The dismissal of the British Consuls — official correspondence.The fact that the Consuls of Great Britain in the Confederate States have been ordered by the President to leave the country has been published. The official correspondence relating to this action is published, and below we give a condensed view of the letters:
Secretary Benjamin, writing to Mr. Slidell, Oct. 8th, 1863, says: ‘ "The conduct of the British consular agents in the Confederacy has compelled the President to take the decisive step of expelling them from our country, and it is deemed proper to put you in possession of the causes which have produced this result, that you may have it in your power to correct any misrepresentations on the subject. To this end it is necessary to review the whole course of the British Government, and that of the Confederacy, in relation to these officials." ’ Mr. Benjamin explains that it has not been the custom of nations to interfere with Consuls, who are merely commercial agents, upon any change of the Government, and it is their duty to treat all Governments which may be established, de facto, over the ports where they reside, as Governments de jure. The British consular officials gave no cause of complaint on this score, and the President interposed no objection to the continued exercise of their functions. The first interruption of the harmony was the case of Mr. Moore, who was dismissed because of his failing to submit his commission to the inspection of the State Department, and because of his offensive remarks touching the conduct of the Confederate authorities in relation to two enlisted soldiers, as fully explained in a published dispatch of the Government. Mr. Benjamin says: ‘ "And here it may not be improper to observe that although this dispatch was published at the time of its date, and was communicated to the Foreign Office in London, Her Majesty's Ministers made the strange mistake of asserting in the House of Commons that Mr. Moore's dismissal was connected, in some way, with alleged cruelties committed on one Belshaw, of whose existence the Department was ignorant till the publication of the debate, and concerning whom no representation exists on its files." ’ The dismissal of Mr. Magee, the Consul at Mobile, by the British Government for forwarding the interest on the State debt of Alabama by the British frigate Vesuvius, is next noticed, and Mr. Benjamin passes to the consideration of the recent action of British Consuls with reference to foreigners enlisted in the Confederate army. He says: ‘ Within the last few days the President has been informed by communications addressed to the State and Confederate authorities by two out of the three British Consular Agents remaining here that they had received instructions from their Government to pursue a course of conduct in regard to persons of British origin now resident within the Confederacy which it has been impossible to tolerate. It seems scarcely probable that the instructions of Earl Russell have been properly understood by his agents; but we have no means of communicating with the British Government for the correction of misunderstandings. You are aware that Great Britain has no diplomatic agent accredited to us, and that Earl Russell having declined a personal interview with Mr. Mason, the latter, after some time spent in an unsatisfactory interchange of written communications, has been relieved of a mission which had been rendered painful to himself, and was productive of no benefit to his country. The President was, therefore, compelled to take the remedy into his own hands. By these two communications Earl Russell was not understood to insist on anything more than that British subjects, resident within the Confederacy, should be allowed a reasonable time to exercise the option of departing from the country, if unwilling to be enrolled in its service; and, in point of fact, this option had never been refused them, and many had availed themselves of it. Nor was it believed that Her Majesty's Government expected a very favorable response to their appeal to this Government for the exercise of the comity between "independent" States supposed to be involved in this subject, whilst Great Britain was persistently refusing to recognize the independence which alone could justify the appeal. Since the date of these two letters numerous requests have been made by British Consular officials for the interposition of this Government in behalf of persons, alleged to be British subjects, wrongfully subjected to draft. Relief has always been afforded when warranted by the facts; but it soon became known that these gentlemen regarded their own certificates as conclusive evidence that the persons named in them were exempt from military service, and that these certificates were freely issued on the simple affidavit of the interested parties. Thus Consul Moore was deceived into claiming exemption for two men who were proven to be citizens of the Confederacy, and to have been land-owners and voters for a series of years prior to the war. Much inconvenience was occasioned before these abuses could be corrected, but they afterwards assumed a shape which forbade further tolerance. The correspondence of the Acting British Consuls at Savannah and Charleston, already referred to, asserts the existence of instructions from their Government, under which, instead of advising British subjects to resort to the courts of justice, always open for the redress of grievances, or to apply to this Government for protection against any harsh or unjust treatment by its subordinates, they deem it a duty to counsel enlisted soldiers to judge for themselves of their right to exemption, to refuse obedience to Confederate laws and authority, and even exhort them to open mutiny in face of the enemy. This unwarrantable assumption by foreign officials of jurisdiction within our territory, this offensive encroachment on the sovereignty of the Confederate States, has been repressed by the President's order for the immediate departure of all British Consular Agents from our country, as you will perceive by a perusal of the enclosed copy of the notice addressed to one of them, Acting-Consul Fullerton. ’ * * * * * * I have been induced to place the whole subject fully in your possession, by reason of a statement made by Consul Fullerton to the Governor of Georgia, that in the event of the failure of his remonstrances to produce the exemption of all British subjects from service, he is instructed to state that "the Governments in Europe interested in this question will unite in making such representations as will secure to aliens this desired exemption." The menace here implied would require no answer if it were not made professedly under instructions. It is scarcely necessary to say to you that the action of the President in repelling with decision any attempt by foreign officials to arrogate sovereign rights within our limits, or to interfere of their own authority with the execution of our laws, would not be affected in the slightest degree by representations from any source, however exalted. This is the only point on which the President has had occasion to act, and on this point there is no room for discussion. The exercise of the Droit de renvoi is too harsh, however, to be resorted to without justifiable cause, and it is proper that you should have it in your power to explain the grounds on which the President has been compelled to enforce it. Lest also the Government of His Imperial Majesty should be misled into the error of supposing that the rights of French citizens are in any manner involved in the action of the President which has been rendered necessary by the reprehensible conduct of the British Consular agents, you are requested to take an early occasion for giving such explanation to M. Drouyn de L'Huys as will obviate all risk of misapprehension.
