Imperial ParliamentThe Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1201, p. 474.
May 2, 1863
...The Federal Government and British Mail-bags.--Earl Russell made an important statement with reference to the course taken by the Federal authorities respecting the mail-bag carried by the Peterhoff. When the bag reached New York the English Consul protested against its being opened, and required that, in accordance with Mr. Seward's instructions to Secretary Welles, it should be forwarded to its destination--Matamoras. The Federal authorities, however, disregarded this protest, broke the seals, and took out the letters, all of which were directed to Matamoras. The Prize Court, going still further, decided that the packages should be opened, and, in the first instance, they requested her Majesty's Consul to open them, to forward all bona fide private letters to their destination, and to hand over those relating to the cargo to the Prize Court. The Consul declined to become a party to such a proceeding; and, the matter having been reported to Lord Lyons, his Excellency waited upon Mr. Seward, who sent instructions to New York that, until further orders from Washington, the case was to remain in suspense. This was the state of things at the time the mail left, and the noble Earl hoped the House would not press for the opinion of the law officers of the Crown on the subject, as that opinion would have to be carefully weighed by the Government before any directions were sent out to Lord Lyons. An additional reason for asking the indulgence of their Lordships was that "the next mail might entirely alter the facts of the case." The statement of the noble Earl was received with cheers, and the House seemed to feel the force of the grounds on which he declined to fulfil the promise he made on Friday night...
Earl Russell said, the question of the Peterhoff and the detention of her Majesty's mails having been the subject of discussion in that House, it might be desirable for him to state the substance of the information he had received that day from Lord Lyons. Lord Lyons stated that, in answer to his application with regard to the vessel and cargo of the Peterhoff, the American Government had decided that they should not release the vessel, and had determined to send her before the Prize Court. With regard to the mail-bags sent by her Majesty's Postmaster General, in conformity with the letter of Oct. 31, they would be sent to their destination unopened. Mr. Seward also stated that in any similar case he should proceed in the same course until some agreement had been arrived at between her Majesty's Government and the United States' Government; and said he did not think that the law of nations laid down any precise rule with regard to the somewhat novel practice of forwarding mails by private ships, and therefore he wished to make an intimation to her Majesty's Government, but he would not state what that communication would be, because it was a matter for subsequent consideration.
Lord Chelmsford asked if he understood the noble Earl to say that the mails would be forwarded without breaking the seal?
Earl Russell said the noble Lord had correctly understood what had been stated, and when the communication had been received from the American Government her Majesty's Government would, of course, consider what answer they would give, and what proceedings they would take in reference to the matter...
...The Case Of The Peterhoff.--Mr. Layard, in reply to Mr. W. Forster, said that a despatch had been received that day at the Foreign Office from Lord Lyons, communicating the information that Mr. Seward had given directions that the mail bags seized on board the Peterhoff should be sent to their destination without being opened. The ship, however, was ordered to go before a Prize Court.
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