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Correspondence concerning claims against Great Britain : transmitted to the Senate of the United States in answer to the resolutions of December 4 and 10, 1867, and of May 27, 1868 online

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Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of StateCorrespondence concerning claims against Great Britain : transmitted to the Senate of the United States in answer to the resolutions of December 4 and 10, 1867, and of May 27, 1868 → online text (page 106 of 108)
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ship establishing the fact, if possible, still more clearly that such was
her destination; and yet nothing was done toward her seizure until an
order for that purpose was issued by the government in London, but not
received in Liverpool until she had gone. On the 22d of July, seven
days before the vessel left Liverpool, the evidence was furnished his
lordship upon which he issued the order of the 29th; and the only rea-
son which has been assigned for the delay in the issuing of that order
was the one given to Mr. Adams by his lordship, and which was com-
municated to your department in Mr. Adams's dispatch No. 201, of the
1st August, 1862. That reason was this. I quote from the dispatch:

"I read to his lordship the substances of your dispatches Nos. 281 and
299 respecting the use made of the island of Nassau by the rebels, and
the fitting out of the gunboats Oreto and 290. His lordship first took
up the case of 290, and remarked that a delay in determining upon it
had most unexpectedly been caused by the sudden development of a
malady of the Queen's advocate. Sir John D. Harding, totally incapaci-
tating him for the transaction of business."

That this reason is of any avail upon the question of liability, who can
believfe ? The obligation of the government was not contingent upon
the sickness of her law or other offlcers, but absolute, and depended
entirely upon the fact whether proper exertions were made to guard
against the wrong. It is ifot my purpose, in referring to Lord Eussell's
explanation, to impute any intended wrong to his lordship. He acted,
I have no doubt, in what he believed to be his ofiacial duty. But this is


no answer to the wrong whicli resulted from it to the United- States.
The duty of Great Britain to observe neutrality, as far as her respons-
ibility to other nations is concerned, does not depend upon her muni-
cipal law or usage. These should be such as will insure the performance
of that duty. The obligation is an international one, and -is regulated
by the law of nations alone. When that law enforces neutrality, each
nation is bound to provide for its faithful observance. The malady,
therefore, of the Queen's advocate constitutes no excuse whatever for
the delay to act upon proofs conceded afterwards to be complete by the
giving the order for the seizure of the Alabama.

But again, the giving of that order, and the issuing of two others to
stop her at Holyhead, Queenstown, and Ifassau, is conclusive to show
that, in the judgment of his lordship, she had violated the municipal
laws of the kingdom, and by so doing had put it out of the power of the
government to fulfill their obligations of neutrality to the United States. '
And yet the vessel was afterwards permitted to enter other colonial
ports and coal, and obtain provisions, and thus continue her piratical

If the government was bound,- as the orders just referred to concede,
to seize the vessel if she entered either of the three ports named, why
were they not bound to seize her when she entered any other of the
ports of her Majesty ? Could they be met by the objection that her
commander then had a commission purporting to be from the insurgents ?
If such an objection as that would have been a protection, it would
equally have been so at the designated ports, or in the port of Liverpool
if she had returned there. An admitted viorator of her Majesty's laws,
and in a matter which involved the duty of her government, she could
afterwards by force of such a commission ride in safety in any of the
ports of her Majesty, even in the port of Liverpool, from which she
had escaped by fraud and collusion. This is a proposition too absurd
to -be seriously reasoned about.

I have thus, at more length than you may deem necessary, considered
the Alabama claims, the argument upon them having been exliausted
in your dispatches to Mr. Adams and his dispatches to her Majesty's
government. But I have deemed it due to myself and to you that I
should place upon record my own views relating to each of the subjects
of the several treaties I have negotiated. I have done this with no view
to my own justification, for this is to be found in your instructions, all
of which I have followed, as I am glad to know, to the satisfaction of the
President and yourself.

I hear that in some quarters objections are made to the claims conven-
tion, for which I was not prepared.

