Washington, Treaty of

views updated Jun 27 2018


WASHINGTON, TREATY OF. The Treaty of Washington was concluded 8 May 1871 between the United States and Great Britain for the amicable settlement of the so-called Alabama Claims. During the Civil War, Confederate ships sailing from British ports raided U.S. shipping across the North Atlantic. After defeating the Confederacy in 1865, the U.S. government demanded financial compensation from Great Britain for its role in aiding and abetting the Southern rebellion. After five years, British reluctance to negotiate was removed by the following factors: the Franco-Prussian War and the ensuing denunciation of the Black Sea agreement by Russia, which threatened European complications; pressure from financial interests; and the appointment of the conciliatory Lord Granville as foreign secretary. The reluctance of some American elements to negotiate was modified by difficulties with Spain, pressure from American bankers, and general realization that the hope of peaceable annexation of Canada was in vain.

John Rose, a former Canadian statesman who had become a London financier, came to Washington, D.C., in January 1871. He and U.S. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish readily made arrangements with the British minister, Sir Edward Thornton, for submission of the various disputes to a joint high commission. This had been Fish's desire since taking office. The British commissioners were soon at work in Washington with the American commissioners. The principal questions at issue were the Alabama claims, the rights of American fishermen in Canadian waters, and the water boundary between British Columbia and the state of Washington. The fisheries question was settled by agreement that a mixed commission should sit at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and determine the relative value of certain reciprocal privileges granted by the two nations. The northwestern, or San Juan Island, boundary dispute was submitted to the German emperor. Most important, the first eleven of the forty-three articles of the treaty provided that the Alabama claims should be adjudicated at Geneva, Switzerland, by five arbitrators, appointed, respectively, by the presidents of the United States and Switzerland and by the rulers of Great Britain, Italy, and Brazil.

The treaty was distinguished by two unprecedented features. One was the British confession of wrong doing incorporated in the preamble, where the imperial commissioners expressed regret for the escape of the Alabama and other cruisers. The other was agreement on three rules of international law for the guidance of the Geneva tribunal in interpreting certain terms used in the treaty. The most important of these rules asserted that "due diligence" to maintain absolute neutrality "ought to be exercised by neutral governments" in exact proportion to the risks to which belligerents were exposed by breaches. The other two made explicit the impropriety of letting a vessel be constructed, equipped, and armed under such circumstances as attended the building of the Alabama and dealt with the use of neutral territory by belligerent vessels. The treaty preserved peaceful relations between Great Britain and the United States and partially alleviated American resentment at Britain's role in aiding the Confederacy during the Civil War.


Bernath, Stuart L. Squall Across the Atlantic: American Civil War Prize Cases and Diplomacy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

Bourne, Kenneth. Britain and the Balance of Power in North America, 1815–1908. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

Crook, David P. The North, the South, and the Powers, 1861–1865. New York: Wiley, 1974.

AllanNevins/a. g.

See alsoAlabama Claims ; Bayard-Chamberlain Treaty ; Civil War ; Confederate States of America ; Great Britain, Relations with ; Treaties with Foreign Nations .

Washington, treaty of

views updated May 18 2018

Washington, treaty of, 1871. The USA claimed compensation from Britain for the depredations of the Alabama, a Confederate warship built in England during the Civil War. Also in dispute was access to the Canadian fisheries and ownership of San Juan Island off British Columbia. The five-man British commission included Canada's prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, who was trapped into surrendering the fisheries to placate the Americans. Britain agreed to arbitration: San Juan was awarded to the USA, and $15.5 million was paid for the Alabama claims. Although a poor settlement for Britain and Canada, the treaty was a milestone in international arbitration.

Ged Martin

Washington, Treaty of

views updated Jun 08 2018

Washington, Treaty of (1871) Agreement settling a number of disputes involving the USA, Britain, and Canada. The most serious was the question of the Alabama claims, which was submitted to international arbitration. US-Canadian disputes over fisheries and the border were also resolved.

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