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WASHINGTON, D. C., September 11, 1861. Major-General JOHN C. FREMONT:
SIR: Yours of the 8th, in answer to mine of the 2d inst., was just received. Assured that you upon the ground could better judge of the necessities of your position than I could at this distance, on seeing your proclamation of August 30, I perceived no general objection to it; the particular clause, however, in relation to the confiscation of property and the liberation of slaves appeared to me to be objectionable in its nou-conformity to the act of Congress, passed the 6th of last August, upon the same subjects, and hence I wrote you expressing my wish that that clause should be modified accordingly. Your answer just received expresses the preference on your part that I should make an open order for the modification, which I very cheerfully do. It is therefore ordered that the said clause of said proclamation be so modified, held and construed as to conform with, and not to transcend, the provisions on the same subject contained in the act of Congress entitled “ An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes," approved August 6, 1861, and the said act be published at length with this order. Your obedient servant,
These views of the Government were still farther enforced in a letter from the Secretary of War to General T. W. Sherman, who commanded the expedition to Port Royal, and in orders issued by General Dix in Virginia on the 17th of November, and by General Halleck, who succeeded General Fremont in the western department, prohibiting fugitive slaves from being received within the lines of the army. During all this time strenuous efforts were made in various quarters to induce the President to depart from this policy, and not only to proclaim a general emancipation of all the slaves, but to put arms in their hands and employ them in the field against the rebels. But they were ineffectual. The President adhered firmly and steadily to the policy which the then existing circumstances of the country, in his judgment, rendered wise and necessary; and he was sustained in this action by the public sentiment of the loyal States, and by the great body
of the people in the slave States along the border. The course which he pursued at that time contributed largely, beyond doubt, to strengthen the cause of the Union in those Border States, and especially to withdraw Tennessee from her hastily formed connection with the rebel confederacy.
In the early part of November an incident occurred which threatened for a time to involve the country in open war with England. On the 7th of that month the British mail steamer Trent left Havana for St. Thomas, having on board Messrs. J. M. Mason and John Slidell, on their way as commissioners from the Confederate States to England and France. On the 8th the Trent was hailed from the U. S. frigate San Jacinto, Captain Wilkes, and brought to by a shot across her bows. Two officers and about twenty armed men from the latter then went on board the Trent, searched her, and took from her by force and against the protest of the British officers, the two rebel commissioners, with Messrs. Eustis and McFarland, their secretaries, who were brought to the United States and lodged in Fort Warren, the Trent being released and proceeding on her way. The most intense excitement pervaded the country when news of this affair was received. The feeling was one of admiration at the boldness of Captain Wilkes, and of exultation at the capture of the rebel emissaries. In England the most intense and passionate resentment took possession of the public inind. The demand for instant redress was universal, and, in obedience to it, the Government at once ordered troops to Canada and the outfit of vessels of war.
Our Government met the matter with prompt and self-possessed decision. On the 30th of November Mr. Seward wrote to Mr. Adams a general statement of the facts of the case, accompanied by the assurance that “in the capture of Messrs. Mason and Slidell Captain Wilkes had acted without any instructions from the Government,” and that our Government was prepared to discuss the matter in a perfectly fair
and friendly spirit as soon as the ground taken by the British Government should be made known. Earl Russell, under the same date, wrote to Lord Lyons, rehearsing the facts of the case, and saying that the British Government was “ willing to believe that the naval officer who committed the aggression was not acting in compliance with any authority from his Government,” because the Government of the United States “must be fully aware that the British Government could not allow such an affront to the national honor to pass without full reparation." Earl Russell trusted, therefore, that when the matter should be brought under its notice the United States Government would, “ of its own accord, offer to the British Government such redress as alone could satisfy the British nation, namely, the liberation of the four gentlemen and their delivery to the British minister, that they may again be placed under British protection, and a suitable apology for the aggression which has been committed.” In a subsequent note Lord Lyons was instructed to wait seven days after its delivery for a reply to this demand, and in case no answer, or any other answer than a compliance with its terms, should be given by the expiration of that time, he was to leave Washington with the archives of the legation, and repair immediately to London.
On the 26th of December the Secretary of State, by direction of the President, sent a reply to this dispatch, in which the whole question was discussed at length, and with conspicuous ability. The Government decided that the detention of the vessel and the removal from her of the emissaries of the rebel confederacy, was justifiable by the laws of war and the practice and precedents of the British Government; but that in assuming to decide upon the liability of these persons to capture for himself, instead of sending them before a legal tribunal where a regular trial could be had, Captain Wilkes had departed from the rule of international law uniformly asserted by the American Government, and forming part of its most cherished policy. The Government decided, therefore, that the four persons in question would be "cheerfully liberated.” This decision, sustained by the reasoning advanced in its support, commanded the immediate and universal acquiescence of the American people; while in England it was received with hearty applause by the friends of this country, especially as it silenced the clamors and disappointed the hostile hopes of its enemies. The French Government had joined that of England in its representations upon this subject,
, and the decision of our Government was received there with equal satisfaction. The effect of the incident, under the just and judicious course adopted by the Administration, was eminently favorable to the United States,-increasing the general respect for its adherence to sound principles of public law, and silencing effectually the slander that its Government was too weak to disappoint or thwart a popular clamor. One of the immediate fruits of the discussion was the prompt rejection of all demands for recognizing the independence of the Confederate States.
THE REGULAR SESSION OF CONGRESS, DEC. 1861.—THE MES
SAGE. — DEBATES, ETC.
CONGRESS met in regular session (the second of the thirtyseventh Congress) on the 2d of December, 1861. On the next day the President sent in his Annual Message, as follows:
FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
In the midst of unprocedented political troubles, we have cause of great gratitude to God for unusual good health, and most abundant harvests.
You will not be surprised to learn that, in the peculiar exigencies of the times, our intercourse with foreign nations has been attended with profound solicitude, chiefly turning upon our own domestic affairs.
A disloyal portion of the American people have, during the whole year, been engaged in an attempt to divide and destroy the Union. A nation which endures factious domestic division, is exposed to disrespect abroad; and one party, if not both, is sure, sooner or later, to invoke foreign intervention.
Nations thus tempted to interfere are not always able to resist the counsels of seeming expediency and ungenerous ambition, although measures adopted under such influences seldom fail to be unfortunate and injurious to those adopting them.
The disloyal citizens of the United States who have offered the ruin of our country, in return for the aid and comfort which they have invoked abroad, have received less patronage and encouragement than they probably expected. If it were just to suppose, as the insurgents have seemed to assume, that foreign nations, in this case, discarding all moral, social, and treaty obligations, would act solely and selfishly for the most speedy restoration of commerce, including especially the acquisition of cotton, those nations appear, as yet, not to have seen their way to their object more directly, or clearly, through the destruction, than through the preservation, of the Union. If we could dare to believe that foreign nations are actuated by no higher principle than this,