Southern Paper Mocks ‘Lincolnite Diplomacy’ after Trent Affair
When the Union warship San Jacinto intercepted the English mail steamer Trent on Nov. 8, 1861, and seized four Confederate officials sailing under the protection of the British flag, a diplomatic crisis known as the Trent Affair erupted between England and the United States. For seven tense weeks war between the two nations seemed likely. The North initially praised Yankee Captain Charles Wilkes as a hero for abducting the Confederate diplomats Mason and Slidell along with their two secretaries, and there was much boasting that the prisoners would never be returned. Great Britain protested that the men’s abduction was a breach of international law, rushed men and arms to Canada, and put its mighty fleet on alert.
The Confederacy watched the Trent Affair developments with growing hope and excitement. It seemed the South’s dream of gaining England’s official recognition and possible aid in defeating the Union blockade of its ports was coming true.
As Great Britain continued to make preparations for war, the North resigned itself to the necessity of returning the prisoners. It would be foolhardy to wage a war against the Confederate States of America and Great Britain at the same time. Despite its braggadocio at the beginning of the Trent Affair, in the end the Lincoln administration quietly gave in to the British demands and surrendered the prisoners. This peaceful resolution of the diplomatic crisis dashed the South’s hopes for British intervention.
After the Trent Affair’s conclusion, the Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) lashed out the only way it could—by ridiculing the Lincoln administration. This editorial was published on Jan. 10, 1862:
The Trent affair and the conduct of the people and Government of the North therein will be new confirmations to Europe of the low opinion formed there since the development of the present war, upon the morals, the courage and the statesmanship which have been left to the United States since the Southern States quitted them.
The exploit of Capt. Wilkes was hailed by the people and by Congress with extravagant joy as a signal display of national vigor. It was a happy act to impress rebels with the terror that they were not safe from Yankee power anywhere, or under any flag on the seas; and it was to be a sufficient warning to foreign powers of the consequences of offending the Lincolnized republic, by showing any consideration for Confederate “rebels.” The Secretary of the Navy officially applauded the act; the President officially communicated the applause to Congress; the House of Representatives voted thanks to the bold captain; and the arrested persons were received and transmitted to the prisons of State by Government orders. Capt. Wilkes was carried about and feted, as a hero, who had struck a great blow for the success and glory of Lincolndom. Not a whisper was heard, from Government or people, that the exploit was not a grand one; but on the contrary, there was a universal burst of gasconading resolve to punish England if she should dare to contest its lawfulness, or presume to treat it as an injury and require apology or restitution.
…Within less than thirty days, and just as soon as the news of the outrage and the parade which followed could get abroad and the answering opinions of Europe get back the Government, Congress, and people suddenly abate all their magnificent pretensions, and sink their braggart tones into a craven whine. The stern rebuke of England is fortified by the opinions of all other civilized powers, that the grand act of Yankee valor and vigor was a piece of lawless freebooting, and instantly the act is disavowed, and restitution made without delay. The Government issues a voluminous protestation of its innocence of all harmful purpose, undertakes elaborately to prove that the whole affair was a trifle, of which it takes no heed, as anything worth contending for, and quickly advises Great Britain that she may have her way, and take the disputed persons whenever she asks for them. The people, save a few who protested against the yielding, after such formidable threatenings, as a shameful disgrace, were stupefied for a moment at the rapidity with which they were expected to descend from bluster and bullying to tameness and surrender. But they came round speedily to the pleas by which the transmutation was urged, and applaud the abject retreat as lustily as they did the braggart advance.
…Now, considering that all this is a mere piece of diplomatic impertinence—got up merely to cover defeat at home, by giving the cue to a ridiculous vaunt over an affected Americanism, and that there is no expectation of deluding foreign Cabinets with such a lesson of bold and impudent misrepresentations—the effort must be looked upon in England as a piece of aggravating impertinence, and help seriously to increase the popular dislike, and the contempt and suspicions of the Government.
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