§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
, in rising to call attention to the failure of the negotiations with the United States Government for arbitration of the Alabama claims, and in moving for Papers, said, that in bringing forward this important subject he trusted it would not be supposed that he desired to take a course which would embarrass the 1151 future negotiations of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary with the Government of the United States, or which would add to the complications already existing between the United States and this country. Nothing could be further from his wish; if he thought so he should be silent. But, on the contrary, it seemed to him, and those with whom he had communicated, that some good might arise from the discussion of the subject, if it were conducted with candour and a due sense of responsibility. He would not ask the House to follow him through a long statement; but there were certain facts and dates with which he must trouble them. The earliest cause of complaint on the part of the United States Government arose out of Her Majesty's proclamation of neutrality, which was issued May 13, 1861, on the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown. It was not usual with us to publish the opinions of the Law Officers, and therefore we could not with certainty know what were the grounds for their decision; but looking at the facts which were then known it was not difficult to conceive them. The fall of Fort Sumter had taken place on the 14th of April, 1861, and was generally considered the commencement of the civil war in America. Long before that, however, seven of the Confederate States had organized a distinct Government, had made great preparations for war, and had virtually separated from the Northern States. The fall of Fort Sumter was followed two days afterwards by the proclamation of President Lincoln, calling out 75,000 men. That was followed by a proclamation from the Confederate States calling out 30,000 men, and inviting privateers to apply for letters of marque. Next day President Lincoln proclaimed his intention to blockade the Southern coasts, and to treat the crews of the privateers as pirates. These facts reached this country on the 3rd of May, and on the 4th they were published in The Times. It was not, however, till the 10th that an official copy of the proclamation reached the Foreign Office. On the 6th of May Her Majesty's Government announced in that House that they should recognize the South as belligerents, and on the 13th of May, as he had stated, the proclamation of neutrality was issued by the Government. The actual blockade was enforced by the North along a great portion of the coast of America by the end of April, and 1152 from that day forward there were in the Prize Courts of the North numerous cases of English vessels captured during the blockade, and of vessels of the Southern States captured on the high seas. It was not, however, until some little time afterwards that the Southern flag made its appearance on the high seas. It was the custom of the American Government to talk as if all the vessels which carried the Confederate flag had their origin in this country; but there were four cases of Confederate men-of-war or privateers which sailed from Southern ports before any one was built in this country. The first was a vessel called the Sumter, which escaped the blockade from New Orleans, and which, after capturing two prizes off Cuba, put into Trinidad on the 29th of July, 1861, nine days after the battle of Bull's Run. She was received there as a fully commissioned vessel of war, and was provided with coal and provisions. That was the first instance in which the Confederate flag had been recognized by the Government of this country. Another vessel, the Nashville, also duly commissioned in a Southern port, shortly afterwards sailed on a cruize of destruction, and put into English ports at various times. It was not till the following year that any complaint was made of a vessel being built and equipped in our ports. In the course of the winter of 1861–2 the Confederate Government sent over here a staff of naval officers with instructions to buy or build vessels of war, their main object being to embroil us with the North. They also raised a considerable loan, out of the proceeds of which these vessels were to be paid for. In due course, the Oreto, or Florida, was completed by Messrs. Miller and Co., of Liverpool. The American Minister having made a complaint in respect of this vessel, inquiries were made, and the then Collector of Customs of Liverpool, a gentleman who seemed on all occasions to have been easily misled, asserted his belief that she was intended for the Italian Government. She declared for Palermo, but she sailed direct for Nassau, there underwent some judicial investigation, then obtained a portion of her armament, and ran the blockade into Mobile, whence, in due time, she sailed as a vessel of war, burning and destroying every Federal vessel she fell in with. Shortly after the news of the escape of this vessel came to the knowledge of the American Government, they complained that another vessel was being built 1153 by the Messrs. Laird, and which was called the "290." Her Majesty's Government again referred to the Collector of Customs at Liverpool, who reported that this vessel was obviously a war vessel, that her builders did not deny it, and admitted that she was intended for a foreign government, but that they would not say for whom. On the 21st of July, 1862, affidavits were obtained by the American Consul throwing light upon her intentions. Among these was one from Passmore, who stated that he had been told by Captain Bullock, who engaged him, that the vessel was intended to fight the North. These affidavits the next day, the 22nd, were also sent to the Foreign Office by Mr. Adams, and on the 23rd the Solicitor to the American Government, Mr. Syramey, on calling at the Foreign Office, was informed by Mr. Layard that the Papers had been sent on the 22nd to the Law Officers. The hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), then Attorney General, had, on a previous occasion, told them that they reached him only on the 28th. During that interval they appeared to have been left with the Queen's Advocate, who, according to the routine of the office, would have given his opinion, and sent them on to the Attorney General. Unfortunately, at that very moment the then Queen's Advocate was suffering from a severe malady, from which, it was to be feared, he never recovered, and the result was that long delay. That fact had not hitherto been stated in that House, chiefly through the kind reserve of the hon. and learned Member for Richmond; but, as in a conversation between Lord Russell and Mr. Adams, reported in the American official correspondence, the delay was attributed to that cause, and as it was well known in the States, there was no longer any reason for that reserve. On the 28th, the Papers reached the Attorney General, who at once gave his opinion, and orders were sent to stop the vessel on the next day. Unfortunately, before the order arrived, or was executed, the builders got wind of it, and the Alabama got away by a stratagem, under pretence of a trial trip, without a clearance, and with a party of ladies and music on board; not without strong suspicion of treachery, the source of which, he believed was well known in Liverpool. She went to Port Lynas, near Beaumaris, where she received part of her crew, and then sailed to the Azores, where she was met by another vessel, from which 1154 she obtained the rest of her men and armament. When it was discovered that she had escaped, orders were sent to Queenstown and Nassau to detain her, but she avoided those ports, and when she put into a British port in Jamaica she was received as a properly commissioned vessel of war. From that time to the end of her career she never put into a Southern port; but she frequently received hospitality, sometimes of a demonstrative character in British ports. She burnt all her prizes, which she constantly decoyed by flying British colours; her crew was for the most part English, some of her officers were English, and she was paid for by money raised in England on the chance of the success of the South; her function was not to fight, but to burn and destroy and run away; she was a kind of firebrand, lighting the seas with bonfires of innocent merchant vessels. The damage she did was enormous; the like of such an enterprize had never before been known, and was scarcely possible until steam had given such a great advantage to steam vessels over merchantmen, which were for the most part sailing vessels. The name of that vessel, her cruize, her bonfires, her English origin and connection, the cheers of that House, he regretted to say, when an hon. Member boasted of his connection with her, and said he would rather be the builder of it than make the speeches which the hon. Member for Birmingham had made—all these had entered deep into the hearts of the American people, and had done untold mischief in raising ill-feeling between them and us. He supposed there were few now who would not look upon all those who were connected with that vessel as among the greatest malefactors of the age. Unfortuately, they were never brought before a criminal tribunal, and it was perhaps on account of their immunity that other similar attempts were made—some successful, others not so. He need not recall to the memory of the House the case of the ironclad rams, also built by Messrs. Laird. The Government by that time had learnt that if they followed the strict line they had pursued in the case of the Alabama—namely, of insisting upon strict evidence to connect the vessel with the South, and disregarding the surrounding circumstances of violent suspicion, the vessel would get away. In the case of the rams the Government overstepped the line of the law and detained them on their own responsibility pending further inquiries. It would be 1155 recollected that Lord Cairns made a fierce attack upon the Government for having taken that step, and only failed by 6 in defeating them. Was there a Member of that House, he wondered, who did not wish that the same course had been pursued in the case of the Alabama? Another vessel, called the Pampero, was also seized at Glasgow, and was condemned in the Courts there. At the close of the war she was restored to her owner, who responded to that act of kindness by immediately rushing into another similar enterprize; and under the name of the Tornado that vessel had done her best to complicate our relations with Spain. There was also a vessel called the Alexandra, which was detained. She underwent a judicial investigation, which unfortunately did not succeed; but he believed she had again on a subsequent occasion been arrested, and legal proceedings were still in progress when the war came to an end. Two other vessels, however, escaped, without, as far as he could learn, any information or complaint having been made by the American Minister; they were the Georgia and the Sea King, afterwards the Shenandoah. Both these vessels Bailed by stealth from our ports, met other vessels bringing guns and men to them somewhere beyond our jurisdiction, and then started on the same errand as the Alabama. In the case of the last vessel he should mention that a letter from the American Minister at Lisbon to his own Government showed that there was much to be said on the other side of the question as to the negligence of the American authorities. Writing from Lisbon in November, 1864, he complained that he was not kept informed of the whereabouts of the American cruizers, and said that if he had been he might have been able to stop the vessel. He said—It was well known in Liverpool that a steamer called the Sea King was to be converted into a hostile cruizer, and that another steamer called the Laurel was to proceed to an appointed rendezvous, with the armament to be transferred at a fitting opportunity. That information was in my possession long before either vessel left England; but every effort on my part to communicate with one of our vessels-of-war failed, mainly from the want of knowledge of their whereabouts, and the criminal enterprize succeeded, with abundant means at our disposal to prevent it.This letter made it the more extraordinary that no information was given to our Government before the vessel sailed. The vessels he had named constituted for a long inter- 1156 val the cruizing force, he believed, of the Confederate Navy, except, perhaps, two or three coasting privateers or some floating batteries, which never left their ports. The damage done by them was very great; they captured or burnt upwards of 200 merchant vessels, with cargoes valued at about £3,000,000. A considerable portion of that loss, however, fell upon English insurance companies, another portion fell upon this country owing to the enhancement of the price of oil and other commodities destroyed. But the damage to the Americans was not measured only by the loss of these vessels; their commerce fled their flags, freights rose so high in consequence of the increased rate of insurance that