Nonfiction > James Ford Rhodes > History of the Civil War, 1861–1865 > Page 76
James Ford Rhodes (1848–1927).  History of the Civil War, 1861–1865  1917.
Page 76
the Duke of Somerset, 1 and myself met at the Treasury today to consider what we could properly do about the American cruiser come, no doubt, to search the West Indian packet supposed to be bringing hither the two Southern envoys; and much to my regret, it appeared that, according to the principles of international law laid down in our courts by Lord Stowell, and practiced and enforced by us, a belligerent has the right to stop and search any neutral not being a ship of war and being found on the high seas and being suspected of carrying enemy’s despatches; and that consequently this American cruiser might, by our own principles of international law, stop the West Indian packet, search her and if the Southern men and their despatches and credentials were found on board, either take them out, or seize the packet and carry her back to New York for trial.” 2 “Consequently,” as Charles F. Adams wrote, “the San Jacinto might, on English principles of international law, stop the Trent, search her, and if the Southern men were on board, do exactly what Captain Wilkes had already just done,—take them out and then allow the packet to proceed on its voyage.” 3 Such was the opinion of the law officers in a hypothetical case on November 11, but, eighteen days later, when they considered an actual seizure, until then justified by English principles and practice, they reversed their decision and declared Wilkes’s act “illegal and unjustifiable by international law.” 4 In other words, they abandoned the English precedent and adopted the hitherto American contention as more in accordance with the age of steam and conditions on the sea in the last half of the nineteenth century.
Note 1. First Lord of Admiralty. [back]
Note 2. Nov. 11. Delane, II, 36; C. F. A., M. H. S., XLV, 54. [back]
Note 3. M. H. S., XLV, 56. [back]
Note 4. Martin, V, 419; Earl Russell II, 345. [back]


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