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The Trent Affair

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The Trent Affair, also known as the Mason and Slidell Affair, was an international diplomatic incident that occurred during the American Civil War. On November 8th 1861, the USS San Jacinto, intercepted the British mail packet Trent and removed it as contraband of two war Confederate diplomats, who were James Mason and John Slidell. The envoys were bound for Great Britain and France to press the Confederacys’ case for diplomatic recognition by Europe. The initial reaction in the United States was to rally against Britain, threatening war; but President Abraham Lincoln and his top advisers did not want to risk war.

In the Confederate States, the hope was that the incident would lead to a permanent rupture in Anglo-American relations and even diplomatic recognition by Britain of the Confederacy. The boarding of the “Trent” was an outrage of a national relationship, which could not escape the anger of all the nations that were bordering on the sea. The British mail packet “Trent”, was taken by a person who was too stupid to foresee its bad effect, on the relations which the persons’ own country was endeavoring to maintain with Europe.

It produced a sensation, which for awhile, seemed to threaten the total failure of coercion. It is not surprising that on getting the full news of the event, President Lincoln said to the attorney general, “l am not getting much sleep out of that exploit of WIikes, and I suppose we must look up the law of the case. I am not much of a prize lawyer, but it seems to me, that it is pretty clear, that if WIikes saw fit to make that capture on the high seas, he had no right to turn his quarterdeck into a prize court.

The shrewd President saw that WIikes could not let the “Trent” go free. The President also soon realized that the rash act was very inopportune, as well as illegal. Mr. Seward hurried to communicate with Mr. Adams, the United States minister at London, the stupid suggestion that “in the capture of Messrs. Mason and Slidell on board a British ship, Captain WIikes having acted without any instructions from the government, the subject is therefore free from the embarrassment which might have resulted, if the act had been especially directed by us. trust,” he wrote, ” that the British government will consider the subject in a friendly temper and it may expect the best disposition on the part of this government. ”

The Trent affair was resolved, when the Lincoln administration released the envoys and disavowed Captain WIikes’ actions. No formal apology was issued. Mason and Slidell resumed their voyage to England but failed in their goal of achieving diplomatic recognition. The Union had successfully navigated its way through its most crucial diplomatic challenge of the war.

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