The Trent Controversy


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, January 11, 1862

We have posted our extensive collection of Harper's Weekly newspapers from the Civil War to this WEB site. They contain fascinating images of the war, and incredible stories of the war. Study of these old newspapers to gain a completely new perspective on the key events and people of the war.

(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to a specific page of interest)



Charleston Harbor


The Trent Controversy

Mason Slidell

Release of Mason and Slidell

Mississippi River

Mississippi River Map


Louisville, Kentucky

McCall Report

McCall's Report on Dranesville

Stone Fleet in Charleston Harbor

Stone Fleet Sunk in Charleston Harbor

Brother Jonathan

Brother Jonathan


The Battle of Dranesville

Port Royal

Port Royal, South Carolina

Washington Defenses

Green River

Battle of Green River




[JANUARY 11, 1862



THE FIFTH VOLUME of HARPER'S WEEKLY, for the year 1861, is now ready, price $3.50, neatly bound in cloth. This Volume forms a COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE WAR for the past year, and contains some FIVE HUNDRED ENGRAVINGS. It is indispensable to every library.

EUROPEAN Dealers will be supplied with HARPER'S WEEKLY by John Adams Knight, Publisher of the London American, 100 Fleet Street, London, England, where Subscriptions and Advertisements will be received, and single copies of HARPER'S MONTHLY and WEEKLY furnished.




THE traitors Mason, Slidell, Eustis, and Macfarland have been surrendered to the British Government. The country was prepared for the event, and gulps the bitter pill in silence. Mr. Secretary Seward has written a rather ingenious and extremely long justification of the act. It is to be hoped that it will so far help him abroad that British journalists will cease to represent him as the sworn foe of England and of peace.

Every body here knew a week ago that the traitors would be given up. Not because of any technical informalities in their arrest, but because it was infinitely better that we should endure a certain amount of humiliation at the hands of Great Britain than that we should jeopard the great cause of the Union by throwing the naval power of England into the rebel scale. The main point thus determined, it devolved upon Mr. Seward to decide the form and conditions of our compliance with the demand of Great Britain.

He might have said that the arrest of the traitors was right and proper, and their detention legal ; but that, in the present circumstances, the country was not in a condition to go to war with England while the much more momentous question of the dissolution of the Union was being discussed in the battle-field, and therefore that Mason and Slidell were surrendered for the sake of peace.

Or he might have said that, while the general spirit of international law justified the arrest, no perfectly parallel case had ever occurred, and therefore a doubt existed as to the complete lawfulness of Captain Wilkes's act ; and that as peace with Great Britain was at the present juncture absolutely necessary to this country, he would give England the benefit of the doubt, and would release the prisoners to please her and to appease the British mob.

Or he might have argued the case from a legal point of view, setting in bold relief the arguments on the British side, and "casting behind him" the strong points of our case ; and might thus have concluded, in the teeth of the expressed view of Secretary Welles, and the sentiment of nine-tenths of the people of the United States, that the arrest was unjustifiable, the British claim reasonable, and our duty imperative.

Of these three courses the two first would have completely satisfied the people of the United States, and would not have lowered the fame of the Secretary. Whether the third will prove as satisfactory as the others to the great mass of our people is a question which it will take time to decide.

M. Thouvenel's dispatch, darkly hinting that

France would be found on the side of Great Britain in the event of hostilities with this country, confirms the opinion we have had occasion to express more than once—that we have no real friends on the other side of the ocean. The logic of the French Minister is not worth examination. His strong point is that the Trent was sailing from one neutral point to another ; a perfectly immaterial circumstance, in view of the fact that she carried dispatches and officers of the rebel Government. Sir Wm. Scott always held that the immediate point of departure and the direct destination were immaterial if the goods contraband of war actually came from belligerent ports, or were ultimately destined for belligerent uses. The practical lesson to be learned from M. Thouvenel's essay, is that France will not be on our side in the event of trouble between England and ourselves. Mr. Seward's smooth answer must not delude any one into imagining that our Government places the least reliance upon the hereditary friendship existing between this country and France ; but that it relies, as it should do, on our own strength for the regulation of our own affairs.

