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The Layard Papers – John L. Motley to Layard sheet 1

The Layard Papers – John L. Motley to Layard sheet 1

Medium: Ink on paper

Shelfmark: add_ms_38988_f009r

Scale: Millimetres

Genre: Letter


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This image, along with the following three, make up the first part of a letter sent to Layard by John Lothrop Motley in early January 1862 at the height of the Trent Affair Motley was one of a group of American diplomats sent across the Atlantic to prevent European countries aiding and recognising the Confederacy. Motley himself was sent to Austria, but appears to have had a close friendship with Layard and Britain, as this letter demonstrates. Following the Civil War, Motley briefly became the US Ambassador to Britain.

The letter was written during a moment of intense diplomatic tension between the Union and Britain as news of the Trent Affair spread across the Atlantic. Since the event, Motley writes that he ‘had not a moment’s peace’, dealing with backlash from vitriolic British and pro-secessionist American presses that saw the seizure of two Confederate commissioners by Union Captain Wilkes onboard a British ship as an illegal action. The letter reveals contemporary British reaction to the situation, ‘I had not been prepared for the spontaneous outburst, not of anger but a hatred, which the Trent occurrence has rallied forth in England’.

These pages of the letter reveal Motley and Layard’s desire for calm between Britain and America, ‘I share your wish that no dire a calamity as war between our two countries’ occurs, the American comments. Highlighting the background diplomacy and discussion that went on during the conflict, Motley reassures Layard that any talk of war between Britain and the Union was exaggerated. ‘There is no party in America which desires war with England’, he states, laughing off the notion of conflict between the two countries and the idea that Britain would seriously support a slaveholding nation.  

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