James Ford Rhodes (18481927). History of the Civil War, 18611865 1917.
on the right to do precisely what Captain Wilkes has done.1 The President ought to have acted on his first impulse and had an immediate consultation with Sumner to be sure of his law and history. It is evident from a private letter that Sumners advice would have been to act on the case at once and to make the surrender in conformity with our best precedents.2 And it is clear from Sewards subsequent action that, if urged by the President, he too would have consented to the surrender of Mason and Slidell before a demand for them was made. The President might then have adopted Blairs recommendation that Wilkes be ordered to take Mason and Slidell on an American warship to England and deliver them to the British government.3 Such an act would have been graceful, astute, honorable and politic and needed no more courage in breasting popular sentiment than Lincoln had already shown in his treatment of Frémont. He would have had at his back Sumner, Seward, Blair and General McClellan;4 and, if the surrender had been made immediatelybefore many lawyers and statesmen had fed the public excitement by alleging that the act was justifiable according to international lawthe country, tersely and emphatically instructed that we were carrying out the principles for which we had always contended, would doubtless have acquiesced. Yet Lincoln clearly feared to give up Mason and Slidell, although he must have appreciated that their voices were more eloquent from their prison than they would have been in London and Paris. Indeed, as a mere matter of policy, the United States ought to have made it easy for the author of the Fugitive Slave Law to reach London and the champion of filibustering in the interest of slavery to reach Paris, since their pleading