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The Capture of Mason and Slidell.


November/December 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, November 18, 1861.


Captain Wilkes, of the U.S. steam frigate San Jacinto, has rendered the country some service. After cruising six months off the coast of Africa, to the annoyance of the piratical slave traders, he called at Cienfuegos, on the southern coast of Cuba, and there received the interesting intelligence that the bogus Confederacy’s envoys, Mason and Slidell, had succeeded in running the blockade, on the steamer Nashville, and were then en route for Europe. Hastening to Havana, Captain Wilkes there learned that the emissaries of treason had sailed thence on the 7th inst., a day or two previously, on board the British mail steamer Trentz, plying between Vera Cruz and Southampton via Havana and St. Thomas. The San Jacinto hurriedly crowded sail in pursuit, overtook the Trentz near the southeastern end of the Bahama channel, and summarily brought her to. Captain Wilkes then communicated with the packet, and demanded the rendition of Messrs. Mason and Slidell. This was refused, on the grounds that there was no authority to take them from beneath the British flag on the high seas. The American Captain, thereupon, dispatched two boat loads of his men to the mail steamer, and placed his own vessel in a hostile attitude—to which argument the Briton responded by surrendering the envoys. It is further reported that they protested against being thus removed from a British packet, and were at first very decided in declining the invitation to leave. Their respective Secretaries and documents were also captured. On the 15th, Messrs. Mason and Slidell were landed securely at Fortress Monroe, whence their Secretaries, Eustic and McFarlan, were soon afterward dispatched to Fort Lafayette.

Few events of the war have caused deeper satisfaction than this. Slidell and Mason were among the chief originators and conspirators of the atrocious rebellion. Each has figured conspicuously and disgracefully in the national Senate. Each played a principal part in the maneuvering by which the people of the South were “precipitated” into revolution. The government never had guiltier State prisoners in its grasp. The roll of leading traitors contains no names more infamous than theirs. In keeping with their eminence in treason are their personal characteristics. Mason is a reckless extremist in his declared views that Washington, Madison, Jefferson, Henry, and all the early fathers of this republic made a great mistake in regarding slavery as an evil and the freedom of the laboring class as a blessing. In the complete shamelessness of his aristocratic and tyrannical teachings, so utterly opposed to the whole spirit of our government and history, Mason is a fit type of the piratical slaveocracy. As well does he represent it in the insolent superciliousness of his low and narrow soul, which discovers in the toiling masses only the “mudsills of society,” and in the slaveholders its sublime columns and dome. The name of Slidell, like that of Floyd, is identified with stupendous and notorious fraud as closely as with the attempt to destroy the republic. As a matter of justice, the capture of this precious pair must command the heartiest approbation of the country. It is to be hoped that nothing will occur to deprive them of the much needed opportunity and leisure now so happily afforded them for meditation and penitence.

Not unreasonably, it is apprehended that haughty Britain may take umbrage at this seizure of passengers on board one of her packets at sea. It would indeed seem that Capt. Wilkes was far more inspired by zeal for the American Eagle than by respect for the British Lion. The right of Albion to search vessels bearing our national ensign, and to seize persons on board, upon any pretext whatsoever, is one which our people and statesmen have studiously denied. England will undoubtedly demand and explanation of this affair, and it may be difficult to avoid a disavowal of it. Had the prisoners been taken in the steamer Fingal, which is said to have brought from England a cargo of confederate arms, probably only the rebels would have complained. But it does not appear that anything further is alleged against the mail steamer than that Messrs. Mason and Slidell, with their aids, families and servants, had taken passage on board of her. Unless it can be shown that her captain was aware of the nature and object of their journey, he can not be included among those violators of her neutrality, from whom Britain has formally withdrawn her protection. It is, however, certain, that only her predetermination to engage in war with this country, can make the action of Captain Wilkes an occasion for quarrel. Unless within the recognized law of nations, it will doubtless be promptly disavowed by our Government, and honorable reparation rendered. Wilkes himself expresses misgivings as to the strict regularity of his course, but avows that he would be satisfied with what he has done, even though court martialed and cashiered. The country, too, would in that event applaud and reward him. To what extent reparation would be required, and whether the demand would include the giving up of the prisoners, are questions of deep interest, and which only the future can answer. When we remember the British government is avowedly neutral, it can scarcely be expected to make the cause of the prisoners their own. For the detention of the mail steamer, a pecuniary consideration would doubtless satisfy the proprietors. For any apparent indignity to the British flag, a disavowal of the act as such, and the formal punishment of the unauthorized patriot would probably suffice.

In any event, the plans of Messrs. Mason and Slidell are for the present prostrated, and the hopes of the Confederacy in their mission is disappointed. While the drooping cause of treason needs haste in its desperate appeals for foreign aid, it must suffer delay.

The documents of the wily envoys have been spread before other eyes than they were intended for. The Government may thus acquire some useful information, though it is probable that the Commissioners were not taken wholly unprepared for the contingency of their capture. The occurrence cannot fail to have an important and valuable effect upon public sentiment in Europe, since it signally illustrates the earnestness and determination with which we are pursuing the one object of crushing the rebellion. At home, this stroke is one of the series now falling from all quarters upon the foe, courteously unfolding to him the hopelessness of his enterprise, and so preparing him for final and confessed defeat.