General Scott's letter on the Mason-Slidell affair.
The following is a copy of the letter of Gen. Scott
that appeared in Europe
, to which frequent allusion has been made:
My Dear Sir:
You were right in doubting the declaration imputed to me, to with that the Cabinet
had given orders to seize Messrs. Mason
even under a neutral flag; for I was not even aware that the government had had that point under consideration: At the time of my leaving New York it was not known that the San Jacinto
had returned to the American
seas; and it was generally supposed those persons had escaped to Cuba
for the purpose of re-embarking in the Nashville
, in pursuit of which vessel the James Adger
and other cruisers had been dispatched.
I think I can satisfy you in a few words that you have no serious occasion to feel concerned about our relations with England
if, as her rulers profess, she has no disposition to encourage the dissensions in America
In the first place, it is almost superfluous to say to you that every instinct of prudence as well as of good neighborhood prompts our government to regard no honorable sacrifice too great for the preservation of the friendship of Great Britain
This must be obvious to all the world.
At no period of our history has her friendship been of more importance to our people — at no period has our government been in a condition to make greater concessions to preserve it. The two nations are united by interests and sympathies — commercial, social, political, and religious — almost as the two arms to one body, and no one is so ignorant as not to know that what harms one must harm the other in a corresponding degree.
I am persuaded that the British Government
can entertain no doubt upon this subject; but if it does, I feel that I might take it upon myself to say that the President
of the United States
, when made aware of its existence, will lose no opportunity of dispelling it.
Nor is there anything, I venture to affirm, in the seizure of these rebel emissaries which ought to receive an unfriendly construction from England
Her statesmen will not question the legal right of an American vessel-of-war to search any commercial vessel suspected of transporting contraband of war; that right has never been surrendered by England
, it was even guaranteed to her by the treaty of Paris
, and British guns, frowning down nearly every strait and inland sea upon the globe, are conclusive evidence that she regards this right as one, the efficacy of which may be not yet entirely extinguished.
Of course there is much that is irritating and vexations in the exercise of this right under the most favorable circumstances, and it is to be hoped the day is not far distant when the maritime States of the world will agree in placing neutral commerce beyond the reach of such vexations.
The United States Government has been striving to this end for more than fifty years; to this end, early in the present century, and in its infancy as a nation, it embarked in a war with the greatest naval power in the world; and it is even now a persistent suitor at every maritime court in Europe
for a more liberal recognition of the rights of neutrals than any of the other great maritime nations have yet been disposed to make.
But till those rights are secured by proper international guarantees, upon a comprehensive and enduring basis, of course England
cannot complain of an act for which, in all its material bearings, her own naval history affords such numerous precedents.
Whether the captives from the Trent
were contraband of war or not, is a question which the two Governments can have no serious difficulty in agreeing upon.
If Mr. Seward
cannot satisfy Earl Russell that they were, I have no doubt Earl Russell will be able to satisfy Mr. Seward
that they were not. It they were, as all authorities concur in admitting, agents of the rebellion, it will be difficult to satisfy impartial minds that they were any less contraband than a file of rebel soldiers or a battery of hostile cannon.
But even should there be a difference of opinion upon this point, it is very clear that our Government had sufficient grounds for presuming itself in the right to escape the suspicion of having wantonly violated the relations of amity which the two countries profess a desire to preserve and cultivate.
The pretence that we ought to have taken the Trent
into port, and had her condemned by a prize court, in order to justify our seizure of four of her passengers, furnishes a very narrow basis on which to fix a serious controversy between two great nations.--State in other words, an offence would have been less if it had been greater.
The wrong done to the British
flag would have been mitigated, if, instead of seizing four rebels, we had seized the ship, detained all her passengers for weeks, and confiscated her cargo.
I am not surprised that Capt
took a different view of his duty, and of what was due to the friendly relations which subsisted between the two governments.
The renowned common sense of the English
people, I believe, will approve of his effort to make the discharge of a very unpleasant duty as little vexations as possible to all innocent parties.
If, under these circumstances, England
should deem it her duty, in the interest of civilization, to insist upon the restoration of the men taken from under the protection of her flag, it will be from a conviction, without doubt, that the law of nations in regard to the rights of neutrals, which she has taken a leading part in establishing, requires revision, and with a suitable disposition on her part to establish these rights upon a just, humane and philosophic basis.
Indeed, I am happy to see an intimation in one of the leading metropolitan journals which goes far to justify this inference.
Referring to the decision of the English Admiralty Courts
, now quoted in defence of the seizure of the American
rebels on board the Trent
, the London Times
, of the 28th of November, says:
"So far as the authorities go, the testimony of international law writers is all one way; that a belligerent war cruiser has the right to stop and visit and search any merchant ship upon the high seas. * * * But it must be remembered that these decisions were given under circumstances very different from those which now occur.
Steamers in those days did not exist, and mail vessels, carrying letters wherein all the nations of the world have immediate interest, were unknown.
We were fighting for existence, and we did in those days what we should neither do, nor allow others to do, nor expect ourselves to be allowed to do, in these days."
, as we are here encouraged to hope, is disposed to do her part in stripping war of half its horrors by accepting the policy long and persistently urged upon her by our Government, and commended by every principle of justice and humanity, she will find no ground, in the visit of the Trent
, for controversy with our Government.
I am sure the President
and people of the United States
would be but too happy to let these men go free, unnatural and unpardonable as their offences have been, if by it they could emancipate the commerce of the world.--Greatly an it would be to our disadvantage at this present crisis to surrender any of those maritime privileges of belligerents which are sanctioned by the laws of nations, I feel that I take no responsibility in saying that the United States
will be faithful to her traditional policy upon this subject and to the spirit of her political institutions.
On the other hand, should England
be unprepared to make a corresponding sacrifice; should she feel that she could not yet afford to surrender the advantages which the present maritime code gives to a dominant naval power, of course she will not put herself in a false position by asking us to do it. In either case, therefore, I do not see how the friendly relations of the two governments are in any immediate danger of being disturbed.
The over prompt recognition, as belligerents, of a body of men, however large, so long as they constituted a manifest minority of the nation, wounded the feelings of my countrymen deeply I will not attempt to deny, nor that that act, with some of its logical consequences which have already occurred, has planted in the breasts of many the suspicion that their kindred in England
wish them evil rather than good, but the statesmen to whom the political interests of these two great people are confided act upon higher responsibilities and with better lights, and you may rest assured that an event so mutually disastrous as a war between England
cannot occur without some other and graver provocation than has yet been given by either nation.