Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Post image for “The cursed blockade-runners got up a lovely scheme of trading to the Rio Grande..,”–Adams Family Letters, Henry Adams, private secretary of the US Minister to the UK, to his brother, Charles.

“The cursed blockade-runners got up a lovely scheme of trading to the Rio Grande..,”–Adams Family Letters, Henry Adams, private secretary of the US Minister to the UK, to his brother, Charles.

April 23, 2013

Adams Family Civil War letters; US Minister to the UK and his sons.

London, April 23, 1863

Troubled times! troubled times! My own opinion is that our bed here is getting too hot for comfort and I don’t much care how soon we are out of it.

The last storm really amounts to very little, but serves to show the temper of the people here, or rather, of the business men. I had not sent my last to you when it burst, and you would have thought the devil was loose. Ecoute, mon chéri.

The cursed blockade-runners got up a lovely scheme of trading to the Rio Grande, a few months ago, and to insure success they made a contract with J. D. at Richmond to furnish cotton at half price on the spot, etc., etc., and in accordance with the program, a steamer called the Peterhoff was sent out, which Admiral Wilkes very properly bagged, and deserves the thanks of the Government for doing so. But the owners had covered the transaction under the appearance of a trade with Mexico and Matamoras, and finding their whole game spoiled and the officers refusing at any price to insure their ships or any ships to Matamoras, they set up a tremendous cackle, and the Times and the Telegraph and all the newspapers cackled, and deputations of blockade runners went to the Foreign Office and in short the whole blockade-breaking interest, the insurance Companies and underwriters, the ship-owners, and all and every their relations, friends and acquaintances, were exasperated and acrimonious.

Meanwhile two Americans named Howell and Zerman had been some time here engaged in purchasing articles on account of the Mexican Government, but mostly with British money. The capture of the Peterhoff suddenly destroyed their chance of insurance. In great disgust they went to the Minister and asked him for a certificate of loyalty, on which they might act. The Minister saw his chance of hitting the Peterhoffers a hard blow, and at the same time of helping Mexico, and so wrote the letter which you have probably already seen in the newspapers. Of course it was secret, for its publication would necessarily destroy the insurance, but it was intended for the gentlemen at Lloyd’s. It had the intended effect. The policy was to have been executed the next day, when one of the very underwriters made public a copy of the letter which his clerk had surreptitiously taken in short-hand as he himself read it aloud to the other four underwriters; within an hour a deputation had gone up with it to Earl Russell; the Exchange was raving mad; the Times next day thundered at the Minister for his insolent attempt to license British trade; the Standard cried for his dismissal; the public cursed and threatened; even our friends were frightened, and all thought that at last salt had been deposited upon the caudal appendage of a very venerable ornithological specimen.

The Minister was grand. I studied his attitude with deep admiration. Not all the supplications of his friends could make him open his mouth either to put the public right on his letter or on the gross falsehoods told about the Peterhoff. The time had not come. Of course he was cursed for his obstinacy, but he is used to that. We remained perfectly silent while the storm raged and laughed at it. But you can’t conceive how bitter they were in the city, and the matter was twice brought up in Parliament, though nothing was said there, nor shown, except a strong desire to get hold of the Minister. Luckily Lord Russell was firm and his course irritated the Peterhoffers so as to draw off a large portion of indignation upon him. Meanwhile the man who betrayed the letter in the hope of getting revenge for being called “dishonest and fraudulent,” and of stirring up hostility to our Government, honorably refused to proceed with the insurance and was blackguarded in his own office like a thief by Howell. To complete their discomfiture, a letter of the Minister to a London firm is published this morning, coolly putting it right as to the licensing business, and referring British subjects to their own Government for protection. When the whole Peterhoff story is told we shall reverse everything and overwhelm these liars, I hope, but meanwhile the storm seems to have blown itself out and we are still steady and going straight ahead. But England is not comfortable with such Irish rows.

April 24

You may judge the state of feeling here by the debate in Parliament last night, where much bad temper was shown, but no case. You will observe that our friends kept silence and left the Government to manage the matter. As to Lord Russell’s declaration about the Minister’s course and the complaint at Washington, it is of course annoying and hurts us here, but I believe it to be only the result of the outside pressure, and I do not believe he expects really to affirm that the American Government has no right to protect its own citizens against its own fleets. One thing however is certain. There is great danger in this feeling of irritation on both sides and a rupture is highly probable. But then, if we can weather it and turn the current, as I hope we may do, if the Peterhoff case is a strong one, we shall have plain sailing for another spell. Meanwhile we still bear up and steer right onward. Another debate comes on tonight and our friends will have their innings on the Alabama case. You will probably see this in our papers, but I shan’t be able to send it to you….

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