An Iron-Clad argument about the steam rams.
Earl Russell's speech, in which he declared the contemplated movements of the Government
with regard to the steam rams, has caused great alarm with the British shipping interest.
The London Mercantile Gazette
its representative organ, has a long argument in opposition to the threatened action of the Ministry After
quoting that passage in which the Earl
says Parliament will be called on to pass "further measures," the Gazette
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that this passage points directly the iron-clads in course of construction at Birkenhead
, and that in the event of the existing law proving insufficient to prevent Mr. Laird
proceeding with the work he has on hand, Government are prepared to come down to Parliament, either for indemnity for the contemplated interference with the Iron-clads, or for special act of Parliament to prohibit their construction.
If this course be taken by the Government
it will involve a violation of the neutrality of this country of so direct a character that we cannot suppose it can possibly meet with the sanction of the Legislature:
We have from time to time, and with considerable minuteness, endeavored to explain the principles of the existing law as applicable to the construction and supply of these iron- clads; and we think we have succeeded in showing that Mr. Laird
, so far, has infringed no law, municipal or international, in executing the orders he has received for the vessels in question.
Nor have the Government
gone the length of interdicting their construction.
They have only, it is understood, intimated that the iron-clads will not be permitted to leave the Mersey
until proof of their destination is furnished which will satisfy the Government
, and it is stated that the Liverpool, one of the ships of the channel squadron, has been stationed in the Mersey
to see that this intimation is respected.
We can foresee that the course adopted by the Government
in this matter is likely to lead to embarrassing consequences.
The order for these vessels has come, it is said, from a French house.
A portion of the purchase money may, for anything we know to the contrary, have been already received by the builders.
When the vessels are completed the purchasers will have a right to demand that they shall be delivered to their order at some port, probably, in France
On what legal ground can Her Majesty's Government undertake to prohibit this delivery? --If the iron-clads leave the Mersey
for a neutral port, and are delivered there, their subsequent destination cannot compromise the neutrality which they say it is their earnest desire and constant effort to maintain.
If from a French port these vessels sail to a Confederate port, or are taken into the service of the Confederates
, it becomes a matter clearly for the consideration of the French Government
, who are probably aware that there are at the present moment, in some of the French
building yards, iron-clads in course of construction whose destination is much better understood than that of the steam rams in the Mersey
But if the British Government
, in addition to the interdict upon the departure of these vessels, proceeds to ask the assent of Parliament to the "further measures" hinted at by Lord Russell, they render themselves liable at once to the charge of compromising their neutrality in favor of the Federals
; for by preventing the Confederates
from obtaining in our ports assistance of which they stand in need, in the shape of ships, while they permitted the unimpeded exportation of everything which the Federals
require, they confer an advantage upon the latter which they deny the former, and thereby unquestionably afford the Confederates
a just ground of complaint.
Vattel defines strict neutrality between belligerents to consist of two obligations: 1. "To give no assistance where there is no previous stipulation to give it, nor voluntarily to furnish troops, arms, ammunition, or anything of direct use of war." 2. "Whatever does not relate to the war the neutral must not refuse to one of the parties, merely because he is at war with the other, what he grants others." The first of these obligations has been disregarded openly ever since the commencement of this American struggle; nor, indeed, can it be said to have strictly governed the conduct of any neutral States in any recent war.
But there is, nevertheless, an obvious and a paramount duty imposed upon all neutrals, and this duty consists in the observance of a strictly evenhanded conduct between the contending parties, so that neither can complain that an advantage is given to his antagonist which he is unable to obtain.
If this principle really governed the acts and policy of her Majesty's Government, they would be compelled to adopt one of two alternatives — either to interdict all trade with the American
belligerents during the continuance of the war, or permit that trade, of whatever it may consist, to be pursued without question or interruption.
Our Government do neither.
They do not prohibit — which the law enables them to do — the export of "arms, ammunition, gunpowder, naval and military stores," and other articles required for an armed struggle, but they forbid the subjects of the crown to furnish steam rams, because "such vessels might be used for purposes of war without ever touching the shores of the Confederate
ports." If this be the adoption of a strick neutrality it is difficult to understand the meaning of the term.
But this is not the only inconsistency which marks the policy of the Government
in regard to the American
Earl Russell was loudly applauded by his audience at Blairgowrie
, when he said he "would not yield one jot of British law or British right in consequence of the menace of any foreign power."--The sentiment is one which will always elicit a cheer in any assembly of Englishmen; but it came somewhat singular, after his lordship's announcement that ministers might find it necessary to ask the sanction of Parliament "to further measures" for the preservation of our neutrality.
What these measures may be we know not, but they must involve some change in the municipal law of this country, which law Earl Russell, notwithstanding his brave words, is ready to amend at the instance of the Federal Government
It is no secret that the steps taken respecting the Alexandria
and the iron-clads have all originated on the pressure put upon the Government
by Mr. Adams
and those he represents at Washington
.--But whatever may be the effect upon Earl Russell and his colleagues of that pressure we cannot believe that it will have much influence on the British Parliament or lead to any change in the existing law. A very few years have elapsed since an Administration which attempted to induce the Legislature to amend our laws in obedience to a foreign menace, fell ignominiously, and the attempt, if repeated, will, we need not doubt, be attended with a similar result.