their vessels could not get them. Large numbers of their vessels were sold either really or collusively to us to be registered under our flag; what they lost we gained. In two years the foreign commerce of America carried under their flag fell to about one-third of what it was before, while that under our flag doubled. This, perhaps, not unnaturally, raised a suspicion in the minds of people in the North that the shipbuilders and shipowners of Liverpool were not even disinterested in the aid which they gave to the slaveowning South. Those only who had travelled in America since the war could, he believed, appreciate the harm which had been done by the cases which he had mentioned, or the extent to which ill-feeling had been roused in that country. This ought to be a reason for treating the question of the Alabama claims somewhat generously. He did not wish to exaggerate, nor was he prepared to assert that war would arise out of the matter; but it would afford the means of complication to agitators should disputes arise between the two countries on any other subject. He believed it was now the opinion of all classes in both countries that the Alabama question should be settled; and the only question was, what should be the terms of the proposed arbitration? He would next refer to the manner in which diplomacy had already dealt with the question. The first matter was the recognition of the belligerency of the South. Mr. Adams arrived in this country—which they must all regret he would shortly quit—on the very day the proclamation of neutrality was issued. His first task appears to have been to communicate with Lord Russell, and he expressed regret that the British Government had decided to issue that proclamation, which at once raised the 1157 insurgent States into belligerents. Lord Russell replied that the proclamation was due to the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown, and that, in recognizing the insurgent States as belligerents, no opinion was expressed on the merits of the war. Mr. Adams, while stating his readiness to assent to that view under other circumstances, intimated that the act appeared to be a little more rapid than the occasion actually called for. At a subsequent interview with Lord Russell Mr. Adams protested against the course pursued but in the diplomatic communications between the two countries no official despatch was to be found, protesting against the recognition of belligerency, or demanding its recall, or demanding satisfaction for it until a very recent period. Such was not the case in regard to the Confederate cruizers. No sooner was it known that the Alabama was capturing and burning Federal vessels than Mr. Adams made a formal claim against our Government for payment of the losses caused by this vessel, on the ground of its remissness and negligence in permitting the vessel to escape. In October, 1863, further information having been received of the number of vessels burnt by the cruizers, the correspondence on that point was resumed, and, in the course of that correspondence, Mr. Adams for the first time offered arbitration to the British Government, but nothing was said about the recognition of belligerent rights, the complaint being confined solely to the remissness of the Government in not maintaining the neutrality they professed, and in not putting the Foreign Enlistment Act into force, and thereby preventing those vessels leaving British ports. On that occasion he did not find that Lord Russell took notice of this offer of arbitration. The noble Lord simply met the claim of Mr. Adams and denied its justice. From that time the claims lay dormant for nearly two years, and when they were renewed in the case of the last vessel, the question of belligerency was then for the first time brought forward. In the course of the correspondence Lord Russell adverted to the claims made by Portugal against the United States in 1824, and pointed out how similar they were to those now made by the Federal Government on England; he also showed that the United States had taken the same line of defence then as England did now. His reasons for declining arbitration were that the British Government 1158 could not, with due regard to its dignity, agree to refer the question, whether it had not acted with due diligence and good faith; or whether the Law Officers of the Crown had rightly interpreted the Foreign Enlistment Act? The British Government, his Lordship added, was the guardian of its own honour, and must take its own Law Officers as the interpreters of the law. With this despatch the correspondence closed for some time. But at the close of 1865, President Johnson, in his Message to Congress, adverted to these claims and to the refusal of arbitration in terms at once so dignified and conciliatory that he must refer to them. He said—The formal accordance of belligerent rights to the insurgent States was unprecedented, and has not been justified by the issue. But in the systems of neutrality pursued by the Powers which made that concession there was a marked difference. British ships, manned by British subjects, and prepared for receiving British armaments, sailed from the ports of Great Britain to make war on American commerce under the shelter of a commission from the insurgent States. These ships having once escaped from British ports, ever afterwards entered them in every part of the world to refit, and so to renew their depredations. The consequences of this conduct were most disastrous to the States then in rebellion, increasing their desolation and misery by prolongation of our civil contest. It had, moreover, the effect, to a great extent, to drive the American flag from the sea, and to transfer much of our shipping and our commerce to the very Power whose subjects had created the necessity for such a change. The sincere desire for peace by which I am animated led me to approve the proposal already made to submit the question which had thus arisen between the countries to arbitration. These questions are of such moment that they must have commanded the attention of the great Powers, and are so interwoven with the peace and interests of every one of them as to have insured an impartial decision. I regret to inform you that Great Britain declined the arbitrament. … The United States did not present the subject as an impeachment of the good faith of a Power which was professing the most friendly dispositions, but as involving questions of public law, of which the settlement is essential to the peace of nations; and, though pecuniary reparation to their injured citizens would have incidentally followed on a decision against Great Britain, such compensation was not their primary object. They had a higher motive; and it was in the interests of peace and justice to establish important principles of International Law. The ground on which the British Minister rests his justification is substantially that the municipal law of a nation, and the domestic interpretations of that law, are the measure of its duty as a neutral; and I feel bound to declare my opinion, before you and before the world, that that justificatoin canno be sustained before the tribunal of nations. At the same time, I do not advise any present attempt at redress by acts of legislation, for the future friendship be- 1159 tween the two countries must rest on the basis of mutual justice.The Papers he had referred to were laid before Parliament in the winter of 1865. When Parliament met in 1866, Lord Derby stated in "another place" that he fully approved of the correspondence of Lord Russell and of the arguments by which he had supported the cause of England. In that House no objection was made to the course taken by the then late Government; only one or two Members having ventured to express incidentally their regret that arbitration had not been accepted. He himself, having a strong opinion on that point, had framed a Motion early in the Session of 1866, after consulting with a few who thought as he did, with a view to raising a discussion upon the subject of arbitration; and, having done so, he went about to see how it would be met by other Members of the House. He found that, if the discussion came on, it would elicit so strong an expression of disapproval of arbitration, especially from those who sat opposite to him—the Conservative party—that, after consultation with his friends, and especially with the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), he thought it better not to progress with it, feeling confident that the subject must come on again at some future time; and believing that it was unwise to commit the House too strongly against a course which he was satisfied would have to be taken. If anything at that time seemed more improbable than even household suffrage coming from a Conservative Government, it was that they should offer arbitration for the settlement of the Alabama claims. Their whole attitude and their speeches during the war appeared to render it impossible; but it seemed that office brought with it a great change and a sense of responsibility which was wanting before; perhaps, also, the two changes with respect to Reform and to the mode of looking at American questions were not so unconnected with one another as might at first appear. The hostility of certain parties in this country to the Federal cause was due mainly to a dread of its institutions—to an instinct that in the success of the North was involved the success of popular government. It was the homage paid to the force of American institutions. On the success of the North there followed an immediate necessity for an advance towards democracy here, and it was only right that it should be accompa- 1160 nied by a very different tone towards America. He had no desire to taunt hon. Members with either one change or the other—he rejoiced in both. They were both equally beneficial to the country as to hon. Members opposite. But it was right that in estimating our present position we should bear this change in mind. The first symptom of this change was to be found recorded in Mr. Adams's account of his first interview with the new Foreign Minister. Mr. Adams, writing to Mr. Seward, July 12th, 1866, speaking of his first interview with Lord Stanley said—His Lordship, in welcoming me, remarked that he presumed his sentiments towards the United States had been long well known to me. He had always favoured the cultivation of friendly relations with us, and it had been a cause of regret that they should have been at all endangered during the late struggle by ill-considered speeches made in Parliament.The apology thus given was certainly needed on behalf of some of the noble Lord's Colleagues; and he (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) could only wish, looking back at the four years of war, that the noble Lord had even occasionally used his great influence by speaking out his own views to remedy the harm caused by such mischievous speeches. The American claims, which had been dormant for more than a year, were again renewed in August, 1866. This time the question of recognition, instead of being treated as a collateral and apparently unimportant matter, now became the main subject of complaint. Mr. Seward's letter on re-opening the discussion was mainly occupied with it, and he treated the question of the maintenance of our neutrality as one of really subordinate nature. He said, August 27, 1866—While yet the civil war was undeveloped, and the insurgents were without any organized military force or a treasury, and long before they pretended to have a flag or to put either an armed ship or even a merchant vessel upon the sea, Her Majesty's Government, acting precipitately, proclaimed the insurgents a belligerent power, and conceded to them the advantages and privileges of that character, and thus raised them, in regard to the prosecution of an unlawful armed insurrection, to an equality with the United States. This Government has not denied that it was within the sovereign authority of Great Britain to assume this attitude; but, on the other hand, it insisted in the beginning, and has continually insisted, that the assumption of that attitude would be an injurious proceeding, for which Great Britain would immediately come under a full responsibility to justify it or to render redress and indemnity. Without descending on this occasion so far as to insist, as we always have insisted, 1161 that there was a deficiency of energy in the maintenance of neutrality, you may remind Lord Stanley that in the view which we have taken of the subject the misconduct of the aggressors was a direct and legitimate fruit of the premature and injurious proclamation of belligerency against which we had protested, and that the failure of Her Majesty's Government to prevent and counteract the aggressions of British subjects was equally traceable to the same unfortunate cause.The noble Lord, in a despatch to Sir Frederick Bruce three months afterwards, answered Mr. Seward. He met his argument strongly, and denied that recognition had been premature, and repudiated all liability for it. At the same time, he offered arbitration upon the other questions which had hitherto been in dispute. Lord Stanley, writing