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Chapter LXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 5

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The English mail-steamer Trent, Captain Muir, sailed from Havana for Southampton on the 7th of November, 1861, having on board a large quantity of specie and numerous passengers, among whom were the Confederate envoys already mentioned, with their respective secretaries, who, having run the blockade from New Orleans, had reached Havana. On the next day, as the Trent was passing through the Bahama Channel, a large steamer, having the appearance of a man-of-war, but showing no colours, was observed ahead, hove to; as the Trent approached, the stranger fired a shot across her bows, and hoisted American colours. The Trent slackened her speed, and was slowly approaching the frigate, when the latter fired a shell, which exploded a few yards ahead of her, and the Trent stopped. A boat strongly armed and manned boarded the packet, and it was found that the frigate was the United States steamship San Jacinto, 8 guns, Captain Wilks; and that the officer in command of the boat had orders to seize the persons of Messrs. Mason and Slidell and their secretaries, and transport them on board the San Jacinto. A scene of great excitement ensued on the packet's deck, under the bright tropical sky. The gallant officer in charge of the Trent's mails, Commander Williams, was not the man to let this high-handed act be transacted quietly, and, as it were, sub rosa; he protested loudly and forcibly against the whole proceeding, which he denounced as an illegal and piratical outrage; nor was it till another boatful of armed men had been signalled for from the San Jacinto, and Commander Williams and the envoys themselves were distinctly informed that Gaptain Wilks' orders were positive, and that any resistance would be overcome by main force, that the seizure and transfer of the four Confederates were effected.

The Trent pursued her way, first to the island of St. Thomas, and thence to Southampton. In this country, upon the arrival of the news of what had befallen her, the feeling of astonishment and indignation was universal. Could anything be more infatuated, it was argued, on the part of the Federal Government than to insult thus wantonly, to provoke thus recklessly, a power which it was of the utmost consequence to them to be on the best understanding with; and which, if their enemy, could brush away their blockading squadrons like so many flies, and supply herself at once, with full right and a clear conscience, with the cotton for want of which the population of Lancashire was in a state of semi-starvation? Anyhow, whatever came of it, the sacredness of the right of asylum must be maintained; the wrong that had been done must be undone; the guests that had been rudely torn from England's board must be given back again. Such feelings were, as nearly as possible, universal; nor did the Government, to do it justice, show itself a dull and inapt interpreter of the people's mind. A demand, but one made in terms of studied courtesy, for the restoration of the captured persons was immediately forwarded to the American Government. M. Thouvenel, in the name of the Emperor of the French, as well as the Governments of Prussia, Austria, and Russia, wrote friendly dispatches to Washington, reprehending the act of Captain Wilks, and counselling the dignified abandonment of an untenable ground. But as the issue seemed doubtful, particularly since the Northern press had, with scarcely an exception, approved the seizure, and the House of Representatives had actually passed a vote of thanks to Captain Wilks for the promptitude and vigour of his proceedings, it was thought advisable to prepare for the war which would have inevitably followed the refusal of our demand. The din of preparation resounded through all our arsenals and dockyards, and troops were hastily forwarded to Canada. The unexpected warmth and heartiness with which the Canadians met the appeal thus suddenly made on their loyalty, the zeal with which they called out their militia and volunteers, and prepared to strengthen the defences of their frontier, can never be forgotten by an Englishman who is worthy of the name, and formed the best and completest answer to the covert hints and whispered insinuations respecting a supposed desire of the province for annexation to the United States, which had been in circulation for many years. It was worth all the anxiety and peril brought on us by the Trent incident, to have obtained so genuine and indisputable a proof of the love of Canada for the old flag.

The language used by Mr. Seward in the dispatch announcing the intention of the American Government to surrender the captives, seemed to show that that Government was so strongly disposed to consider the seizure good and lawful, that it is fair to conjecture that a very little wavering, the least sign of a disposition to recede from the resolute attitude which England had taken up, would have turned the scale in America in favour of a rejection of our demand. In a dispatch of prodigious length, displaying great reach of thought and mastery of language, united to an extraordinary power of subtle distinction and analysis, Mr. Seward discussed the Trent incident in connection with the established principles of international law, and also with other principles not yet established, but which he thought might by parity of reasoning be deduced from those universally admitted, and without the definition of which a case that presented in many respects novel features could not easily be determined. The upshot was this - that the American Government justified the conduct of Captain Wilks in every point but one: he was right in stopping the Trent; he was right in searching her; he was right in seizing the persons of the Confederate envoys and their secretaries; but he was wrong in allowing the Trent to proceed quietly on her voyage after the seizure. What he ought to have done was, to put a prize crew on board the Trent, and send her to the nearest American port where there was a Court of Admiralty, in order that she might either have been condemned as a lawful prize, or else released. Thus the omission of an act, which to our obtuse understandings off this side of the Atlantic would have given to the whole incident a yet more aggravated and intolerable character than that which it already bore, was transcendentalised in the subtle apprehension of Mr. Seward into the one flaw in an otherwise perfect crystal, which vitiated the procedure of Captain Wilks, invalidated the else unimpeachable case of America, and which - for he had to come at last to the point - compelled the American Government to accede to the demands of England, and place the captured persons at the disposal of Her Majesty. They were accordingly transferred on board H.M.S. Rinaldo, a ship belonging to the squadron stationed at Halifax, whence they soon found their way to their respective destinations.

The despatch of Earl Russell in reply to that of Mr. Seward, though not to be compared with the latter in point of diplomatic finesse and argumentative subtlety, nevertheless fairly met and disposed of the chief arguments by which the American minister had endeavoured to establish that the captured persons were " contraband of war." Thus, with reference to the dictum of Sir William Scott, that "You may stop your enemy's ambassador on his passage," Earl Russell proved that the meaning of that great legist was, not that this might be done anywhere, on the territory or within the jurisdiction of a friendly neutral for instance, but that it might be done in any place of which you were yourself the master, or in which you had a right to exercise acts of hostility, that is, in any part of the enemy's country. But the American Government was not the master on board the Trent, nor had it a right to exercise acts of hostilely on board of her, England being a neutral power; it was, manifest, therefore, that this dictum of Sir W. Scott could not be adduced in support of the act of Captain Wilks.

The session of 1861 was not fruitful in important legislative enactments. A remission of excise duty in regard to paper was, perhaps, of all the measures agreed to by Parliament, the one which has been most prolific in results. This remission was proposed by Mr. Gladstone, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech on the Budget, and though vigorously opposed, was at length carried. Cheap literature and journalism, and along with these the harmless entertainment of the people, have benefited enormously by the change. Doubtless the cheapness of the material on which his crude or vicious thoughts can be written has sometimes, in the hands of the socialist or the sensualist, led to the abuse of the benefit conferred. It is found, however, that the sale of corrupting works, even when not such as to incur the risk of suppression by the law, is essentially limited, and that the immense majority of the cheap newspapers and periodicals which the reduction of the paper duty has brought into existence are, though often dull and in bad taste, sufficiently respectable and moral in their tone. Whether this agreeable result is partly due to the general prosperity which the lower and middle classes have enjoyed since the reduction, and whether a severe check to this prosperity, if such should unfortunately happen, would seriously change the tone of the cheap literature for the worse; these are speculations which, in the absence of experience, it would be vain and unprofitable to indulge in.

The Government brought in a bill for the abolition of church rates, which passed the second reading by a considerable majority. This stimulated the Tory party to unwonted efforts; the third reading of the Bill, contrary to the usual practice of the House, was opposed, and on a division the numbers were found to be exactly equal - 274 voting that the Bill do pass, and the same number supporting the amendment of Mr. Estcourt, that it be read a third time that day six months. The Speaker had to give his casting vote, and he gave it against the bill, justifying his vote m a short and statesmanlike speech, on the ground that the exact equipoise of parties seemed to indicate that the House itself felt that the Bill might be the better for revision.

