No. 18.
Mr. Fish to General Schenck.

No. 184.]

Sir: It is unnecessary now to consider what action this Government might have taken with regard to the present phase of the Alabama claims question had the British Government calmly presented their views with respect to their construction of the Treaty in .relation to what are now familiarly called “the indirect claims.” The public discussion which they have thought proper to excite, and the discourteous tone and minatory intimations of some of the utterances of the ministry, impose upon the United States a different line of action from that which might have been adopted in response to a calm presentation of a different construction of the Treaty from that which is entertained by this Government, and of the apprehensions which the imagination of the British public seem to entertain of the possible magnitude of the award that may be made for that class of the claims.

Not doubting the correctness of the position which this Government has occupied, and fully convinced that the “indirect claims” were not eliminated from the general complaint of the United States, I am not disposed to question the sincerity of those who hold to the opposite view.

This Government is very anxious to maintain the Treaty and to preserve the example which it affords of a peaceful mode of settling international differences of the very gravest character.

Neither the Government of the United States, nor, so far as I can judge, any considerable number of the American people, have ever attached much importance to the so-called “indirect claims,” or have ever expected or desired any award of damages on their account.

They were advanced during the occurrence of the events of the cruisers’ depredations, and pending the excitement and the irritation caused by the conduct of Great Britain. They became more prominently associated with the case during the discussions attendant upon the Johnson-Clarendon Treaty, and its rejection; and it was impossible for the American Commissioners not to lay them as part of the American complaint, and as forming part of the American claims, before the Joint High Commission.

That they were not excepted to by the British Commissioners is no fault of this Government.

Being left in the complaint, and set forth, unchallenged, in the Protocol, [Page 476] (signed only four days before the signing of the Treaty, and when the Treaty was completed in form and substance, and was being engrossed for signature,) they could not be omitted from the “Case.”

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The United States now desire no pecuniary award on their account. You will not fail to have noticed that through the whole of my correspondence we ask no damages on their account; we only desire a judgment which will remove them for all future time as a cause of difference between the two Governments. In our opinion they have not been disposed of, and unless disposed of, in some way, they will remain to be brought up at some future time to the disturbance of the harmony of the two Governments.

The United States are sincere in desiring a “tabula rasa” on this Alabama question, and therefore they desire a judgment upon them by the Geneva Tribunal.

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In the correspondence, I have gone as far as prudence would allow in intimating that we neither desired or expected any pecuniary award, and that we should be content with an award that a State is not liable in pecuniary damages for the indirect results of a failure to observe its neutral obligations.

It is not the interest of a country situate as are the United States,, with their large extent of sea-coast, a small Navy, and smaller internal police, to have it established that a nation is liable in damages for the indirect, remote, or consequential results of a failure to observe its neutral duties. This Government expects to be in the future, as it has been in the past, a neutral much more of the time than a belligerent.

It is strange that the British Government does not see that the interests of this Government do not lead them to expect or to desire a judgment on the “indirect claims;” and that they fail to do justice to the sincerity of purpose, in the interests of the future harmony of the two nations, which has led the United States to lay those claims before the Tribunal at Geneva.

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I need not repeat to you the earnestness of the President’s desire to prevent a failure of the Arbitration, or any repudiation of a Treaty which is so hopeful of beneficent results, nor need I urge you to continued efforts, by all that is in your power, consistently with the honor and dignity of this nation, to bring about an honorable understanding between the two Governments on this question, which has been, as it appears to us, so unnecessarily and unwisely raised, to the imminent peril of an important Treaty.

I am, &c.,