James Ford Rhodes (18481927). History of the Civil War, 18611865 1917.
lost their heads. Having yearned for a victory, they now held in their hands the two Southern men1 whom, next to Davis and Floyd, they hated the worst and they had struck a blow at Great Britain for her supposed sympathy with the South. All the members of the Cabinet, except Montgomery Blair, were elated at the seizure. The Secretary of War read aloud the telegram announcing it to the group of men in his office and led the cheers in which Governor Andrew and the rest heartily joined. Andrew, who thought that in comparison with Mason and Slidell, Benedict Arnold was a saint, said, at a dinner in Boston in honor of the Captain, that Wilkes had shown wise judgment in the act which was one of the most illustrious services that had made the war memorable; we are met tonight, he added, to congratulate a gallant officer who, to uphold the American flag, fired a shot across the bow of a ship that bore the British lion.2 The Secretary of the Navy wrote to Wilkes a formal letter of congratulation on the great public service you have rendered in the capture of the rebel emissaries.3 The House of Representatives on the first day of its session passed a resolution, thanking him for his brave, adroit and patriotic conduct.4
Montgomery Blair denounced the act of Wilkes as unauthorized, irregular and illegal.5 Senator Sumner, then in Boston, said at once, We shall have to give them up.6 The President, too, resisted the general infection. On the day that the news came to Washington, he said: I fear the traitors will prove to be white elephants. We must stick to American principles concerning the rights of neutrals. We fought Great Britain for insisting by theory and practice
Note 1. Mason and Slidell were imprisoned in Fort Warren in Boston harbor. [back]
Note 2. C. F. A. M. H. S., XLV, 49, 94; Pearson, I, 319 n. 1. [back]