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

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Any number of Alabama’s may now be built, equipped, manned and despatched from British ports, openly for belligerent purposes

June 25, 2013

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

Henry Adams to Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

June 25, 1863

As I have regularly announced, the season of calm has again given way in this region to the new period of squally weather. I have looked forward to this time so long that “impavidum ferient ruinae “; I am prepared in mind for everything.

The prosecution, by means of which the two countries have been kept quiet so long, has come to an end. Not only has the decision gone against us, but the ruling of the venerable and obtuse Jamblichus who has slumbered upon the bench for many years and has not a conception of what has been vulgarly called the spirit of progressive civilization in jurisprudence; the ruling, as I was proceeding to observe, has triumphantly over-set the little law that has ever been established on this matter and leaves us all at sea, with a cheerful view of an almighty rocky lee shore. What will be the result of yesterday’s work I can’t say, but I can guess. Our present position is this. There is no law in England which forbids hostile enterprises against friendly nations. The Government has no power to interfere with them. Any number of Alabama’s may now be built, equipped, manned and despatched from British ports, openly for belligerent purposes and provided they take their guns on board after they’ve left the harbor, and not while in dock, they are pursuing a legitimate errand.

Of course this is crowner’s quest law; crazy as the British constitution; and would get England soon into war with every nation on the sea. The question now is whether the Government will mend it. Mr. Cobden told me last night that he thought they would. I amuse myself by telling all the English people who speak to me on the subject, that considering that their maritime interests are the greatest in the world, they seem to me to have been peculiarly successful in creating a system of international law which will facilitate in the highest possible degree their destruction, and reduce to a mathematical certainty their complete and rapid ruin. And I draw their attention to the unhappy, the lamentable, the much-to-be-deprecated, but inevitable result of yesterday’s verdict, that you could n’t rake up on the American continent twelve citizens of the United States, who could be induced by any possible consideration to condemn a vessel which they had the slightest hope of seeing turned into a pirate against British commerce. I think these arguments are far the most effective we can use. And I think the people here will soon be keenly alive to these results.

Meanwhile what is the effect of all this upon us? It brings stormy weather certainly, but our position is in one respect rather strengthened by it. Public opinion abroad and here must gravitate strongly in our favor. This Government is placed in a position in which it will be very difficult for it to ignore its obligations. With the question between the English Government and its Courts, we have nothing to do. Our demands are on the Government alone, and if the English laws are not adequate to enable her to maintain her international obligations, Cant pis pour elle. She’s bound to make new ones.

But there is another source of anxiety to us of late, though not so serious. A gentleman who is regarded by all parties here as rather more than three-quarters mad, a Mr. Roebuck, has undertaken the Confederate cause, and brought a motion in Parliament which is to be discussed in a few days. Not finding his position here sufficiently strong, he has gone over to Paris and has seen the Emperor who, he says, told him he was willing and earnest to press the question of mediation, if England would join him. So Mr. Roebuck has come back, big with the fate of nations, and we shall see whatever there is to see.

The truth is, all depends on the progress of our armies. Evidently there is a crisis coming at home, and events here will follow, not lead, those at home. If we can take Vicksburg — so! If not, then — so! .. .

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