Joint Commissions

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JOINT COMMISSIONS. The arbitration of international disputes by joint commissions is usually distinguished from the negotiation of formal treaties by more than one diplomatic agent—such as the Definitive Treaty of Peace of 1783, the termination of Franco-American hostilities by the Convention of 1800, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Treaty of Ghent of 1814, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, and the Peace of Paris of 1898. Most arbitrations are the work of joint commissions, as indicated in the monumental six-volume work on international arbitration by John Bassett Moore. Since its publication in 1898, further cases have arisen for settlement, notably the Alaskan boundary dispute of 1903.

Of the numerous arbitrations to which the United States has been a party, some of the more important ones were conducted for the following purposes: settling pre-Revolution American debts to the British, British spoliation claims, and the Maine-Canada boundary, under the Jay Treaty of 1794; for settling French spoliation claims in 1803, 1831, and 1880; for determining various articles under the Treaty of Ghent; for claims of American citizens against Mexico, in 1839, 1849, and 1868; for U.S. claims against Colombia in 1861 and against Peru in 1863; and for Spanish claims in 1871. Most significant of all was the Alabama Claims dispute with Britain, which led to the Geneva award of 1872. To these may be added fact-finding commissions as an indispensable adjunct of modern diplomacy.

Since the mid-twentieth century, reservations have increased toward the use of joint commissions to settle international disputes. In 1946, the United States accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court (except in domestic matters), but continued its reluctance to accept any other binding arbitration.


Bailey, Thomas A. A Diplomatic History of the American People. New York: F. S. Crofts, 1940; 1942; 1946; New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950; 1955; 1958; 1964; 1969; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1974; 1980.

Moore, John Bassett. History and Digest of the International Arbitrations to Which the United States Has Been a Party, Together with Appendices Containing the Treaties Relating to Such Arbitrations, and Historical and Legal Notes. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1898; Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 1995.

Paterson, Thomas, J. Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. Hagan. American Foreign Relations: A History. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1995; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Louis MartinSears/t. g.

See alsoDiplomatic Missions ; Ghent, Treaty of ; Paris, Treaty of (1898) ; Prize Cases, Civil War ; Treaties with Foreign Nations .