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Chapter 29:

  • The legality of the equipment of the Alabama, and a few precedents for her career, drawn from the history of the war of 1776.

Before I read my commission on the quarter-deck of the Alabama, I desire to say a word or two as to the legality of her equipment, and to recall to the recollection of the reader a few of the incidents of the war of the Revolution of 1776, to show how inconsistent our Northern brethren have been, in the denunciations they have hurled against that ship. Mr. Seward, the Federal Secretary of State, and Mr. Charles Francis Adams, who was the United States Minister at the Court of St. James, during the late war between the States, have frequently lost their temper, when they have spoken of the Alabama, and denounced her as a ‘pirate.’ In cooler moments, when they come to read over the intemperate despatches they have been betrayed into writing, they will probably be ashamed of them themselves; since these despatches not only contradict the truth of history, and set at defiance the laws of nations, but stultify themselves in important particulars.

Great stress has been laid, by both of these gentlemen, on the foreign origin of the Alabama, forgetting entirely, not only what was done by their ancestors in the war of 1776, but what was attempted to be done by Mr. Gideon Welles, their own Secretary of the Navy, in the year of grace 1861. I will refresh their memories on both these points, and first, as to the latter. Mr. Welles attempted to do, nothing more nor less than the Confederate States Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Mallory, did in the matter of building the Alabama—that is to say, he endeavored to build some Alabamas in England himself, but failed! This little episode in the history of the Federal Navy Department is curious, and worthy of being preserved [371] as a practical commentary on so much of the despatches of Messrs. Seward and Adams, as relates to the foreign origin of my ship. The facts were published soon after their occurrence, and have not been, and cannot be denied. They were given to the public by Mr. Laird, the gentleman who built the Alabama, and who was the party with whom the Federal Navy Department endeavored to treat.

Mr. Laird was a member of the British Parliament, and having been abused, without stint, as an aider and abettor of ‘pirates,’ by the Northern newspapers, as soon as it became known that he was the builder of the Alabama, he made a speech in the House of Commons, in defence of himself, in the course of which he stated the fact I have charged, to wit: that Mr. Welles endeavored to make a contract with him, for building some Federal Alabamas. Here is so much of his speech as is necessary to establish the charge:—‘In 1861,’ said he, “just after the war broke out, a friend of mine, whom I have known for many years, was over here, and came to me with a view of getting vessels built in this country, for the American Government—the Northern Government. Its agent in this country made inquiries; plans and estimates were given to my friend, and transmitted to the Secretary of the American Navy. I will read an abstract from this gentleman's letter, dated the 30th of July, 1861. It is written from Washington, and states:— ‘Since my arrival here, I have had frequent interviews with our Department of Naval Affairs, and am happy to say that the Minister of the Navy is inclined to have an iron-plated ship built out of the country. This ship is designed for a specific purpose, to accomplish a definite object. I send you, herewith, a memorandum handed me last evening from the Department, with the request that I would send it to you, by steamer's mail of to-morrow, and ask your immediate reply, stating if you will agree to build such a ship as desired, how soon, and for how much, with such plans and specifications as you may deem it best to send me.’ The extract from the memorandum states, that the ship is to be finished complete, with guns and everything appertaining. On the 14th of August, I received another letter from the same gentleman, from which the following is an extract:—‘I [372] have this morning a note from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, in which he says, ‘I hope your friends will tender for the two iron-plated steamers.’’ After this, the firm with which I was lately connected, having made contracts to a large extent with other persons, stated that they were not in a condition to undertake any orders to be done in so short a time. This was the reply:— ‘I sent your last letter, received yesterday, to the Secretary of the Navy, who was very desirous to have you build the iron-plated or bomb-proof batteries, and I trust that he will yet decide to have you build one or more of the gun-boats.’ ”

‘I think, perhaps, in the present state of the law in America, I shall not be asked to give the name of my correspondent, but he is a gentleman of the highest respectability. If any honorable member wishes, I shall have no objection in handing the whole correspondence, with the original letters, into the hands of you, sir, [the Speaker of the House,] or of the First Minister of the Crown, in strict confidence, because there are communications in these letters, respecting the views of the American Government, which I certainly should not divulge, and which I have not mentioned or alluded to before. But, seeing the American Government are making so much work about other parties, whom they charge with violating or evading the law, when, in reality, they have not done so, I think it only fair to state these facts.’