It is to be hoped, at all events, that this extremely disagreeable business will secure the end proposed by so much humiliation—namely, that we may be suffered to conclude the job of crushing out the rebellion without further foreign interference. At the present time a piratical steamer—the Nashville —belonging to the rebels, half filled with the plunder of the American ship Harvey Birch, which she burned within sight of the British coast, is refitting in the harbor of Southampton : the British steamer Gladiator, filled with arms and munitions for the rebels, is lying in the British port of Nassau, and has been supplied with coals to enable her to run into Savannah or some other rebel port, while the authorities of Nassau refuse coals to our gun-boat, the Flambeau, which is watching for her: other British steamers are notoriously fitting out in England with like cargoes for the rebels; and British officials all over, from the Governor of Canada to the Consul at Havana, give palpable evidence of their sympathy with the rebels. It is to be hoped that this measure of unfriendliness and injury may suffice. We do trust that the British may be satisfied with equipping pirates to prey upon our commerce, and receiving them with their plunder; with converting British ports into harbors of safety for our enemy's ships, and refusing to sell coal to our vessels; with permitting their officials to receive with honor and respect the emissaries of the rebels, and to visit with their high displeasure any British subject who shows a friendly spirit toward this country. As we have treaties of alliance with England, and the members of the British Government are constantly assuring us of their high regard for us, perhaps these injuries may slake their dislike for the United States and for democracy. It is to be hoped, after the surrender of Mason and Slidell, that they will.


ON 28th December the New York City Banks suspended specie payments. Their example will be followed by the Banks of Philadelphia and Boston, and by the Government of the United States.

The suspension is a consequence of the war. It has been evident for some time that the Government could not borrow money fast enough to defray the cost of so enormous a war as the one in which we are now engaged, and that a resort to issues of inconvertible paper money was inevitable. That necessity rendered the suspension of the Banks indispensable. They could not go on paying specie while the Government was issuing its paper at the rate of a million and a half a day, and declining to redeem it in coin. And it has been doubted whether the Banks would not have evinced more wisdom had they foreseen the crisis a month ago, and suspended with forty millions of coin on hand, than to have waited, as they have done, until nearly half their reserve has been withdrawn from them.

The last time the Banks suspended, the danger which rendered suspension necessary was a drain of gold to Europe. No such danger exists to-day. The balance of trade is in our favor, and we are more likely to draw gold from Europe than Europe from us.

Suspension is necessary now in order to " tide over" the period intervening between the present time and the entire suppression of the rebellion. As soon as the rebellion is crushed out the paper money which shall have been emitted by Government will then be funded or redeemed in coin at the pleasure of Government. There will then be no reason why the banks should not resume specie payments at once, and they will of course do so.

The extent of the changes which may take place between this and then must depend on the duration of the war, and the economy with which it is carried on.

If Congress passes tax laws sufficient to insure an ample fund for the due payment of interest upon the entire debt incurred for the

suppression of the rebellion ; and if Mr. Chase pursues a policy of strict economy in his financial administration, the new paper money to be issued by Government need not depreciate below one or two per cent., and gold need not rise above one or two per cent. premium. There can be no security in this country better than that of the United States, with their growing wealth and resources, the whole of which are pledged for the redemption of this paper. Even if five hundred millions of it were set afloat in the year 1862—which is more than can be needed without great extravagance somewhere—our debt at the close of the year will only be one-fourth that of Great Britain, and our means of payment fully equal, if not superior to hers.

Meanwhile let us trust that Government and our Generals will strain every nerve to accomplish the work before them without a moment's delay. Time now is precious indeed.