1. It is said, I am told, that the claims to be submitted should not be
all that have arisen subsequent to July, 1853.

2. Taat no provision is made for the submission of any losses which
our government, as such, may have sustained by the recognition of the
insurgents as belligerents, and the depredations ui)on our commerce by
the Alabama and other vessels.

In regard to the first, I do not see upon what ground of justice we
should deny to our citizens the opportunity of having their claims upon
this government adjusted by means of the commission, whatever may
be the dates of their origin, when they have not previously had that
opportunity. I understand that there are njany such claims, and some
of them of great alleged hardship. And besides the justice due to this
class of claimants, it is most desirable that all claims, without regard to


their date, sJioiild be settled by means of the convention, as otherwise
they may be the subject of controversy hereafter.

As regards the second objection, I am at a loss to imagine what would
be the measure of the damage which it supposes our government should
be indemnified for. How is it to be ascertained ? By what rule is it to
be measured ? A nation's honor can have no compensation in money,
and the depredations of the Alabama were of property in which our
nation had no direct pecuniary interest. If it be said that those depre-
dations prevented the sending forth of other commercial enterprises, the
answer is twofold : first, that if they had been sent forth, the nation
would have had no direct interest in them ; and second, that it could
not be known that any such would have been undertaken. Upon what
ground, therefore, could the nation demand compensation in money on
either account 1 And if it was received, is it to go into the treasury for
the use of the government, or to be distributed amongst those who may
have engaged in such enterprises, and how many of them are there, and
how are they to be ascertained? France recognized the insurgents as
belligerents, and this may have tended to prolong the war. This, too,
it may be said, was a violation of her duty, and affected our honor. If
we can claim indemnity for our nation for such a recognition by England,
we can equally claim it of France. And who has suggested such a claim
as that?

But the final and conclusive answer to these objections is this :

1. That at no time during the war, whether whilst th^ Alabama and
her sister ships were engaged in giving our marine to the flames, or
since, no branch of the government proposed to hold her Majesty's gov-
ernment responsible, except to the value of the proijerty destroyed and
that which would have resulted from the completion of the voyages in
which they were engaged. The government never exacted anything on
its own account. It acted only as the guardian and protector of its own
citizens, and therefore only required that this government should pay
their losses, or agree to submit the question of its liability to friendly
arbitrament. To demand more now, and particularly to make a demand
to which no limit can well be .assigned, would be an entire departure
from our previous course, and would, I am sure, not be listened to by
this government, or countenanced by other nations. We have obtained
by the convention in question all that we have ever asked ; and with
perfect opportunity of knowing what the sentiment of this government
and people is, I am satisfied that nothing more can be accomplished.
And I am equally satisfied that if the convention goes into operation,
every dollar due on what' are known as the Alabama claims will be

I cannot conclude this communication without bearing testimony to
the fiank and flieudly manner in which I have been met by Lords Stan-
ley and Clarendon, and to the very sincere desire which they exhibited
throughout our negotiations to settle every dispute, between the two
nations upon terms just and honorable to each.

I have the honor to remain, with high regard, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Sewabd,

Secretary of State.


Mr. Johnson to Mr. Seward.

Ko. 119.] Legation op the United States,

London, February 20, 1869.
SiB: I find, by an editorial in the Times of yesterday, that there are
objections to the claims convention which are not noticed in my dispatch
No. 112, of the 17th instant. To these I propose now briefly to address

1. It is said that the time of the exchange of the ratifications allowed
by the convention is too long. The purpose of that provision was not
to delay such ratifications, but to insure their being made. Circum-
stances might possibly occur which would necessarily prevent such an
exchange if a short period was only provided. And to guard against
such a result, the period for the exchange is made longer than in fact
would be found necessary. The time stipulated in the present conven-
tion, of twelve months for the purposa, is the same as that which was
allowed in the claims convention between this country and our own of
the 8th February, 1853.