to Sir Frederick Bruce, says—On the other hand, they are fully alive to the inconvenience which arises from the existence of unsettled claims of this character between two powerful and friendly governments. They would be glad to settle this question if they can do so consistently with justice and national self-respect; and with this view they will not be disinclined to adopt the principle of arbitration, provided that a fitting arbitrator can be found, and that an agreement can be come to as to the points to which an arbitration shall apply. With regard to the ground of complaint on which most stress is laid in Mr. Seward's despatch—namely, the alleged premature recognition of the Confederate States as a belligerent power, it is clear that no reference to arbitration is possible. The act complained of, while it bears very remotely on the claims in question, is one as to which every State must be held to be its sole judge of its duty; and there is, so far as I am aware, no precedent for any Government consenting to submit to the judgment of a foreign Power, or of an International Commission, the question whether its policy has or has not been suitable to the circumstances in which it was placed.Mr. Seward accepted the proposal. Writing to Mr. Adams on the 12th of January, 1867, he said—If Her Majesty's Government, for reasons satisfactory to them, should prefer the remedy of arbitration, the United States Government would not object. The United States 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 side may desire, without imposing restrictions, conditions, or limitations upon the umpire, and without waiving any principle or argument on either side.Lord Stanley, writing to Sir Frederick Bruce, on the 9th of March, 1867, said—To such an extensive and unlimited reference Her Majesty's Government cannot consent; for this reason, among others, that it would admit, and, indeed, compel, the submission to the arbiter of the very question which I have already said 1162 they cannot agree to submit. The real matter in 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.The answer made by Mr. Seward to this despatch was unfortunately not given in full in the Papers before the House, but it was printed at length in America. There was only a reference to it in the letter written by the noble Lord to Sir Frederick Bruce. It was dated the 12th of August, 1867. The answer was this—The President considers these terms to be at once comprehensive and sufficiently precise to include all the claims of American citizens for depredations upon their commerce during the late rebellion, which have been the subject of complaint upon the part of this Government. But the United States Government in this view would deem itself at liberty to insist before the arbiter that the actual proceedings and regulations of the British Government, its officers and agents, towards the United States in regard to the rebellion and the rebels, as they occurred during that rebellion, are among the matters which are connected with the vessels whose depredations are complained of. … The President will be gratified if this explanation shall conduce to remove any of the difficulties which have heretofore prevented the two Governments from coming to the amicable and friendly understanding and arrangement which is so sincerely desired by both.The noble Lord replied to that despatch on the 16th of November. He said, writing to Mr. Ford—The language used by Mr. Seward appears to be open to the construction that it is the desire of the United States Government that any tribunal to be agreed upon might enter into the question whether the act of policy of Her Majesty's Government, in recognizing the Confederate States as a belligerent power, was or was not suitable to the circumstances of the time when the recognition was made. Her Majesty's Government cannot, directly or indirectly, depart from their refusal to refer to a foreign Power whether the policy of recognizing the Confederate States as a belligerent power was or was not suitable to the circumstances of the time when the negotiation was made.Mr. Seward declined the reference, subject to this restriction. No one who looked carefully at the last few letters could fail to perceive that Mr. Seward had made a considerable change in his position. At the commencement of that correspondence, Mr. Seward's main ground of complaint was our having recognized the Confederates as belligerents, whereas at its close he 1163 assented to the terms proposed by the noble Lord. It appeared to him that there were three stages in this correspondence. In the first stage Mr. Seward put the whole question upon the recognition of belligerency, all other questions being treated as incidental and unimportant; in the second, he offered to refer the whole correspondence, as it then stood, to arbitration; and, in the third, he accepted the proposition put by the noble Lord—namely, whether we were morally responsible for the damages occasioned by the Alabama, and stated that that proposition was sufficiently precise and comprehensive for his purpose. The difference between the first and last of these stages was very great, and he (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) could not but regret that the noble Lord had not left the matter there, but had thought it to be his duty to make special exception of the recognition question, which induced Mr. Seward to withdraw from the negotiation altogether. It was one thing to refer the question itself to an arbitrator, and another specially to except from the arbitration another subject, which might well be introduced as an incidental topic bearing upon the main question at issue. If the special exception were not made, it would be open to the other side to introduce the subject us an argument; but, at the same time, it would be equally open to us to object to its introduction as being irrelevant. In view of the nature of the whole question between the two countries, he could not but regard it as a mistake on the part of the noble Lord to require the total withdrawal of Mr. Seward and the American people from what he (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) considered a bad and false position. The noble Lord might have been satisfied with the concession that had been already made in the course of the correspondence, and it was a mistake to break in upon Mr. Seward with a special exception which he must have known would lead to the failure of the whole negotiation. Looking at the whole tone of the correspondence, it was impossible not to think that it was the intention of the noble Lord to bring the question to a point at which it was possible that arbitration could be agreed on both sides, consistently with the claims of one and the dignity of the other, and that at the last moment, becoming frightened at the position at which he had arrived, he made the special exception in question. The noble Lord had stated the question for arbitration to be, whether we were morally 1164 responsible for the damages caused by the Alabama? But what was the meaning of the word "morally?" It certainly required some explanation. Was the arbitrator to be at liberty to go beyond the ordinary strict rules and usages of International Law, and to extend the inquiry into the more vague regions of moral responsibility? If so, on what ground were we specially to except from arbitration a branch of the subject which the American people thought bore strongly upon the morality of the question? If the morality of the whole question was to come under consideration, he was not sure that it might not be for our advantage that the inquiry should be extended rather than limited; for he believed that the wider the view taken of the matter, the more would the morality of our position become apparent; while, if it was confined to the question of these vessels only, there was much to be said against the morality of our position. He did not, however, wish to express any opinion upon the main question in dispute. He had ventured during the last few years to differ from the opinions expressed by some learned authorities as to what our international obligations were, but he did not desire at the present moment to enter into that question. Two classes of objections had been raised to arbitration upon this question. It was objected, in the first place, that the question of recognition of belligerency was, in fact, so certain that it was not only not right to allow it to form the subject of arbitration, but that it ought to be especially excepted from arbitration; and, secondly, that the dignity of this country would not permit that question to be raised before an arbitrator. For his own part, he was so perfectly satisfied of the strength of our position on this question that he could not conceive an arbitrator deciding against us, or even holding that it was relevant to the more important question. He believed that war did actually exist at the time of our proclamation of neutrality, and if we required proof of the soundness of our position, it was to be found in Mr. Seward's despatches, and in the decisions of the American Law Courts in the numerous cases of vessels captured while breaking the blockade or seized upon the high seas as being the property of citizens of the Confederate States, in which cases the Supreme Court held that the proclamation of blockade was a proclamation of war, and that, in fact, the Northern States were themselves exercising bellige- 1165 rent rights. But, however, certain we might be upon the point, there were people on the other side of the Atlantic who were equally certain that we were wrong in issuing the proclamation, and that that error had a bearing in some way or other upon the more important questions at issue. After all, the main object of the arbitration was to remove serious grounds of dispute which existed between the two countries, and it would be unfortunate if, by the special exception of this one branch of the subject, there should remain any cause of irritation after the main question had been decided. Again, was certainty a sufficient ground for refusing arbitration, or for specially excluding a particular subject? He ventured to think that it was exactly these subjects on which both sides are equally certain which lead individuals and nations into the worst quarrels, and in these arbitration was most necessary. The House should recollect that only two years ago everybody was equally certain about the main question in dispute, us they now are upon the subject of recognition. Able writers who then laughed to scorn the American claims had now learned to doubt about them, and to find that it was our interest to go to arbitration about them. In view of this change might not Americans say that it was due rather to a sense of our own interest than to any desire to do justice to them; and may they not also think that another year or two may make further changes in our views at least as great? As to the question of dignity, the American Government did not, as he understood, desire that the proclamation of neutrality should be made a question before the arbitrator, but merely that it should be introduced as a topic for discussion, and he could not understand how the dignity of this country could be compromised by this question more than by the more important subject being brought before the arbitrator. He did not advance these views in consequence of an exaggerated feeling of alarm either for the present or for the future. He did not believe that these claims would result in war, although, no doubt, if not disposed of, they would remain as a source of irritation which would render it difficult to settle other matters of difference which might arise in future between the two countries. He was aware there were persons who said that Mr. Seward had raised this difficulty merely for the purpose of deferring a settlement of the matter, and that the Americans would be only too glad 1166 to find us at war, in order that they might prey upon our commerce by means of vessels like the Alabama. He did not altogether share in that opinion. It was certainly true that in a moment of irritation the Lower House of Congress had passed a Bill to bring their Foreign Enlistment Act into accord with their views of the legal interpretation which our lawyers had put upon ours. But the better sense of the country came to the rescue; it appealed to the honourable past of their country as regarded neutrality towards England, and it pointed out that our Foreign Enlistment Act was in fourteen different items more strict than theirs; it showed that, although they complained of our remissness in some cases, they had in others obtained the detention of formidable vessels which might have prolonged the war; it pointed out that it was neither honourable nor logical, at the same time to complain of our breach of neutrality, and to reduce their own Act to the same level at which they considered ours to be. He believed that we might look forward to the Government of the States honourably endeavouring to fulfil its obligations in the event of our finding ourselves at war; but then, unless the Government was supported by an almost overwhelming public opinion—a sense of duty among its merchants—its efforts would be of little avail, and less there even than here. We felt these difficulties. They would feel them still more. The action of their citizens against Spain and Portugal showed to what extent they might be led, and then it would be that history would repeat itself in a vicious circle which public law ought to prevent. Then, again, should we be perfectly satisfied if the same strict line of interpretation was followed to us—namely, the insistance of direct and positive evidence connecting the building of war vessels with the belligerent Power, even in cases where the surrounding circumstances were of the most suspicious kind, and where no information was given as to the real destination of the vessel—a requisition which, in fact, was the real cause of the Alabama going out, but which, in the case, of the rams, was not insisted upon, although he regretted to say it was again followed by the present Government in the case of the Cyclone and the Tornado? At this very moment a Commission was sitting to report whether any changes ought to be made for the purpose of giving increased efficiency to our laws, and bringing them 1167 into full conformity with our international obligations. Suppose that Commission reported that it was desirable to alter our laws in conformity with our international obligations, and to give greater force to them, how should we then stand? Should we find that other countries would take their line of conduct in future from our new finding, or would they not rather take it from our action when neutrals? International Law was made up mostly of precedent and usage, and he feared there would be no later precedents than those of the Alabama and the Tornado. Either we had done right or wrong; either we had fulfilled all our international obligations, or we had not; and it was in the interest of the world at large that this question should be determined; because, if we were right, then, by common consent of nations, some change should be made so as to prevent for the future such scandalous cases as those to which he had had to advert; if wrong, then a precedent would be removed which, as it stood, threatened to create trouble, and dispute, and ill-feeling between other nations, as it had between ourselves and the United States. But there was a higher object in view even than that—namely, that we should set a great example to other nations, by doing that which, by our invitation, was resolved upon at the Congress of Paris—substitute arbitration for that process of war which might determine which was strongest, but not which was right. Above all that, we should adopt that rule with regard to a country with which we had so much in common of blood, religion, language, and Government, and with which we had not one real interest that was antagonistic. He regretted that the noble Lord lost the opportunity which he believed had been offered for arriving at a settlement of this question. He believed it might be regained; and if the noble Lord could then avail himself of it he would earn and receive the thanks of the people of both countries.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copy of any further Papers relative to the Negotiations with the United States Government for Arbitration of the Alabama Claims,"—(Mr. Shaw-Lefevre,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
Sir, I think it due to the hon. and learned Member who has brought this subject forward, and who has dealt with it in so clear mid condensed a manner, to acknowledge that he has said nothing which is calculated to increase any feeling of international irritation that may still remain, or to aggravate those diplomatic complications which have unfortunately arisen. In one portion of his remarks I cannot help expressing my cordial concurrence—I mean in the tribute which he has paid to the high character and accomplishments of the existing United States Minister in this country, whose services, unfortunately, we are about to lose. No man has ever had a more difficult part to play than Mr. Adams, and no man, as far as I am enabled to judge, could have played it with greater judgment, temper, and discretion. It is not my duty or my wish to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman into that portion of his speech which related to the conduct of Lord Russell and his Colleagues. Lord Russell had many difficulties to encounter, and he has friends and representatives in this House who will be prepared to vindicate anything that may be said in criticism of the steps taken by him. My business is rather with the present aspect of the controversy than with past policy. I certainly regretted that the hon. and learned Member should in one part of his speech have displayed a slight tinge of partizanship, which to do him justice, he generally succeeded in avoiding. The hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to regard it as extraordinary that a Conservative Government should have consented to refer this question to arbitration, and seemed to think that a change had taken place in our opinions consequent on our change of position. Upon that point I must say—though I do not want to revive old points of controversy—that I think it would be very difficult to point out one single word in any speech made by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury or by myself which could show that we had pre-judged the issue to be raised before the arbitrator. I do not put myself forward as having been in this contest a partizan of the Northern cause. I have always thought that it was not our duty to throw ourselves in a parti- 1169 zan spirit into the internal disputes of foreign countries. I hold that we are bound to give both sides fair play, to apply, as far as possible, the same rules of International Law to both; that we are bound to do that, and having done that we are bound to do nothing more. I suppose it is almost unnecessary for any person who occupies the place which I hold to make professions of his desire to settle this controversy if possible. England can have nothing to gain by keeping it open, and has a great deal to gain by closing it. We have vast commercial relations with the United States, a long line of conterminous frontier; we come across one another, so to speak, in every part of the globe; we have on both sides an enormous load of debt, which neither can wish to increase. We can do each other incalculable harm, and I believe it is equally the wish, as it certainly is the interest, of both nations to remain on amicable terms. I need not, therefore, say that we want to arrange this matter if we can, nor do I think in the present state of the question any difficulty arises from the state of popular feeling in England. So far from that being the case, undoubtedly the change from the predominant sentiment of the years between 1860 and 1864 is so strong that, if I may venture to say so, I think I have detected a tendency on our part to be almost too ready to accuse ourselves of faults which we have not committed, and to assume that in every doubtful point the decision ought to be against us. I do not deny that, as the world goes, that is an error on the right side. Indiscriminate resistance to reasonable demands is mere folly and mischief; but indiscriminate concession to all demands, merely because they are strongly urged, whether they will bear the test of argument or not, is a course which, in the end, is equally likely to lead to inconvenience. What we have to do is to try and find out what are the strict rights of the case, to state the case so ascertained temperately and fairly, to endeavour to do justice as far as we are concerned, and, having done that, to appeal frankly and confidently to the existence of a corresponding spirit in those with whom we have to treat. Now, Sir, there never was a case in which it was more desirable to define accurately what are the points to be settled than the one with which we are now dealing, because, upon the other side of the water, and perhaps upon this also, the 1170 question has been complicated by all sorts of grievances, to the nature of which the hon. and learned Gentleman slightly referred—grievances which I will not call unreal, and which I do not say are unfounded, but still grievances of such a vague and general character that we should find it very hard to define them. I do not complain of this, but merely refer to it as a fact. If we were Northern Americans we should probably entertain pretty much the same feeling. Men who have emerged from a civil war, in which they sacrificed a million of lives, and incurred £500,000,000 of debt, are not for some little time in a position to appreciate with perfect coolness the conduct of those who were in the position of critics and lookers on in the quarrel. I am not now saying whether in my judgment our course was in every instance one of rigid neutrality; that is the very point we are endeavouring to ascertain by arbitration. But if our neutrality had been the most rigid and most absolute it is possible to conceive, there can be no doubt that we should have fallen short of the expectations of the people of the United States. What they expected from us at the beginning of the contest was, not neutrality pure and simple, but neutrality so far as all material assistance was concerned, coupled, however, with a strong moral sympathy and support. Where such a feeling exists and is disappointed, as it certainly was in this case, it is obvious that the disappointment so produced will find vent in some shape. I mention this because it is the key to a good deal of the exaggerated tone of writing and speaking which has been observable on the other side the Atlantic in the earlier stages of this controversy. And in that point of view I do not regret the time that has passed. On both sides we can discuss the matter very much more calmly and fairly in 1868 than we could in 1864. Passions of the moment pass away, but facts and arguments remain. And, happily, as the case now stands, the controversy, though still pending, is reduced within the narrowest possible limits. Upon the disputed questions of fact and law, questions upon which it was not likely, if possible, that the two Governments could come to an agreement, we are of one mind so far as this, that we know we cannot agree, and therefore we are prepared to abide by the decision of a third and presumably impartial power. The principle of arbitration, as far as we are concerned, is accepted; and I may 1171 say is accepted on both sides, for we differ only upon a point of detail. That is a very important step gained. I am not making it a matter of complaint that it was not gained before, for I recognize most fully that, in a case of this kind, time makes many things easy which were not so at first. We have conceded almost everything that was asked for when this dispute began. I think I am right in saying that if it had been possible to grant a limited arbitration, such as we have now proposed, when it was first asked, the question of the alleged premature recognition of belligerency never would have made its appearance. It was incidentally mentioned, but that was all; but by a peculiar process, which I do not altogether pretend to explain, that grievance, whatever its value may be, seems to have been gaining importance in the minds of American statesmen, and of the American public, just in proportion as on this side of the water has grown up a feeling of desire to remove all other causes of difference. The sole point unsettled between us is this—"You are willing," the United States say, "to refer to arbitration the question of the Alabama and other kindred vessels; are you willing to include as a point in the reference the question whether you were right or wrong in recognizing the Confederates when you did?" To that the answer we have given in substance is that, as at present advised, we cannot see what bearing the two things have on each other. For all practical purposes, as bearing on the events of 1862, you might as well include the question, whether we were right or wrong in the war of 1812? There are some persons who do not accept that view of the case I will therefore endeavour to explain what my view of the question is. I suppose that no human being will contend that at no period during that prolonged struggle of four years the Confederates had become entitled to belligerent rights as such. That pretension has never been put forward. But if they were belligerents at some time, and not so when recognized as such, what was the time when they first became invested with that character? Take a date that will test the question. If ever they were belligerents, I suppose they were so after the celebrated battle at Bull's Run. They had then a large force in the field, for a time at least they had achieved a military superiority, and, Washington itself was threatened by their armies. Suppose we had recognized the 1172 Confederates after that battle, would any human being have found fault with us? Could anyone have charged us with being precipitate in our recognition? And had we done that how would it have affected the Alabama question? The Alabama escaped in April, 1862; Bull's Run was fought in