Date of Award
In the fall of 1861 the Confederacy decided to send a second diplomatic mission to Europe: James Mason to London and John Slidell to Paris. Mason and Slidell slipped through the Union blockade and booked passage from Havana to London on the Trent, a British mail packet. On November 8, 1861 Charles Wilkes, captain of the Union warship San Jacinto, stopped the Trent in the Bahama Channel. Instead of escorting the vessel to a Union prize court, which could legally judge who or what on board the British vessel constituted contraband, he seized the two emissaries and let the Trent resume its voyage. Wilkes became a hero in the North, but when news of the capture reached Britain, the English viewed it as a planned insult. British Foreign Minister Russell instructed Lord Lyons, the British ambassador to the United States, to demand an apology from Secretary of State Seward and the release of the Confederate diplomats. Anticipating a rejection of their ultimatum, Britain began war preparations and transported additional troops to Canada. After intensive Cabinet deliberations the Union agreed to free the envoys, explaining that Wilkes, acting without orders from Washington, had used improper procedures in making the capture. Mason and Slidell were released January 1, 1862 and eventually reached England on the twenty-ninth.
The Trent Affair Involved many issues: Anglo-American political and economic relations, international law, and diplomatic efforts of the North and South during the Civil War. In the thesis I hope to explore the incident in the context of these larger issues. I make no claim. to have written a definitive study of the Trent Affair. Because of time and monetary restrictions my examination of archival material has been limited. The Seward Papers, microfilms of the Adams Papers, published collections of documents, and a few major newspapers constitute the primary sources I investigated. If the following pages bring the various facets of this critical event into clearer focus, my objectives will be satisfied.
Moorhead, Marvin Bryan, "Anglo-American Relations During The Civil War: The Trent Affair" (1977). Undergraduate Honors Capstone Projects. 233.
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