Received a singular letter from Seward respecting the mail of the Peterhoff, undertaking to set aside law, usage, principle, established and always recognized rights, under the pretense that it will not do to introduce new questions on the belligerent right of search. He has, inconsiderately and in an ostentatious attempt to put off upon the English Legation a show of power and authority which he does not possess and cannot exercise, involved himself in difficulty, conceded away the rights of his country without authority, without law, without a treaty, without equivalent; and to sustain this novel and extraordinary proceeding he artfully talks about new questions in the belligerent right of search. The President has been beguiled by ex-parte representations and misrepresentations to indorse “approved” on Seward's little contrivance. But this question cannot be so disposed of. The President may be induced to order the mail to be given up, but the law is higher than an Executive order, and the judiciary has a duty to perform. The mail is in the custody of the court.
SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 273-4