It thus appears that the Government of the United States preceded us in the English market, having endeavored, a whole year before the Alabama was built, to contract with Mr. Laird for the building of iron-plated, and other ships, and that the only reason why the contract was not made, was, that Mr. Laird had taken already so much work in hand that he could not take ‘any new orders, to be done in so short a time’—as that prescribed by Mr. Welles, for it seems that he was in a hurry. The explanation probably is, that we had offered Mr. Laird better terms than Mr. Welles, and this is the only reason why the Alabama was a Confederate, instead of a Federal ship! This speech of Mr. Laird caused no little merriment in the House of Commons, for, as before remarked, the Federal press, knowing nothing of these secret transactions [373] between Mr. Welles and Mr. Laird, had been denouncing the latter for building the Alabama, in the coarse and offensive language to which, by this time, it had become accustomed. The disclosures could not but be ludicrous.

To dispose, now, of Mr. Seward's objection, that the Alabama was foreign-built. The reader will see, in a moment, that there is nothing in this objection, when he reflects that a ship of war, in the light in which we are considering her, is a personification, and not a mere material thing. If her personification be true, and unobjectionable, it matters not of what materials she may be composed, whence those materials may have been drawn, or where they may have been fashioned. It is the commission which a sovereign puts on board a ship, that causes her to personify the sovereign power, and it is obviously of no importance how the sovereign becomes possessed of the ship. It can make no difference to other nations, so far as her character of ship of war is concerned, whether she is fashioned out of the pines of Norway, or of Florida, or whether the copper on her bottom comes from Lake Superior or Peru; or, finally, whether Englishmen, or Frenchmen, or Americans shall have put her frame together, in either of their respective countries. Even if she be built, armed, and equipped in neutral territory, in plain violation of the neutral duty of that territory, she is purged of this offence, so far as her character of ship of war is concerned, the moment she reaches the high seas, and is commissioned.

To apply this reasoning to the Alabama. If it be true, as stated by Mr. Seward, that she was built in England, in violation of the neutrality of that country, this might have subjected her to detention by England, or it might have raised a question between the United States and England; but the ship, having once escaped, and been commissioned, her origin is necessarily lost sight of, and neither England nor any other country can afterward inquire into it. Indeed, there can be no principle of the laws of nations plainer than this, that when a ship is once commissioned by a sovereign power, no other power can look into the antecedents of the ship. From the moment that her commission is read on her quarter-deck, she becomes the personification of the sovereign power, and the [374] sovereign avows himself responsible for all her acts. No one of these acts can be impeached on the ground, that antecedently to her becoming a ship of war, she committed some offence against the laws of nations, or against the municipal law of some particular nation.

This point was settled years before our war, by the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of the Santissima Trinidad. It was alleged that that ship had been fitted out in the United States, in violation of the neutrality laws—during a war between Spain and her colonies—and the question arose whether this invalidated her commission, as a ship of war. Mr. Justice Story delivered the opinion of the court, in the course of which he said:—

In general, the commission of a public ship, signed by the proper authorities of the nation to which she belongs [the nation to which the Santissima Trinidad belonged, was the de facto nation of Buenos Ayres] is complete proof of her national character. A bill of sale is not necessary to be produced, nor will the courts of a foreign country inquire into the means by which the title to the property has been acquired. It would be to exert the right of examining into the validity of the acts of the foreign sovereign, and to sit in judgment upon them in cases where he has not conceded the jurisdiction, and where it would be inconsistent with his own supremacy. The commission, therefore, of a public ship, when duly authenticated, so far at least as foreign courts are concerned, imports absolute verity, and the title is not examinable. The property must be taken to be duly acquired, and cannot be controverted. This has been the settled practice between nations, and it is a rule founded in public convenience and policy, and cannot be broken in upon, without endangering the peace and repose, as well of neutral as of belligerent sovereigns.

