HL Deb 04 June 1869 vol 196 cc1227-35

who had given notice to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copy of any treaty concluded between Her Majesty's Chief Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of the United States Government of North America respecting the so-called Alabama claims, be laid upon the Table of the House, said, the object of the Notice which I laid upon your Lordships' also before the Whitsun Recess, and which stands for consideration to-day, having been fully accomplished by the product ion of the Papers in question, it remains for me only to offer a few words in explanation of the motive which induced me to ask for them. The matter is one of very great importance; and I wish to make it clearly understood that, in moving for the Alabama Treaty. I had no desire to provoke a premature or inconvenient discussion of any differences existing between the British and American Governments. Still less had I in view to interfere with the free examination of such differences in the public Press. At the same time, it was manifest—particularly in the columns of that powerful daily print, which has earned the honourable title of our "leading journal." that the Press was in possession of information—and probably of papers relating to the Alabama claims, and other serious matters of dispute with America—which had not been communicated to either House of Parliament. It seemed to me that what may be termed a striking contrast between knowledge out-of-doors, and ignorance within might be carried too far; and that the time had arrived when the Treaties known to have been concluded between the two Governments and rejected by the United States should, in common decency, be laid upon the table of the House—or, at least, that the reasons for their being withheld so long should be submitted to your Lordships on the usual responsibility of Ministers. This could not be done on notice, without a simultaneous opening for debate; but the habitual prudence of your Lordships assured me beforehand, that the risk of such inconvenience was not enough to outweigh the disadvantage which it had become so desirable to remove. In making this statement, I have no intention of casting a thought of censure upon the Foreign Department for any appearance of delay in communicating the Treaties to Parliament. I willingly presume that sufficient reasons have existed on public, grounds for retarding a communication which, sooner or later, it would be necessary to make; and I venture to hope that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Clarendon) will be more inclined to commend than to blame me for affording him an opportunity of stating them to your Lordships. Even at this moment, if I were disposed to enter upon the subject-matter of the Treaties, I should find myself precluded—not, indeed, by the actual want of the requisite information, but by the want of time indispensable for perusing the Correspondence, and giving it a proper degree of consideration. Although the Treaties and Correspondence were laid upon your Lordships' table several days ago, they were not delivered at my house till hard upon the hour of noon to-day. The Press, as it would seem, has again obtained a certain degree of precedency over Parliament; and, if there be anything to regret in that circumstance, the ability of the article in The Times newspaper of Monday or Tuesday, containing a full, though compendious account of the late negotiations, may go far to atone for it. Even with such assistance as might be derived from that able and interesting statement I should be wanting in respect to your Lordships, if I were to rush into a discussion of such delicate matter, without the power of referring to the official Correspondence —from which, at present, I find myself debarred, as I said be- fore, by the lateness of the delivery. It must be admitted that Her Majesty's Government —which ever party was in Office —had a most difficult and delicate duty to perform. On one side there must have been an anxious desire to overcome the provocations to quarrel and to preserve the relations of mutual kindness between two countries which, in reality, have the strongest possible reasons for being always at peace with each other. At the same time essential interests were to be guarded, and the honour of the Crown and nation were to be maintained, in company with every concession which the most liberal views of justice and in- ternational amity could suggest. It remains to be seen in what manner and with, what success these diverging lines of negotiation have been brought together. Two things appeal to be certain —first, that a Treaty, altered to please the American Government, has been sanctioned by both Governments and rejected by the American Senate; secondly, that we are at liberty to propose a fresh negotiation, or to decline, a similar proposal, as may best suit our; interest or convenience. Meanwhile, we have grounds for believing that an intemperate oration addressed to the American Senate, and extravagant to a degree of absurdity—a speech which, delivered by a man who has acquired some reputation, and who would have been thought to take into consideration the consequences of what he might say—I this extravagant and absurd speech has carried with it its own antidote, by arousing the calmer judgment of the American people: and it is reasonable: to expert that if Her Majesty's Government think proper to resume negotiations, for the laudable purpose of removing all possible causes of misunderstanding between England and America, they will not have to confront, propositions which justice and honour, no less than the national interest, will compel us to reject. It has been said—though with little reflection—that the United States will bide their time, and abstain from calling us to a reckoning till, free from their own embarrassments and seeing us in difficulty, they may revive their suspended claims, and bring us. in a moment of weakness, to terms of their own dictation. God forbid that we should entertain so base a suspicion; worthy only of those benighted ages when passion, treachery, and violence prevailed in the councils of contending nations, and over-ruled every sentiment of justice and humanity. No, my Lords, notwithstanding some clouds which overhang the western horizon, I put my trust in the strength of public opinion, whether on this side of the Atlantic or the other, and in those ties of mutual interest and those sympathies of race and law which forbid the adoption by either litigant of any extreme or hostile course. The recent arrival in this country of a representative, known in both hemispheres for his great literary attainments, and enjoying a high social repu- tation in the old as well as in the new country (Mr. Motley) may be accepted as an omen of peace. I have the honour of this gentleman's acquaintance, and I believe that his high personal character, in harmony with the great reputation he has among us, will tend to import a spirit of peace and kindness into the negotiations entrusted to him. He comes among us once more with every personal motive for establishing his well-earned fame on the deep and durable foundations of success in pacific diplomacy; and we may hope that his instructions, proceeding from the same source as his appointment, will enable him to realize our friendly expectations. My Lords, I have said as much as circumstances allow on this important subject. I trust that I have not said more than prudence permit, and reserving to myself the discretion, if it should appear desirable, of going more completely into its merits on some future occasion, I leave the question with confidence to Her Majesty's Government, and emphatically to my noble Friend who is entrusted with the management of our foreign relations.


