War of the Rebellion: Serial 115 Page 1190 PRISONERS OF WAR, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

the other a Russian minister going from Hamburg to Washington in an American ship might have been brought to Portsmouth, the ship might have been condemned and the minister sent to the Tower of London. So also a Confederate vessel of war might capture a Cunard steamer on its way from Halifax to Liverpool on the ground of its carrying dispatches from Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams.

In view therefore of the erroneous principles asserted by Mr. Seward and the consequence they involve Her Majesty's Government think it necessary to declare that they would not asquiesce in the capture of any British merchant ship in circumstances similar to those of the Trent and that the facts of its being brought before a prize court though it would not alter the character would not diminsh the gravity of the offense against the law of nations which would thereby be committed.

Having disposed of the question whether the persons named and their supposed dispatches were contraband of war I am relieved from the necessity of discussing the other questions raised by Mr. Seward, namely, whether Captain Wilkes had lawfully a right to stop and search the Trent for these persons and their supposed dispatches; whether that right assuming that he possessed it was exercised by him in a lawful and proper manner, and whether he had a right to capture the persons found on board.

The fifth question put by Mr. Seward, namely whether Captain Wilkes exercised the alleged right of capture in the manner allowed and recognized by the law of nations is resolved by Mr. Seward himself in the negative.

I [will not] conclude, however, without noticing one very singular passage in Mr. Seward's dispatch. Mr. Seward asserts that-

If the safety of this Union required the detention of the captured persons it would be the right and duty of this Government to detain them.

He proceeds to say that the waning proportions of the insurrection and the comparatives unimportance of the captured persons themselves forbit him from resorting to that defense. Mr. Seward does not here assert any right founded on international law however inconvenient or irritating to neutral nations. He entirely loses sight of the vast difference which exist between the exercise of an extreme right and the commission of unquestionable wrong. His frankness compels me to be equally open and to inform him that Great Britain could not have submitted to the perpertation of that wrong however flourishing might have been the insurrection in the South and however important the persons captured might have been.

Happily all danger of hostile collision on this subject has been avoided. It is the earnest hope of Her Majesty's Government that similar dangers if they should arise may be averted by peaceful negotiations conducted in the spirit with befits the orangs of two great nations.

I request you to read this dispatch to Mr. Seward and give him a copy of it.

I am, &c.,

RUSSELL.

LEGATION OF THE UNITED STATES,

London, January 24, 1862.

Honorable WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State, Washington.

SIR: I am glad to perceive * * * that the Government is fully alive to a sense of the growing danger of European interference in