Foreign affairs, less technical, could not in like easy manner be committed to others, and in these Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward labored together. The blackest cloud was the Trent affair, yet after that had passed the sky by no means became clear. In the spring of 1862 the Oreto went out from Liverpool to become the rebel privateer Florida. Before her departure Mr. Adams complained concerning her to the English government, but was assured that the vessel was designed for the Sicilian fruit trade! As it is not diplomatic to say that gentlemen in office are telling lies, the American minister could push the matter no farther. The Florida, therefore, escaped, not to conduct commerce with Sicily, but to destroy the commerce of the United States. At the same time that she was fitting out, a mysterious craft, oddly known only as the “290,” was also building in the Liverpool docks, and against her Mr. Adams got such evidence that the queen’s ministers could not help deciding that she must be detained. Unfortunately, however, and by a strange, if not a significant chance, they reached this decision on the day after she had sailed! She became the notorious Alabama. Earl Russell admitted that the affair was “a scandal,” but this did not interfere with the career of Captain Semmes. In these incidents there was both cause and provocation for war, and hot-headed ones cried out for it, while prudent men feared it. But the President and the secretary were under the bonds of necessity to keep their official temper. Just at this juncture England would have found it not only very easy, but also very congenial to her real sympathies, to play for the South a part like that which France had once played for certain thirteen revolted colonies, and thereby to change a rebellion into a revolution. So Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, not willing to give the unfriendly power this opportunity, only wrote down in the national ledger sundry charges against Great Britain, which were afterward paid, not promptly, yet in full!
Another provoking thing was the placing of
Confederate loans in London. This could not be interfered with. The only comfort was that the blockaded South had much difficulty in laying hands upon the proceeds of the bonds which English friends of the Slave Empire were induced to buy. Yet time, always the faithful auxiliary of the North, took care of this matter also. When the news of Gettysburg and Vicksburg came, the investors, who had scarcely finished writing the cheques with which to pay their subscriptions, were obliged to face a drop of thirty per cent, in the market price of their new securities. For many years after the war was over British strong boxes wasted space in accommodating these absurd documents, while the idea of their worthlessness was slowly filtering through the minds of their owners.