Classic History Books

The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

and that other damage, immense and infinite, caused by the prolongation of the war, all of which may be
called NATIONAL in contradistinction to INDIVIDUAL." Losses to commerce he reckoned at

$110,000,000, adding that this amount must be considered only an item in the bill, for the prolongation

of the war was directly traceable to England. "The rebellion was suppressed at a cost of more than four

thousand million dollars...through British intervention the war was doubled in duration; ...England is

justly responsible for the additional expenditure." Sumner's total bill against Great Britain, then,

amounted to over $2,000,000,000; "everyone," said he, "can make the calculation."

Had an irresponsible member of Congress made these demands, they might have been dismissed as
another effort to twist the British lion's tail; but Charles Sumner took himself seriously, expected others

to take him seriously, and unhappily was taken seriously by a great number of his fellow countrymen.

The explanation of his preposterous demand appeared subsequently in a memorandum which he

prepared. To avoid all possible future clashes with Great Britain, he would have her withdraw from the

American continents and the Western Hemisphere. Great Britain might discharge her financial

obligations by transferring to the United States the whole of British America! And Sumner seems

actually to have believed that he was promoting the cause of international good will by this tactless


For a time it was believed that Sumner spoke for the Administration, and public opinion in the United
States was disposed to look upon his speech as a fair statement of American grievances and a just

demand for compensation. The British Government, too, in view of the action of the Senate and the

indiscreet utterances of the new American Minister in London, John Lothrop Motley, believed that

President Grant favored an aggressive policy. Further negotiations were dropped. Both Governments,

nevertheless, were desirous of coming to an understanding, though neither wished to take the first step.

Fortunately it happened that Caleb Cushing for the United States and John Rose for Canada were then
engaged at Washington in the discussion of some matters affecting the two countries. In the course of

informal conversations these accomplished diplomats planned for a rapprochement. Rose presented a

memorandum suggesting that all questions in dispute be made the subject of a general negotiation and

treaty. It was at this moment that Sumner came forward with his plan of compensation and obviously he

stood in the way of any settlement. President Grant, however, already incensed by Motley's conduct and

by Sumner's opposition to his own favorite project, the annexation of Santo Domingo, now broke

definitely with both by removing Motley and securing Sumner's deposition from the chairmanship of the

Committee on Foreign Affairs. The way was now prepared for an agreement with Great Britain.

On February 27, 1871, a Joint High Commission, composed of five distinguished representatives from
each Government, began its memorable session at Washington. The outcome was the Treaty of

Washington, signed on May 8, 1871. The most important question - the "Alabama Claims" - was by this

agreement to be submitted to a tribunal of five arbitrators, one to be selected by the President of the

United States, another by the Queen of Great Britain, a third by the King of Italy, a fourth by the

President of the Swiss Republic, and a fifth by the Emperor of Brazil. This tribunal was to meet at

Geneva and was to base its award on three rules for the conduct of neutral nations: "First, to use due

diligence to prevent the fitting out, ...within its jurisdiction, of any vessel which it has reasonable ground

to believe is intended to cruise...against a Power with which it is at peace...; secondly, not to

permit...either belligerent to make use of its ports or waters as a base of naval operations...; thirdly, to

exercise due diligence in its own ports and prevent any violation of the foregoing obligations

and duties."


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