Author:O. P. Q.
Date:May 8th 1862
Published in May 1862, the Union-sympathising poem offers a scathing attack of the entitled and hypocritical meddling of Britain in international affairs during the Trent Affair. In November 1861, a Union navy ship, captained by Charles Wilkes, intercepted the British postal vessel, RMS Trent, and took captive the Confederate diplomats on-board, James Murray Mason and John Sliddell, allowing the ship to continue on its journey without the seized passengers. What ensued was an intense legal-diplomatic debate between Britain and the Northern States on the rights of belligerent vessels to intercept neutral ships in search of contraband - the right of search. The poem targets Britain’s twisted application of international law, given their previously proclaimed right ‘to search the deck of every ship that floats upon the ocean’. Indeed, as Union advocates indignantly put forward during the Trent Affair, British claims of illegality were contrary to their historical practices of naval interception and impressment. The poem recounts the diplomatic tale of the Affair with the protagonists Lord Lyon, the British minister to the US, and William Seward, the United States Secretary of State who steered the Union’s response to ultimately release Mason and Sliddel. The concession of the Union to release the prisoners and withdraw their support from Wilkes was met with conflicted feeling in the Northern states, yet the poet presents it as a victory and an act of Seward’s diplomatic mastery: ‘And by a well-directed stroke of diplomacy clever / Has laid a plaster where ‘twill stick, and where ‘twill stick forever.’ JC.