Your ob't serv't,
J. P. Benjamin,
Secretary of State.
Hon. John Slidell, Commissioner, &c., &c.,
Mr. Benjamin, writing Oct. 8th, 1863, to Mr. Fullerton, British Consul at Savannah, refers to the correspondence which has passed between that Consul and Gov. Brown, of Ga., (already published by the press,) and says: ‘ It thus appears that the Consular Agents of the British Government have been instructed not to confine themselves to an appeal for redress, either to courts of justice or to this Government, whenever they may conceive that grounds exist for complaint against the Confederate authorities in their treatment of British subjects, (an appeal which has in no case been made without receiving just consideration,) but that they assume the power of determining for themselves whether enlisted soldiers of the Confederacy are properly bound to its service; that they even arrogate the right to interfere directly with the execution of the Confederate laws, and to advise soldiers of the Confederate armies to throw down their arms in the face of the enemy. This assumption of jurisdiction by foreign officials within the territory of the Confederacy, and this encroachment on its sovereignty, cannot be tolerated for a moment, and the President has had no hesitation in directing that all Consuls and Consular Agents of the British Government be notified that they can no longer be permitted to exercise their functions, or even to reside within the limits of the Confederacy. I am directed, therefore, by the President to communicate to you this order, that you promptly depart from the Confederacy, and that in the meantime you cease to exercise any consular functions within its limits. ’
Mr. Benjamin tells Mr. Mason that Mr. Cridland, "who had occasionally acted as Consul in Richmond during the temporary absence of Consul Moore," called at the State Department on the 18th of May, and assured him that he was going to Mobile to attend unofficially to some business affecting the British Government there, which had been left unprotected by the withdrawal of Consul Magee, and adds: ‘ I was, therefore, quite surprised at receiving from the Secretary of the Navy official communication of a telegram received by him from Admiral Buchanan, informing the Secretary that Mr. Cridland had been officially introduced to him by the French Consul as Acting English Consul at Mobile, and had shown the Admiral "an official document signed by Lord Lyons, appointing him Acting English Consul at Mobile." ’ Mr. Benjamin then proceeds to give a full history of the shipment of the $155,000 in specie from Mobile to pay the Alabama State debt interest in England, and comments upon the course of the British Government in removing Mr. Magee for forwarding it. If the British Government holds that Alabama is still one of the United States, then the United States had no right to prevent its payment of a foreign debt; but if, on the contrary, the State of Alabama be regarded (as in right and fact she really is) an independent State, engaged in war against the United States as a foreign enemy, then the President cannot refrain from observing that the action of Her Britannic Majesty's Minister at Washington savored on this occasion rather of unfriendly co-operation with an enemy than of just observance of neutral obligations. Mr. Benjamin concludes: ‘ The President has, in the facts already recited, seen renewed reasons for adhering to his determination, mentioned in my preceding dispatch, of prohibiting any direct communication between Consuls or Consular Agents residing within the Confederacy and the functionaries of their Governments residing amongst our enemies. He further indulges the hope (which Her Majesty's Government cannot but regard as reasonable, and which he is, therefore, confident will be justified by its action) that Her Majesty's Government will choose some other mode of transmitting its orders and exercising its authority over its agents within the Confederacy than by delegating to functionaries who reside among our enemies the power to give orders or instructions to those who reside among us. Finally, and in order to prevent any further misunderstanding in Mr. Cridland's case, that gentleman has been informed that he cannot be permitted to exercise Consular functions at Mobile, and it has been intimated to him that his choice of some other State than Alabama for his residence would be agreeable to this Government. This intimation has been given in order to avoid any difficulty which might result from the doubtful position of Mr. Cridland, who is looked on here as a private individual, and who in Alabama represents himself as "Acting English Consul." The President is confident that Her Majesty's Government will render full justice to the motives by which these measures are prompted, and will perceive in them a manifestation of the earnest desire entertained by him to prevent the possibility of any unfortunate complications having a tendency to impair the amity which it is equally the interest and the desire of this Government to cherish with that of Great Britain. The President wishes a copy of this dispatch to be placed by you in the hands of Earl Russell. ’
Earl Russell to Mr. Mason.
J. M. Mason, Esq., &c., &c.,
Mr. Mason to Earl Russell.
24 Upper Seymour street,
The Rt. Hon. Earl Russell, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs:
Very ob't serv't,
[Signed,] J. M. Mason,
Special Commissioner. &c.