My Lords, as there are reasons, to which, perhaps, it is unnecessary to allude, why a discussion at this moment on the recent negotiations between this country and the United States would not be for the public advantage. I must thank my noble Friend (Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe) for the moderate tone in which he has called attention to the subject, and for the care he has taken not to add to the excitement which at this moment exists with respect to the so-called Alabama claims. I am very sorry that the Papers which I laid on the table on Monday only reached my noble Friend this morning, and I am unable to account for the delay; but I informed him on Tuesday that I had produced them, and he might have obtained a copy earlier than he did had he expressed such a desire. I think he rather implied that I had furnished the newspapers with information of which Parliament was not in possession; but I can only assure him that, as far as I am concerned, that has not been the case. Parliament has certainly a right to the fullest information at the earliest opportunity of proceedings of such high importance. As the Correspondence may not have reached other noble Lords till to-day, I think it may be convenient that I should give a very short account of what it contains. It will not be necessary, however, to refer in detail to matters which are well known to have been often discussed, nor to trace the controversy from the time when my noble Friend (Earl Russell) declared that the British Government was not responsible for the manner in which it gave effect to its own municipal law, and could not submit to the judgment even of a foreign Sovereign the responsibility of its conduct in that respect however confident in his impartiality and discretion. My noble Friend who preceded me in Office (Lord Stanley) made this concession—that he offered to refer to arbitration the claims of American subjects arising from the losses sustained by the Alabama and other vessels: but in November, 1867, those negotiations were brought to an end by Mr. Seward declining to waive what he conceived to be his right to bring before the arbitration the question of the recognition of the Southern States as belligerents. In this state affairs remained till Mr. Reverdy Johnson's arrival. Mr. Johnson came to this country not only with friendly professions, but. I believe, with the sincerest desire on his part honourably to adjust the differences between the two countries, and to establish their relations on the footing on which they ought, and, I would almost add, they must be. I do not say this on account of the usual sentimental grounds, as I may call them—grounds of common ancestry, language, and free institutions, although, to those I attach a very high importance; but on account of the incalculable and increasing material interests winch now knit the two countries together, interests which are based on peace, and. which, the good sense of the two nations will not allow to be broken by war. The opinions of Mr. Reverdy Johnson in this sense were notorious through the United States, and his appointment, I believe, was unanimously ratified by the Senate, though it had vetoed almost every other diplomatic appointment made by President Johnson. There was, therefore, every reason to think that a more friendly feeling existed on the part of the people and Government of the United States. Mr. Johnson commenced his negotiations by making various propositions which Lord Stanley could not accept; but on the 9th of October last they concluded a Convention settling the question of naturalization, to which the United States attracted such importance that they made it the sine quâ non of any negotiations; and under that Protocol the question of indefeasible allegiance was settled by an agreement that a natural-born Englishman, on becoming naturalized in the United States, should divest himself of his former nationality. Considering the altered circumstances of our time, the facilities of communication, and the number of persons seeking to better their fortune by domiciling themselves in other countries, it was impossible, I think, for a country like England, which promotes and encourages emigration, to insist any longer on the doctrine of indefeasible allegiance. The Protocol signed by my noble Friend was more liberal than the Prussian treaty having the same object in view, for by the Prussian treaty it was insisted that a Prussian subject should be resident in the United States for five years before he obtained that right, whereas there was no such restriction in the Protocol signed by Lord Stanley. I merely refer to this as a proof of the desire of the British Government to meet the wishes of the United States. On the 17th of October Lord Stanley signed a Protocol respecting the San Juan Water Boundary, which has been more or less a matter of dispute for nearly fifty years, proposing to settle it on the basis originally suggested by my noble Friend (Earl Russell). On the 20th of October Lord Stanley and Mr. Johnson entered on the consideration of the Alabama claims; and, after some propositions on the part of Mr. Johnson had been very properly declined by Lord Stanley, Mr. Johnson proposed that two Commissioners should be appointed on each side, to whom all claims should be referred, and that the Commissioners should then appoint an Arbitrator or Arbitrators, to whose final decision should be referred any question upon which the Commissioners should not be able to come to a decision—it being provided that neither Government, in case this was agreed to, should make out a case in support of its position, and that no person should be heard for or against any such claim, the official Correspondence alone being laid before the Commissioners. This was put into a more formal shape, and on the 10th of November Lord Stanley signed a Convention with Mr. Johnson. Two days afterwards Mr. Johnson received a telegram from Washington from Mr. Seward stating that the Convention was entirely acceptable, except that the place of meeting should be altered to Washington. To this Lord Stanley acceded; and he had therefore every reason to believe that Mr. Johnson was not only fully empowered to sign the Convention, but that it would meet with the full approval of Mr. Seward, who was cognizant of every stop which had been taken in the matter. It was not till the 27th of November that Lord Stanley knew it was objected to: and it was not till the 1st of December that he became informed of the nature of those objections, and that alterations in the terms of the Convention were proposed. The present Government, therefore, was met on the very threshold of Office by this diplomatic difficulty. We were told in a letter intended for Lord Stanley that Mr. Reverdy Johnson had misunderstood his instructions, that he had departed widely from the Convention of 1853, which was Throughout taken as a model, that the President thought several of the articles of the Convention inadmissible, and that the Cabinet were agreed that the Convention could not be ratified by the Senate. Mr. Seward, at the same time, with great earnestness, begged Lord Stanley not to insist on the Convention being laid before the Senate nor refuse to complete a good work. A grave responsibility, therefore, rested on the Government, and we had either to insist upon the Convention being laid before the Senate—in which ease we knew it would be rejected—or undertake to modify a Convention which was already signed. We felt that the former course would be open to much obloquy, and that our motives would be liable to misconstruction, and that we might be accused of refusing to accomplish a good work that had been nearly completed by our predecessors. We accordingly examined the modifications proposed, and found that in reality they were variations in form rather than of substance. On the 14th of January, I accordingly signed a Convention with Mr. Johnson, and both that and the Convention signed by Lord Stanley will be found in the Papers which have been produced. They are both at an end—they are now dead and buried—and I do not see that any useful purpose would be served by entering into detail into the differences between them. If, at any future time, the noble Viscount or any other noble Lord should bring forward the subject, I shall be perfectly ready to enter into the principles of the first Convention, which I think adhered far more closely to the Convention of 1853, which was of American origin and had been insisted on as the model which should be followed, than the one sent over by Sir. Seward. No impartial person, I think, will deny that everything has been done in order to meet the wishes and adopt the proposals of the American Government: indeed, so great has been the desire both of the late and the present Government to bring this painful controversy to a close that your Lordships may think that our concessions have been carried beyond a legitimate limit. I do not wonder, therefore, that there was no great expression of dissatisfaction when the negotiations fell through. I should also mention that while the Treaty was under the consideration of the Senate Mr. Johnson came to me and said he was advised that his Government had claims against the British Government which certainly were not recognized in the Treaty, and he therefore applied to have a supplementary Article added, or the first Article changed, so as to give each Government a right of bringing its own particular claim before the Arbitrator. That proposition, I need hardly say, was declined. It was only on the 3rd of April that we learnt that the Senate had refused to ratify the Convention by a Vote of 54 to 1, in accordance with the Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee; on which occasion Mr. Summer delivered the speech to which the noble Viscount has referred—a speech much to be regretted, but upon which, I think, too great stress should not be laid, for Mr. Sunnier is not a member of the Government; he does not speak under any Ministerial responsibility; and, although the Senate supported him by their vote, we have no reason to know that the members of that majority supported either his extravagant claims or his statements. I will not criticize those statements. Public opinion is made up upon them, and I quite agree with the noble Viscount that the practical good sense of the American people is leading thorn to form an estimate of the speech that does not differ widely from that formed in this country. Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Summer have rendered much service to this country, and I doubt whether that service could have been rendered so effectually in any other way. Mr. Johnson, in those numerous public assemblies that he; attended, called forth, a most spontaneous and manly expression of the friendship and good feeling which the English people entertain towards the United States—a feeling such as they do not entertain, and therefore could not express, towards any other nation; and,; on the other hand. Mr. Sunnier has elicited through his speech a response from the Press of this country, representing every shade of political feeling,: which must make it equally manifest that, however much we, desire peace, and however highly we value our relations with the United States, there is one thing we value more and which, we can never submit to sacrifice—our national honour. I do not venture to predict what course events may take, and I cannot say what will be the course of Her Majesty's Government beyond giving an assurance that, notwithstanding all that has passed, there will be the same friendly feeling towards the United Slates and the same desire to bring this controversy to a close. I agree with the noble Viscount that it is a good omen that a man of Mr. Motley's eminence should have been appointed to represent the United States in this country. His historical reputation, his diplomatic experience, and his agreeable manners, will secure him a hearty welcome among all classes of the community, among whom he has many attached friends; and I think it is fortunate that so enlightened an observer of national character should be in the position which he now occupies, for he will know what he can fairly propose to us, and what we can fairly accept. I have, of course, had the pleasure, of seeing Mr. Motley, but I have had no direct official communication with him, and I do not know what are his instructions. Having said this much, I think your Lordships will approve the reticence which I have thought it my duty to observe.

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