Wednesday, June 10, 2015

June 10, 1861 - Lord Lyons worries Seward will provoke a war with Britain.

Lord Lyons arrived as the British minister in Washington (the United States did not rank an ambassador) in 1859, and he stayed through most of the war. At first suspicious of Consul Bunch, Our Man in Charleston, he eventually came to depend on him for his reporting on the South, and defended him when he got into trouble with London.

Lyons was in frequent contact with Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward, and by June he was increasingly concerned that Seward would try to re-unite the United States by going to war with Great Britain, possibly by picking a fight over some relatively minor issue, possibly by invading Canada. The foreign secretary, Lord John Russell, was well aware of this possibility, and wrote that Seward could be "very provoking." This is an excerpt from a letter marked "Private" that Lyons sent to Russell, the foreign secretary.

Washington, June 10 ... I have written so much officially on the risk of a sudden Declaration of War against England by the U.S. that I have nothing to add on that subject. That such an act of madness is far from impossible, that we ought to be prepared for it at any moment, I am thoroughly convinced. I am doing all I can to avoid awkward questions, for to give way upon any such question would be still more dangerous to peace than to make a firm stand. The safe course therefore is to prevent questions arising, if possible. But the first thing to be done toward obtaining anything like permanent security is to remove the temptation to attack Canada. ...

Meanwhile the journalist William Howard Russell (no relation to the foreign secretary) was taking his leave of the Louisiana plantation where he had spent several days, and headed up the Mississippi. He wrote with his usual sardonic, ironic tone about what he saw:

June 10th. ... The Acadia was now along-side, and in the early morning Donaldsonville receded rapidly into trees and clouds. To bed, and make amends for mosquito visits, and after a long sleep
look out again on the scene. It is difficult to believe that we have been going eleven miles an hour against the turbid river, which is of the same appearance as it was below the same banks, bends, driftwood, and trees. Large timber rafts, navigated by a couple of men, who stood in the shade of a few upright boards, were encountered at long intervals. White egrets and blue herons rose from the marshes. 

At every landing the whites who came down were in some sort of uniform. There were two blacks placed on board at one of the landings in irons captured runaways and very miserable they looked at the thought of being restored to the bosom of the patriarchal family from which they had, no doubt, so prodigally eloped. I fear the fatted calf-skin would be applied to their backs.

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