previous next

[268] blockade, the following language is used: “It is said we have, contrary to the declarations of Paris, contrary to international law, permitted the blockade of three thousand miles of American coast. It is quite true we did so, and the presumable cause of complaint is quite true, that although the blockade is kept up by a sufficient number of ships, yet these ships were sent into the United States navy in a hurry, and are ill fitted for the purpose, and did not keep up, so completely and effectively as was required, an effective blockade.”

This unequivocal confession of violation, both of agreement with us and international law, is defended on grounds the validity of which we submit with confidence to the candid judgment of mankind.

These grounds are thus stated: “Still looking at the law of nations, it was a blockade we as a great belligerent power in former times, should have acknowledged. We, ourselves, had a blockade of upward of two thousand miles, and it did seem to me that we were bound in justice to the Federal States of America to acknowledge that blockade. But there was another reason which weighed with me. Our people were suffering severely for the want of that material which was the main staff of their industry, and it was a question of self-interest whether we should not break the blockade. But in my opinion the men of England would have been for ever infamous if, for the sake of their own interest, they had violated the law of nations and made war in conjunction with these slaveholding States of America against the Federal States.”

In the second of these reasons our rights are not involved; although it may he permitted to observe that the conduct of governments has not heretofore, to my knowledge, been guided by the principle that it is infamous to assert their rights whenever the invasion of those rights creates severe suffering among their people and injuriously affects great interests. But the intimation that relations with these States would be discreditable because they are slaveholding, would probably have been omitted if the official personage who has published it to the world had remembered that these States were, when colonies, made slaveholding by the direct exercise of the power of Great Britain, whose dependencies they were, and whose interests in the slave-trade were then supposed to require that her colonies should be made slaveholding.

But the other ground stated is of a very grave character. It asserts that a violation of the law of nations by Great Britain in 1807, when that Government declared a paper blockade of two thousand miles of coast, (a violation then defended by her courts and jurists on the sole ground that her action was retaliatory,) affords a justification for a similar outrage on neutral rights by the United States in 1861, for which no palliation can be suggested; and that Great Britain “is bound, in justice to the Federal States,” to make return for the war waged against her by the United States in resistance of her illegal blockade of 1807, by an acquiescence in the Federal illegal blockade of 1861. The most alarming feature in this statement is its admission of a just claim on the part of the United States to require of Great Britain, during this war, a disregard of the recognized principles of modern public law, and of her own compacts, whenever any questionable conduct of Great Britain “in former times,” can be cited as a precedent. It is not inconsistent with respect and admiration for the great people whose Government have given us this warning, to suggest that their history, like that of mankind in general, offers exceptional instances of indefensible conduct “in former times,” and we may well deny the morality of violating recent engagements through deference to the evil precedents of the past.

After defending, in the manner just stated, the course of the British government on the subject of the blockade, Her Majesty's Foreign Secretary takes care to leave no doubt of the further purpose of the British government to prevent our purchase of vessels in Great Britain, while supplying our enemies with rifles and other munitions of war, and states the intention to apply to Parliament for the furtherance of this design. He gives to the United States the assurance that he will do in their favor not only “every thing that the law of nations requires, every thing that the present Foreign Enlistment act requires,” but that he will ask the sanction of Parliament “to further measures that Her Majesty's ministers may still add.” This language is so unmistakably an official exposition of the policy adopted by the British government in relation to our affairs, that the duty imposed on me by the Constitution, of giving you, from time to time, “information of the state of the Confederacy,” would not have been performed if I had failed to place it distinctly before you.

I refer you for fuller details on this whole subject to the correspondence of the State Department, which accompanies this Message. The facts which I have briefly narrated are, I trust, sufficient to enable you to appreciate the true nature of the neutrality professed in this war. It is not in my power to apprise you to what extent the government of France shares the views so unreservedly avowed by that of Great Britain, no published correspondence of the French government on the subject having been received. No public protest nor opposition, however, has been made by His Imperial Majesty against the prohibition to trade with us, imposed on French citizens by the paper blockade of the United States, although I have reason to believe that an unsuccessful attempt was made on his part to secure the assent of the British government to a course of action more consonant with the dictates of public law and with the demands of justice toward us.

The partiality of Her Majesty's government in favor of our enemies has been further evinced in the marked difference of its conduct on the subject of the purchase of supplies by the two belligerents. This difference has been conspicuous

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
England (United Kingdom) (8)
United States (United States) (7)
France (France) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
John Paris (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1861 AD (2)
1807 AD (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: