Lord Stanley to Sir F. Bruce
Sir: I abstained in my despatch, No. 99, of the 2d instant, from making any observations on the communication from Mr. Adams, to which that despatch referred, in the expectation that I might receive from you some further explanation as given to you by Mr. Seward of the views of the American government on the subject.
Not having heard from you, I must conclude that Mr. Seward has not made you acquainted with the nature of his reply, sent through Mr. Adams, to your[Page 199]communication to him of my despatch, No. 54, of the 9th of March. I have nothing, therefore, beyond the brief statement made to me by Mr. Adams to guide me in dealing with Mr. Seward’s reply. In that reply Mr. Seward says clearly enough that the government of the United States cannot consent to a special and peculiar limitation of arbitration in regard to the Alabama claims, such as her Majesty’s government suggests; but from his next observation it might be inferred that the offer, as regards arbitration, made by her Majesty’s government in my despatch of the 9th of March, was understood to have applied only to claims arising out of the proceedings of the Alabama, to the exclusion of those arising out of the like proceedings of the Florida, Shenandoah, and Georgia.
It is important to clear up this point, and you will therefore state to Mr. Seward that the offer to go to arbitration was not restricted to the claims arising out of the proceedings of the Alabama, but applied equally to those arising out of the like proceedings of the other vessels that I have named. In the words of my despatch of the 9th of March, the matter at issue between the two governments on which Great Britain was ready to go to arbitration was “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 upon 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.”
It is most desirable that there should be no misunderstanding on this point, but inasmuch as Mr. Seward says that the government of the United States cannot give any preference to the Alabama claims over others in regard to the form of arbitrament suggested, you may inform Mr. Seward that there was no intention on the part of her Majesty’s government to give any such preference to the Alabama claims over claims in the like category.
That some such misapprehension exists on the part of Mr. Seward may, indeed, be further deduced from his statement, that while the government of the United States agree that all mutual claims which arose during the civil war between citizens and subjects of the two countries ought to be amicably and speedily adjusted, they must insist that they be adjusted by one and the same tribunal, with like and the same forms, and on principles common to all.
Now, the question of disposing of general claims in contradistinction to the specific claims arising out of the proceedings of the Alabama, and vessels of that class, has not hitherto been matter of controversy between the two governments, but has been mooted in its present shape by her Majesty’s government alone; and there is no such similarity between the two classes of claims as would admit of their being dealt with by the same process.
It may be, however, and her Majesty’s government would gladly learn that it was the case, that the government of the United States agree to waive the question of the alleged premature recognition of belligerent rights, and are satisfied to go to arbitration on the first or Alabama class of claims, provided that all claims whatever, on either side, arising out of the events of the war, are equally submitted to arbitration, so “that they may be adjusted by one and the same form of tribunal, with like and the same forma, and on principles common to all.”
This, however, from the nature of things, is impracticable. The one class on the specific claims, such as those arising out of the proceedings of the Alabama and such vessels, depends for their settlement on the solution of what may be called an abstract question, namely, “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 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 [Page 200] American citizens;” the other, or general class of claims, admits of no such narrow restriction. The number of claims in this class on either side may be great, the circumstances of each more or less different, and the points involved in them complicated in their nature and bearing; and on these grounds alone it is obvious that they cannot, like those of the Alabama class, be comprised within a single proposition applicable in principle to all, and bringing all within the compass of a single division of an arbiter.
The reply which Mr. Seward will return to your communication of this despatch will, it may be hoped, clear up the obscurity which rests upon the answer received through Mr. Adams to my despatch of the 9th of March.
Her Majesty’s government, you will say, abide by their proposals as set forth in that despatch. Within the limits set forth in that despatch they are prepared to go to arbitration in regard to the Alabama and such like claims, on the condition that, simultaneously with the reference of those claims to arbitration, an agreement is entered into between the two governments for the adjudication of general claims by a mixed commission.
I am, &c,
Hon. Sir Frederick W. A. Bruce, &c., &c., &c.