The country sustained a grievous loss in the early death this year of Lord Herbert of Lea, better known as Sidney Herbert. Born to wealth, and to an ancient and honoured name, the son and father of Earls of Pembroke, Lord Herbert refused to join himself to the number of the few who revel in the possession of all the goods of this life, but deliberately, from the time that he attained to man's estate, threw in his lot with the toiling and struggling millions. The breakdown in our military departments which the Crimean War had witnessed, required unflagging diligence, strong sense, and uncommon strength of constitution, in the administrator who undertook the task of reparation. Of these requisites Sidney Herbert possessed the first two in an eminent degree; and the thorough efficiency of the expeditionary force which marched to Pekin in 1860 attested the improvement which the indefatigable labours of the Secretary at War had introduced into every branch of the service, and received due recognition from both sides of the House of Commons. The labours imposed upon the Minister for War at this particular period were almost more than human strength could grapple with. The Volunteer movement had to be promoted and watched; the Indian army was to be fused with that of the Queen, without detriment to individual rights and interests; the defences of our shores had to be readjusted, in conformity with the enlarged powers of the new rifled artillery. " It is remarkable that all these great labours were successfully performed by a man dying by inches. Mr. Sidney Herbert was suffering from a disease of a peculiarly wasting character, of which the origin is to be found in the debility occasioned by close work and mental exhaustion." In the July of this year he resigned his secretariat, and went abroad; but the flame of life had burnt too low to be revived by healthier breezes or southern skies. He felt that it was too late, and returned home to Wilton to die.

Three months later another celebrated man passed away - Sir James Graham. The advance of age - he Was sixty-nine when he died - had somewhat blunted the force and diminished the weight of that robust nature, so that for some years previously Sir James Graham had not been much heard of; but many keenly felt that when he died nearly the last of an earlier generation of statesmen had gone to his rest. It was impossible to look at the magnificent proportions of the stout borderer, the Knight of Netherby, the representative of so many generations of gallant Cumberland Grahams, without regarding him as a man cast in a different and more antique mould than the majority of the politicians who sat on the green benches beside him. He began life as an enthusiastic reformer, and battler with social abuses; less, it would seem, from any deeply- seated convictions, than from the general vigour of his intellect and the strenuousness of his character, which, when the great war was over, and no outlet given that way, impelled him to rush eagerly into the strife of parties, and moreover disposed him to take the aggressive rather than the defensive line in politics. But after the Reform Bill had been won, and Lord Grey with his old Roman nobleness and dignity was no more, and the mantle of power had fallen on weaker shoulders, the natural forces and tendencies which marshal men on this side or on that in the field of politics began to re-assert themselves; and Sir James Graham in 1834, along with Lord Stanley, on the question of the re-adjustment of the Irish Church and the famous Appropriation Clause, went over to the ranks of that "territorial" and Conservative party to which he by birth and interest belonged. The writer well remembers the bitter resentment which this act of "ratting" inspired, then and for years afterwards, in the breasts of the Whig party. However, Sir James Graham never got farther than the most advanced line of the Conservative party - the " Right Centre "as it would be called in France - and when in 1841 he joined the ministry of Sir Robert Peel, he threw himself with hearty sympathy into all the reforming projects of that great statesman; and after having helped him to carry the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, was along with him ejected from office by the adverse vote of the House of Commons on the Irish Coercion Bill. He was again at the head of the Admiralty during the Crimean War; but, though he showed much of his old administrative ability, the novelty and difficulty of the problems which had to be met, under the altered conditions of modern warfare, seemed to demand a greater elasticity of mind than he could bring to them. He was bold, yet without rancour, in his enmities, firm and faithful in his friendships; and Sir Robert Peel, as if by an instinct, daily sought the support of his arm as he passed after the debate from the House of Commons.

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