Earl Russell said:
I conclude that the noble earl has hardly read the papers which have been laid upon the table of the House by command of Her Majesty for the noble earl would there have found a correspondence between Lord Lyons and Mr. Seward and also between Her Majesty's Government and Lord Lyons on this subject. The noble earl in his statement seems hardly to have taken into account the very critical circumstances in which the Government of the United States has been placed. In the spring of last year nine of the States in the scheme of confederation declared war against the Government of the United States. In such circumstances as these it is usual for all governments to imprison upon suspicion persons who they consider are taking part in the war against them.
In a case which happened not any years ago, viz, 1848, when there was a conspiracy for the purpose of overturning the authority of Her Majesty the secretary of state applied to the other House of Parliament for authority to arrest persons on suspicion, viz, for the suspension of the habeas corpus act, and in the papers presented to Parliament at that date there are two cases in which the lord-lieutenant of Ireland had ordered the arrest of two American persons; a complaint was thereupon made by the American Government, and my noble friend (Lord Palmerston), at that time at the head of the foreign office, replied that with regard to those persons the lord-lieutenant had duer information upon which he relied that those persons were engaged in practices tending to subvert the authority of the crown and were aiding practices which were being pursued in that part of the kingdom. Those persons were never brought to trial, but on that authority they were arrested.
After this civil war broke out in America complaints were made by certain British subjects that they had been arrested upon suspicion. I immediately directed Lord Lyons to complain of that act as an act enforced by the sole authority of the President very light grounds of suspicion and I said he ought not to be detained. I am not here to vindicate the acts of the American Government for one or for any of those cases. Whether they had good grounds for suspicion or whether they had light grounds for suspicion it is not for me here to say. If I thought there were light grounds for suspicion it was my business to represent that to the Government of the United States, but it is not my business to undertake their defense in this House. The American minister replied that the President had by the Constitution the right in time of war or rebellion to arrest persons upon suspicion and to confine them in prison during his will and pleasure.
This question has been much debated in America and judges of high authority have declared that the writ of habeas corpus could not be suspended except by an act of Congress. But certain lawyer have written on both sides of the question; and I have recently received a pamphlet in which it is laid down that the meaning of the law of the United States is that the writ of habeas corpus can be suspended on the sole authority of the President of the United States. The question itself was brought before Congress and a resolution was proposed that there should be no arbitrary arrests except with the sanction of Congress. But it was contended that it was part of the prerogative of the President and a large majority decided that the question should not be discussed and tPresident to act for himself. So much for the power given by the Constitution of the United States.
With regard to the particular acts which the Secretary of State under the sanction of the President has authorized as to the arrest of British subjects as well as American subjects, I am not here to defend those arrests, but I certainly do contend that it is an authority which must belong to some person in the Government if they believe that persons are engaged in treasonable conspiracies in the taking part as spies or in furnishing arms against the Government. I believe that in regard to many of the cases of arbitrary authority that power was abused. I believe that not only with regard to persons arrested but in the courses pursued there was unnecessary suspicion, but I do not find that in any case there has been any refusal to allow British consuls at places where convenient to hear the cases of those persons or when a statement was made by the British minister that Lord Lyons was slow in representing the case to Mr. Seward. Lord Lyons represented to me that these cases took up a great part of his time and he was anxious to investigate every one of them.
Non can I say that Mr. Seward has refused at any time to listen to those complaints. He has always stated that he had information upon which he could depend that these persons were engaged in treasonable practices against the Government of the United States. That being the question the noble earl states upon his own authority that the arrests are illegal and that the persons are kept m prison illegally. But that is more than I can venture to say. I can hardly venture to say that the President of the United States has not the power, supposing persons are engaged in treasonable conspiracies against the authority of the Government, to keep them in