‘The commission in the present case is not expressed in the most unequivocal terms, but its fair import and interpretation must be deemed to apply to a public ship of the government. If we add to this, the corroborative testimony of our own, and the British Consul at Buenos Ayres, as well as that of private citizens, to the notoriety of her claim of a public character, and her admission into our own ports as a public ship, with the immunities and privileges belonging to such a ship, with the express approbation of our own Government, it does not seem too much to assert, whatever may be the private suspicion of a lurking American interest, that she must be judicially held to be a public ship of the country, whose commission she bears.’

This was a very strong case. The ship had not only been [375] fitted out in violation of the neutrality laws of the United States, but the court intimates that she might also be American owned; but whether she was or not, was a fact into which the court could not inquire, the commission, in the language of the court, importing ‘absolute verity.’

But it is not true, as we shall see hereafter, that the Alabama violated either the laws of nations, or the municipal law of England. The next question which presents itself for our consideration is, Was the Alabama properly commissioned by a sovereign power? No question has ever been raised as to the bona fides, or form of her commission. Mr. Seward even has not attacked these. Our question, then; will be reduced to this, Was she commissioned by a sovereign power? The answer to this question is, that a de facto government is sovereign, for all the purposes of war, and that the Confederate States were a de facto government; so acknowledged by the United States themselves, as well as by the other nations of the earth. The United States made this acknowledgment, the moment President Lincoln issued his proclamation declaring a blockade of the Southern ports; and they acted upon the doctrine that we were belligerents during the whole war, by treating with us for the exchange of prisoners of war.

This was no concession on their part. We had become strong enough to compel them to this course, in spite of themselves. In other words, we had become strong enough to make war, and when this is the case, let us see what Vattel says is the duty of the other party: ‘The sovereign indeed, never fails to bestow the appellation of ‘rebels’ on all such of his subjects as openly resist him; but when the latter have acquired sufficient strength to give him effectual opposition, and to oblige him to carry on the war against them, according to the established rules, he must necessarily submit to the use of the term “civil war.” It is foreign to our purpose in this place, to weigh the reasons which may authorize and justify a civil war. We have elsewhere treated of cases in which subjects may resist their sovereign. Setting, therefore, the justice of the case wholly out of the question, it only remains for us to consider the maxims which ought to be observed in a civil war, and to explain whether the sovereign is, on such occasions, [376] bound to conform to the established laws of war. A civil war breaks the bands of society and government, or at least suspends their force and effect; it produces in the nation two independent parties, which consider each other as enemies, and acknowledge no common judge. These two parties, therefore, must necessarily be considered as constituting, at least for a time, two separate bodies, two distinct societies. Though one of the parties may have been to blame in breaking the unity of the State, and resisting the lawful authority, they are not the less divided in fact. Besides, who shall judge them? Who shall pronounce on which side the right or wrong lies? On earth they have no common superior. They stand, therefore, in precisely the same predicament as two nations, who engage in a contest, and being unable to come to an agreement, have recourse to arms.’ This was the law of nations as expounded by Vattel more than a century ago. He tells us that when even a revolt or rebellion has acquired sufficient magnitude and strength, to make ‘effectual opposition to the sovereign,’ it is the duty of that sovereign to talk of ‘civil war,’ and not of ‘rebellion,’ and to cease to call his former subjects ‘rebels.’ How much more was it the duty of the Northern States, in a war which was a war from the beginning, waged by States against States, with all the forms and solemnities of war, and with none of the characteristics of a secret revolt or rebellion, to treat us as belligerents, even if they denied the de jures of our movement? But even according to the law laid down by Vattel, the United States, and the Confederate States stood ‘precisely in the same predicament,’ with regard to all the rights, duties, and obligations growing out of the war. That is to say, they were, quoad the war, the equals, one of the other, and whatever one of them might do, the other might do.