July, 1861. If I had chosen to take that line of argument in my des-patch it would have been competent for me to contend in this way:—"I grant we were wrong in recognizing the Confederacy when we did; we ought to have done it in August, and not in May. We were six months too soon. But having admitted that, will you, the American Government, tell me how your case as regards the Alabama would be in any way affected if we had done what you contended we ought, and made the recognition six months instead of twelve months before the Alabama sailed?" It is on this ground of irrelevancy that I rest more than that of national dignity. But there is another objection to a compliance with the United States demand that this question of recognition included. Would any arbiter deal with it? That is a point on which I find considerable doubt. Arbitration, as we proposed it, was simple in character and not difficult to deal with. Given two belligerents, given a neutral Power, the problem to solve is—has that neutral Power fulfilled faithfully and effectually the obligations imposed on it by International Law? Now, granting that International Law is sometimes vague and uncertain; granting that new circumstances occur not met by precedent, and that much must be left to the discretion of the arbiter, that is still a question governed in the main by recognized international principles, and on which a friendly Government would not be unable, and probably not unwilling, to pronounce a decision. But if you complicate the matter by adding to it a question of a totally different character, as to whether a certain political act, the recognition of a belligerent, was or was not suitable to circumstances under which the Government was placed, what rule is there to go by? Is it a matter of precedent or moral justice? Are political considerations included also? It is contended that recognition was premature, but premature in what sense and for what purpose? No one will deny that this was a matter affecting us as an independent State, and that we were not merely entitled but bound by the necessity of the case to use our own dis- 1173 cretion. That doctrine of freedom in such matters has been insisted on, curiously enough, by no parties more strenuously than by the United States Government themselves. I will cite two out of many cases. In 1849, only twenty years ago, the United States Government proposed to recognize Hungary, then in a state of insurrection, not merely as a belligerent, but to recognize the revolutionary Government of Hungary as an independent State. The Austrian Government complained, as was natural, and a correspondence ensued. It was conducted on the American side by Mr. Webster, certainly not the least able or eminent of American statesmen, and Mr. Webster's reply was in these words—That if they had done so, though the step would have been precipitate, and one from which no benefit would have resulted, it would not, nevertheless, have been an act against the Law of Nations, provided they took no part in the contest against Austria.Does not that utterance go immeasurably further than anything which has come from us? Such is the doctrine distinctly put forth by a distinguished American statesman. I will cite another case. In 1836 Texas was fighting for independence from the Mexican Republic. The question arose about the admission to New York of a vessel bearing the Texan flag. The United States Government defended the admission of these vessels, and in the course of their argument they used some remarkable words, which I should like to read. They begin by saying that from the beginning of the revolution South American vessels had been admitted under their own or any flag to the ports of the United States, and that the same rule had been observed in civil wars between the various States. [MR. ROEBUCK: Who is the writer?] The Foreign Minister of the day; and he goes on—It has never been held necessary as a preliminary to the extension of the rights of hospitality to either party" (meaning of course the admission of ships of war to the rights of belligerents) "that the chances of the war should be balanced, and the probability of eventual success determined. For this purpose it has been deemed sufficient that the party had declared its independence, and at the time was actually maintaining it.Had not the South declared its independence in May, 1861, and was it not maintaining it? In face of these claims put forward by the United States Government to absolute freedom of action in such a 1174 matter, I confess I do not see that it can be reasonably contended by them that an independent State, acting as it necessarily must on its own discretion, should be called upon to pay a pecuniary fine, even although its discretion had been unwisely used. Put it the other way. Suppose we had not recognized the South at the time we did, or we had not recognized it at all—suppose fortune had turned in their favour, and they had succeeded in establishing their independence, would you say that the Confederates were entitled to call us to an account for not having recognized them early enough, and by such delay having injured their prospects? So stated, the question seems absurd. But if we are responsible one way we are responsible the other. If damages are to be given for premature recognition, as injuring one side, why not for tardy recognition as injuring the other? And then in what a position is a neutral Power placed whenever a war breaks out? This is not a question for the moment only. It is a question of general International Law; it is a question which will create a precedent; and we are bound not merely to do what is convenient for the moment, but to consider the effect which our derision may have on the future. The ground on which I rested in limiting the arbitration, as I proposed to do, was first, that the United States propose to us a matter for arbitration which is irrelevant to the issue; secondly, that the irrelevant question was one to be decided by considerations of State policy, and not of legal obligation, and therefore is incapable of receiving legal solution; thirdly, that the United States Government, in sundry parallel cases, had absolutely refused to admit any responsibility for adopting a similar course; and lastly, that I believe no one would undertake to arbitrate on a case so entirely vague and undefined. I will not now argue the case on its merits, as far as recognition is concerned, for this reason, that I quite agree with the hon. and learned Member who brought forward the Motion, that the strength of our case is no reason for refusing to arbitrate upon it. But I may just observe that in recognizing the Confederates as belligerents at the time when we did, we were simply declaring on May 13 a state of things to be civil war which, in three or four official documents of earlier date, since published, Mr. Seward, on the part of the United States Government, himself declared to be such. These 1175 documents were not private letters, but State Papers, which have been laid before Congress, and printed by authority; they bear date nine, twelve, and sixteen days before the Queen's proclamation. I will read only one, and that shall be brief. On the 4th of May, nine days before the issue of the Queen's proclamation of neutrality, Mr. Seward writes in these terms—The insurgents have instituted revolution with open, flagrant, deadly war, to compel the United States to acquiesce in the dismemberment of the Union. The United States have accepted this civil war as an inevitable necessity."—[Correspondence relating to Foreign Affairs, accompanying the President's Message to Congress in December, 1861, p. 165.]I should be sorry to say anything that would even look like want of courtesy to the eminent and accomplished diplomatist by whom this correspondence has been conducted, and, than whom, no man in the United States has probably greater ability or larger experience. But, if the question were one which we could discuss face to face, I should venture to ask Mr. Seward, whether he could with gravity call upon me solemnly to refer to the arbitration of some neutral Power, of some third party, this question—whether we, the British Government, had a right on the 13th of May to declare that to be civil war which in various documents, all bearing dates antecedent to the Queen's proclamation, he, Mr. Seward, himself had christened by that name? Let it be noted also that the highest Court of Law in the United States, in a passage which has often been quoted, declared the state of things which then existed to be a state of war; and another argument, familiar to all who have studied the subject, is that if there were no war there was, of course, no blockade, and we might claim damages for every blockade runner captured. Claims such as these would mount up to an almost inconceivable total, and I really cannot think that the statesmen of the United States would be willing to let in these enormous claims for the sake of insisting upon a point which practically and in its immediate application is not important, though I admit that indirectly it may have considerable importance. I am glad to believe—and there can, I think, be no doubt—that as there has been a great change of feeling here within the last two years, so on the other side of the water a corresponding change is taking place now that the question is better understood. I saw a very remarkable article the other day, 1176 which was quoted from one of the leading journals in the United States. The passage is very brief, and I shall read a few lines of it. The New York World of the 18th of February said—"The Times" (meaning, of course, the New York Times) "concurs fully in the three great points which we made:—first, that there is not the remotest chance that any arbitrator likely to be chosen would undertake to say that the Queen's proclamation of neutrality was a wrongful act; second, that this particular question is incapable of being made a subject of arbitration; and, third, that it has nothing to do with the merits of our real claim.The New York World treats this as a remarkable admission. And I must say that the fact of such an admission having been made in a leading journal in a country which, perhaps, more than any other is governed by public opinion as it finds expression from day to day in the newspapers, is an encouraging sign. I do not wish to detain the House; but I think I have said enough to show that the proposed conditions of the reference were not arbitrary or capricious—still less were they such as I have seen it hinted out of doors that they were—mere devices to evade referring the matter to arbitration at all; but that they were founded on an intelligible and, I think, sound principle. If the negotiations have been for a time, I will not say broken off, but suspended, the House will see that the rupture or suspension did not come from our side. We made our offer, and it has been declined. According to ordinary usage, it is now for the complaining party to speak, and if they do not like our plan of arrangement, to propose their own. Something was said by the hon. and learned Member as to our language being varied at different stages of the negotiation. It is difficult to remember with accuracy all the arguments which have been put forward in a long controversy; but I can answer for it that my own ideas on the subject never varied. [Mr. SHAW-LEFEVRE: I said that Mr. Seward's language varied.] Oh, very well, then I will pass that matter over. I am very glad that the hon. and learned Member, with his recent American experience, agrees with me as to the general character of the feeling that exists in that country. I have indeed heard it said, "You ought to settle this matter at once, or you will have a quarrel." I am as anxious to settle it as any man in any part of this House can be; but I do not believe in the likelihood of the quarrel. 1177 I have never concealed my opinion that the American claimants, or some of them at least, under the reference proposed by us, were very likely to make out their case and get their money. To us the money part of the affair is inappreciably small, especially as we have on our side counterclaims, which, if only a small portion of them hold water—and you never can tell beforehand how these matters will turn out—will reach to a considerable amount, and form a by no means unimportant set-off to the claims preferred against us. But I think if matters were fairly adjusted, even if the decision went against us, we should not be disposed to grudge the payment. The expense would be quite worth incurring, if only in order to obtain an authoritative decision as to the position of neutrals in future wars. If, therefore, the Alabama claimants are kept out of what may be due to them, they ought to understand, and I think they will understand, that it is not by the act of our Government that this has been done. And though party politics may run high in the United States, I will not believe that any party can be so reckless or insensible to the interests of their own country as to engage in a quarrel—possibly ending in a great and costly war—for the sake of enforcing in one particular way a claim which it is in their power to settle, and probably to settle in their own sense, without any recourse to violence. To do so would be not only contrary to the reasonable views which the American people are in the habit of taking of political affairs, but would be, in the French phrase, for which no English equivalent exists, enforcer une porte ouverte—breaking open a door that is not locked. I cannot but think that in some way, directly if not indirectly, and I am not inclined to be very fastidious as to the form—the United States Government may be induced to join in measures which may lead to an arrangement. If they decline to do that, it remains to be seen whether any other solution of the question in dispute can be found. Mr. Seward, in these Papers and in communications I have received from him through Mr. Adams, has more than once thrown out hints with respect to something in the nature of a General Commission which should deal with all the outstanding questions of all descriptions between the two countries. I have verbally, and through Mr. Adams, suggested that he should develope that idea. Speaking as an individual, and 1178 without prejudice to what may be done in the future, I should have thought that International questions were better settled one by one; but I am not disposed to reject any reasonable mode of bringing about a settlement; and if we can agree in substance on any mode of bringing about a solution, I do not think either the Government, the House, or the country would be disposed to stand out upon a mere matter of form. Before I sit down I may say that the reception of the new British Minister at Washington has been not only friendly but cordial, and everything leads me to think that the feeling in the United States towards England is decidedly improving. Now, having stated the facts of the case, and stated them as briefly as I could, I shall leave the matter to the judgment not only of this House and of this country, but of all fair and impartial persons on both sides of the Atlantic.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
most sincerely thanked the noble Lord for the tone of his speech. He did not pretend to be more anxious for peace between England and America than other hon. Members; but he was anxious for it, and he could not conceive any remarks more likely to remove the irritation between the two countries than those offered by the noble Lord. He believed that the difficulties which existed were not so great as had been imagined. The hon. and learned Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) made use of too strong an expression when he said that the negotiations had failed. If that had been so, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) should have deeply regretted it, not merely on account of our relations with America, but because he wished to see the principle of arbitration carried out, and he thought that a precedent for it might have been established in the present case. The state of things was simply this. Mr. Seward wished to bring before the arbitrator the question of premature recognition of belligerent rights, and the noble Lord said that he should not allow him to do so. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) did not for a moment sympathize with the American Government in their claims against this country on account of what they called this premature recognition; but he must say that he did not think that the ground upon which they based their claim was precisely that stated by the noble Lord. He did not think that the American Government said anything so absurd as that there was no civil war existing when the proclamation 1179 of neutrality was issued; but what they said was that though there was war going on in America, there was no war raging at sea, and that it was not our business, as a neutral Power, to take notice of what might happen but had not yet happened—a naval war, and that by our proclamation of neutrality as between naval belligerents we hastened the time at which the naval war broke out. That was no doubt an unsound position; but still it was held by a vast number of men, and by men of considerable intelligence, in the United States. It was nowhere so well stated as in the first official despatch relating to recognition of belligerency which passed between the two Governments. It must be remembered that, though Mr. Adams, in his first interviews with Earl Russell protested against this recognition, yet that his first despatch on the matter was written so recently as April, 1865, in which the ground upon which he put the matter was that it was wrong to acknowledge the South as a belligerent "before they had a single vessel of their own afloat." It was necessary this should be borne in mind, because the wish of the House and the country, in their present temper, was to understand the position taken by the United States Government on this subject. He thought, however, that he could give, from his own personal experience, some little ground for believing that the United States Government were mistaken in that position, though, certainly, it was more intelligible than that generally attributed to them. At the time that the neutrality proclamation was issued by our Government he personally was very much interested on behalf of the North. He felt that a war was beginning upon which would depend whether slavery—the greatest curse that ever afflicted the human race—should be extended all over the American Continent, or should receive its deathblow. He was not ashamed to acknowledge that in that war he was a partizan of the North. Having that feeling, he heard that letters of marque had been sent by Mr. Davis to this country; and the question arose how British subjects could be prevented from having anything to do with those letters of marque. He took the best advice he could get, and was told first that vessels sailing under these letters of marque would be pirates; and he believed that fifty years ago they would have been so considered and treated by England. Before, however, taking any step3 to impress that view on the House, he consulted the work 1180 of Wheaton, a great American authority upon International Law, and he found that in his book the law was stated in most distinct terms. Wheaton said—Until a revolution is consummated, and while the civil war continues, any neutral Government that wishes not to help either of the parties must treat the Government de facto as a State entitled to the rights of war.Upon reading this he felt that if he had come down to the House and said that these vessels should be treated as pirates, he should be at once met with the authority of Wheaton for saying that they were entitled to belligerent rights. Still, there was the question, how vessels under letters of marque were to be prevented from leaving our shores; and he himself asked the Government on the 9th of May, 1861, what steps would be taken to prevent the infringement of the law by British subjects? It was in answer to this question that Sir George Lewis for the first time stated that a proclamation of neutrality would be at once issued; and that that would set forth the law, which in general terms was, that no British subject should take part in such a war. This proclamation, therefore, was considered by many not as unfriendly towards the United States, but rather as the only way in which British subjects could be prevented from entering into the war; while, however, he by no means sympathized with the convictions of Mr. Seward in reference to the proclamation, yet he could not but think that the noble Lord had somewhat misunderstood the position Mr. Seward took upon the subject. In his closing des-patch on the 29th of November, 1867, Mr. Seward said that—We are now distinctly informed by Lord Stanley that the limited reference of the so-called Alabama claims which Lord Stanley proposes is tendered upon the condition that the United States shall waive before the arbitrator the position they have constantly maintained from the beginning, that the granting of belligerent rights to the insurgents was not justified on any grounds either of necessity or moral right. This condition being inadmissible, the proposed limited reference is declined.He did not understand Mr. Seward's position to be that the question whether what had been done was according to the Law of Nations should be referred; but to complain that before entering upon arbitration with regard to the Alabama claims he was to be compelled to waive his conviction, repeatedly expressed, that the proclamation was premature, and contrary to International Law. It would have been too much to 1181 expect the noble Lord to give up his opinion on the matter; but, on the other hand, he could hardly expect Mr. Seward to concede that the proclamation was called for by the necessity of the case. If he had said, "I refer the two questions, first, whether there is any money due in reference to the Alabama ships, and also, whether we broke the law by granting belligerent rights," it would have been open for us to say "We will not refer this last question," but what the noble Lord said was, "We will not refer the other matters to arbitration unless you acknowledge yourself to be wrong in reference to the ground that you have been constantly taking with respect to the proclamation having been premature and contrary to International Law."
said, he did not require that. He only said he objected to have that a question before the arbitrator.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he believed that Mr. Seward thought that if he entered upon the arbitration he must acknowledge that the assumption that he had made that the proclamation was not called for was a wrong one; and that the noble Lord should not have enforced any such conditions. He did not know why we should have refused arbitration even if Mr. Seward had desired it on the question of recognition; for we had the strongest possible case, and all the noble Lord's arguments might have been brought before the arbitrator instead of as reasons why the arbitration should not be assented to. If arbitration was to mean that which he believed was the intention of the Powers who were parties to the Treaty of Paris—and which he hoped would be acted upon in future—an attempt to decide a question in dispute between two nations by means of the decision of a third party rather than by war or a threat of war—then the fact that we were confident as to what our right was was no ground for not arbitrating, and consequently, if Mr. Seward had desired to refer this question, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) did not see why his wish should not have been admitted. But at any rate at the end Mr. Seward did not ask for this, and the hon. Member for Reading was right in saying that his last despatch bore a different meaning from his first one. He said first that the United States would expect to refer the whole controversy such as it was found in the correspondence, and this might be supposed to include the question of recognition; but after the noble Lord's reply Mr. Seward took different ground or so defined his first 1182 statement that it bore a different interpretation. He then said that he must be at liberty to insist before the arbitrator that all the proceedings of the British Government towards the United States in regard to the rebellion are among the matters connected with the vessels whose depredations are complained of. He thought that what Mr. Seward meant was that he should have the right to allege the recognition as an argument in favour of the claims made; and he (Mr. Forster) could not see why he should not be allowed to do so. He thought that Mr. Seward's argument would be a very bad one, and, of course, the noble Lord's representative at the arbitration would have had a right to say that the argument was not relevant; and, indeed, he believed that the representative of the United States at the arbitration would have felt that the argument was so bad that we should never have heard of it again. It was very much to be regretted that after Mr. Seward had taken up this position he should have been called on by the noble Lord to eat his own words; but after all he hoped that what had happened was only a hitch in the settlement, for he could not but believe that some means of settlement would be found. Everybody in England, and the large body of influential persons in the United States desired that the matter should be settled. He believed that there was no party in the United States that did not desire this except the Fenians. If it should turn out that he was right in the supposition that the American Government only wanted to make use before the arbitrator of certain arguments, he hoped that the noble Lord would not object to their doing so; but would allow those arguments to be used, reserving to himself the right of disproving them. They should further consider whether arbitration was the only means of settling the matter. Tremendous injury had been inflicted on American citizens by means of the attacks upon their ships, and if the present misunderstanding was not settled upon a principle which would carry with it the feeling and moral sense of both countries, there was reason to fear that whenever we engaged in war, we would suffer in the same way. What naturally came forward under these circumstances was the wish that International Law should be so arranged that in future the inhabitants of both countries should be prevented from carrying on private war. And if America 1183 should say, in answer to that proposition, "You must first make recompense for what has passed," why should not that matter be considered? If the two countries—the greatest maritime nations in the world—agreed to some international or municipal law which would prevent the escape of these pirate vessels for the future, we might be quite ready to give indemnity for the past. The noble Lord had alluded to the proposition of Mr. Seward. There were now several questions in dispute between the two countries, and it was impossible to believe that a willingness on the part of Her Majesty's Government to settle them, would not be responded to by the Government of the United States. He could not but think that if any statesman of high position in England were sent to America by the noble Lord, with power to arrange all the matters in dispute, they could all be arranged. He repeated that there was no party in England that did not wish for a settlement, and he believed that there was no such party in America, except those irreconcileable enemies of ours whose only hope lay in such questions remaining unsettled; and if we could get rid of these questions we should strike a greater blow at Feminism than by anything else which we could do.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, that the hon. Member who had just addressed the House had assumed that the question of the Alabama involved that of the carrying on of private war by the subjects of one country against another country. For his own part he was unable to see the justice of that view. But his object in rising was to call attention to one aspect of this subject which, in his opinion, had not been sufficiently considered. He referred to the bearing on the Alabama question of the doctrine of International Law, with respect to contraband of war. Some persons supposed that the doctrine established what they termed a conflict of right, because on the one hand private persons are allowed to deal in contraband of war, while on the other belligerents have a right to condemn that contraband of war. Now, with all due respect for those authorities who held this view, he must express his opinion that to talk to a jurist about "conflicting rights" was about the same thing as to talk to a mathematician of a triangle the three angles of which were greater or less than two right angles. For to prevent any man from doing that which he has a right to do is not the exercise of a right—it is a 1184 wrong. What, then, was the real principle of the most important doctrine of International Law in regard to contraband of war? He need not quote authorities on this point, because the law was so clear. The principle was that no Government was bound to make itself responsible for the ordinary trade of its subjects when that trade was carried on with belligerents. If that principle were not laid down, it would be extremely difficult, and, perhaps, impossible for a Government to maintain neutrality. The sale of a stand of arms or a barrel of gunpowder would compromise the neutrality of a country; and it would, therefore, be necessary for every country, when a war was going on in any part of the world, to keep an inquisitorial surveillance over the whole trade of its subjects—though practically it would be almost impossible to carry out such a surveillance. It was in order to avoid this inconvenience that the doctrine of International Law had been established in regard to contraband of war—namely, that the subjects of a neutral country might carry on trade with a belligerent, as if no war existed; while on the other hand the belligerent might seize on the high seas anything which was contraband of war. And for the more clear understanding of that right it had been the habit of belligerents to publish at the commencement of a war a declaration enumerating the articles which they would consider to be contraband of war. Vattel stated the doctrine clearly in a few words, in Book III., chapter 7, of his Work on International Law. He said—If a nation trades in arms, timber, ships, munitions of war, I cannot complain that it furnishes these things to my enemy, provided it does not refuse to sell those articles to me at a reasonable price. It exercises its traffic without intention to injure me, and by continuing that traffic as if I were not at war it gives me no just cause of complaint.Anything more completely in point it would be difficult to find. Now, let us apply this clear principle, not only of International Law, but of sound common sense, to the case of the Alabama. The States of the South being at war with the States of the North, sent to certain eminent shipbuilders at Liverpool a commission to build a ship according to specification. No doubt the specification showed that the ship was to be used for a warlike purpose, but that was precisely the case contemplated by Vattel. These people traded in ships in the ordinary course of their trade, and were as much at liberty to sell a ship 1185 to the North as to the South; and it was not their duty to consider whether the vessel were intended for warfare or for the peaceful operations of commerce. But the Northern States had their remedy. All the Northern States had to do was to capture the Alabama and to condemn her as contraband of war. What had the English Government to do with the Alabama? They were not bound to keep a surveillance over all the shipbuilding establishments in this kingdom. All that the English Government had to consider was that they would have been guilty of a breach of neutrality if they had allowed one belligerent to purchase ships and had prevented the other doing the same. It was only by perfectly impartial conduct towards both belligerents that England could be expected to preserve her neutrality. Now with regard to the Foreign Enlistment Act it seemed to be assumed on one side that that Act made an alteration in the position of England, with respect to International Law; but that could not be maintained by a tittle of sound legal argument. If the Foreign Enlistment Act could be enforced only by the action of Government, then the comity of nations might have required that the Government should have taken action in the matter of the Alabama, stopped the ship from leaving Liverpool, and punished those who had violated the Act. Even then, however, it would have been for the English Government to have considered whether it would enforce the law or not, because it is a universal principle of public law, founded on the exclusive sovereignty of every Government, that within its own territory no country is bound to enforce its municipal law at the dictation of a foreign Government. This was the distinction between municipal law and a treaty. If the Foreign Enlistment Act had been a treaty with the United States, then the British Government must have enforced the provisions of it; but the Foreign Enlistment Act was a municipal law; municipal laws were made for municipal purposes; and it was the right of every Sovereign State to consider, with reference to its own interests and the object its legislature had in view, whether it would or would not, in any particular instance, enforce its own municipal laws. The Foreign Enlistment Act was not one of those Acts which could be enforced only at the instance of the Government. Any British subject or any foreigner could go intoa Court of Law and call for its enforcement; and the Crown would lend 1186 its name to any prosecutor under this Act. It was true that power was given to the principal officers of Customs to detain a vessel; but that did not impair the statement of the law he had made. It was perfectly competent for the American Minister or Consul or anybody whatever to go before a magistrate and lay an information against a shipbuilder, and ask for a warrant against him and all concerned in a breach of the law. Thereupon, these persons would have been apprehended, and the principal officer of Customs, in discharge of a purely minsterial duty, and in obedience to a warrant issued by a competent authority, would have detained the ship. It appeared to him that the Government of this country ought to have said to the Minister of the United States—"We do not wish to undertake an unlimited responsibility with regard to the dealings of the trade of our subjects in contraband of war; but in any matter which may involve a violation of one of our municipal laws go you into a Court of Law and lay your information before a magistrate. You will receive redress, and the law, as laid down by judicial authority, will be put in force by the Executive." That was the course Her Majesty's Government ought to have taken; but the Government of the day committed a great error—an error which gave them the appearance of being responsible. They took action in the matter; they telegraphed to Liverpool, and sent down persons to stop the Alabama; and by doing so they made themselves appear to be responsible for the trade of the shipbuilders. They appeared to renounce the right which every Government has of saying, "According to the rules of International Law we are not bound to interfere with the trade of our subjects, and when our subjects do trade with belligerents, in things which are to be used for warlike purposes, it is for the other belligerents to take their own remedy by capture." But although the Government of the day committed a mistake by interfering in this matter, that did not really alter the merits of the case. What the Government did was a work of supererogation; they did more than they were bound to do, what they were not obliged to do, and might have declined to do. With all respect to the Government of the United States, it appeared rather hard, when the English Government stepped forward and did what International Law did not peremptorily require them to do, that they should be made responsible for a slip and a failure in doing what they intended 1187 to do. No doubt, it was unfortunate after the British Government undertook to stop the Alabama that it should have escaped; but that was an accident. The Government of the United States had not imputed fraud or dishonesty to our Government. Whether somebody did or did not betray the secrets and intentions of the Government was immaterial—the Government stood guiltless in the matter. They took action, and did what they were not bound to do for the enforcement of the Act; and there the matter ended. The United States Government could have no fair and reasonable ground of complaint. He had laid this argument before the House, because this was a part of the question which had not been sufficiently ventilated. He agreed with the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) that the temperate and quiet discussion of the matter might probably promote a solution of the difficulty, and he was sure there was no one who did not wish to see the matter settled in such a manner as to satisfy even the Government of the United States. The feelings of the people of this country were friendly towards the United States, and he believed it was a mistake to suppose that Conservative Members of the House were less friendly to the United States because they entertained some dislike for the institutions of that country. The question, whether the recognition of the South as a belligerent ought or ought not to be included in the reference was one rather for the Crown than for the House of Commons. It was a question of policy depending upon a number of circumstances and facts which were best known to the Government and those who had conducted negotiations. There was a considerable degree of doubt upon the subject, and, that being so, the House would act unwisely if it expressed an opinion on one side or the other. If the question of the recognition of the South were referred to arbitration, he believed it would be decided in favour of this country. In saying this he could not give entire assent to some of the arguments adduced from the Treasury Bench, and by those who took the view of the Government. It had been supposed that by the very fact of the establishment of a blockade the Government of the United States precluded themselves from denying the quality of a belligerent to the South. That was a mistake; because there was a well-known doctrine of the Law of Nations called that of "unilateral war," which implied 1188 that one side might claim all the rights of belligerents without conceding similar rights to the other side; and no doubt that doctrine would be urged if the question of recognition went to arbitration. It was a doctrine of rather a subtle nature, and only known to those who had given considerable attention to the subject of International Law; and it was one that was strongly urged by no less an authority than Bynkershoek, who supported it by forcible arguments. It was not clear, as some speakers had-stated it, that the doctrine might not be urged successfully against us if the question were referred to arbitration.
