CHAPTER III. THE DEVELOPMENT OF A POLICY, MAY, 1861
Such reports if received before the issue of the Proclamation of Neutrality must have strengthened the feeling that prompt action was necessary; if received later, they gave confidence that that action had been wise. May 9, Forster asked in the Commons a series of questions as to the application of the British Foreign Enlistment Act in the American crisis. What would be the status of British citizens serving on Confederate privateers? How would the Government treat citizens who aided in equipping such privateers? Did not the Government intend to take measures to prevent the infringement of law in British ports? Here was pressure by a friend of the North to hasten an official announcement of the policy already notified to Parliament. Sir George Lewis replied stating that the Government was about to issue a general proclamation warning British subjects not to take any part in the war. Similar questions were asked by Derby in the Lords on May 10, and received a similar answer. The few days' delay following Russell's statement of May 6 was due to consideration given by the Law Officers to the exact form required. The Proclamation as issued was dated May 13, and was officially printed in the London Gazetteon May 14.
In form and in substance the Proclamation of Neutrality did not differ from customary usage. It spoke of the Confederacy as "states styling themselves the Confederate States of America," prohibited to Englishmen enlistment on either side, or efforts to enlist others, or equipment of ships of war, or delivery of commissions to such ships. War vessels being equipped in British ports would be seized and forfeited to the British Government. If a belligerent war-ship came into a British port, no change or increase of equipment was to be permitted. If a subject violated the Proclamation he was both punishable in British courts and forfeited any claim to British protection. The Parliamentary discussion on May 16 brought out more clearly and in general unanimity of opinion the policy of the Government in application of the Proclamation; the South was definitely recognized as a belligerent, but recognition of independence was for the future to determine; the right of the South to send out privateers was regretfully recognized; such privateers could not be regarded as pirates and the North would have no right to treat them as such, but if the North in defiance of international opinion did so treat them, Great Britain had at least warned its subjects that they, if engaged in service on a Southern privateer, had no claim to British protection; a blockade of the South to be respected must be effective at least to the point where a vessel attempting to pass through was likely to be captured; the plan of blockading the entire Southern coast, with its three thousand miles of coast line, was on the face of it ridiculous - evidence that Members of Parliament were profoundly ignorant of the physical geography of the Southern seaboard.
The Parliamentary discussion did not reveal any partiality for one side in the American quarrel above the other. It turned wholly on legal questions and their probable application. On May 15 Russell sent to Lyons the official text of the Proclamation, but did not instruct him to communicate it officially to Seward, leaving this rather to Lyons' discretion. This was discretionary in diplomatic usage since in strict fact the Proclamation was addressed to British subjects and need not be communicated officially to the belligerents. In the result the discretion permitted to Lyons had, an important bearing, for recognition of Southern belligerency was opposed to the theory upon which the Northern Government was attempting to proceed. Lyons did not then, or later, make official communication to Seward of the Proclamation. The fact soon appeared that the United States seriously objected to the Proclamation of Neutrality, protesting first, its having been issued at all, and, in the second place, resenting what was considered its "premature" announcement by a friendly nation. This matter developed so serious a criticism by both American Government and public, both during and after the Civil War, that it requires a close examination. Did the British Government exhibit an unfriendly attitude toward the North by a "premature" Proclamation of Neutrality?
On May 13 the new American Minister landed at Liverpool, and on the morning of the fourteenth he was "ready for business" in London, but the interview with Russell arranged for that day by Dallas was prevented by the illness of Russell's brother, the Duke of Bedford. All that was immediately possible was to make official notification of arrival and to secure the customary audience with the Queen. This was promptly arranged, and on May 16 Adams was presented, Palmerston attending in the enforced absence of Russell. Adams' first report to Seward was therefore brief, merely noting that public opinion was "not exactly what we would wish." In this he referred to the utterances of the press, particularly those of the Times, which from day to day and with increasing vigour sounded the note of strict neutrality in a "non-idealistic" war. On May 30 the Times, asserting that both parties in America were bidding for English support, summed up public opinion as follows: