• Confederate Commissioners Mason & Slidell Captured Seeking British Support; Released After Charles Adams Intervened With Mistress Letters

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    On November 8, 1861, the British Ship Trent carrying two Confederate Commissioners, James M. Mason and John Slidell, was stopped in the Bahama Channel by the U.S. warship San Jacinto under the command of Captain Wilkes.  Mason and Slidell were removed and imprisoned in Boston’s Fort Warren. Although it was illegal, it was popular in the North and mightily angered the British. Only through the strenuous efforts of Ambassador Charles Francis Adams was Prime Minister Lord Palmerston satisfied.  Adams was anxious to settle the issue. It was claimed that he had a group of letters that Palmerston had written to his mistress and threatened to release them if the issue wasn’t settled.  Mason and Slidell were released two months later.


    JOHN BRIGHT (November 16, 1811 – March 27, 1889) was a British Radical and Liberal statesman and considered one of the greatest orators of his generation.  A Quaker, Bright is most famous for battling the Corn Laws, which raised food prices and protected landowners’ interests by levying taxes on wheat imports. Bright sat in the House of Commons from 1843 to 1889, promoting free trade, electoral reform and religious freedom.  In the letter offered here, Bright offers his opinion of the Trent Affair.


    2 pp, 4 ½ x 7 ¼, ALS, London, Nov. 28, 1861, Bright writes to “My Dear Rawson, I hear the ‘Law Offices’ say that taking the Dispatches or taking the vessel would have been lawful – but taking the men only is doubtful or contrary to the law! The Examiner’s article is far better than any one published in the London papers today – but I fear the Press generally make fools of the people as in all such cases. I may learn more this evening & if I come down tomorrow which is not certain, I may call upon you.


    “In haste, Yours truly


    “John Bright”


    Toning, soiling. A couple of tears reinforced with archival tape. Very readable and unusual to have a letter commenting on the Trent Affair and the Confederacy’s attempt to secure foreign alliances during the Civil War.


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