The decision in the case of the Alexander--Great Britain drifting into hostilities with the United States.
correspondent thinks Greet Britain is in earnest in attempting to force hostilities on the United States
The decision releasing the ship Alexandra
was intended to be an affront to Yankeedom, and the correspondent thinks the verdict was a foregone conclusion months ago, and is precisely what Earl Russell and Lord Palmerston intended it should be. It was perfectly well understood and arranged what the ruling of the Court
should be on every point likely to be raised and as perfectly understood what the verdict of the jury would be under such ruling.
He also fears a private understanding between Napoleon
and Mr. Slidell
The latter is too frequent a visitor and too cordially received at Fontainebleaux to bode any good for the United States
We take from the London Post
a synopsis of the decision in the case of the Alexandra
The vessel was seized on the suspicion that she was intended for the Confederate
Nominally, the point left for the decision of the jury was whether the Crown or a firm of Liverpool
merchants were the rightful owners of an unfinished ship; but, practically, the matter for adjudication was whether the ship-builders of this country are precluded from constructing ships which eventually be devoted to warlike purposes against a State with which we are at present at peace.
On the one side exists the obligations to preserve intact our commercial rights, and on the other those which make it incumbent upon us to prevent our ports and dock-yards being made available for the equipping and fitting out of ships or armaments for the purposes of aggression against a friendly Power.
Passing from the purely legal consideration of the case, it is manifest that, on grounds of expediency, a maritime nation like Great Britain
, possessing commercial relations with every quarter of the globe, is bound faithfully and strictly to fulfill the duties appertaining to strict neutrality.
We are neutrals to-day; we may be belligerents to-morrow; and as we do to others so we must expect to be done by.
The issue raised in the case of the Alexandra
was one consequently not less important in its consequences to ourselves than to those more immediately interested in the result.
We have established a precedent to which, when we are at war, neutral nations may successfully appeal.
It is thus that we accept the law as laid down by the Lord Chief Baron and as confirmed by the verdict of the jury.
interpreted the particular statute intended by the Legislature to prevent the equipment of ships, for the purposes of aggression against a friendly Power; and the jury, applying the principles thus enunciated to the facts disclosed in evidence, decided, without a moment's hesitation, that the act had not been infringed.
In this verdict we entirely concur.
America has for up wards of had a century had a Foreign Enlistment act similar to our own, and the decisions of American Judges afford a key to its interpretations.
In a case brought on appeal before the Supreme Court of the United States
, that great jurist, Mr. Justice Story
, laid it down that although by the terms of the Foreign Enlistment
act the subjects of a neutral State were precluded from equipping or arming vessels for the purpose of aggression against a friendly Power, they were not precluded from equipping and arming them for the purpose of sale to any one, belligerent or other wise, who chose to purchase them.
In other words, a neutral may equip a ship of war just as he stay construct a if he intends and to use or have of used against a Power, but merely to sell it. Adopting this routing,
the Chief Baren
laid it down that a British subject might equip a ship of war with a view to selling it to either without infringing the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment
act. Indeed, in the course of the trial the learned Judge
asked the Attorney General
whether such a course would not be legal, and as the latter declined to reply in may be taken that it is no.
The Chief Baron
went so far as to say that the object of the Foreign Enlistment
act could not have been the protection of belligerents, for otherwise the exportation of contraband of war would equally have been prohibited, and that consequently English ship-builders had as much right to sell armed ships to either belligerent as they had to sell gunpowder of cannon, or other munitions of war. In the case, however, before the Court
, it did not become necessary to apply these principles in their fullest signification.
The Chief Baron
left it to the jury whether the Alexandra
was "equipped, armed, furnished or lifted out," or whether it was the intention of the defendants to "equipped, armed, furnish or fit her out" within her Majesty's dominion for purposes of aggression against the Government
of the United States
The act does not prohibit the "building" of ships of any description, and as it was shown that she was not, at the time of seizure, "equipped or armed," and there was nothing to show that it was intended that she should be so equipped within her Majesty's dominions, the defendants were entitled to a verdict.
was frequently referred to in the course of the trial, and it may possibly illustrate the interpretation which must be put on the Foreign Enlistment
act when we say that the Chief Baron
, in summing up, pointed out that in her case the act was not infringed.
She was built in an English port, but she was equipped and armed in Portuguese waters, where of course the English Crown
possessed no jurisdiction.
It may be said that, according to this interpretation, the Foreign Enlistment
act will prove a dead letter.
If the Chief Baron
's views of the object of which that act was framed — namely, not to protect belligerents, but to prevent vessels equipped for the rival Powers in neighboring docks fighting whilst still in our harbors or in our waters — is correct, it will not. If, on the other hand, its object was the protection of the commerce of a friendly Power, it certainly seems (to say the least of it) that its provisions can be very easily evaded.
However, with consequences neither judges nor juries have anything to do. It is at all events, a satisfaction to feel that the Lord Chief Baron
has acted in accordance with a high American authority in his interpretation of the law, and it will be impossible for the American Government
to question the soundness of his opinion without also impugning that of the greatest of their lawyers, Mr. Justice Story
[from the London times, June 25.]
* * * Had the Foreign Enlistment
act mentioned writhes, gunpowder, or shot and shell, instead of ships of war, we may be sure that the Confederates
would have spared no pains to intercept the consignments of Birmingham
"hardware." For the purpose of watching questionable proceedings agents must be employed, and agents so employed are neither more nor less than spies.
Work of this kind is distasteful to very scrupulous men, and it follows that it will generally be carried on by persons of easy conscience and unenviable character.
In this case, perhaps, such extreme vigilance was hardly requisite, for there seems to have been little concealment.
No evidence was produced for the defendants, because they did not rely on their ignorance, but on the character of the transaction, as proved by the witnesses for the Crown.
It was on the latter that the burden of proof lay, and the result shows not that our courts are disposed to favor illegal privateering, but that a law against equipping privateers in this country must be a dead letter so long as they can be built here and equipped at sea or elsewhere.
This result, which Mr. Adams
's representations have been the means of bringing out into strong relief, is not altogether satisfactory, and leaves the morality of aiding either side in a civil war exactly where it found it; but it could not have been avoided without importing into jurisprudence a new principle, which the Americans
, of all nations, have the most reason to deprecate.