Lord Stanley to Sir F. Bruce

Sir: I transmit to you herewith a copy of Mr. Seward’s reply, which was communicated to me by Mr. Adams, on the 28th of January, to my despatch of the 30th of November, on the subject of the Alabama claims.

In this reply, as you will perceive, Mr. Seward restates and enforces the allegations made on the part of the United States in the previous correspondence on the subject of these claims, and again discusses the character of the vessels in whose depredations on the commerce of the United States the claims originate, the responsibility of the British government for the equipment and proceedings of those vessels, and above all, the liabilities incurred by the British government by reason of its recognition of the belligerent character of the so-called Confederate States.

It appears to her Majesty’s government that no useful result can be obtained by following Mr. Seward over these grounds. They have been fully discussed in the course of a long-protracted correspondence. No new light can be thrown on the subject-matter of dispute by reviving an exhausted controversy, or by reiterating statements and arguments elaborately maintained or disputed on either side. Such a course would be calculated rather to defeat than to promote the object which the British government, and, doubtless, that of the United States, has most at heart, namely, the amicable adjustment of the existing points of difference.

I will abstain, therefore, from any detailed examination of the statements in Mr. Seward’s despatch of the 12th of January, and will only, for the sake of historical accuracy, specifically allude to two points; in regard to the first of which it is to be observed, that whatever may be found in the confidential archives of the United States, the unpublished records of the British (foreign) office, as Mr. Seward designates them, do not, so far as I am able to discover, bear out the allegation that any influence was exerted by the British government to induce the authorities of the United States, in any quarter of the world, to relax their vigilance in detecting and bringing home to suspected parties attempts or intentions to infringe the municipal laws of England, or to evade her international obligations; and on the second point I must repeat, in accordance with my former argument on the subject, that the President of the United States, and not the Queen of England, is primarily responsible for the acknowledgment of the belligerent character in the so called Confederate States, and that, in recognizing the status of the so-called Confederate States as belligerent, the British government found itself associated with the greater part, if not the whole, of the maritime powers of Europe.

But I will not be led any further into a renewal of controversy on these or other points raised by Mr. Seward, and that not because I feel any doubt as to the possibility of maintaining the ground on which the British government have hitherto taken their stand, but because I feel that by doing so I should be more likely to retard than to advance a settlement of the real question at issue, namely, that of the liability of the British government to make good the losses occasioned to American commerce by the operations of confederate ships of war, in which British subjects are alleged at some time or other to have had more or less interest, and which in their character of confederate ships of war were at different times admitted into the ports of her Majesty’s dominions.

In my despatch of the 30th of November, I explained to you the grounds on which her Majesty’s government could not consent to refer to a foreign power to determine whether the policy of recognizing the Confederate States as a belligerent power was or was not suitable to the circumstances of the time when that recognition was made, but I at the same time expressed the willingness of [Page 192] her Majesty’s government to entertain in a friendly spirit any proposal which might be made to them by the government of the United States, to refer to arbitration other questions which might be at issue between the two governments in reference to the late’ war, and I desired you to invite Mr. Seward to state what were the precise points which, in his opinion, might be and ought to be so dealt with.

Mr. Seward, in his despatch of the 12th of January, while suggesting that it would be “not only easier but more desirable that Great Britain should acknowledge and. satisfy the claims for indemnity which we have submitted, than it would be to find an equal and wise arbitrator who would consent to adjudicate them” goes on to say that if her Majesty’s government should prefer the remedy of arbitration the United States would not object, but in that case “would expect to refer the whole controversy, just as it is found in the correspondence which has taken place between the two governments, with such further evidence and arguments as either party may desire, without imposing restrictions, conditions, or limitations upon the empire, and without waiving any principle or argument on either side.”

To such an extensive and unlimited reference her Majesty’s government cannot consent, for this reason among others, that it would admit of, and indeed compel, the submission to the arbiter of the very question which I have already said they cannot agree to submit

The real matter at issue between the two governments, when kept apart from collateral considerations, is whether, in the matters connected with the vessels out of whose depredations the claims of American citizens have arisen, the course pursued by the British government, and by those who acted under its authority, was such as would involve a moral responsibility on the part of the British government to make good, either in whole or in part, the losses of American citizens.

This is a plain and simple question, easily to be considered by an arbiter, and admitting of solution without raising other and wider issues; and on this question her Majesty’s government are fully prepared to go to arbitration; with the further provision, that if the decision of the arbiter is unfavorable to the British view, the examination of the several claims of citizens of the United States shall be referred to a mixed commission, with a view to the settlement of the sums to be paid on them.

But as they consider it of great importance, for the maintenance of good understanding between the two countries, that the adjudication of this question in favor of one or other of the parties should not leave other questions of claims in which their respective subjects or citizens may be interested, to be matter of further disagreement between the two countries, her Majesty’s government, with a view to the common interest of both, think it necessary, as you have already apprised Mr. Seward in your letter of the 7th of January, “in the event of an understanding being come to between the two governments, as to the manner in which the special American claims”which have formed the subject of the correspondence of which my present despatch is the sequel “should be dealt with, that under a convention, to be separately but simultaneously concluded, the general claims of the subjects and citizens of the two countries, arising out of the events of the late war, should be submitted to a mixed commission, with a view to their eventual payment by the government that may be judged responsible for them.”

Such, then, is the proposal which her Majesty’s government desire to submit to the government of the United States; limited reference to arbitration, in regard to the so-called Alabama claims, and adjudication by means of a mixed commission of general claims.

You will read this despatch to Mr. Seward and furnish him with a copy of it, as the deliberate reply of her Majesty’s government to his despatch of the [Page 193] 12th of January, and, in doing so, you will express to him the earnest hope of her Majesty’s government that their present proposal will be accepted by the cabinet of Washington in the spirit in which it is made.

I am, &c,


Hon. Sir F. W. A. Bruce, G. C. B., &c., &c., &c.