CHAPTER VII. THE "TRENT"
"An early resort to hostilities will enable us at once to raise the blockade of the South, to blockade the North, and to prevent the egress of numerous ships, commissioned as privateers which will be sent against our commerce." But then, there was Canada, at present not defensible. He had been reading Alison on the War of 1812, and found that then the American army of invasion had numbered but 2,500 men. "We may now expect 40 or 50,000." Two days later he wrote to Gladstone that if America would only "let the Commissioners free to go where they pleased," he would be satisfied. He added that in that case, "I should be very glad to make a treaty with the U.S., giving up our pretensions of 1812 and securing immunity to persons not in arms on board neutral vessels or to persons going bona fide from one neutral port to another. This would be a triumph to the U.S. in principle while the particular case would be decided in our favour."
On Saturday, December 14, the Prince Consort died. It was well-known that he had long been a brake upon the wheel of Palmerston's foreign policy and, to the initiated, his last effort in this direction - the modification of the instruction to Lyons on the Trent - was no secret. There is no evidence that his death made any change in the British position, but it was true, as the American Minister wrote, that "Now they [the British public] are beginning to open their eyes to a sense of his value. They discover that much of their political quietude has been due to the judicious exercise of his influence over the Queen and the Court, and they do not conceal their uneasiness as to the future without him." The nation was plunged into deep mourning, but not to distraction from the American crisis, for on the day when all papers were black with mourning borders, December 16, they printed the news of the approval of Wilkes by the United States Congress, and gave a summary of Lincoln's message of December 2, which, to their astonishment, made no mention of the Trent affair. The Congressional approval caused "almost a feeling of consternation among ourselves," but Lincoln's silence, it was argued, might possibly be taken as a good omen, since it might indicate that he had as yet reached no decision. Evidently there was more real alarm caused by the applause given Wilkes by one branch of the government than by the outpourings of the American press. The next day several papers printed Lincoln's message in full and the Times gave a long editorial analysis, showing much spleen that he had ignored the issue with Great Britain. On the eighteenth this journal also called attention, in a column and a half editorial, to the report of the American Secretary of War, expressing astonishment, not unmixed with anxiety, at the energy which had resulted in the increase of the army to 700,000 men in less than nine months. The Times continued, even increased, its "vigour" of utterance on the Trent, but devoted most of its energy to combating the suggestions, now being made very generally, advocating a recourse to arbitration. This would be "weak concession," and less likely to secure redress and peace for the future, than an insistence on the original demands.