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Matthew (1861-12-13)


“The Attack on the Trent”. Dundee Courier, Friday 13 December 1861, p.2 col.5 (pdf image)

(Letter dated Dec 12, printed Dec 13 1861)
Matthew objects to the legal argument over the Union action on the Trent, as put forward in an Editorial in the Dundee Courier. There is an editorial reply after Matthew’s letter.



SIR,— I observe an article in your paper of to-day, starting a new view regarding the purport of Her Majesty’s orders in Council against carrying despatches of the American belligerents. These orders were, no doubt, meant to prevent any intermeddling with the affairs of the belligerents, and especially directed against carrying despatches or intelligence between any of the belligerents, and not from the belligerents to neutral Powers, or communications from one neutral port to another. If the orders admit of the latter interpretation, it shows gross error on the part of Her Majesty’s Ministry. How is it possible for any mail steamer of Britain in the direction of the New World, to follow these orders, taken in the latter sense? How could we at present communicate with the Government of Washington via New York? However these orders may have been expressed, we cannot admit them to have any bearing upon the question at issue regarding the outrage upon the Trent. Here we are bound by the rights of hospitality, which in all ages have been regarded sacred, to defend those who trusted to our honour for protection.— l am, &c.,

Gourdie Hill, Dec. 12, 1861.

[Our correspondent is mistaken. The view is not a new one. We indicated it months ago; and it is probable Mr Seward will lay stress upon it. We do not know what was intended by the proclamation; we only know what was said. It forbade British subjects to aid and abet the belligerents, and did not give permission to do so in neutral port, any more than any where else. The right of search applies to enemies’ goods and subjects, no matter where they are embarked, or where they are to be carried. If the proclamation of neutrality recognised the Confederates as belligerents, there is no question as to hospitality. We protect refugees, but not belligerents, who embark in our ships. As to them, we are, in time of war, bound to perform the duties of neutrals. It would be no contradiction of our article, if communication with America were a violation of the proclamation. It would only show that either the proclamation had to be disregarded, or communication given up. But our correspondent seems to forget the effect of the facts that we have an Ambassador at Washington, and the Federal Government one in London; and that justifies communication, even in time of war. If the Confederates are belligerents, taking the prisoners out of the ship, without the intervention of a Prize Court, was illegal, but taking them on board was done in disregard of the duties of neutrals. If the Confederates are rebels, and there is no state of war, then it was illegal even to search the Trent, much more to take prisoners out of her. The ambiguity between these two positions is at the root of the danger, and the proclamation of neutrality helped to create it.]

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