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Chapter 31:

  • Naval affairs, concluded
  • -- excitement in the Northern States on the appearance of our cruisers -- failure of the enemy to protect their commerce -- appeal to Europe not to help the so-called ‘pirates’ -- Seeks iron-plated vessels in England -- statement of Lord Russell -- duty of neutrals -- position taken by President Washington -- letter of Jefferson -- contracts sought by United States government -- Adams asserts British neutrality violated -- reply of Lord Russell -- rejoinder of Seward -- duty of neutrals relative to warlike stores -- views of Wheaton; of Kent -- charge of the Lord Chief Baron in the Alexandria case -- action of the Confederate government sustained -- antecedents of the United States government -- the colonial commissions -- Captain Conyngham's captures -- numbers of captures -- recognition of Greece -- recognition of South American cruisers -- Chief act of hostility charged on Great Britain by the United States government -- the Queen's proclamation: its effect -- cause of the United States charges -- our cruisers denounced as ‘pirates’ -- opinion of Justice Greer -- burning of prizes -- laws of maritime war -- cause of Geneva conference -- statement of American claims -- allowance -- indirect damages of our cruisers -- ships transferred to British registers -- decline of American tonnage -- decline of coasting tonnage -- decline of export of breadstuffs -- advance of insurance.

The excitement produced in the Northern states by the effective operations of our cruisers upon their commerce was such as to receive the attention of the United States government. Reasonably, it might have been expected that they would send their ships of war out on the high seas to protect their commerce by capturing or driving off our light cruisers, but instead of this their fleets were employed in blockading the Confederate ports or watching those in the West Indies from which blockade runners were expected to sail, and by capturing which, either on the high seas or at the entrance of a Confederate port, a harvest of prizes might be secured. For this dereliction of duty, in the failure to protect commerce, no better reason offers itself than greed and [224] malignity. There was, however, in this connection, a more humiliating feature in the conduct of the United States government.

While, from its State Department, the Confederacy was denounced as an insurrection soon to be suppressed, and the cruisers regularly commissioned by the Confederate States were called ‘pirates,’ diplomatic demands were made upon Great Britain to prevent the so-called ‘pirates’ from violating international law, as if it applied to pirates. Appeals to that government were also made to prevent the sale of the materials of war to the Confederacy, and thus indirectly to aid the United States in performing what, according to the representation, was a police duty, to suppress a combination of some evil-disposed persons —gallantly claiming that they, armed cap-a-pie, should meet their adversary in the list, he to be without helmet, shield, or lance.

To one who from youth to age had seen, with exultant pride, the flag of his country as it unfolded, disclosing to view the stripes recordant of the original size of the family of states, and the constellation which told of that family's growth, it could but be deeply mortifying to witness such paltry exhibition of deception and unmanliness in the representatives of a government around which fond memories still lingered, despite the perversion of which it was the subject.

If this attempt on the part of the United States to deny the existence of war after having, by proclamation of blockade, compelled all nations to take notice that war did exist, and to claim that munitions should not be sold to a country because there were some disorderly people in it, had been all, the attempt would have been ludicrously absurd, and the contradiction too bald to require refutation; this would have been but half of the story. Subsequently the United States government claimed reclamation from Great Britain for damage inflicted by vessels which had been built in her ports, and which had elswhere been armed and equipped for purposes of war. International law recognizes the right of a neutral to sell an unarmed vessel, without reference to the use to which the purchaser might subsequently apply it. The United States government had certainly not practiced under a different rule, but had gone even further than this—so much further as to transgress the prohibition against armed vessels.

It has already been stated that the government of the United States, at the commencement of the war, sought to contract for the construction of iron-plated vessels in the ports of England, which were to be delivered fully armed and equipped to her. To this it may be added that her armies were recruited from almost all the countries of Europe, down almost to [225] the last month of the war; a portion of their arms were of foreign manufacture, as well as the munitions of war; a large number of the sailors of her fleets came from the seaports of Great Britain and Germany; in a word, whatever could be of service to her in the conflict was unhesitatingly sought among neutrals, regardless of the law of nations. At the same time an effort was made on her part to make Great Britain responsible for the damage done by our cruisers, and for the warlike stores sold to our government.

Some statements of Lord Russell on this point, in a letter to Minister Adams dated December 19, 1862, deserve notice. He says:

It is right, however, to observe that the party which has profited by far the most by these unjustifiable practices, has been the Government of the United States, because that Government, having a superiority of force by sea, and having blockaded most of the Confederate ports, has been able, on the one hand, safely to receive all the warlike supplies which it has induced British manufacturers and merchants to send to the United States ports in violation of the Queen's proclamation; and, on the other hand, to intercept and capture a great part of the supplies of the same kind which were destined from this country to the Confederate States.

If it be sought to make her Majesty's Government responsible to that of the United States because arms and munitions of war have left this country on account of the Confederate Government, the Confederate Government, as the other belligerent, may very well maintain that it has a just cause of complaint against the British Government because the United States arsenals have been replenished from British sources. Nor would it be possible to deny that, in defiance of the Queen's proclamation, many subjects of her Majesty, owing allegiance to her crown, have enlisted in the armies of the United States. Of this fact you can not be ignorant. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, has just ground for complaint against both of the belligerent parties, but most especially against the Government of the United States, for having systematically, and in disregard of the comity of nations which it was their duty to observe, induced subjects of her Majesty to violate those orders which, in conformity with her neutral position, she has enjoined all her subjects to obey.

Perhaps it may be well to inquire what is, under international law, the duty of neutral nations with regard to the construction and equipment of cruisers for either belligerent, and the supply of warlike stores. Thus the groundlessness of the claims put forth by the government of the United States for damages to be paid by Great Britain will be more manifest, and the lawfulness of the acts of the Confederate government demonstrated.

After the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the government of France, owing to the temporary inferiority of her naval force, openly and deliberately equipped privateers in our ports. These privateers captured British vessels in United States waters, and brought them as [226] prizes into United States ports. These facts formed the basis of demands made upon the United States by the British plenipotentiary. The demands had reference, not to the accidental evasion of a municipal law of the United States by a particular ship, but to a systematic disregard of international law upon some of the most important points of neutral obligation.

To these demands Jefferson, then Secretary of State under President Washington, thus replied on September 3, 1793:

We are bound by our treaties with three of the belligerent nations, by all the means in our power, to protect and defend their vessels and effects in our ports or waters, or on the seas near our shores, and to recover and restore the same to the right owners when taken from them. If all the means in our power are used, and fail in this effort, we are not bound by our treaties with those nations to make compensation. Though we have no similar treaty with Great Britain, it was the opinion of the President that we should use toward that nation the same rule which, under this article, was to govern us with other nations, and even to extend it to the captures made on the high-seas and brought into our ports, if done by vessels which had been armed within them.

It will be observed that the justice of restitution, or compensation, for captures made on the high seas and brought into our ports, is only admitted by President Washington upon one condition, which is expressed in these words: ‘If done by vessels which had been armed within them.’ The terms of the contract which the government of the United States endeavored to make at the shipyards of England were for the delivery of the ships of war ‘to be finished complete, with guns and everything appertaining.’ The contract was not taken, as too little time was allowed for its execution. But if entered into and executed, it would have been a direct violation of international law.

In the instance of our cruisers built in the ports of England, it will be observed that they went to sea without arms or warlike stores, and at other ports than those of Great Britain they were converted into ships of war and put into commission by the authority of the Confederate government. The government of the United States asserted that they were built in the ports of Great Britain, and thereby her duty of neutrality was violated, and the government made responsible for the damages sustained by private citizens of the United States in consequence of her captures on the seas. To this declaration of Adams, Earl Russell (he had been made an earl) replied on September 14, 1863, thus:

When the United States Government assumes to hold the Government of Great Britain responsible for the captures made by vessels which may be fitted out as vessels of war in a foreign port, because such vessels were originally built in a British port, I have to observe that such pretentions are entirely at variance [227] with the principles of international law, and with the decisions of American courts of the highest authority; and I have only, in conclusion, to express my hope that you may not be instructed again to put forward claims which her Majesty's Government can not admit to be founded on any grounds of law or justice.

On October 6, 1863, Seward, the Secretary of State of the United States government, replied to this declaration of Earl Russell, saying:

The United States do insist, and must continue to insist, that the British Government is justly responsible for the damages which the peaceful, law-abiding citizens of the United States [!] sustain by the depredations of the Alabama.

Earl Russell answered on October 26, 1863, thus:

I must request you to believe that the principle contended for by her Majesty's Government is not that of commissioning, equipping, and manning vessels in our ports to cruise against either of the belligerent parties—a principle which was so justly and unequivocally condemned by the President of the United States in 1793. . . . But the British Government must decline to be responsible for the acts of parties who fit out a seeming merchant-ship, send her to a port or to waters far from the jurisdiction of British courts, and there commission, equip, and man her as a vessel of war.

