CHAPTER IV. BRITISH SUSPICION OF SEWARD
In truth, it was not any further belligerent talk by Seward that had so renewed Lyons' anxiety. Rather it was the public and Press reception of the news of the Queen's Proclamation of Neutrality. The Northern people, counting beyond all reasonable expectation upon British sympathy on anti-slavery grounds, had been angrily disappointed, and were at the moment loudly voicing their vexation. Had Seward not already been turned from his foreign war policy he now would have received strong public support in it. But he made no effort to utilize public excitement to his own advantage in the Cabinet. In England, Adams was able to report on June 14 that Russell had no intention of holding further interviews with the Southern Commissioners, but before anyone in Washington could learn of this there was general knowledge of a changed tone from the Secretary of State, and Lyons' fears were considerably allayed. On June 15, occurred that interview between Seward, Lyons, and Mercier, in which Seward had positively refused to receive the Queen's Proclamation, but had throughout evinced the greatest courtesy and goodwill. Lyons so reported the conversation. June 15 may, in fact, be taken as the date when Lyons ceased to be alarmed over an immediate war. Possibly he found it a little difficult to report so sudden a shift from stormy to fair weather. June 21, he wrote that the "lull" was still continuing. June 24, he at last learned and described at length the details of Lincoln's alteration of Despatch No. 10. He did not know the exact date but he expressed the opinion that "a month or three weeks ago" war was very near - a misjudgment, since it should be remembered that war seemed advisable to one man only - Seward; and that on this issue he had been definitely cast down from his self-assumed leadership into the ranks of Lincoln's lieutenants.
Lyons was, then, nearly a month behindhand in exact knowledge of American foreign policy toward England, and he was in error in thinking that an American attack on England was either imminent or intended. Nevertheless, he surely was excusable, considering Seward's prestige and Lincoln's lack of it, in reporting as he did. It was long, indeed, before he could escape from suspicion of Seward's purposes, though dropping, abruptly, further comment on the chances of war. A month later, on July 20, he wrote that Seward had himself asked for a confidential and unofficial interview, in order to make clear that there never had been any intention of stirring agitation against England. Personally, Seward took credit for avoiding trouble "by refusing to take official cognizance of the recognition [by England] of the belligerent rights of the South," and he asked Lyons to explain to Russell that previous strong language was intended merely to make foreign Powers understand the intensity of Northern feeling.
Lyons put no faith in all this but was happy to note the change, mistakenly attributing it to England's "stiff tone," and not at all to the veto of the President. Since Lyons himself had gone to the utmost bounds in seeking conciliation (so he had reported), and, in London, Russell also had taken no forward step since the issue of the Queen's Proclamation - indeed, had rather yielded somewhat to Adams' representations - it is not clear in what the "stiff tone" consisted.
Indeed, the cause of Seward's explanation to Lyons was the receipt of a despatch from Adams, dated June 28, in which the latter had reported that all was now smooth sailing. He had told Russell that the knowledge in Washington of the result of their previous interviews had brought satisfaction, and Russell, for his part, said that Lyons had "learned, through another member of the diplomatic corps, that no further expression of opinion on the subject in question would be necessary." This referred, presumably, to the question of British intention, for the future, in relation to the Proclamation of Neutrality. Adams wrote: "This led to the most frank and pleasant conversation which I have yet had with his lordship.... I added that I believed the popular feeling in the United States would subside the moment that all the later action on this side was known.... My own reception has been all that I could desire. I attach value to this, however, only as it indicates the establishment of a policy that will keep us at peace during the continuance of the present convulsion." In reply to Adams' despatch, Seward wrote on July 21, the day after his interview with Lyons, arguing at great length the American view that the British Proclamation of Neutrality in a domestic quarrel was not defensible in international law. There was not now, nor later, any yielding on this point. But, for the present, this was intended for Adams' eye alone, and Seward prefaced his argument by a disclaimer, much as stated to Lyons, of any ill-will to Great Britain: