Category Archives: Civil War Book of Days: 1861

Lincoln Seeks to Avert War with Britain

December 23, 1861/2011
Volume 2, Issue 53 (63 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

On Christmas, Lincoln Seeks to Avert War with Britain

December 23, 1861. The Trent affair continued, and the real threat of war between the Union and Great Britain still loomed.

The crisis had begun on November 8 when two Confederate diplomats and their secretaries sailing to Europe in search of diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy were taken off an unarmed British ship, the Trent, and detained. The captain of the Union ship that did so was acting without orders, but the crisis the incident precipitated was real.

On December 23, in a communication to Secretary of State William Seward, the British minister in Washington, Lord Lyons, reiterated his demand that the diplomats be released. The cabinet met again to discuss the matter. After that meeting, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner met with the President and urged him to release them as soon as possible.

On December 24, Lincoln continued to focus on the matter, arranging meetings about the matter for Christmas Day.

Although the President and Mrs. Lincoln entertained guests as the White House for Christmas dinner, the day also included a tense Cabinet meeting that weighed the embarrassment of backing down against the risk of war with England as well as the Confederacy.

Cool heads prevailed. The seizure of the diplomats by the United States was acknowledged as illegal, and the action was termed a misunderstanding on the part of the Union ship’s captain, Charles Wilkes. Lincoln ordered their release, remarking, “One war at a time.”

Secretary Seward, Lord Lyons, Senator Charles Sumner, President Lincoln

Secretary Seward, Lord Lyons, Senator Charles Sumner, President Lincoln


Chronicles of the Civil War, John Bowman, editor, pp. 50-51


The Trent Affair (

The Trent Affair (

Britain in the American Civil War (

“A Diplomatic Education,” Humanities: The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, November/ December 2011: Volume 32, Number 6

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