his troops, intending to renew the engagement in the morning, but during the night the enemy abandoned their position. Our loss was 20 killed and 30 wounded; that of the enemy, by their own accounts, 31 killed and 97 wounded. — On the 17th, the Thirty-second Indiana Volunteers were attacked near Munfordsville, Kentucky, by three regiments of the enemy, who were beaten off, after a short fight, with the loss of 62 killed, and many wounded. We lost 13 killed, and 30 wounded. — On the 18th, General Pope cut off a hostile camp near Shawnee Mound, in Missouri, scattering the troops, and taking 300 prisoners. Almost simultaneously, another portion of General Pope's forces, under Colonel Davis and Major Marshall, surprised another camp near Milford, taking 1300 prisoners and capturing a large amount of supplies and ammunition.—On the 20th, General Ord's brigade, consisting mainly of Pennsylvania regiments, had a sharp engagement with the enemy near Dranesville, Viriginia, totally routing them, with considerable loss. — On the 1st of January a fight took place at Port Royal Ferry, near Beaufort, South Carolina, to which place a detachment was sent to dislodge the enemy from a strong position. The attempt was entirely successful, the enemy falling back to another position on the railroad. — On the 5th, a successful attack was made by General Milroy upon Huntersville, in Western Virginia. The enemy was driven out, with considerable loss, abandoning stores and provisions to a considerable amount.
A disastrous fire broke out in Charleston, South Carolina, on the night of the 11th of December, destroying a large part, of the business portion of the city. The entire loss is estimated at seven or eight millions of dollars. — On the 21st, the maul entrance to the harbor of Charleston was closed by sinking 17 vessels of the "stone fleet" in such a manner as to
401obstruct the channel. — The negroes near Beaufort have been employed in gathering cotton, and considerable quantities have been sent to New York.
Informal measures have been taken for an exchange of prisoners; 240 of those taken at Bull Run have been exchanged for an equivalent number in our hands. Mr. Ely, member of Congress from New York, was exchanged for Mr. Faulkner, lately our Minister to France.
The banks in New York suspended specie payments on the 30th of December. This movement was in consequence of the withdrawal by depositors of large amounts of coin, mainly for the purpose of selling it at a premium. The suspension in New York was accompanied by a similar measure in Boston and Philadelphia.
Argentine Republic. — The army of President Urquiza has been routed, and almost annihilated at Pabon by forces of Buenos Ayres, under General Mitre. This battle, it is supposed, will end the war, all the demands of Buenos Ayres being conceded.
Bolivia. — A bloody affair took place at La Paz on the 23d of November. General Fernandez, one of the ministers of President Achia, entered into a plot to overthrow the Government. He pronounced against the President in the south, while Colonel Balza, who had commanded at La Paz, and been superseded with others, in consequence of the massacre of October 23, but who still retained the command of a battalion, attacked the loyal troops in the street. After a sharp fight Balza was defeated, and took refuge in the house of the American Minister. Meanwhile General Yanez, who had ordered the October massacre, took refuge in the palace, where he barricaded himself. The barricades being forced, he fled to the roof, from which he was brought down wounded by shots. He was exposed to every indignity, and then put to death. In this emeute fifty or more were killed and some hundreds wounded.
Prince Albert Francis Augustus Charles Emanuel, of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, husband of Queen Victoria, died at Windsor on the 14th of December. He was born at the Castle of Rosenau, near Coburg, August 26, 1819. He was married to the Queen on the 10th of February, 1840. Although he had no official relation to the Government, it was understood that his indirect influence was not inconsiderable. Generally, he was extremely popular in England, but in 1851, Lord Palmerston having been dismissed from office, the idea was entertained that it was owing to the influence of the Prince Consort, whose sympathies were said to be opposed to the interests of his adopted country. Three years later this feeling was renewed to such an extent that the Prince was hissed as he passed into the House, while accompanying the Queen to open Parliament. This suspicion soon disappeared, and since that time; the popularity of the Prince has been unabated. His untimely death has caused general grief. The funeral was celebrated on the 23d.
The Austrian Budget has been presented. The debt, which in 1846 was $500,000,000, is now $1,200,000,000, equal to the entire revenue for eight years. The deficit for 1861 is $32,000,000, and that of 1862 $29,000,000. This is to be met, if possible, by borrowing, and by the sale of Crown property. The unsettled state of affairs in Hungary alone has caused a loss to the revenue of $6,000,000.