1st Viscount Lyons
British Minister to the United States, 1858-65
Autograph Note Signed
(1817-87) A prominent British diplomat, he was appointed British envoy to the United States in Washington in 1858. Lyons reached Washington a full two years before the start of the Civil War, and like many observers, believed that the dissolution of the United States was a strong possibility. He was seen as an excellent appointment to the United States by the British government, and was successful in healing the rift in American-British relations. He moved quickly to resolve the San Juan Island crisis in 1859, and he planned and oversaw the successful 1860 tour of Canada and the United States by the Prince of Wales, for which he received high praise on both sides of the Atlantic, from President James Buchanan and Queen Victoria. However, a few weeks after the Prince's tour, the diplomatic and political landscape changed radically when Abraham Lincoln was elected president and the "Secession Crisis" began. Lyons feared that American politicians might try to divert public opinion from domestic problems by quarreling with foreign powers, especially Britain. He was particularly suspicious of Secretary of State, William H. Seward. As the war unfolded, Lyons had to deal with numerous problems. One was the threat to Canada, which he believed could be the target of a possible attack by the Union. Another was the cotton supply to England from the Confederacy through the Union blockade. In 1861, Lyons declared to Lord John Russell that "the taint of slavery will render the cause of the South loathsome to the civilized world." The most dangerous moment was the "Trent Affair," which established Lyons' lasting reputation. In the fall of 1861, the Confederacy sent two envoys, James M. Mason and John Slidell, to Europe to try to secure formal recognition. They traveled on the neutral British mail steamer Trent. A Union warship, the U.S.S. San Jacinto, intercepted the Trent and seized the envoys, outraging British opinion. Public excitement over the affair grew so intense that war between England and America seemed for a time unavoidable. Through tact and firmness Lyons was largely responsible for the avoidance of open war between the two countries, persuading the reluctant United States government to release the envoys. Lyon's handling of the "Mason-Slidell affair" established his well-deserved reputation as Britain's greatest mid 19th century ambassador. In December 1864, Lyons left Washington, citing ill health. He was suffering from nervous exhaustion and migraines. Before he left, Lyons had positive final meetings with Lincoln and Seward. Both wished for Lyons' recovery and his return to the U.S. but in the spring of 1865 his poor health forced him to resign his post. The Queen and Prime Minister Palmerston tried their best to get Lyons to return to Washington but to no avail. Instead they appointed Sir Frederick Bruce, who was Lyons' hand-picked successor. This was noteworthy as it showed that the Queen and Palmerston had the utmost confidence in Lyons' ability to read the diplomatic situation in America. Queen Victoria remarked to Palmerston that she was so pleased by Lyons' service in the U.S. that she would be happy to have Lyons "represent Her at any Court" in the world. Afterwards, he served as British Ambassador to France, 1867-87.
Autograph Note Signed: 3 5/8 x 4 1/2, in ink.
I wrote this in compliance with a request for my autograph- Washington, June 14th, 1860, Lyons. Bold and neatly written. Very fine. Another nice item related to the "Trent Affair."