ONE of the most practical questions of the rebellion is set forth in a recent Report of Dr. Robert Ware to the Sanitary Commission, how, properly, to clothe and care for the " contrabands" at Fort Monroe. By the order of General Wool, those who are employed by officers and citizens are paid at the rate of eight dollars a month for men, and four dollars for women, from which sum is deducted enough to pay for proper clothing. Those not thus employed are engaged in the service of the Government, and are paid ten dollars a month, with quarters, one ration, and clothing, the expense of the latter being deducted from the ten dollars. The old men and boys are paid five dollars a month, with rations and clothing. There are about fifteen hundred contrabands, of whom six hundred are women. The Government partly supplies the men whom it employs with coat, trowsers, shoes, and hat ; but furnishes none for women and children, and no under-clothing for any. The quarters are still insufficient, and these people are painfully crowded.

The chief Quarter-master of the post, who was charged with the care of the contrabands, was necessarily entirely occupied with the inevitable duties of his office; and Mr. H. S. Marsh, of Syracuse, has been appointed chief Superintendent of contrabands, and he appeals to the generosity of all who are disposed to improve the condition of the refugees by sending old or new clothing for women and children, and under-garments for the men. Those who do not choose to send directly to Mr. Marsh, at Fortress Monroe, may send to Mr. F. G. Shaw, in the basement of 112 and 114 Broadway, which has been generously granted for the purpose by the New York Life Insurance Company.

It is one of the many ways in which every one who will may help on the good cause. And it is not only at Fort Monroe that the aid will be needed. As fast as our flag advances the necessity will be created. Deserted by their masters, or flying to a flag which they believe to be the flag of liberty, the responsibility of caring for them is thrown upon us. We neither can nor ought to avoid it. We must direct their industry, and we must see that they do not suffer. Our duty is not done when circumstances have freed them. The long arrears of injury to a race are not settled quite so easily. But the question is manageable now, and it will be our fault if it becomes unmanageable. It is not the fault of the poor contrabands that they are cold and hungry. Let us clothe and feed them; remembering, at this holy tide, that "The King shall answer and say unto them : Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."


THE last trump card of the rebellion has been played. If it fail to take the trick, the game is up. There were but three trumps in their hands. They were all knaves; and they are proving to be mere Jacks. The first was the surprise. The rebel gamesters knew that the country did not sincerely believe in the imminence of civil war, and they hoped to succeed before the nation could sufficiently recover from the shock of consternation to make an effective resistance.

The gamblers were mistaken. Their play only revealed to the country the depth and strength of its own resolution.

Then they hoped, and probably believed, that they should find confederates in their game in the loyal States; and that war would be made upon the Government by the Democratic party, and not exclusively by a slave-driving faction. But the smoke of Sumter cleared away only to show them their appalling self-deceit. So far as support of their treason was concerned, the great Democratic party in the loyal States had dwindled to such people as Mr. Benjamin Wood and Mr. Vallandigham, who thought they could harm their country more by remaining in Congress to try to paralyze the arm of the Government raised to smite traitors. Mr. Ben Wood is long since silenced, and Mr. Vallandigham struggles desperately to aid and assist the rebellion by an effort to plunge us into war with Great Britain. The people who were so clamorous for " peace" with rebels who were shooting down loyal citizens engaged in defending the liberties of the nation, are now vociferous to force war with England upon a fairly debatable point of international law, in which, if we are wrong, every honorable citizen will frankly confess it.

In this course these gentry are but helping the rebel leaders to play their third and last card ; an alliance with England upon any terms, in order that the slave-holding confederacy may be recognized and protected, and that, if possible, this Government

may be overthrown. And as this was their last, so it is their strongest, play. The support of Great Britain has been their fond dream from the beginning. As long ago as the Charleston Convention, at which the first steps of rebellion were taken by Yancey and his friends in forcing two Democratic nominations, the chances of English sympathy and assistance were openly discussed in private circles. In DeBow's Review, in which the philosophy and practicability of treason has long been debated—a Review which was peculiarly commended to " national" support—the fact has been constantly assumed that Great Britain would not permit trouble between the Government of this country and traitors. During the sessions of the "Peace Congress," last February, Slidell and Hunter said, and complacently reiterated, the same thing. The theory was that Great Britain was a monarchy, and its king was cotton.

