(Letter dated Dec 31 1861, printed Jan 3 1862)
In his fifth letter, back in the Dundee Courier, Matthew restates the arguments for his case. His case is made on moral force rather than on the legal niceties of whether the Southern States are ‘belligents’ or ‘rebels’ (“the plain fact is that the United States have fixed upon us a quarrel, and they must make apology or we must fight it out as decently as we can”).
In a conciliatory section at the end, he raises the liberality of the British Press as a mediator of beneficial social change, such as encouraging everyone to read.
As the letter is dated Dec 31 1861, it was in fact written before his “fourth letter” to the Dundee Advertiser.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
THE TRENT OUTRAGE.
SIR,— A question important as that of the Trent is too serious to be twisted as a means of attaching blame to a Whig ministry, which here at least has acted with prompt vigour, becoming the majesty of the British nation . Yet to attain this party end (I can see no other end), the ‘Courier and Argus’ has attempted, contrary to common sense and the general voice of Europe, to make the Trent outrage no outrage! and this through the Whig Ministry, in name of Her Majesty, having issued a proclamation to British subjects against aiding and abetting the belligerents on either side. I ask the readers of the ‘Courier and Argus’ — are they satisfied with this view — this sophisticated attempt to reason away the outrage — that because, in the case of two parties fighting, a person has declared it desirous not to give cause of offence to either, that he is therefore to be insulted and kicked with impunity? I would farther ask them — Was it not the citizens of Ancient Greece listening to such party quibble, such logical twistings, and curiously wove webs of sand, when they ought to have been wielding the sword that lost the independence of their country, and closed the Grecian heroic age? Can anything be more absurd than to attempt to prove that the insult and outrage might be no insult and outrage, depending on the aggressor being or not being a belligerent? What, in common sense, has an outrage upon a British steamer from a Cuban port, homeward bound, to call at St Thomas, to do with the fighting governments of the United States, whether they are or are not to be styled belligerents? What need is there to quibble about the affair? The plain fact is that the United States have fixed upon us a quarrel, and they must make apology or we must fight it out as decently as we can. This is patent to all the nations of Europe, and the sooner we set about it the sooner it may be ended. The unsullied honour of the British navy was outraged in the case of the unarmed Trent, by a Yankee war steamer, and there is not a British sailor that would not fight to wipe out the stain upon the British flag, and, I hope, very few landsmen. We have been slow to quarrel. It is clear that our great placableness, under something like bullyism, has lost us some portion of our prestige. We have been rather too much King Log upon the waters, and now entering upon another trial, it is our part to set ourselves right in the estimation of the nations.
With regard to the right of search claimed by Britain, it is no more than her due, at least while there is no combined organised police upon the ocean, the great highway of the nations. The British shipping and value of property on the seas has long been nearly equal to that of all the world besides. Britain has thus naturally found it her vocation to clear the seas of pirates and man-stealers, to effect which it was necessary she should exert the right of search of suspicious vessels; and such has been her honourable diligence in this, that the wide ocean has been made almost entirely — to the weakest as to the strongest — free and safe to all, except to those whose vocation was evil. I may remark that the United States, instead of aiding in the laudable duty of putting down piracy and slavery, as they pretended to do, served to obstruct Britain in doing so, insisting against the necessary right of search of suspicious vessels. And the consequence naturally was, that slavers especially took occasion generally to hoist the Stars and Stripes banner, to do which was the more convenient, as most of them were fitted out at New York and other ports of the Union. In the case of the stoppage of the Trent, the British Government should thank the Government of Washington for this acknowledgment of the right of search by their own act, exerted here in a rather extreme case, where the vessel was known not to be pirate or slaver, and had had no communication, nor was to have any with belligerent shores, while, at the same time, they should demand immediate apology for the uncourteous manner of the act, along with restitution of the stolen passengers. Till the nations combine to appoint a general police for the ocean, Britain having most property exposed to the ocean, and being ablest to maintain protection to person and property, should insist upon the right of search.
Britain, trusting to the prestige of her maritime power, has, as I have before stated, been perhaps a little too passive in yielding points where right was on her side — instance her forbearance in the Galli-Portugal difficulty, the St Juan affair, the threat of the Northern Prime Minister Seward, that they would help themselves to Canada should they lose the Southern States, and the New Brunswick and Maine Marches. She cannot, however, continue the yielding system, or she will require as large pockets as Sancho’s ass was loaded with. Every paltry aspirant nation, to raise a little capital for energy and daring, will play the bully, and load the poor British ass almost to back breaking.
To come down now to the assertion of the ‘Courier and Argus,’ that I am confused in my views of the Trent rebel and belligerent distinction, can anything be more clear and definite upon this subject than the following extract of my former letter? “This assertion that they (the Southern States) are rebels, however, serves the Northern in no stead, but the reverse. It, as has often been stated, deprives them, according to their own holding, even of a shadow of right in the outrage. Yet Britain ought to be above having recourse to such a quibble to render that outrage illegal. She ought boldly to assert her determination to protect her unarmed guests under all circumstances, except they have been guilty of crime. In this she will be supported by the general voice of humanity.” I ask the readers of the ‘Courier’ is this not speaking to the point, and that clearly, upon the very question the Editor seizes upon to charge me with confusion? In regard to the French despatch, and my letters, the readers of the ‘Courier and Argus’ will not require me to point out the general conformity of views.
To conclude, I may mention here that, though opposing this view of the ‘Courier and Argus,’ I hold our journal literature, now escaped from crushing taxation and monopoly, as the grandest system of education and enlightenment of the great body of the people that could possibly arise, incalculably superior to all other means of education put together; that it will infallibly lead to universal ability to read, to acquire information, as the penny post will to write to an absent friend, and together have a powerful elevating influence upon the condition of the species. Stating this, need I say that I bear the highest respect to the gentlemen of the Press who are so beneficially engaged in this most arduous and trying vocation, now become by far the most important portion of our literature, and in regard to the ‘Dundee Courier and Argus,’ that I have not unfrequently perused its pages with high relish and information. Looking upon the editors of the daily press in this light, taking into account the vast influence of this fourth estate, unfortunately as in other mundane things for evil as well as good, it is the more requisite that any error or mistake be candidly pointed out by private individuals — instance the melancholy war between brethren now carrying on in North America, where the animosity is in a great measure the result of both parties being hounded on by selfish newspaper editors, who batten on news of destruction. The ‘Courier and Argus’ is, prima facie, guiltless in regard to this. It may be right to have both sides of a question examined without bias — at least when the question is so important— important as that of the rape of the Dardan Helen, to which the present rape as to its bearings bears similitude, and future history may point a moral at the unworthy cause of both wars — at least Mason and Slidell, from their antecedents hostile to Britain, merit little at her hands, though in honour obliged to protect them as guests. I should deeply regret a like fate to the erring city of New York (that city being the abettor of rapine), as befell the Dardan city. In regard to your urging the legality of the Trent outrage, and that in opposition to the general expressed feeling of civilized nations, I must observe that the Washington Government are eagerly quoting the very few of the British Press who take side with the ‘Courier and Argus,’ and that this has a considerable effect to harden the Northern States into a refusal to yield to the British demands, and thus your arguments, though in a superficial view calculated to promote peace, only render war more imminent.— I am, &c.,
Gourdie Hill, Dec. 31, 1861.