Hence it follows, that if the United States could build Alabamas, and capture the ships of her enemy, so could the Confederate States. And if Mr. Welles, the Federal Secretary of the Navy, could go into the ship-yards on the Mersey, and endeavor to contract for the delivery to him of a ship or ships of war, ‘to be finished complete,’ in the words of Mr. Laird's correspondent, ‘with guns, and everything appertaining,’ it is difficult to perceive, why Mr. Mallory, the Secretary of the [377] Confederate States Navy, might not go into the same shipyards, and contract for the delivery to him, of an incomplete ship, without any guns at all!

But further, with reference to the right of the Confederate States to be regarded as a de facto government, invested with all the rights of war. The Supreme Court of the enemy himself affirmed this right, early in the war. When the Federal naval officers—the Southern renegades, who have been before alluded to, among the rest—began to grow rich by the capture of blockade runners, it became necessary, of course, to condemn the prizes before they could get hold of their prize-money. Some of these cases went up to the Supreme Court, on writ of error, and I shall quote from a case, known as the ‘Prize Case,’ reported in 2d Black, 635. This case was decided as early as the December Term, 1862, and Mr. Justice Greer delivered the opinion of the court. The question arose upon the capture of some English ships which had attempted to run the blockade. These ships could not be condemned, unless there was a lawful blockade, which they had attempted to break; and there could not be a lawful blockade, unless there was a war, and not a mere insurrection, as Mr. Seward, with puerile obstinacy, had so long maintained; and there could not be a war without, at least, two parties to it, both of whom must be belligerents; and it is of the essence of belligerency, as has been seen, that the parties belligerent should be equal, with reference to all the objects of the war. The vessels were claimed by the neutral owners, on Mr. Seward's own ground, to wit: that the war, not being a war, but an insurrection, there could be no such thing as a blockade predicated of it. Mr. Justice Greer, in delivering the opinion of the court, among other things said: ‘It [the war] is not the less a civil war, with belligerent parties in hostile array, because it may be called an “insurrection” by one side, and the insurgents be considered as rebels and traitors. It is not necessary that the independence of the revolted Province or State be acknowledged, in order to constitute it a party belligerent in a war, according to the laws of nations. Foreign nations acknowledge it as a war, by a declaration of neutrality. The condition of neutrality cannot exist, unless there be two belligerent parties. In the case of the Santissima Trinidad [378] (7 Wheaton, 337) this court says: “The Government of the United States has recognized the existence of a civil war between Spain and her colonies, and has avowed her determination to remain neutral between the parties. Each party is, therefore, deemed by us a belligerent, having, so far as concerns us, the sovereign rights of war.” ’

The belligerent character of the Confederate States was thus acknowledged by the highest judicial tribunal of the United States, and the prizes were condemned to the captors; and a precedent is cited by the court, in which the United States recognized the right of the revolted Spanish colonies, such as Columbia, Buenos Ayres, and Mexico, who were then in consimilli casu with the Confederate States, to build and equip Alabamas to prey upon Spanish commerce, not as a mere matter of power simply, but in the exercise of the ‘sovereign rights of war,’ under the laws of nations.

With regard to the new American republics, thus acknowledged by the United States as belligerents, it will be recollected that one of the first acts of Mr. John Quincy Adams, when he became President of the United States, was to recommend the passage of a law authorizing him to send members to a Congress of all the American States, to be assembled at Panama. Under this law, members of that Congress were actually appointed—though they never proceeded to their destination—and Mr. Clay, then Secretary of State, and who had been among the foremost to advocate the recognition of the independence of the South American republics, prepared an elaborate and eloquent letter of instructions for their guidance, in which he dwelt upon the very principles I am now invoking. The republics, whose ambassadors it was thus proposed to meet, in an International Congress, were nothing more than de facto governments, like the Confederate States, the independence of neither one of them having been acknowledged, as yet, by Spain.

