Editorial: After Trent Affair, Confederacy Must Depend on Itself
At the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederate States of America was hoping for England’s official recognition and possible aid in defeating the Union blockade of its ports. During the last seven weeks of 1861, the Confederacy came tantalizingly close to having its wildest dreams realized, as the tense diplomatic crisis known as the Trent Affair brought Great Britain and the Union dangerously close to war.
The peaceful resolution of the Trent Affair dashed the South’s hopes for British intervention. In reaction, the Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) published an editorial on Jan. 3, 1862, urging the Confederacy to depend on itself to achieve its independence:
The Yankee Backed Down
The report that the Lincoln Government has consented to surrender Messrs. Slidell and Mason, at the demand of Great Britain, has received all but absolute official confirmation. It comes in a shape which does not permit us to doubt, that the offer has been made to restore them to the jurisdiction of England, from which they were violently taken.
We are not so clearly told that the affair is completed, by the acceptance of the tender, and the settlement of the more material points of the controversy of which it is a part, in full satisfaction for the indignity and injury. The restitution of these persons is necessarily a consequence of some other acts and concessions, not yet known to us. The gravity of the offence was in the outrage upon the national flag, and the violation of the sovereignty of England, by the intrusion of an armed enemy, and the enforcement of a foreign interpretation of law on the decks of her ships on the high seas. The surrender of the persons without a renouncement of the right, and an apology for the insult, and atonement to the parties aggrieved, is not likely to have satisfied the pride or dignity of England. If the tender of the persons has been accepted, it is doubtless as a portion of the reparation required. We shall learn in the course of time to what depths of humiliation the United States Government has consented to descend, in order to clear its way for wreaking its animosities against the Confederate States.
…It has been our unwavering opinion, that much harm has been done to the cause of the
Southern Confederacy by relying, with absolute confidence, on the relief to be afforded in our struggle for independence by the early interposition of foreign powers. It begat a confidence which has been detrimental in lessening the conviction, in the minds of our people, of the necessity of preparing for the needs and sacrifices of a protracted war. Too languid a faith, in peace, to be won by foreign help, unquestionably delayed military preparations, which might have been effectively made at the beginning of this conflict. The same over-hopefulness, which may be a delusion, might still do injury, if our people should not decide, without discarding altogether the chances that may arise from the possible distractions of our enemy, to strengthen themselves for all contingencies, and organize their public forces and finances, and adapt their judicial affairs, their occupations, and their systems of business and production, to the possible condition of being required to win their own independence with their own swords. They can do it, and it would be a greater glory, and win thereby the assurance, beyond all value, in the eyes of the world, of enduring stability.
But, while carefully guarding ourselves against the danger of over-confidence, we may reasonably estimate the chances of a serious conflict between Great Britain and the United States as highly probable at an early day. The affair of the Trent has brought forth, in the British journals of all parties, indications of national feeling and declaration of national necessities, which no adjustment can withdraw or change. They existed, to be suddenly developed by an occasion which licensed free utterance of the secret thought. They remain after that occasion passes, in evidence of the thoughts of the nation, which cannot but be strengthened and aggravated by the proofs of malignant purpose and feeling which the same transactions elicited on the side of Lincolnism.
The Yankee humiliation may smooth away the Trent difficulty, but the sting of compelled submission to disgrace remains with one party, and with the other there is the sense of a rupture, hardly healed, the knowledge of hostile declarations and vengeful purposes, recklessly proclaimed, and the perception of an opportunity long desired, and now completely justified, for applying to the Lincoln Government the rigor of public law, in the departure from which it has been so long and patiently indulged.
How long will this blockade of the South last under this rule? Is it reasonable to anticipate a longer toleration of this wanton destruction of the commerce of the world, the spreading of distress, want, almost starvation, among the operatives of England, and the embarrassment of her finances and public revenues, by a Government which, renouncing all claims to the rights of a belligerent, institutes a measure which is lawless if not belligerent, and if belligerent is lawless, and void because ineffectual?
A few days will bring fuller accounts of the terms of Lincoln’s surrendering, and a few weeks will exhibit the ulterior policy which the English administration will decide upon adopting. The present Cabinet will take strong measures, or it may be displaced by another which will.
In the meantime, the Confederacy must work, and prepare, and fight, as though it were to be alone on this continent with its enemy, and had to depend on its own strength and endurance alone to uphold itself.
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