The First Battles: April 1861 to February 1862

International Events

What was the reaction in the United States to the Trent affair?

At first there was jubilation because the Confederates had been caught red-handed. As the war signs from Britain approached, many Americans tended to favor a bellicose response, saying they could handle England and the Confederacy at the same time. One high-placed person who felt this way was William H. Seward, the secretary of state. Writing a friend, Seward predicted that the world would be “wrapped with fire” if Britain attempted to intervene.

Lincoln, as usual, was more realistic. While he loved the idea of twisting the tail of the British Lion, he recognized the danger of fighting two wars at the same time. His comments to his Cabinet were strictly off-record, but the suggestion is that he told them the day would come when Britain could be chastised, but it had not yet arrived. On Lincoln’s decision, the two Confederate commissioners were released and the United States sent a letter of apology to Lord Palmerston. The Trent Affair fizzled out as 1861 came to an end.


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