I may further mention, as a matter of historical notoriety, that it was a common practice for the cruisers of those young republics, to carry their prizes into the ports of the United States, and there have them condemned and sold. The Santissima Trinidad referred to in the case from the Supreme Court [379] above quoted, was one of these cruisers, with nothing more behind her than a defacto government, and she was held to be a belligerent, and to be possessed, as such, of all the ‘sovereign rights of war,’ under the laws of nations. What renders these transactions the more remarkable, in the light of recent events, and in the face of the denunciations which have been hurled against the Alabama by the Federal Government, because of her foreign origin, is, that most of these cruisers were, in fact, American ships, not only built and equipped in the United States, but officered and manned by citizens of the Northern States, who had gone southward in quest of plunder! Many of these ships were fitted out on speculation, in the United States, and sailed from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, fully armed and equipped for war, with enlisted crews on board.

A case of this kind came under my own actual observation. I was serving as a midshipman on board the old sailing sloopof-war Erie. We happened in at the Swedish Island of St. Bartholomew, in the West Indies, during the war between Buenos Ayres and Spain. We were on our way from New York to one of the South American ports, to land General William H. Harrison, afterward President of the United States, who had been appointed, by President John Quincy Adams, Minister to Colombia. In St. Bartholomew we found at anchor a Buenos Ayrean cruiser called the Federal. This was a Baltimore-built schooner—Baltimore in those days being famous above all the other American ports, for building fast vessels of this class. Her captain, and all her officers, and a large proportion of her crew, were Americans. This vessel, we ascertained, had boarded an American ship a few days before, and taken from on board of her a portion of her cargo, under the pretence that it was Spanish property. This being in our view a violation of the laws of nations (as whether the property was Spanish or not, we held that ‘free ships made free goods’ ), we resolved to commit one of those outrages against neutral rights which have become so common our day, by seizing the cruiser. Admitting the act of the cruiser to have been wrongful, the argument, so far as her seizure by us was concerned, was all against us, and might have been contained in a [380] ‘nutshell;’ but our captain, if he had ever read any international law, which was exceedingly doubtful, had read it, like Wilkes, wrong end foremost, and ‘went it blind,’ being quite sure of popular applause from the b'hoys at home, and standing in no fear of consequences so far as Buenos Ayres was concerned, as she was so weak that the Great Republic might kick her with impunity.

We first demanded her of the Governor of the island, as a ‘pirate.’ The Governor replied, that she was a commissioned ship, with a defacto government behind her, and that she could not, so long as she retained this character, be guilty of piracy. Further, that if she were a pirate, she was hostis humani generis, and Sweden, within whose waters she was, was as competent to deal with her, as the United States. He ended by informing us, that in whatever category the vessel might be placed, being in neutral jurisdiction, she could not be dealt with forcibly by the captain of the Erie, and notified us, that if we attempted it, he would fire upon us. The Federal was moored under the guns of the fortification which protected the harbor, and the following night, we fitted out a boat expedition, pulled in under cover of the darkness—the night being black and squally—and boarded her, and brought her out; the Governor being as good as his word, and firing upon us, though without effect, as soon as he discovered the movement. This was my first indoctrination in the laws of the sea! and the first occasion on which I ever heard a shot fired in anger. Sweden remonstrated, and the United States apologized, and there the matter ended. I have mentioned the incident to show, that the very cruisers which the Supreme Court of the United States was protecting by its decisions, were nothing more than American vessels, under belligerent flags, holding commissions under de facto governments.

