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Matthew (1861-12-18)


“The Trent Outrage—Peace or War”. Dundee Courier, Wednesday 18 December 1861, p.4 col.1 (pdf image)

(Letter dated Dec 16, printed Dec 18 1861)
In his second, much longer letter, Matthew lays out in more detail his reasons for why the Union action on the Trent was an “outrage”. He also argues that it is impossible for the USA to stay as one country, due do the differences in social order in the different regions. He predicts that four different confederacies will emerge (“thus, physically, industrially, and socially different, the people of the late United States, though of one parentage and language, will naturally arrange themselves into four great confederacies of States, in spite of any possible obstruction opposition — a Northern Atlantic, a Southern Atlantic, a Mississippi, and a Californian confederacy.”)



SIR,— Accept of thanks for your kindness and impartiality in publishing my short letter, a little adverse to your own rather implied views on the Trent question. Your replies to it, however, require some further attention and response, for which I trust your liberality will afford space. I hope you will not attribute this response to antagonistic disposition (the besetting sin, it is said, of us Scotchmen), but to desire, like yourself, to elicit the truth — to ascertain what is right, that we may both, not agree differ, but agree without difference.

In estimating the guilty party in the present serious quarrel betwixt Britain and the Washington Government, for in every quarrel there is at least one guilty or erring party, it is patent to all the civilised world that the British Govarnment has been especially anxious to avoid giving cause of offence, even to an extent, in the Queen’s proclamation to her subjects against aiding and abetting the belligerents, which, you seem to insinuate, was calculated to operate in a contrary direction — to lead to war. The British Government, for many years back, has also yielded, in a number of very doubtful cases, to the claims of the United States, evincing a forbearance seldom matched in the conduct of independent nations. This forbearance has, however, only operated to produce overbearance on the part of the Washington Government, and the recent outrage upon the Trent is the climax — the result of a nation not being able to appreciate aright the uniform generosity and placability of another.

The cause of this placability — this earnest desire to be on amicable terms with the Washington Government is partly selfish, partly sympathetic. 1st, A knowledge that the prosperity of these States embraces to a great extent the prosperity of Britain, that much British capital is invested in American improvements, so that we cannot injure the American States without injury to ourselves, and that we are reciprocally valuable customers in traffic with each other. 2d, Family sympathy — a pride in the grand development of our first great colony, sympathy with them as a representative Government, and a belief that war with them would be highly detrimental to the progress of modern civilisation. 3d, That we would much rather fight on the side of a people, so far sustained by their own honest labour, than on the side of a people sustained by the labour of slaves.* 4th, Another potent reason why we should if possible remain on friendly terms with the Washington Government, and, indeed, with all, but more especially without own kindred, is that war might have the effect to embitter us against each other for ages to come.

To come now to the only definite statement of your long but rather vague articles respecting the Trent outrage. The proclamation of her Majesty, upon which you lay much stress, was of a purely domestic character, with which the Washington Government have no further business than to regard it merely as shewing a high solicitude on her part to avoid giving offence, and it would have been well had the Washington Government acted in the same spirit. Here you start an objection to the illegality of the attack upon the Trent, founding it upon the quasi recognition of the Southern States in Her Majesty’s proclamation — Her injunctions not to aid or abet the belligerents. How could Seward or the Washington Government, repeatedly denying themselves and the Southern States to be belligerents, have any claim to act upon any supposed rights of belligerents, and seize passengers from out a British vessel? And if the commander of the Trent did disobey orders of Her Majesty, can the American Government have any right to interfere between the Queen and her subjects — (you rather imply they have) — and demand the punishment of this officer, before they deliver up the passengers seized from the Trent? The idea is absurd.

Although adverse to allied war-connection with the Slave States, I by no means admit the right the Northern States pretend to, and act upon, in the present attempt by force to reduce the Southern States back to their former federative alliance. This attempt is indirectly opposed to the first principles of popular government and social rights of man. I do not see any right whatever that the Northern States have to do this any more than to subject the Southern white men to indirect slavery to the Northern, to be virtually their slave-drivers. A union of some 40 or 50 states, extending over the greater part the habitable continent of North America under one Presidential head, is inexpedient to the extent as almost to render it an impracticability. Human affairs force themselves in the direction of utility. The rapidly increasing population of California will never submit to be several thousand miles from the seat of Government, across almost impassable mountains, or by a much further round-about, unhealthy, but more practicable route. From difference in character, in sympathy, and in position, the slaveholders of the South can never amalgamate or harmonise with the independent, working-to-self husbandmen of the Mississippi basin, nor with the busy manufacturers and daring mariners of the Northern Atlantic States. Thus, physically, industrially, and socially different, the people of the late United States, though of one parentage and language, will naturally arrange themselves into four great confederacies of States, in spite of any possible obstruction opposition — a Northern Atlantic, a Southern Atlantic, a Mississippi, and a Californian confederacy.

In your reply you seem to make light of the rights of hospitality, of protection to unarmed guests, stating that international law admits the seizure of subjects of belligerents in neutrals. International law is still somewhat vague, and founded chiefly up in the notions of some old Dutch jurists. The duties of hospitality, are, however, not vague, but engraved upon every honourable mind, extending even to the most barbarous hordes. Is this common instinct of humanity to be extinguished at the bidding of some phlegmatic Dutchman? Suppose you yourself in the wide wilderness, wide of any dominion, and an unarmed guest had visited you in your tent, trusting for defence to your honour, would you have allowed your guest, with whom you had sat at table and partaken of the bread and salt to be forcibly carried off? Would you, able do so, at least to attempt it, not have pursued the offender and endeavoured to rescue your guest? The case is in point. Had you not done so, instead of the high respect I bear you, I would not partake with you of the bread and salt. If international law be as you state, the sooner it is changed the better, and Britain, vi et armis, is ready to reform it, and give a precedent of honour to the nations. There is no proof that the passengers carried off from the Trent were upon a warlike mission. It is more probable they were upon an errand of peace. Even supposing them ambassadors, ought not ambassadors on all occasions to be protected in neutrals as well as elsewhere? Say they were ambassadors to Britain from the Southern States, were they to be allowed to be seized from out a British vessel? The Washington Government, as before stated, declare the Southern States rebels. This declaration is mere assertion. From the first separation of these States from the Northern, their reconstruction into a new Confederation, and appointment of a regular Government and President, they have stood in the eyes of the civilized world an independent confederacy, and they have hitherto made good their independence by the ultimo ratio regum. There is, therefore, in the case of the Trent, no need to take any notice of this absurd rebel assertion of the Northern States. This assertion that they are rebels, however, serves the Northern in no stead, but the reverse. It, as has been often stated, deprives them, according to their own holding, even of a shadow of right in the outrage. Yet Britain ought above having recourse to such quibble to render that outrage illegal. She ought boldly to assert her determination to protect her unarmed guests under all circumstances, unless they have been guilty of crime. In this she will be supported by the general voice of humanity.

In your leader of Saturday last, you twit me with a confusion of ideas in my short letter regarding the affair of the Trent, and that I am not singular in this. Here may the apparent confusion not arise from a slight mote in your own eye, which, by the law of perspective of human egotism, appears a large beam in others. You also say that I mingle law with feeling. What thinking man does not? Such are the variety of connected circumstances and phases of incident, that general law can be made justly applicable without modification by feeling. The verdict of the British jury, the latitude of punishment in the hands of the judge, the pardon of the Crown, are regulated by feeling, acknowledge the necessity of feeling being brought to bear upon law. You seem to forget that law was made for man, and not man for law. —I am, &c.,


Gourdiehill, Dec. 16. 1861.

December 17.— The President of the Washington Government, in his Message declares they have “practised prudence and liberality towards foreign nations, avoiding all cause irritation.” Was the mode of saluting the Trent with round shot and with shell, when that vessel was quietly approaching the American war ship, and only half a cable length distant, and afterwards boarding her with boatloads of marines with fixed bayonets, not irritating? Was the forcible seizure of her unarmed passengers, not irritating? Let President Lincoln answer this. But such may be Yankee high courtesy! If it is not, what is the statement of the President?
P. M.

* I admit that a considerable part of the prosperity of the Northern States has resulted from the wealth produced by slave labour in the Southern. The Northern have long had monopoly of the supply of manufactures to the Southern by means of a high duty upon foreign manufactures, the Southern States only being suited to raise raw material. By the Morrill tariff this duty has been raised to 25 per cent., which to the consumer cannot be reckoned less than 35. This attempt of the Northern States to monopolise, to legislate to themselves the whole gains of slavery, and to escape the odium of having slaves, is rather too ‘cute, and being a high premium upon disruption, defeats its own object. Industrial slavery of the white slave-holders of the South to the manufacturers of the North may be regarded by the Northern States as a sort of retributive justice. This ‘cuteness of the North is the wherefore that slavery has been so long abetted them, and maintained contrary to the spirit of the age. Disruption and destructive war is the natural punishment. It would seem that in consequence of this ‘cute truckling to slavery of the Atlantic Northern States, another disruption was imminent — the separation of the States of the Mississippi basin from the Atlantic Northern Sates. There seems to be a settled purpose in thus endeavouring to drag Britain into a war, and this purpose is to prevent further disruption. Under the evident interest of the States of the Valley of the Mississippi to form one independent Confederacy and California another, Britain, case of war, should, if possible, limit her attack upon the Atlantic Northern States, and forward a strong naval force to protect California should she secede.

[We have replied this letter in an article headed, “The Search of the Trent.”—ED.]

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