Front Page Titles (by Subject) 87.: The Alabama Claims 6 MARCH, 1868 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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87.: The Alabama Claims 6 MARCH, 1868 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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The Alabama Claims
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 190, cols. 1190–5. Reported in The Times, 7 March, p. 7, from which the variant and responses are taken. In the debate on going into Committee, George John Shaw-Lefevre (1831–1928), M.P. for Reading, moved for “Papers Relative to the Negotiations with the United States Government for Arbitration of the Alabama Claims”
i think, sir, that no one can have listened to this debate without being ready to admit that it has elicited statements of a singularly gratifying and satisfactory nature, and it might have been hoped that we were approaching to a very great degree of unanimity upon the essentials of the question, had it not been for the two speeches of the honourable Gentlemen who have just preceded me, and who have revived points of International Law in connection with this dispute in a manner that would almost lead one to suppose they had not read very attentively the discussions which have previously taken place on the subject.1 I say this, with the more regret, because no fault can be found with the tone or feeling of either of those honourable Gentlemen; and in the case of the honourable Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sandford) an amount of good feeling towards America has been displayed which may perhaps surprise some who sit on this side of the House, but which does not surprise me. It seems to me that, in reviving these questions, those honourable Gentlemen have ignored the distinction which has been the fundamental and grand point on which the discussion has turned—I allude to the broad distinction which writers on International Law recognize between trade in contraband of war, and the use of a neutral country as a base of military and naval operations. (Hear, hear.) It is true, and has not been denied, that a ship-of-war might be exported from England to one of two belligerents with no more objection or violation of International Law than there would be in the case of exporting military stores; but in that case there was this condition—that the ship ought to go direct to the port of the belligerent for whom she is intended, without any intermediate hostile operations, and thence might go forth to carry devastation and destruction among the ships and commerce of the other belligerent. But what has been done in the case of the Alabama was very different from this. An emissary was sent by the Confederate States to make arrangements for the fitting out in this country of a naval expedition to levy war against the commerce of the North.2 The honourable and learned Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) appeared to think that that would be fair if both parties were allowed to be equally benefited;3 but practically both parties never can be equally benefited, for although the liberty may ostensibly be the same to each, the fact generally is that only one party needs it, and is benefited, while the other is not benefited. Again, if a neutral country allows its territory to be made the basis from which a hostile expedition can be fitted out, it permits this to be done in a place which the opposite party is not permitted to go to for the purpose of obstructing the operation. Suppose the Alabama had been fitted out in a Confederate port, it would have been in the power of the North, on receiving intelligence of this being the case, to have cut the vessel out of the harbour, or intercepted its departure, or to have bombarded and destroyed the dockyard in which it was under construction. But they could not do that in a neutral country, and consequently such a country, in permitting such a proceeding, would voluntarily have committed a breach of neutrality, by giving the benefit of its protection to a portion of the naval force of one belligerent against the other. (Hear.) As to the question whether this country can be required by a foreign country to enforce its own municipal laws, the honourable Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) has gone so far as to attach blame to the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs for allowing that question to be referred to an arbitrator.4 But I apprehend the noble Lord has assented to nothing of the kind. The question is not whether we have permitted a violation of our municipal law—with which foreign countries have nothing to do; the question is, whether foreign countries have a right to require of us the fulfilment of our international duties? It is on the ground of international duty, and on that ground only, that they can bring any complaint against us. The question is simply this—are we bound by International Law to prevent certain things from being done, and being so bound, did we do all we could to fulfil that duty? It may have been that we were under obligations to make fresh municipal laws if those in existence were not sufficient to enable us to fulfil our international duties. Without going any further into this question of International Law, I congratulate the House and the country on the fact, now so obvious, that the point at issue is an extremely small one. But if a very small point prevents the settlement of a very great question, the smaller that point the greater the reason for lamentation, and possibly for blame. I do not think there is much room in the present case for blame in any quarter, because this discussion, as well as the correspondence—and especially this discussion—has brought out evidence that the two parties to the correspondence have not thoroughly understood one another.5 (Hear.) The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) aas it seems,a has not thoroughly understood what the United States demanded;6 and, on the other hand, the United States Government has not thoroughly understood what the noble Lord refused. I apprehend that the United States have never demanded that the question whether we were premature in recognizing the belligerent rights of the Confederates, should be referred to the arbitrator. I do not think they have ever claimed that, or possibly could claim it, because they have never maintained that our recognition, even if premature, was a violation of International Law. I have seen it admitted again and again in strongly written statements of American writers, and even, I believe, in the writings of Mr. Seward himself, that our recognition of belligerent rights was a thing about the time of which we had by International Law a right to decide for ourselves.7 It was urged that what we did was unfriendly, precipitate, and even unprecedented in its precipitation; but I am not aware that it has ever been contended that by our act, unfriendly, precipitate, and unprecedented though it might have been, we committed any violation of International Law for which we owed them reparation. It has been observed by my honourable Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre), in his very able and conclusive speech, and it has also been repeated in the very valuable remarks of my honourable Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W.E. Forster), that what the Americans claim is that they should be allowed to use this early recognition as an argument to convince the arbitrator that the depredations of the Alabama would probably not have taken place at all, or not to so great an extent, if it had not been for this unfriendly act on our part.8 They contend that, inasmuch as they have a right to reparation on different grounds, they have a right to show that this conduct on our part has made the evil worse than it would otherwise have been. Whether this would be a good argument or not I will not say; but if it is a relevant one, they ought to be allowed to use it; and, if it is not relevant, why should you stipulate for its exclusion? If you are to stipulate for the exclusion of every frivolous or irrelevant argument, I fear that you will have a very long list of such stipulations. Surely anyone who is competent to arbitrate between two great States is competent to decide also what are relevant and what are frivolous arguments. I cannot help thinking that no impartial person would have any difficulty in allowing either side full liberty to introduce what argument it pleased, and that we might safely allow him to listen to this or to anything else that might be urged in aggravation of the claim against us for damages. Would it be worth while to exclude one fallacious argument when we cannot exclude all? We must leave some latitude, limited only by the check which the good sense and forbearance of the disputants on either side would impose upon them. The United States might stipulate on their part that we should not use irrelevant arguments, but they have not done so. (Hear, hear.) This, however, is only a part of the case; and perhaps I should not have risen if I had not wished to say how cordially I welcome those hints which have been thrown out by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley), and the observations which have been made by my honourable Friend (Mr. W.E. Forster) as to the possibility of our settling this question in some other way than by arbitration.9 Indeed, I do not very clearly see what arbitration is specially required for. The case is this—I believe there are few in this country now, and but for the last two speakers,10 I might have said I should hope there were none in this House—whatever might have been the case formerly—who were disposed to deny that we owed reparation of some sort, or in some degree, to the United States—it is quite clear that the noble Lord thinks so—and therefore this is not a case where we want arbitration. If we owe anything we must pay it, and what we want is some one to say, not whether we ought to pay, but how much. This would be best decided, not by an arbitrator, but by a mixed Commission. (Hear, hear.) The principal duty which this mixed Commission would have to discharge would be to investigate each particular claim, and to say what might be rejected altogether, and what had nothing particular to do with the depredations of the Alabama. It would have in fact to ascertain the real damage which the commerce of the United States had received from this act of negligence on our part in letting the Alabama leave our ports. I cannot but think that there is a great increase of good and friendly feeling on both sides. The noble Lord admits that the Americans are coming to more reasonable views, and with the great change of opinion which has taken place in this country I venture to think that there are now few people who do not believe that the arbitrator would decide against us, and that it would be extremely for the interests of the country that he should so decide. (Hear, hear.) In this state of things if some person—I will not say my honourable Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), but if any person not unacceptable to the Americans, were sent to them, and negotiations re-opened, if those negotiations began with an admission that we owed them reparation, and that the object was merely to ascertain what was the amount that was reasonably due from us, I cannot believe that there would be any serious difficulty in arriving at a settlement without going beyond the two disputants. I most earnestly hope that something of this sort was intended in the hint which Mr. Seward has thrown out.11 It is, besides, not unworthy of consideration, that the grand point is the settlement of what is to be henceforth the law of nations; and that question is settled, so far as we are concerned, the moment we admit that reparation is due from us. If we admit that we owe reparation for the depredations which the Alabama, without any bad intention on our part, was enabled to commit, then I apprehend that a question of International Law which was much disputed, and which may again be the subject of quarrel, will, so far as this country and the United States are concerned, be for ever settled. (Cheers.)
[The motion was withdrawn (col. 1198).]
[1 ]George Bowyer (1811–83), M.P. for Dundalk, cols. 1183–8, and George Montagu Warren Sandford (1821–79), M.P. for Maldon, cols. 1188–90.
[2 ]James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823–1901) had the responsibility for equipping and dispatching the Confederate cruising ships from Britain.
[3 ]Cols. 1184–5.
[4 ]For Sandford’s criticism of Stanley, see col. 1189.
[5 ]“Correspondence Respecting British and American Claims Arising out of the Late Civil War in the United States,” PP, 1867, LXXIV, 1–48, and “Further Correspondence,” PP, 1867–68, LXXIII, 1–10.
[6 ]Cf. Stanley, cols. 1168–78.
[7 ]William Henry Seward (1801–72), then U.S. Secretary of State, “Despatch to Mr. Adams” (27 Aug., 1866), in “Correspondence Respecting British and American Claims,” p. 4.
[8 ]Shaw-Lefevre, cols. 1163–5, and Forster, ibid., col. 1182.
[9 ]Stanley, col. 1178; Forster, cols. 1182–3.
[10 ]Bowyer and Sandford.
[11 ]“Despatch,” pp. 3–4.