But I have another precedent or two, to which to call the attention of the reader. It is a very useful practice for nations to pause occasionally, and look back upon their own history. It teaches them many lessons, which they would not otherwise learn. It shows them how to avoid inconsistencies, and prevents them from becoming dishonest as circumstances change. But, above all, it teaches them that man is a poor, weak creature, [381] selfish and corrupt, guided by the instincts and inspirations of the moment; and that his reason—that God-like attribute, which distinguishes him from the brute—is so fallible, that he rarely sees a truth, if that truth militate against his supposed interests. It makes all the difference in the world, whether a man's bull gores his neighbor's ox, or his neighbor's bull gores his ox. The Yankee ship-owners and ship-masters cried out, in pain, as the Sumter and Alabama were capturing and destroying their ships, and called both of these cruisers pirates. I design now to show how the Yankee ship-owners and ship-masters, of a generation or two back, captured and burned English ships, and took great credit to themselves for their exploits, not dreaming that they were pirates.

The precedents which I design to cite will be drawn from the history of the war of 1776; it will be necessary, therefore to run a brief parallel between that war and the war of 1861, to show that the precedents established in the former are applicable to the circumstances of the latter. To lay aside, entirely, the question of the right of the Southern States to secede, and to put the war between the States on no higher ground than that between the Colonies and Great Britain, which was a mere rebellion, the following parallel appears:— The original thirteen Colonies, when they formed a part of the British Government, declared their independence of that Government. The Confederate States did the same against the United States. Great Britain made war upon the Colonies in consequence of this declaration; so did the United States against the Confederate States. The Colonies claimed and exercised the rights of war. So did the Confederate States. The Colonies, in the exercise of these rights, destroyed much of the commerce of Great Britain. So did the Confederate States, with regard to the United States. Both the Colonies and the Confederate States were de facto governments, when this property was destroyed. Now, it can obviously make no difference that the Colonies achieved their independence, and that the Confederate States failed to achieve theirs. If what the Colonies did was right, when they did it—that is to say, when they were still a de facto government—what the Confederate [382] States did must have been right for the same reason. The acknowledgment of the independence of the Colonies by the parent country, whilst it had the effect to make them so many nations of the earth, could add nothing to any rights they before possessed, as belligerents, for they did not derive these rights from their status de jure, but from their status de facto; nor did they derive them from Great Britain, but from the laws of nations. It follows, that if nothing could be added to these rights by the successful termination of the war, so nothing could be taken away from them, by its unsuccessful termination. The parallel thus appears perfect, in every particular, so far as belligerent rights are concerned, and, of course, it is only of these rights that we are now speaking.

With this introduction I proceed to produce the precedents. Mr. James Fenimore Cooper, the Naval Historian of the United States, is the author whom I shall quote, and his authority will certainly not be disputed north of the Potomac. One of the earliest cruises of the war of 1776, was made by Captain, afterward Commodore, John Paul Jones. This gentleman, in command of a vessel called the Providence, in the summer of 1776, made a foray among the British fishermen, on the Banks of Newfoundland, taking no less than twelve sail, and returning to Newport, in Rhode Island, at the end of his cruise, having made sixteen prizes in all. The Alabama never flew at such small game as this. Although she cruised, as the reader will see a little further on, for some time off these same Banks of Newfoundland, she never deprived a Yankee fisherman of his ‘catch of cod.’

Jones commanded a regular ship of war, but it was the privateers that were the most numerous and destructive. With reference to this class of vessels, the historian tells us that ‘Most of the Colonies had their respective cruisers at sea or on their own coasts, and the ocean literally began to swarm with privateers from all parts of the country, though New England took the lead in that species of warfare. Robert Morris, in one of his official letters, of a date later than that precise time remarks that the passion for privateering was so strong in this particular part of the country, that even agriculture was abandoned in order to pursue it.’ [383]

In another place, the historian tells us, that ‘As soon as the struggle commenced in earnest, the habits of the people, their aptitude for sea-service, and the advantages of both a public and private nature, that were to be obtained from successful cruising, induced thousands to turn their longing eyes to an element that promised so many flattering results. Nothing but the caution of Congress, which body was indisposed at first to act as if general warfare, instead of a redress of grievances, was its object, prevented a rushing toward the private cruisers, that would probably have given the commerce of England a heavier and more sudden blow than it had ever yet received. But a different policy was pursued, and the orders to capture, first issued, were confined to vessels bringing stores and supplies to the British forces in America. It was as late as November, 1775, before Massachusetts, the colony which was the seat of war, and which may be said to have taken the lead in the revolt, established Courts of Admiralty, and enacted laws for the encouragement of nautical enterprise.’