2. The time allowed for rendering the awards and their payment.
When it is remembered what the character of the most of these claims
is, the novelty of the questions which for the most part they involve, and
the probability that these will be submitted to the arbitration of " some
sovereign or head of a friendly state," who will be at a great distance
from Washingjfcon, the place of meeting of the commissioners, and that
if he decides the question of liability the claims are to be returned to the
commissioners to. ascertain the amount due upon each, I do not see how
it can be maintained that the two years is a longer time than is neces-
sary and should be allowed for the completion of the whole work. This
provision does not require the commissioners or the arbitrator to delay
their or his decision for two years. They may, and no doubt will, dis-
charge their duties within a much shorter period.

It is designed to guard against a failure of the adjustment consequent
upon a shorter period, and to render unnecessary what has been found
necessary in all previous cases, to prolong the time by an additional
convention, which either government might refuse to enter into, and
that would defeat the claims not acted upon.

3. The time allowedforthe payment of the awards. This, it is objected,
is too protracted. The time stipulated for this pu^jpose in the convention
of February, 1853, was twelve months from the date of each award. The
time in the present convention is eighteen months from the date of each
decision. This government would have been willing to fix .the period at
twelve months, but, looking to the condition of our treasury, and acting
under instructions from the department, I thought it advisable to put it
at eighteen months. But either government will have a right to pay at
an earlier time if the claimants shall wish it.

4. That the claims of British subjects on the United States are sub-
mitted. This objection seems to me to be not only unreasonable, but
grossly unjust. It goes upon the ground, as I understand, that this
government have been knowingly false to their duty and have been gov-
erned by disreputable influence as concerns the causes which have given
rise to the claims of our citizens. To suppose that a government, alive
to its own honor as this government have ever been, would consent to
negotiate upon the hypothesis that they had forfeited it, is as absurd as
it would be insulting. How would our government answer the same
objection if urged by Great Britai);i against our right to have submit-


ted the claims of our citizens under such a convention? They would
consider it a degrading imputation, to be met at all hazards with a stern

But, independent of these considerations, the object being to settle at
the earliest period all the causes of difference between the two nations,
(a settlement caUed for by the obvious interests of both,) it would seem
to be manifest that they should all, as far as the claims are concerned, be
included within the convention. In no other way could the object be

I remain, with high regard, your obedient servant,

Hon. WiLLiAJSi H. Seward,

Secretary of State.

[From the London Times, February 19, 1&69. — ^Editorial.]

The news we publish elsewhere- this morning will show that the caution
observed with reference to the Alabama claims in her Majesty's speech
was not excessive. We were not led to expect an immediate settlement
of the question, but only encouraged to hope that a durable friendship
between Great Britain and America might be the reception of this
result of the negotiations carried on by three successiive governments.
The cordial reception of this sentiment in both houses of Parliament
fairly represents the feeling prevalent throughout this country, but we
hear with less surprise than regret that the Committee on Foreign Eela-
tions of the TJnited States Senate yesterday rejected the convention
almost unanimously. In spite of Mr. Eeverdy Johnson's repeated assur-
ances, we have never allowed ourselves to count too confidently on the
assent of the Senate to any treaty signed by President Johnson on the
eve of his retirement. That body is intrusted by the Constitution with
no merely nominal responsibility in such cases. The President can only
make treaties "by and with the advice of the Senate," and it is further
required that at least two-thirds of the senators present should concur.
After all that had passed, the republican majority might well grudge
Mr. Johnson the honor of any diplomatic triumph which could be reserved
for his successor. It appears, however, that a strong party in the United
States opposed the ratification on independent grounds. While some
writers and politicians exulted over the concessions extorted from
Great Britain, others complain that Mr. Seward had sacrificed the inter-
ests of his own country. A petition embodying this view was presented
by Mr. Sumner to the Senate in open session on January 30th. It was
signed by Mr. George B. Upton, a large ship-owner of Boston, and
alleged two chief reasons why the convention should not be confirmed.
The first of these objections is founded on the excessive time allowed
for making the award and carrying it into effect. It was provided by
the 7th article that ratifications should be exchanged within twelve
months from the 14th of January, 1869, being the date of the convention.
By the 3d article it was agreed that every claim should be presented
within six months (or nine months at latest) of the first meeting of the
commissioners, which was to be held "at the earliest possible period"
after their appointment. A final decision was to be given on every
claim within two years from the first meeting, but a further period of
eighteen months was fixed by the 4th article for the payment of any
sums of money found to be due. We are disposed to agree with Mr.
49 A c— VOL. in


