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Sir Edward Thornton correspondence with the British Foreign Office

Call Number: GEN MSS 864
Scope and Contents

The Sir Edward Thornton Correspondence with the British Foreign Office is comprised of more than 2,500 original manuscript letters and dispatches received by Thornton between 1870 and 1875, along with manuscript copies of Thornton's outgoing official and private letters sent from 1868 to 1875. They are contained in six bound volumes of contemporary three quarter sheep and pebbled cloth, two of the volumes large folio, two folio, and two quarto. The correspondence is between Thornton and the most important figures in British foreign policy from the period, including Lord Edward Henry Stanley, later Earl of Derby (1826-1893), who was the British foreign secretary from July 1866 through December 1868 and February 1874 through April 1878; George William Frederick Villiers, Earl of Clarendon (1800-1870), who succeeded Stanley when the Liberals returned to office in December 1868 and who served as foreign secretary until his death in June 1870; and George Leveson-Gower, the second Earl Granville (1815-1891), who was foreign secretary from July 1870 to February 1874. Hundreds of other letters are to of from the two men who were the under-secretaries of state for foreign affairs, Edmund Hammond (1802-1890), who held the post from 1854 to 1873, and Charles Stuart Aubrey Abbott, Baron Tenterden (1834-1882), who succeeded Hammond. Thornton's incoming correspondence is complete for the period 1870-1875, but his outgoing correspondence is missing letters from the year 1871.

This official and confidential correspondence between Thornton and the British Foreign Office covers a whole range of issues affecting the relationship between American and Great Britain at the conclusion of the American Civil War, including the disputed boundary between the United States and the Dominion of Canada in the straits of San Juan de Fuca in the Pacific Northwest, and the question of fishing rights off Newfoundland. Other discussed issues grew out of Great Britain's neutrality in the Civil War and, in particular, the "Alabama Claims" rising from British ships having been supplied to the Confederacy, which were then outfitted as military vessels. These ships, among them the Alabama, the Alexandra, and the Florida, were used to destroy Union merchant ships, resulting in postwar financial compensation claims by the United States against Great Britain.

Other issues discussed were American efforts to secure land in Colombia for a trans-Isthmian canal, American encouragement of the independence movement in Cuba against Spain, questions over naturalization and citizenship, and raids by Irish-American Fenians against Canada. There is also much discussion of American politics and the personalities of American politicians, including correspondence about presidents Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant and secretaries of state William Seward and Hamilton Fish, and the activities and qualities of American ambassadors to Great Britain, Reverdy Johnson and John Lothrop Motley.

The letters in this collection are divided into three categories that define the series arrangement described below: original manuscript letters sent to Thornton from the British Foreign Office; manuscript copies of Thornton's official correspondence to the British foreign secretaries and the Foreign Office; and manuscript copies of Thornton's private correspondence to the foreign secretaries. Each of the three categories is divided into two volumes, for a total of six volumes of bound manuscripts in the collection. The volume numbers listed below in the Collection Contents were assigned by the library, and not by Thornton or his office.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Sir Edward Thornton Correspondence with the British Foreign Office is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from William Reese Co. on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund and the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection Fund, 2011.


Organized into three series: I. Correspondence from the British Foreign Office, 1870-1875. II. Official Correspondence to the British Foreign Office, 1868-1874. III. Private Correspondence to the British Foreign Office, 1868-1875.

1.5 Linear Feet (6 boxes)
Related Names
Thornton, Edward, Sir, 1817-1906
Language of Materials