The reader observes, from the above passage, from the historian, how ‘circumstances alter cases.’ The ‘nautical enterprise’ here spoken of, is the same kind of nautical enterprise which has been charged, by virtuous Massachusetts, whose people were in such haste to grow rich by privateering, against the Alabama, as ‘piracy.’ The rush was not, it seems, to the ships of war of the regular navy, to fight the battles of the country, but to the privateers, which promised so many ‘flattering results.’ It took a little time to warm the Congress and the people up to their work, but when they were once fairly warmed, they took their jackets off and went at it with a will, as is the wont of us Americans.

Let us dip a little further into Mr. Cooper, and see what more, these staid New Englanders, who now have such a horror of ‘piracy,’ did. ‘The proceedings in Congress,’ he continues,

in reference to assailing British commerce, as has been seen, were reserved and cautious. War not being regularly declared, and accommodation far from hopeless, the year 1775 was suffered to pass away, without granting letters of marque and reprisal, for it was the interest of the nation to preserve as many friends in England as possible. As the breach widened, this forbearing [384] policy was abandoned, and the summer of 1776 let loose the nautical enterprise of the country upon British commerce. The effect was at first astounding. Never before had England found an enemy so destructive to her trade, and during the first two years of privateering that followed, something like eight hundred sail of merchantmen were captured. After this period, the efforts of the Americans necessarily lessened, while the precautions of the enemy increased. Still these enterprises proved destructive to the end of the war; and it is a proof of the efficiency of this class of cruisers to the last, that small privateers constantly sailed out of the English ports, with a view to make money by recapturing their own vessels; the trade of America at this time, offering but few inducements to such undertakings.

Among the vessels employed [the historian tells us there were several hundred of them], the Halker, the Black Prince, the Pickering, the Wild Cat, the Vengeance, the Marlborough, in addition to those elsewhere named, were very conspicuous. The Marlborough is said to have made twenty-eight prizes in one cruise. Other vessels were scarcely less fortunate. Many sharp actions occurred, and quite as often to the advantage of the cruisers, as to that of the enemy. In repeated instances they escaped from British ships of war, under favorable circumstances, and there is no question that in a few cases they captured them. * * * The English West India trade, in particular, suffered largely by the private warfare of the day. Two and fifty sail, engaged in this branch of the commerce, are stated to have been captured as early as February, 1777. The whole number of captures made by the Americans in this contest, is not probably known, but six hundred and fifty prizes are said to have been gotten into port. Many others were ransomed, and some were destroyed at sea. There can be no minute accuracy in these statements, but the injury done to the commerce of Great Britain was enormous, and there can be no doubt, that the constant hazards it ran, had a direct influence in obtaining the acknowledgment of the independence of the United States of America, which great event took place on the 20th of January, 1783.

We thus see how history repeats itself, and how prone men [385] are to forget history. The ‘rebel pirates’ of the Colonies— for such they were, if we apply to them the polite nomenclature which became fashionable during our late war—less than a century ago, were capturing, burning, and otherwise destroying the commerce of Great Britain. The historian dwells upon the record with pleasure, as an evidence of the patriotism, and ‘nautical enterprise’ of his countrymen; and this was but natural in the historian of a commercial people. But when the commerce of the same people becomes the object of capture, in a war far more justifiable, than the war of 1776, since it was waged by sovereign States, in defence of their very existence, and not a mere rebellion, the cry is changed. It is the wrong bull now which is goring the ox, and the Alabama and her consorts are committing unheard — of crimes and atrocities.

