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[125]

The blockade.

We believe that we are only stating a simple truth when we say that every dispute which has existed between this country and the United States, during the present century, has arisen from the susceptibilities of the American people with respect to some supposed invasion of their national dignity and rights. The war of 1812 was occasioned by the right of search — a question which the treaty of Ghent and the Ashburton capitulation alike left unadjusted. The affair of the Caroline, McLeod's trial, the Maine boundary and Oregon disputes, and the recent San Juan difficulty, (now happily forgotten), are all examples of the boastful and offensive spirit in which successive Presidents have endeavored to assert the national dignity and rights of the once great American people.

In the civil war which at present afflicts the United States the Cabinet at Washington has acted in strict conformity with public law, at least in intention, if not in actual practice. It has adhered to the declaration of neutral rights annexed to the Treaty of Paris, it has abolished the odious practice of privateering, and, in imitation of the policy of European nations, it has practically conceded belligerent rights to the enemy. It has not treated captured secessionists as traitors, but has extended to them the usual courtesies of war. The Southern authorities, on the other hand, have commissioned letters of marque, and these sea rovers, if the account be true, have proved in a very satisfactory manner that the Federal blockade, extending over a coast of more than two thousand miles, is only valid on paper. An American correspondent writing from Pensacola the other day, not only stated, but professed to give, the text of a letter in which Admiral Milne, the commander of the British squadron, had officially notified to the Admiralty that the blockade of the Southern ports was altogether ineffectual. On a former occasion we expressed a doubt whether so discreet and experienced an officer as Admiral Milne would have committed an act so obviously beyond the pale of his duty. The authoritative contradiction which has been given to this clever American fabrication was scarcely necessary, because everybody knows, as a matter of fact, that the Federal Government does not possess at present a naval force sufficient to close all the Southern ports from Virginia to Texas. All that it can hope to do is to blockade the most important points, such as the mouths of the Mississippi, and the great seats of the cotton export trade. We are, however, now informed that by means of gunboats, and other vessels of little draught, an attempt is to be made to enforce the entire line of blockade. If the Federal Government can accomplish this object, neutral nations will have no cause of complaint, because the blockade would then be effectual. If, on the other hand, the attempt should fail, merchant vessels would practically share in the immunity which the Southern privateers appear at present to enjoy. Of course it is extremely annoying to neutral commerce to be warned off the coast and compelled to return home, or to sail to New York or Canada, where the freight may be at a discount, and a return cargo cannot be obtained without a great sacrifice of time and money. But these are necessary evils which spring from a state of war; hard, we admit, to be endured by innocent parties; but so long as the action of the Federal Government is in conformity with public law, no one has a right to complain. When the American courts condemn foreign vessels for the breach of a mere paper blockade, the intervention of diplomacy will then be requisite, but at present no case has occurred either to merit or command the interference of neutral Powers. If Admiral Milne had made the report which has been attributed to him, the Federal Government would have a just right of complaint, because questions of the validity of blockades are not within the jurisdiction of an admiral commanding a squadron in the neighboring seas, but belong to those great courts which, either in belligerent or neutral countries, administer the law of nations. Knowing and fully appreciating the feelings with which the people of America regard every expression of foreign opinion, we are, upon the whole, glad that this idle story has received not only timely but official contradiction. If Admiral Milne had volunteered the statement which has been attributed to him, the Northern people, who are not likely to be much pleased with English criticism and comments upon the recent battle of Bull Run, would say that England preferred the pursuit of cotton to the obligations of honesty and fair play. As Lord Palmerston at the commencement of the contest stated, every question of neutral rights must be decided when a fitting case arises. This contingency has not yet arrived; and if the Federal Government can succeed in efficiently maintaining so enormous a blockade, it will in all probability never occur. It is the duty of this country, in the terms of her Majesty's declaration, to observe strict and impartial neutrality. For simply doing this England has been abused and vilified by the Northern press, and Canada was to be annexed to compensate for the loss of the South. We can afford to despise all this ludicrous and impotent malice, but as happily we have hitherto escaped all difficulties about American native dignity and rights, let us leave the two contending parties to fight their battles as best they may, without the slightest interference or even advice on our part. If the blockade be ineffectual, neutral commerce will comparatively suffer little injury; if effectual, the first principles of public law tell us that we must obey with a good grace, however disagreeable the restriction may be for one great staple of British industry and British wealth.--London Post, (Government Organ,) Aug. 14.

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