Trent. The desire to contribute to prevent a conflict perhaps imminent between two powers for which it is animated by sentiments equally friendly and the duty to uphold, for the purpose of placing the rights of its own flag under shelter from any attack, certain principles essential to the security of neutrals have after mature reflection convinced it that it could not under the circumstances remain entirely silent.
If to our deep regret the Cabinet at Washington were disposed to approve the conduct of the commander of the San Jacinto it would be either by considering Messrs. Mason and Slidell as enemies or as seeing in them nothing but rebels. In the one as in the other case there would be a forgetfulness, extremely annoying, of principles upon which we have always found the United States in agreement with us.
By what title in effect would the American cruiser in the first case have arrested Messrs. Mason and Slidell? The United States have admitted with us in the treaties concluded between the two countries that the freedom of the flag extends itself over the persons found ohey be enemies of one of the two parties, unless the question is of military people actually in the service of the enemy. Messrs. Mason and Slidell were therefore by virtue of this principle which we have never found any difficulty in causing to be inserted in our treaties of friendship and commerce perfectly at liberty under the neutral flag of England. Doubtless it will not be pretended that they could be considered as contraband of war. That which constitutes contraband of war is not yet it is true exactly settled; the limitations are not absolutely the same for all the powers; but in what relates to persons the special stipulations which are found in the treaties concerning military people define plainly the character of those who only can be seized upon by belligerents; but there is no need to demonstrate that Messrs. Mason and Slidell could not be assimilated to persons in that category. There remains therefore to invoke in explanation of their capture only the pretext that they were the bearers of official dispatches from the enemy; but this is the moment to recalla circumstance which governs all this affair and which renders the conduct of the American cruiser unjustifiable.
The Trent was not destined to a point belonging to one of the belligerents. She was carrying to a neutral country her cargo and her passengers, and moreover it was in a neutral port that they were taken. If it were admissible that under such conditions the neutral flag does not completely cover the persons and merchandise it carries its immunity would be nothing more than an idle word; at any moment the commerce and the navigation of third powers would have to suffer from their innocent and even their indirect relations with the one or the other of the belligerents. These last would no longer find themselves as having only the right to exact from the neutral entire impartiality and to interdict all intermeddling on his part in acts of hostility. They would impose on his freedom of commerce and navigation restrdern international law has refused to admit as legitimate; and we should in a word fall back upon vexatious practices against which in other epochs no power has more earnestly protested than the United States.
If the Cabinet of Washington would only look on the two persons
arrested as rebels whom it is always lawful to seize, the question, to place in on other ground, could not be solved, however, in a sense in favor of the commander of the San Jacinto. There would be in such case misapprehension of the principle which makes a vessel a portion of the territory of the nation whose flag it bears and violation of that immunity