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

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To Baron LIONEL de ROTHSCHILD, M. P. (concerning the Alabama)

April 14, 2013

A Few Letters and Speeches of the Late Civil War by August Belmont (DNC Chairman)


New York, April 14, 1863.

Dear Baron,—I have read with great interest the admirable speech of Lord Russell, which you sent me by your letter of 24th ult. The policy of neutrality and non-intervention is certainly now the only true and just one. I hope that your government will not only continue to proclaim it, but will also prevent more effectually than heretofore, its violations by its subjects and its officials.

Lord Russell’s speech would have had an excellent effect here, but unfortunately the same steamer brought out the speeches of Lord Palmerston and the Solicitor-General, of the 27th ult., which breathe such an unkind and unfriendly spirit against the American people, that they will more than counterbalance the fair and honorable language of your Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Lord Palmerston’s speech, particularly, is a most extraordinary exhibition, and contains principles and assertions which it will be impossible even for that distinguished statesman to sustain. He says that the British cabinet could not act against the Alabama upon the mere complaint and statement of Mr. Adams, and that unless evidence under oath was produced by the latter, the authorities would not have been justified in retaining her.

How could Mr. Adams furnish evidence, which it was the duty of the Crown officials to procure, through their police and courts of justice, after their attention had been called to the intended violation of the law of the land ?

When, in 1855, the British Consul gave notice here, to our government, that the bark Maury, owned by one of our most respectable houses, was being fitted out as a privateer to cruise under the Russian flag, she was, on that mere suspicion, at once libelled by the United States authorities, and was not released until it was satisfactorily proved that she was not intended for such a purpose. This was done at a time when the English government had numerous contracts in this country for the manufacture of Enfield rifles, and when our vessels were carrying troops and ammunition from English and French ports to the Crimea.

The selling of arms and the running of blockade by individuals is certainly a very different thing from the fitting out of ships of war and privateers, and while we can only regret the first, and take our measures against them, we have certainly a right to expect that a friendly power will protect us against the other.

The Alabama has been fitted out in an English port to prey upon our commerce, she forfeited her bond, or, in other words, the builders evaded the law by sacrificing their bail. Does this change the offence? Only three months ago the British Consul has asserted in my presence that the Alabama, having forfeited her bail, would be seized in any English port she should enter, and I naturally inferred from this that orders to that effect had gone to the different stations. Yet she has, since that time, been received, provisioned, and feted in Kingston, and, for all I know, other ports of the British West Indies! She is now preying upon our commerce, and is recognized by your officials as a Confederate war vessel, though she has never as yet entered a Confederate port, and though the greater portion, if not all of her crew, are English subjects and foreigners.

How does the case and the attitude of the British government compare with the conduct of George Washington, immediately after the peace of the Revolutionary war.

The French republic, counting upon the sympathy of a young nation, the liberty of which they had just assisted to conquer, sent agents out here for the fitting out of privateers to prey upon British commerce. Washington not only took at once the most energetic steps against the violation of our neutrality, and seized the vessels in port, but he also indemnified British subjects for the losses sustained by the few privateers which had managed to escape. It is really inconceivable to see your leading statesmen make an assertion like the one made in the same speech by Lord Palmerston, viz., that British subjects had been seized and compelled to serve in this war against their will. It must be known to every child that such could not be the case, as no conscription has as yet taken place at the North, and it is further well known to the British Minister that it was only in the Southern States that Englishmen had been impressed into the service.

Lord Palmerston, as the head of the British cabinet, evinces in his speech a feeling of unfriendliness which will go far to bring about the most deplorable consequences, because I can assure you, that if your government is determined to allow the delivery and sailing of the war vessels destined for the Confederates, there will be reprisals, and I fear war. Our government does not wish it, and a member of the cabinet made a very strong speech here, on Saturday, against a war with England, but the irritation produced by the action of your officials has gained even the more influential and moderate leading men. Lord Russell says, at the conclusion of his speech, that he hopes England will never interfere except “in the cause of liberty, and to promote the freedom of mankind.” It would be well if England had acted upon this doctrine in the present contest. She would have secured forever the abolition of slavery throughout the world, while now she is assisting in riveting the fetters of the poor African for another century.

While in Cuba, I found all the Creole planters in favor of the South, and they based their partiality on the ground that, if the North succeed, slavery would be abolished in the United States, and then, of course, thev would be compelled to emancipate their slaves also.

Let your statesmen and Southern sympathizers go to Cuba and see the fearful barbarity and misery of slavery there, and I fear they would find it more difficult to satisfy their conscience as easily as they seem to do their constituents for the course they have pursued toward our people in our hour of trouble.

I am glad to hear from you, that you have not taken any interest in the Confederate loan. It is a most reckless speculation, and I do not believe that the first dollar will ever be paid on it. The letter in the London Times, denying that Jefferson Davis was a leading advocate of repudiation in his State of Mississippi, is the most barefaced falsehood imaginable. Jeff. Davis ran for State Senator, for Governor, and for United States Senator, upon the distinct issue of repudiating the bonds of the State of Mississippi, issued to the banks, and sold by them to the United States Bank.

These gentlemen are bold and unscrupulous in their assertions to the British public, because they know that they are preaching to willing ears.

Only a few months ago Yancey, one of their Commissioners, declared at a public dinner in London, that he was opposed to the African Slave Trade. Well, in 1856 he made one of his most powerful speeches, at a Southern Convention, in favor of that nefarious traffic, and appealing to the passions of his people, avowed already then, that the refusal of the Federal government to repeal the law of 1808 against the slave trade, was in itself a sufficient ground for the South to separate from the Union.

I am very much afraid that public opinion is so much roused against us that nothing will change the action of your government and people. On the other hand, demagogues will do their utmost to increase the irritation produced by the direct aid given by England and the English to the rebels.

The consequences which must arise from such a state of things can only be averted by great moderation and a cordial interchange of views on the part of the two governments.

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