Sunday, December 25, 2011

This Day in History December 26, 1861

Have you ever heard of the Trent Affair?  I have to admit I had not until I researched this post. I discovered it is also called the Mason Slidell affair, and in order to understand this day in history, one must understand the Trent Affair.

On November 8, 1861, the British mail steamer the Trent was boarded by the American warship the  U.S.S. Jacinto.   Aboard the Trent were Southerners James Mason and John Slidell.  They were headed to London to convince the British to recognized the Confederacy.  Unionist Captain Charles Wilkes arrested these two men and took them back to Boston.  His actions, though completely against maritime laws, were lauded by the Union, and Wilkes himself even received a medal.

As can be imagined, England was not too pleased--they were irate.  The British had taken no sides in the Civil War.  Their policy was to accept any paying customer on their ships.  They sent along a demand to the Union to release the prisoners at once and apologize for the breaking of maritime laws.  It was on December 1st that the British Cabinet sent this order, and they insisted on a reply within a week.  It was during that week that the British prepared for war against the U.S.  They banned war material exports to the U.S., and they sent 11,000 troops to Canada.

Interestingly enough, Lord Lyons, British ambassador to the U.S. delayed pressing this directive until popular support for Wilkes died down.  It was formally presented to the U.S. on December 23.  In light of the Civil War, the Union was not anxious to battle Britain.  So President Lincoln sent a response to England on this date on 1861, in which he ordered the release of the two prisoners.  Thankfully, war with Britain was averted at a very critical time in our nation's history.

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