Slavery, then, still remained an issue before the British public, but of what use was it to upbraid the South, if a new world State were in fact born? And if a State in power, why not give it prompt recognition? The extreme British anti-slavery opponents feared that this was just what the Government was inclined to do, and with promptness. Here and there meetings were hurriedly called to protest against recognition. This fear was unfounded. Neither in London nor at Washington was there any official inclination to hasten recognition. Lyons had held up to Seward the logic of such action, if British trade were illegally interfered with. By April 9 Lyons was aware that the so-called Radical Party in the Cabinet would probably have its way, that conciliation would no longer be attempted, and that a coercive policy toward the South was soon to follow. On that date he wrote to Russell stating that people in Washington seemed so convinced that Europe would not interfere to protect its trade that they were willing to venture any act embarrassing to that trade. He himself was still insisting, but with dwindling confidence, that the trade must not be interfered with under any circumstances. And in a second letter of this same date, he repeated to Russell his advice of treating the Southern Commissioners with deference. Any rebuff to them, he asserts again, will but increase the Northern confidence that they may do anything without provoking the resistance of England.
Like a good diplomat Lyons was merely pushing the argument for all it was worth, hoping to prevent an injury to his country, yet if that injury did come (provided it were sanctioned by the law of nations) he did not see in it an injury sufficient to warrant precipitate action by Great Britain. When indeed the Southern capture of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour finally brought the actual clash of arms, Lyons expressed himself with regard to other elements in the struggle previously neglected in his correspondence. On April 15 describing to Russell the fall of Sumter, he stated that civil war had at last begun. The North he believed to be very much more powerful than the South, the South more “eager” and united as yet, but, he added, “the taint of slavery will render the cause of the South loathsome to the civilized world.” It was true that “commercial intercourse with the cotton States is of vital importance to manufacturing nations....” but Lyons was now facing an actual situation rather than a possible one, and as will be seen later, he soon ceased to insist that an interruption of this “commercial intercourse” gave reasonable ground for recognition of the South.