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The Surrender of Mason and Slidell.


November/December 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, December 30, 1861.


Thoughtful observers of affairs were, in a considerable degree, prepared for the news received by telegraph on Saturday—that Messrs. Mason and Slidell had been given up to the British government. Most of such persons, too, though the may feel irritated almost to rage, will, in view of the true condition of affairs, acquiesce in it as necessary. We may be provoked at the arrogant claims of Great Britain, and at the offensive and threatening manner in which she presented her demands. But the necessity was upon us, and unavoidable. Of course we do not know the language of the demand or reply, but the hurried preparations in England for instant war indicate purpose quite as clearly as the formal notes of diplomacy.

Our Government is in no condition now to undertake another war of any sort, still less with a power like Great Britain. We have too much at stake in the contest with rebellion at home, to accept any increase of difficulties which can be avoided, and although the first and natural impulse is defiance, a moment’s reflection will show that that would be madness. What the probably outcome and consequences of such a struggle would have been, it is quite idle to conjecture; but they could have been only unspeakably disastrous, at best. Men may breathe more freely at being relieved from apprehensions of an instant war with Great Britain, and on that account will reconcile themselves with less difficulty to the concession, humiliating as it seems, which our Government makes to keep Great Britain out of the contest. The rebels desired a war, and there were parties enough in Great Britain who desired a war; it is some satisfaction that both are disappointed.

The imminent danger of a war involving national catastrophe as its probable result, has been avoided for the time. If such an escape shall have the effect of rousing and accelerating still more energetic movements for the speedy termination of the rebellion, that will be some compensation for having thus yielded to the menacing and peremptory demand of Great Britain. We have had disclosed even more clearly than before, the impolicy of dilatory councils. We encounter the hazards of foreign quarrels, by every day’s prolongation of the war with rebellion. The welfare of the country demands that its speedy suppression shall not be hindered by considerations of restoring the rebel States unhurt to the renovated Union. While this rebellion continues in its present formidable proportions, unfriendly disputes like this are constantly liable to arise, and we are in no condition to deal with them, or even to vindicate the national honor against aggressive pretensions. The rebels encounter no such hazards, but in view of the possibility of foreign intervention, may well find grounds for hope, in our cautious, dilatory preparation.

Nor are future misunderstandings which shall endanger peace with Great Britain any less likely to happen by reason of this “reparation.” On the contrary, the same temper which sought a quarrel in this affair is not lately shown for the first time, and it will not be soothed by the surrender of the rebel emissaries. Parties in Great Britain were as anxious as the rebels themselves were, that our government should refuse the surrender, because instant war would ensue. Their wishes coincided exactly. The malignant animosity which the London Times has manifested towards the federal government for a long time past, could scarcely be more intense if the two countries were actually at war. If, to sustain themselves in power, the British ministry desires a war with the United States, causes of offence will be of frequent occurrence.

But this affair will not be without great and lasting consequence in the minds of the American people. The resentment which has been excited on our side will not be allayed in a generation. Men will feel, and they cannot forget that Britain made “our calamity her own opportunity.” Should an Irish rebellion against the Imperial Government occur to-morrow, thousands of loyal Americans would say from their hearts “God speed the Irish rebellion!” if they did no more. With temper like this on both sides, and a British ministry captiously seeking for provocation, the danger of hostilities between the two countries is not removed by any settlement of the Trent case, however bland and cordial official expressions may be.

Secretary Seward’s entire correspondence on this subject will be looked for with eager interest. The extracts by telegraph seem to be marred in copying. At any rate they give no idea of the character of the discussion. We presume the entire correspondence will be at hand in a day or two.