Upton that under these provisions redress would have been too long
delayed. Two years may not be too much for the consideration of claims
and counter-claims dating back to 1853, but if the convention were to
be ratified at aU, it ought surely to have been ratified within much less
than a year; and if damages were to be paid, they might be paid within
much less than a year and a half.

Mr. Upton's second objection, however, was of a very different nature,
and one much more likely to have influenced the committee of the Sen-
ate. He protests against British claims upon the United States being
placed oh the same footing as American claims upon Great Britain.
He assumes that whatever injury may have been inflicted on our ship
owners by the negligence of his own government was inflicted without
malice, and in good faith. He not only assumes, but afterwards explic-
itly states, that whatever injury may have resulted to American com-
merce from the depredations of the Alabama and her consorts was
inflicted by the British government willfully and in bad faith. These
depredations he describes as "piracies committed by British-built,
British-manned, and British-armed vessels, by vessels and armaments
which left British ports under the protection of the British flag and
burnt American ships, and your memorialist's among the number, upon
the high seas, without taking them into a port for condemnation, and
without any action being taken upon the part of the said British gov-
ernment, when these atrocities were laid before it, to prevent the same;
but, on the contrary, these pirates were everywhere received with rejoic-
ing when visiting British ports; and when the notorious builder of one
of them boasted of the same in the British Parliament, of which he was
a fliember, he was received with cheers and expressions of satisfaction."
We have quoted this passage at length, both because we believe it to
state the grounds upon which the committee of the Senate has acted la
rejecting the convention, and because it well illustrates the confusion,
as we regard it, which obscures the ultra- American view of this contro-
versy. To assert that no action was taken by the British government
to prevent the equipment oi cruisers like the Alabama, in the face of '
such notorious facts as the seizure of the rams, is sufiiciently audacious.
But we do not speak of this ; we speak of the misconception involved
in connecting, for purposes of international arbitration, supposed breaches
of neutrality by a government with the supposed manifestation of
an unfriendly animus by its subjects. Far be it from us to excuse
the unseemly applause which greeted Mr. Laird from the conservative
benches on the occasion in question, or the sympathy with Captain
Semmes's enterprise which may or may not have been shown at Nassau
or any other colonial port. It is natural that such ebullitions should at
the time have aggravated the sense of injury received at the hands of
our government in the American mind; but it is unreasonable to make
them a part of the case against this country, or to insist on their being
mixed up with pecuniary demands. Long before the civil war broke
out, abuse of Great Britain was a favorite theme with the American
press, and would generally bring down a storm of cheers at a popular
meeting. Yet who ever thought of importing such an element as this
into the negotiations about Oregon or the Maine boundary, and who
would think of importing it into the settlement, contemijlated by this
very treaty, of British claims arising out of the Russian war? The more
the subject is considered, the more absurd and impossible will it appear
to found a substantive charge upon the confederate "proclivities"
avowed by individual British subjects.