So they have played that card, and the result is still undecided. But if calmness, and sagacity, and most faithful patriotism and discretion can block the game of rebellion, and discomfit treason by bringing this play also to naught, it will be done. And if it be done, of course it results in a clearer understanding than ever between the United States and Great Britain.

Should war thus be avoided—should the third and last trump card fail—the reaction in the mind of the rebellious section will be so signal that the conspiracy will be in great danger of sudden collapse.


A REPORT has been circulated, and at one time was without doubt generally believed, that the Secretary of State wanted a war with Great Britain, in order that we might be forced to settle our domestic difficulties by a compromise. The story not only got into print, but it was privately repeated upon what seemed indisputable authority. Why a statesman so sagacious—whose great and just fame was founded upon a calm and wise adherence to fundamental principles, after having steadfastly maintained them in a day when be stood alone—should without any apparent reason whatsoever desert them at the very moment they had brought him into official power, and wantonly disgrace himself, was a question always too incisive to be answered.

To say that he was blinded by success was no answer; for in the sense in which that word was used he was not successful, because "success" was the Presidency, and he was not President. To say that he was soured by disappointment was equally inadequate; because, under the circumstances, that would have meant treason, and nobody believed him a traitor. To say that he wanted a separation, in order that he might be the President of the Northern Union ; or a compromise, in order that he might be President as the great Pacificator, was to accuse his political sagacity, which was never doubted; or his sanity, which relieves him from censure.

But while this report was circulated at home, the universal faith in England seems to have been that the one thing upon which Mr. Seward was resolved was war with Great Britain. So much a matter of course was this, that the utterly silly story, that Mr. Seward told the Duke of Newcastle that either he or Mr. Lincoln would be the next President, and that in any case England was to be insulted, was gravely told in the London Chronicle as a fact that carried its own evidence, and that nobody would be hardy enough to doubt.

The precise points upon which this general impression of the Secretary's wishes was founded are not easy to indicate. They are probably a speech of two or three years since in the Senate; his remarks at the New England dinner last year; his circular to the Governors of the coast States; and his letter to Lord Lyons in regard to the imprisonment of British subjects. The first two points are explained by a faith which Mr. Seward probably shares with a great many other political thinkers, that in the order of civilization, and the development of history, the provinces of Canada will become incorporated with this Government, but not necessarily in any convulsive or unfair manner. It is the political speculation of the philosopher, and seems to have been regarded as the purpose or plot of the statesman. The circular was the suggestion of a perfectly obvious and natural precaution for a maritime power at war. It was the counsel of ordinary common sense—nothing more; while the letter to Lord Lyons was a complete vindication of policy, and a dignified rebuke of interference which the case amply justified.

But whatever may have been thought of the Secretary's feeling for England, and with whatever apparent reason, the publication of his dispatches to Mr. Adams in London puts him, and us, and all honest Englishmen right. It is now clear that whatever the highest courtesy, the greatest ability, the truest honor, and the sincerest sympathy could do to avert the chance of war with Great Britain has been done by Mr. Seward. No one can understand in the least the masterly ability with which he manages our foreign affairs at this most critical moment who does not read this correspondence. As to its spirit, let these extracts testify.

On the 19th of June he writes to Mr. Adams: "We are anxious to avoid all causes of misunderstanding with Great Britain : to draw closer instead of breaking the existing bonds of amity and friendship. There is nothing good or great which both nations may not expect to attain or effect if they may remain friends. It would be a hazardous day for both the branches of the British race when they should try how much harm each could do the other."

On the first of July he writes : " We, as you are well aware, have every desire for a good understanding with the British Government. It causes us no concern that the Government sends a naval force into the Gulf and a military force into Canada. We can have no designs hostile to Great Britain so long as she does not, officially or unofficially, recognize the insurgents or render them (Next Page)





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