Concerning the Trent Affair
[December 10? 1861]
The despatch of Her Majesty’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs, dated the 30th. of November 1861, and, of which your Lordship kindly furnished me a copy, has been carefully considered by the President; and he directs me to say that if there existed no fact, or facts pe[r]tinent to the case, beyond those stated in said despatch, the reparation sought by Great Brittain from the United States, would be justly due, and should be promptly made. The President is unwilling to believe that Her Majesty’s Government will press for a categorical answer upon what appears to him to be only a partial record, in the making up of which, he has been allowed no part. He is reluctant to volunteer his view of the case, with no assurance that Her Majesty’s Government will consent to hear him; yet this much he directs me to say, that this government has intended no affront to the British flag, or to the British nation; nor has it intended to force into discussion, an embarrassing question, all which is evident by the fact, hereby asserted, that the act complained of was done by the officer, without orders from, or expectation of, the government. But being done, it was no longer left to us to consider whether we might not, to avoid a controversy, waive an unimportant, though a strict right; because we too, as well as Great Brittain, have a people justly jealous of their rights, and in whose presence our government could undo the act complained of, only upon a fair showing that it was wrong, or, at least, very questionable. The United States government and people, are still willing to make reparation upon such showing.
Accordingly I am instructed by the President to inquire whether Her Majesty’s government will hear the United States upon the matter in question. The President desires, among other things, to bring into view, and have considered, the existing rebellion in the United States-the position Great Brittain has assumed, including Her Majesty’s proclamation, in relation thereto-the relation the persons, whose seizure is the subject of complaint, bore to the United States, and the object of their voyage at the time they were seized-the knowledge which the master of the Trent had of their relation to the United States, and of the object of their voyage, at the time he received them on board for the voyage-the place of the seizure-and the precedents, and respective positions assumed, in analagous cases, between Great Brittain and the United States.
Upon a Submission, containing the foregoing facts, with those set forth in the before mentioned despatch to your Lordship, together with all other facts which either party may deem material, I am instructed to say the government of the United States will, if agreed to by Her Majesty’s government, go to such friendly arbitration as is usual among nations, and will abide the award.
Or, in the alternative, Her Majesty’s government may, upon the same record, determine whether any, and if any, what reparation is due from the United States; provided, no such reparation shall be different in character from, nor transcend, that proposed by your Lordship, as instructed in and by the despatch aforesaid; and, provided further, that the determination thus made shall be the law for all future analagous cases, between Great Brittain and the United States.
The date is that assigned by Nicolay and Hay. Lincoln’s reply to Lord John Russell’s dispatch of November 30, 1861, was never sent. On November 8, 1861, the warship San Jacinto commanded by Captain Charles Wilkes had stopped the British ship Trent and forcibly removed Confederate emissaries James M. Mason (accredited to Britain) and John Slidell (accredited to France) and their secretaries James E. McFarland and George Eustis, Jr.