I call the reader's particular attention to the fact, that some of the prizes of the Colonial cruisers were ‘destroyed at sea.’ This same act when committed by the Sumter and Alabama was barbarous, atrocious! Now let me run a brief parallel between the times of Paul Jones, by whom some of this burning of British ships was done, and my own, to show how much less excuse Jones had for such conduct, than I. In Jones' day, all the commerce of the world was conducted in sailing ships, and all the navies of the world were also composed of sailing ships. The consequence was, that there was no such thing known, as a stringent blockade; for the simple reason, that every gale of wind which arose, blew off the blockading ships from before the blockaded ports, and it was, sometimes, days before they could regain their stations. Besides, it is well known to readers of American history, that Great Britain did not, at any time during the Colonial war, attempt to blockade all the ports of the Colonies. With a coast-line—from the St. Croix to St. Mary's in Georgia—of fifteen hundred miles, this would have been impossible, even with her great navy. The Colonial cruisers had, therefore, at all times during the entire war, some of their ports open into which to send their prizes. Still they ‘destroyed some of them at sea.’

Some ninety years now pass away, and a second, and a greater war ensues for American principles-this time be [386] tween the States themselves. In the meantime, the great and powerful steamship has made her appearance upon the scene, revolutionizing not only the commerce of the world, but the navies of the world. During the first months of the war, all the principal ports of the Confederacy were blockaded, and it was not long before every little nook and inlet was either in possession of the enemy, or had one or more ships watching it. These ships were not the old-time sailing ships, dependent upon the winds and the weather for efficiency—they were steamers, independent of both, having the ability ‘to hold on’ to the blockaded port, both by day and by night, with a tenacity little less than that of fate. Though it was possible for fast steam blockade-runners, taking advantage of the darkness, sometimes to elude the vigilance of these patient watchers, it was utterly impossible for a sailing vessel to do so—and with a rare exception, here and there, all my prizes would be sailing ships. Not only were all the Confederate ports thus hermetically sealed to me, but the ports of neutrals had also been closed against me, as the reader has seen, by unfriendly proclamations and orders in council. In short, during my whole career upon the sea, I had not so much as a single port open to me, into which I could send a prize.

What was expected of me under these circumstances? I had shown every disposition, as the reader has seen, to avoid the necessity of burning my prizes. I had sent prizes, both into Cuba and Venezuela, with the hope that at least some of the nations of the earth would relent, and let me in; but the prizes were either handed over to the enemy, on some fraudulent pretext, or expelled. Unlike Jones, I had no alternative. There was nothing left for me but to destroy my prizes, and this course had been forced upon me, by the nations of the earth. How senseless and unjust, then, was the clamor raised against me on this subject; especially in the light of the precedents which the enemy himself had set me? Some senseless prints even went so far as to declare that it was in violation of the laws of war; but what is it that newspapers will not says during such a contest as that through which we have passed, when reason is dethroned by the passions, and no longer sits in the judgment seat? The right to destroy is as perfect, as the [387] right to sell, or make any other disposition of the captured ship. But has a captor the right to destroy before adjudication? the reader may ask. Certainly. The enemy has no right to adjudication at all. Courts of Admiralty are not established for him. He has, and can have no standing in such court. He cannot even enter an appearance there, either in person, or by attorney; and if he could, he would have nothing to show, for his very status as an enemy would be sufficient ground for condemning all the property he might claim. It is only neutrals who can claim adjudication, and it is for the benefit of these alone that Courts of Admiralty have been established. And if any neutrals have suffered in the late war, for want of adjudication, the fault is with their own government, and not with the Confederate cruisers, as the reader has just seen. To instance the Cienfuegos cases: what detriment could have arisen to Spain, if she had permitted my prizes to remain within her jurisdiction, in the custody of my own prize agent, until a prize court in New Orleans, or Mobile could have adjudicated them?

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