CHAPTER VII. THE "TRENT"
The San Jacinto reached Fortress Monroe on the evening of November 15. The next day the news was known, but since it was Saturday, few papers contained more than brief and inaccurate accounts and, there being then few Sunday papers, it was not until Monday, the eighteenth, that there broke out a widespread rejoicing and glorification in the Northern press. America, for a few days, passed through a spasm of exultation hard to understand, even by those who felt it, once the first emotion had subsided. This had various causes, but among them is evident a quite childish fear of the acuteness and abilities of Mason and Slidell. Both men were indeed persons of distinction in the politics of the previous decades. Mason had always been open in his expressed antipathy to the North, especially to New England, had long been a leader in Virginia, and at the time of the Southern secession, was a United States Senator from that State. Slidell, a Northerner by birth, but early removed to Louisiana, had acquired fortune in business there, and had for nearly twenty years been the political "boss" of one faction of the Democratic Party in New Orleans and in the State. With much previous experience in diplomacy, especially that requiring intrigue and indirect methods (as in the preliminaries of the Mexican War), and having held his seat in the United States Senate until the withdrawal of Louisiana from the Union, he was, of the two men, more feared and more detested, but both were thoroughly obnoxious to the North. Merely on the personal side their capture was cause for wide rejoicing.
Surprise was also an element in the American elation, for until the news of the capture was received no portion of the public had given serious thought to any attempt to stop the envoys. Surprise also played its part when the affair became known in England, though in official circles there had been some warning. It had already been reported in the British press that Mason and Slidell had run the blockade at Charleston, were in Cuba, and were about to set sail for England on the Confederate steamer Nashville, but the British Government, considering that the envoys might perhaps sail rather on the West India Mail Steamer for Southampton, became much concerned over a possible American interference with that vessel. On November 9 Hammond sent an urgent enquiry to the Advocate-General stating the situation, calling attention to the presence at Southampton of an American war-vessel, and asking whether this vessel, or any other American man-of-war, "would be entitled to interfere with the mail steamer if fallen in with beyond the territorial limits of the United Kingdom, that is beyond three miles from the British Coast."
"Whether for instance she might cause the West India Mail
Steamer to bring to, might board her, examine her Papers,
open the Mail Bags and examine the contents thereof, examine
the luggage of passengers, seize and carry away Messrs. Mason
and Slidell in person, or seize their Credentials and
Instructions and Despatches, or even put a Prize Crew on
board the West India Steamer and carry her off to a Port of
the United States; in other words what would be the right of
the American Cruiser with regard to her passengers and crew
and lawful papers and correspondence on board our packet on
the assumption that the said packet was liable to capture and
confiscation on the ground of carrying enemies' despatches;
would the Cruiser be entitled to carry the packet and all and
everything in her back to America or would she be obliged to
land in this Country or in some near port all the people and
all the unseizable goods?"
Hammond further stated that Russell was anxious to have an immediate reply, inasmuch as the mail packet was due to arrive in Southampton on November 12. The opinion of the law officer consulted is best given in Palmerston's own words in a letter to Delane, Editor of the Times :
November 11, 1861.
"MY DEAR DELANE,