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The history of the Alabama claims page 6

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By the rejection of the convention, the question returned into its original state. In the summer of 1869, after Mr. Motley had succeeded Mr. Reverdy Johnson as the representative of the United States, various important interviews and much interesting correspondence took place, of which we shall give a very brief outline. Early in June, in an interview held by appointment with Lord Clarendon at the Foreign Office, after a discussion of various pending negotiations between the two countries, Mr. Motley offered an explanation tending to throw light on the motives which had influenced the Senate in the rejection of the Reverdy Johnson convention. Owing to some accident, which he could not explain, the text of the convention had been published prematurely in America, long before it was brought under the cognisance of the Senate, and had become the mark for much unfavourable comment. The time at which it was signed was thought inopportune, because the late President and his Cabinet were then virtually out of office, and their successors could not be consulted on the question. The convention was further objected to because it dealt only with the claims of individuals, and had no reference to those of the two Governments on each other; and, lastly, because it did not settle one of the moot points of international law which had been debated between the Governments, and laid down no principles for future guidance. Mr. Motley proceeded to say that President Grant had decided that it would be better to let the question stand over for a time, until angry feelings had subsided. When it was again approached, his Cabinet was of opinion that it would be desirable to lay down, with greater precision than heretofore, certain principles of international law with reference to the rights and duties of neutrals.

In the following September, Mr. Motley read to Lord Clarendon a long despatch from Mr. Fish, the American Secretary of State, narrating and characterising the circumstances which had given rise to the Alabama Claims, from the American point of view. As this despatch travels over topics which have been frequently handled in these pages, it is not necessary to analyse its contents. Its fairness may be judged of from the terms in which it describes the secession of the Southern States, as a " mere domestic act of insurrection." It labours to prove that the recognition by Great Britain of the belligerent rights of the South was a premature and essentially unfriendly act, and that it had much to do with hardening and prolonging Southern resistance. Mr. Fish actually connects the proclamation of neutrality with the subsequent escape of the cruisers from our ports, so as to make the former " a virtual act of war "! At the same time the American Government did not in this despatch, he said, propose or desire to set any time for the settlement of their claims. Their present object was merely to make the British Government fully acquainted with the manner in which the subject was regarded in the United States; they were, however, prepared to negotiate whenever a proposition should be made from this side, and to enter- upon the examination of that proposition with a sincere desire to promote the interests of peace and permanent friendship between the two countries.

Lord Clarendon, in replying to this despatch (November, 1869), thus noticed the hint that America was prepared to consider any fresh overtures. "It is obvious," he said - " and Mr. Fish will probably on reflection admit - that Her Majesty's Government cannot make any new proposition or run the risk of another unsuccessful negotiation until they have information more clear than that which is contained in Mr. Fish's despatch respecting the basis upon which the Government of the United States would be disposed to negotiate." He transmitted at the same time to Mr. Thornton (who had succeeded Sir Frederick Bruce as British Minister at Washington) a paper of observations which he was to lay before Mr. Fish, informally replying to the principal allegations, and combating some of the exaggerated statements, which the despatch of the latter had contained.

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