The real defect in the convention was one to which Mr. Upton does


not seem to have called attention. It consisted, as we have before indi-
cated, in the want of a definite basis for arbitration. There is no use in
disguising this defect, since it would have become patent at the very
iirst sitting of the commission. The liability of Great Britaia must
essentially have been made to depend upon the old question whether or
not there was such a war in America as to justify us in recognizing the
southern confederacy as a belligerent power. It is tolerably clear, indeed,
that as no specific claim had ever been preferred, so none would have
been preferred, against us on this score. But, on the other hand, the
whole official correspondence between the two governments would have
been made evidence in the suit, and this correspondence embodies many
protests against "premature" recognition as a primary cause of the
gigantic proportions assumed by the insurrection. Now if this argu-
ment had been pushed to extremes, it would obviovisly have shaken the
whole ground of arbitration. If no war existed when the Alabama
escaped, or if it had been called into existence by our malfeasance, the
particular wrong involved in the failure of our government to arrest the
Alabama would be merged in a "prior and still more flagrant breach of
neutrality. K a war did exist, then, and then only, the commissioners
could have proceeded to deal on intelligible principles with the special
claims that might have been presented to them. This obvious defect
goes far to reconcile us to the rejection of the convention, and, in the
event of another being proposed, this point ought certainly to be cleared
up. For the present, however, we have nothing to do but to await the
proposals of the United States government. We have done our best;
we have gone to the very verge — if we have not transgressed it — of
national humiliation; the minister of the United States has wearied
every audience by the emphatic testimony he has borne to our anxious
desire to conciliate the country he represents; Mr. Seward has twice
expressed his approval of the convention the Senate has rejected, and, in
the consciousness of having made every reasonable concession, we must
now wait to see what mode President Grant will propose for the settle-
ment of the claims which have been admitted to form a fair subject for
friendly arbitration.

Mr. Johnson to Mr, Seward.
[Telegram per cable.]

Legation of the United States,

London, February 22, 1869.

Hon. Wttt. tam H, Sewaed, Secretary of State :

Has committee acted on claims convention, and how ? Answer.


Mr. Seward to Mr. Johnson.
[Telegram per cable.]

Department of State,

Washington, February 22, 1869.

Eeterdt Johnson, Esq., tfcc, tfcc, cfcc;

Senate committee are understood to have almost unanimously instruct-
ed chairman to report adversely. Eeport not yet made. Important
business accumulated.



[From British Blue Book, "North America," No. 1, 1869, p. 44.]

N'o. 31.

Mr. Thornton to the Harl of Clarendon.


Washington, February 22, 1869.

I have already had the honor to inform your lordship that the conven-
tion for the settlement of outstanding claims, signed by your lordship and
Mr. Eeverdy Johnson on the 14th ultimo, had been sent by the President
to the Senate for their approval.

I now learn that on the 18th instant, at the meeting of the Senate Com-
mittee on Foreign Eelations, its chairman, Mr. Sumner, brought forward
the above-mentioned convention, and, after making a short comment
upon its contents, and stating that it covered none of the principles for
which the United States had always contended, recommended that the
committee should advise the Senate to'refuse their sanction to its ratifi-

Six out of seven members of the committee were present, Mr. Bayard,
senator from Delaware, being absent; but his six colleagues, as I was
told, voted, without any discussion or observations, adversely to the con-
vention. It has consequently been represented as a unanimons vote
of the committee, though it was not really so.

Mr. Sumner was accordingly authorized to report in that sense to the

I have the honor also to inclose copy of a resolution adopted by the
legislature of Massachusetts protesting against the ratification of any
convention which does not admit the liability of England for the acts of
the Alabama and her consorts.

Resolution of MassacMtsetts legislature respecting claims convention.

Boston, February 19.

The following resolution, in reference to the treaty with Great Britain,
was introduced in the Massachusetts legislature to-day and referred :

Resolved, That the Massachusetts legislature, in general court assem-
bled, firmly believe that any treaty between England and America touch-
ing the premises aforesaid, which may be submitted now or at any
future time for ratification, which does not, by its terms, concede the lia-
bility of the English government for acts of her prot6g6s, the Alabama
and her consorts, will be spurned with contempt by the American people,

Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of StateCorrespondence concerning claims against Great Britain : transmitted to the Senate of the United States in answer to the resolutions of December 4 and 10, 1867, and of May 27, 1868 → online text (page 106 of 108)