Letter to Friedrich Engels, December 19, 1861

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To Engels in Manchester

[London,] 19 December 1861[edit source]

Dear Engels,

You know how the Dronke business came about. I wrote to him, not because of the bill, but to dun him. In the circumstances, I was, of course, compelled to inform him of the critical situation I was in, a situation which he, like anyone else, must, and did, find quite natural in view of the American affair. As a result of this communication, he came to see me and, thus, the arrangement was made which, to begin with, I would never even have thought of, had you not expressly stated in your letter that you would accept the bills if I was able to get them discounted through Freiligrath or ‘some other person’. I say this much in order to absolve myself of any semblance of indiscretion.

There is nothing doing with F., as I already knew beforehand. He only had the tailor and by the time of the Tribune affair he'd already lost him, because two of his clerks had obtained articles of clothing to the value of £70 on his recommendation and decamped without paying. Moreover, my relations to F. were so changed that, when he arranged to have even my bills on the Tribune discounted again by Bischoffsheim, he did so only with reluctance. But, even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t particularly since the latent bankruptcy of his bank court par les rues de Londres.

This letter will go off at the same time as one to Dronke, informing him that I embarked on the transactions with him as a result of a misunderstanding and asking him therefore to regard them as non avenues. I also told him that, if he could discount the bills on me personally without any intervention of other persons, this would be agreeable to me. I had to tell him that, because I can see no way out, and indeed my situation is one of the utmost peril.

His address, letters to be marked private, is 49 Oldhall Street, Liverpool. Judging by what Dronke says (though I believe he’s in Newcastle and not in Liverpool at all), he would simply try to arrange the matter with his own banker.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t help informing my wife of the contents of your letter, insofar as it referred to the bill transaction. And news of this kind always brings on a kind of paroxysm.

As to war with America, Pain may possibly succeed in bringing it about, but not without difficulty. He has got to have a pretext and it doesn’t seem to me as though Lincoln will give him one. Some of the Cabinet, Milner Gibson, Gladstone, plus ou moins Lewis, can’t be so easily be fooled as John Russell.

Taken by and large, the Americans have not been at fault, either materially or. formally, under English maritime law, which is in force there. As to the question of material right, the English Crown lawyers have themselves given a decision along these lines. They have therefore adduced, since Pam needed a pretext, an error in forma, a technicality, a legal quibble. But this, too, is erroneous. Under English maritime law one must distinguish between two cases. Whether a neutral ship carries belligerent goods and persons or contraband of war, either in the form of objects or persons. In the latter case, the ship with cargo and persons is to be seized and brought into a port for adjudication. In the first instance — if it is established beyond doubt that the goods (properly speaking an impossibility in the case of persons) have not passed into the possession of a neutral, the belligerent goods or persons may be seized on the high seas, while. the ship, etc., gets off scot-free. This sort of jurisprudence has — if we disregard the authorities — been constantly asserted by England, as I have discovered for myself by consulting Cobbett’s Register’ on all the squabbling that has gone on with neutrals since 1793.

Conversely, since the English Crown lawyers confined the problem to an error in forma and thus conceded the Yankees the right to seize all English ships with belligerents aboard and bring them into port for adjudication, the Yankees may very well — and in my view will — declare that they are satisfied with this concession, that in future they will commit no formal infringements in case of seizure, etc., and deliver up Mason and Slidell for the nonce.

If Pam is absolutely set on war, he can, of course, bring it about. In my view, that is not his intention. If the Americans act in the way I imagine they will, Pam will have provided stupid John Bull with fresh proof that he is ‘the Truly English Minister’. The chap will then be free to do whatever he likes. He will seize this opportunity,

1. to force the Yankees to recognise the Declaration of Paris on the rights of the neutrals;

2. to use this as a pretext for something he has hitherto not dared to do, namely request and prevail upon the English Parliament to sanction the abandonment of the Old English Maritime Law, the said abandonment having been subscribed to by Clarendon — on his (Pam’s) instructions — unbeknown to the Crown and without the prior knowledge of Parliament.

Pam is an old man, and, since the time of Catherine II, the Russians have been trying to enforce the declaration published in Paris. There are still two things they lack: the sanction of the English Parliament and the accession of the United States. On this occasion, both would be achieved. It seems to me that these warlike alarums are simply theatrical props with which to make stupid John Bull believe that the definitive abandonment of his own Maritime Laws in favour of Russia is a victory over the Yankees won thanks to the pluck of the ‘Truly English Minister’.

Additional reasons for these warlike alarums seem to be: Diversion of attention from Poland (for at public meetings even fellows such as Conningham from Brighton are demanding the Stoppage of further payment of the Dutch-Russian Loan) and diversion of attention from Denmark where Russia is engaged at this moment in ousting Glücksburg, the Heir presumptive appointed by herself.

It is, of course, possible that the Yankees won’t give way, and, in that case, Pam will be forced into war by his preparations and rodomontade to date. However, I would rate the odds at 100 to 1 against.


K. M.