§ MR. SANDFORD
felt indebted to the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this subject for having elicited from every Member who had spoken a desire of maintaining the friendliest relations between this country and the United States, and a readiness to do everything consistent with national honour. That feeling was shared, he was confident, by every Member of the House. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. B. Forster) had referred to the future. Now, he hoped that when we came to consider the future relations of maritime Powers, it would not be merely with a view to an agreement between England and the United States, but that a Congress of all the great maritime Powers would be called, so that the municipal law of each country might be modified in accordance with the principles which that Congress might determine. He should not have risen, but that it appeared to him that the hon. and learned Member who had brought this question forward (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) did not seem to be aware of the grounds upon which the case on the part of the United States could be urged. The hon. Member seemed to think that the United States complained of the sending forth of the Alabama as a violation of International Law. Now, it was clear that any citizen who chose might send out an armed vessel for the South, just as another might send arms to the North, there being in each case the liability to capture as contraband of war. The only ground which they could take was either malâ fides, or a lax administration of the law. He presumed they would adopt the latter course. Had the Alabama, however, been seized on starting, it would have been a questionable act, and might have rendered the Government liable to damages; the opinion of no less an authority than Lord 1189 Cairns being that such an act would be a straining of the law. It would only have been the case of the Alexandra over again. If, on the other hand, only municipal law had been violated, there arose the question, who were the best judges of our municipal law? Surely the Law Officers of the Crown. This was the principle laid down in the despatch of Lord Russell, which had been quoted, and adopted by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn when he came into office. He had no wish to find fault with the noble Lord's policy, because the noble Lord (Lord Stanley), he was sure, had been actuated by a sincere wish of maintaining friendly relations with the United States; but it seemed to him that he had assumed a heavy responsibility in admitting the principle of submitting to arbitration the question of a lax administration of municipal law by the Executive, for at some future time it might bring upon this country a serious liability. It would be in the memory of hon. Members that some years ago the Austrian Government called our attention to the fact that an extensive fabrication of Hungarian notes was going on in this country. The English Government took action upon the matter, but too late, and the notes went forth, and were employed for the purposes of the Hungarian rebellion. Now, on the noble Lord's principle, we might have been held responsible for the injury sustained by Austria through that rebellion. Whether the principle was right or wrong he would not say; but it was a perfectly new one in International Law, and might involve disagreeable consequences on some future occasion. Within the last few months he had met a great number of Americans, and they seemed animated with a good feeling towards England; but he had found that, though perfectly reasonable and moderate on every other subject, they became very excited the moment the Alabama claims were mentioned. This indicated a deep-seated feeling of injustice, the existence of which was much to be deplored, and he could not but think that, if a little time were allowed for feelings of irritation to subside, negotiations might be resumed in a calm spirit. Should they be resumed, he would offer a suggestion to the noble Lord with respect to the choice of a negotiator. He should not recommend any noble Lord, for he did not believe the Americans were such snobs and flunkies as they were sometimes supposed to be; indeed, he was sure they were not one- 1190 tenth part so guilty as ourselves. There was one man who, he thought, was especially suited to the post—a man whose name was a household word throughout the United States, as the staunch friend of that country—he referred to the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). [A laugh.] The hon. Gentleman who laughed could not have properly considered the question, for what was the object to be sought in selecting a negotiator? Was it not that the negotiations might arrive at a speedy and successful termination? Well, who was so likely to bring that about—who was so likely to conciliate our opponents as the hon. Member for Birmingham? The suggestion might not find favour with some hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Bench, but he believed it would find great favour in the country. The appointment of one who had always shown a friendly spirit towards the United States would go far to remove the feeling of injustice under which the Americans now laboured, and he would be able, if any man were, to carry the negotiations to a satisfactory termination.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
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 hon. 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. I say this, with the more regret, because no fault can be found with the tone or feeling of either of those hon. Gentlemen; and in the case of the hon. 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 hon. 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 1191 and naval operations. 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. The hon. 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; 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. As to the question whether this country can be required by a foreign country to enforce its own municipal laws, the hon. 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. But I apprehend the noble Lord has assented to nothing of the kind. The question is not whether we have permitted a 1192 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. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) has not thoroughly understood what the United States demanded; 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. 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 1193 we owed them reparation. It has been observed by my hon. 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 hon. 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. 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. 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 hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) as to the possibility of our settling this question in some other way than by arbitration. 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 1194 last two speakers, 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. 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. In this state of things if some person—I will not say my hon. 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. 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 1195 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.
Sir, the observations which I have to make are very few, and they will be strictly confined to the points before the House. I cannot, however, allow the debate to close without expressing my obligations to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) for the very temperate and able manner in which he brought this subject before the House. I am bound, also, to express my obligations to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on account of the statement which he made, and the spirit in which the whole of that statement was conceived. That was a spirit of the most thorough equity, both to those who preceded him in office, and to those with whom he has come in contact during these very difficult negotiations. In referring to the proceedings of Earl Russell he fairly stated the difference made by time and circumstances in the nature of the very same proposal and in the way of handling it, when it proceeds from the very same parties. Bearing that in mind, I think I may admit that the noble Lord, when he determined to make his proposal for arbitration, exercised a wise discretion, and, without in any degree compromising the honour of this country, took a step that was likely to lead to the termination of a difficulty of a very serious character. I listened with great respect to the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and there was one very material portion of that speech in which I concur. I am not able to understand from the Papers before the House on what precise point it was that the negotiations came to a close. My hon. Friend, however, put his construction upon the expressions used by Mr. Seward in declining to waive his title to bring a certain question before the arbitrator. That construction is entirely different from the construction of the noble Lord. I must own that in reading these Papers—having no other sources of information open to me than those which are open to my hon. Friend—I am not able to decide what was really the meaning of Mr. Seward, and in what manner he intended to treat the question of belligerent rights when it should come before the arbitrator. If he intended to obtain the judgment of the arbitrator upon the question, whether 1196 we were justified in our recognition of the belligerent rights of the South, then that is one aspect of the case. But if Mr. Seward intended to treat it as a matter of collateral illustration, and to show incidentally the mischief which resulted to the United States as a consequence of that act, or to show that we were not sufficiently alive to our duty as neutrals, then the question would assume quite a different aspect. I own that if the effect of the speech of the noble Lord had been to leave us without any prospect of the practical resumption of the negotiations, I should have regarded with very great pain and regret what appears to me to be an ambiguity quite beyond any power of solution by us. My hon. Friend who has just sat down may be right in the construction which he puts upon the words of Mr. Seward. If we look narrowly at the words of Mr. Seward in his letter of the 29th of November, 1867, we find that all he refuses is to waive by a preliminary admission his title to contend before the arbitrator that the Queen's proclamation was not justified. I think I may proceed with safety so far as to congratulate the noble Lord on the effect which he evidently had produced on the mind of Mr. Seward between the date at which Mr. Seward first proposed to refer the whole controversy as it originally stood in the Papers, and the date at which he made the comparatively limited claim that he should not be required by a preliminary admission to waive his contention before the arbitrator that the matter of the Queen's proclamation is relevant to the main issue. I am bound, however, to say that, in one opinion expressed by my hon. Friend who has just spoken, I am not able to concur, and I notice it simply because it is not desirable that a misunderstanding should exist on a point of fact. I understood my hon. Friend to say that he thought there were no—or at least but few—Members of this House who would hesitate to admit that reparation, in some form or other, is due from us to the United States in the matter of the Alabama; and he treated the speech of the noble Lord as having conveyed on the part of the noble Lord the admission that, although we might go before the arbitrator, it would be with the expectation that the arbitration would be against us. I confess, Sir, that, whether rightly or wrongly, I did not so understand the speech of the noble Lord. But whether I understood rightly or wrongly the 1197 noble Lord's speech, I must frankly own that, although I shall be thoroughly satisfied if this question can be brought before the judgment of a tribunal more impartial than our own, yet I certainly am not prepared to make the admission which my hon. Friend thinks will universally and without question be made,—that reparation is due from us to America in the matter of the Alabama. The question of whether any what may fairly be called laches can be charged against us in the case I take to be the very question which is to be referred. But, undoubtedly, if we are all of opinion, or if the great majority of us are of opinion, that the arbitrator is to decide against us, the meaning of that is that we are of opinion we have committed an international wrong; and if we have committed such a wrong, then we ought not to go before the arbitrator at all, but we should by our own vote and by our own action tender reparation. I do not at all wonder that the Government of the United States should feel that they have ground for complaint in the case of the Alabama. But on the other hand, I confess it appears to me than when we go before an arbitrator—if we do go before him—we may do so with a perfectly good and clear conscience, prepared to contend that if any failure or miscarriage has occurred—and some failure or miscarriage did occur—it was a failure or miscarriage of such a nature as is necessarily incidental to all administration of laws by human hands, and that we may very fairly and with perfect honour abide the issue, whatever it may be. I confess, also, that I am afraid—if I rightly understood my hon. Friend—that he was rather sanguine in his assumption that by admitting the claim of the United States to compensation for the damage inflicted by the Alabama we should ipso facto secure the settlement of these difficult and controverted questions of International Law for the future. I own it seems to me that if any such general settlement is to be had, in the first place it cannot be had through the mere reference of any disputed question arising between England and the United States, and confined to them alone. A great question of International Law no authority can suffice to rule without the concurrence of all the Powers, or, at any rate, all the principal, and especially all the important maritime, Powers of the world. Therefore I think we must be very careful lest we should assume the 1198 matter which is in the hands of the noble Lord to be one admitting of easier settlement than it will really be found to be. What is in truth the construction to be put upon these letters is a matter which we could not now critically pursue, even had we less confidence in the judgment and the intentions of the noble Lord than I am happy to admit is the case. This, at least, I think I am perfectly safe in saying that we were all glad to hear the closing sentences of the noble Lord's speech. From those closing sentences I infer that although this correspondence may have dropped in the special and particular form in which it appears before us, yet the friendly and amicable prosecution of the question has not dropped at all, and that there is now in the hands of Her Majesty's Government a communication from the Government of the United States, which communication is likely to be developed and pass into its further stages, and which will be, or, at least, may be effectual, as far as we can judge from the manner in which it has been begun, for the settlement of this question. Sir, if that is so, I can only say I think that while, on the one hand, we have every reason to believe that the honour and the interests of this country will be safe in the keeping of the noble Lord, the noble Lord on his part may rest perfectly assured that there will be in every part of this House, as well as among every class of the people, a disposition to strengthen his hands as far as may be in our power, and to encourage him in the prosecution of a difficult, an arduous, yet a most honourable task—namely, that of bringing to an amicable conclusion a controversy which, if unfortunately it took an unfavourable turn, would lead to consequences too disastrous to be dwelt upon for a moment. I can therefore with satisfaction only repeat the acknowledgment to the noble Lord personally for the fair manner in which he treated this question with respect to his predecessors, as well as to those with whom he is in communication, with which I commenced the few remarks that I have made.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.