The duty of neutral nations relative to the supply of warlike stores is expressed in these words:

It is not the practice of nations to undertake to prohibit their own subjects by previous laws from trafficking in articles contraband of war. Such trade is carried on at the risk of those engaged in it, under the liabilities and penalties prescribed by the law of nations or particular treaties.1

We now quote from the great American commentator on the Constitution of the United States and on the law of nations:

It is a general understanding that the powers at war may seize and confiscate all contraband goods, without any complaint on the part of the neutral merchant, and without any imputation of a breach of neutrality in the neutral sovereign himself. It was contended on the part of the French nation, in 1796, that neutral governments were bound to restrain their subjects from selling or exporting articles contraband of war to the belligerent powers. But it was successfully shown, on the part of the United States, that neutrals may lawfully sell at home to a belligerent power, or carry themselves to the belligerent powers, contraband articles, subject to the right of seizure in transitu. This right has been explicitly declared by the judicial authorities of this country [United States]. The right of the neutral to transport, and of the hostile power to seize, are conflicting rights, and neither party can charge the other with a criminal act.2

In accordance with these principles, President Pierce's message of December 31, 1855, contains the following passage:

In pursuance of this policy, the laws of the United States do not forbid their citizens to sell to either of the belligerent powers articles contraband of war, to [228] take munitions of war or soldiers on board their private ships for transportation; and, although in so doing the individual citizen exposes his property or person to some of the hazards of war, his acts do not involve any breach of international neutrality, nor of themselves implicate the Government.

Perhaps it may not be out of place here to notice the charge of the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer to the jury in the case of the Alexandra, a vessel of one hundred twenty tons, under construction at Liverpool for our government. The case came on for trial on June 22, 1863, in the Court of Exchequer, sitting at nisi prius, before the Lord Chief Baron and a special jury. After it had been summed up, the Lord Chief Baron said:

This is an information on the part of the Crown for the seizure and confiscation of a vessel that was in the course of preparation but had not been completed. It is admitted that it was not armed, and the question is, whether the preparation of the vessel in its then condition was a violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act. The main question you will have to decide is this: Whether, under the seventh section of the act of Parliament, the vessel, as then prepared at the time of seizure, was liable to seizure? The statute was passed in 1819, and upon it no question has ever arisen in our courts of justice; but there have been expositions of a similar statute which exists in the United States. I will now read to you the opinions of some American lawyers who have contributed so greatly to make law a science. [His lordship then read a passage from Story and others.] These gentlemen are authorities which show that, when two belligerents are carrying on a war, a neutral power may supply, without any breach of international law and without a breach of the Foreign Enlistment Act, munitions of war—gunpowder, every description of arms, in fact, that can be used for the destruction of human beings.

Why should ships be an exception? I am of opinion, in point of law, they are not. The Foreign Enlistment Act was an act to prevent the enlistment or engagement of his Majesty's subjects to serve in foreign armies, and to prevent the fitting out and equipping in his Majesty's dominions vessels for warlike purposes without his Majesty's license. The title of an act is not at all times an exact indication or explanation of the act, because it is generally attached after the act is passed. But, in adverting to the preamble of the act, I find that provision is made against the equipping, fitting out, furnishing, and arming of vessels, because it may be prejudicial to the peace of his Majesty's dominions.

The question I shall put to you is, Whether you think that vessel was merely in a course of building to be delivered in pursuance of a contract that was perfectly lawful, or whether there was any intention in the port of Liverpool, or any other English port, that the vessel should be fitted out, equipped, furnished, and armed for purposes of aggression. Now, surely, if Birmingham, or any other town, may supply any quantity of munitions of war of various kinds for the destruction of life, why object to ships? Why should ships alone be in themselves contraband? I asked the Attorney-General if a man could not make a vessel intending to sell it to either of the belligerent powers that required it, and which would give the largest price for it, would not that be lawful? To my surprise, the learned Attorney-General declined to give an answer to the question, which I think a grave and pertinent one. But you, gentlemen, I think, are lawyers enough to [229] know that a man may make a vessel and offer it for sale. If a man may build a vessel for the purpose of offering it for sale to either belligerent party, may he not execute an order for it? That appears to be a matter of course. The statute is not made to provide means of protection for belligerent powers, otherwise it would have said, ‘You shall not sell powder or guns, and you shall not sell arms’; and, if it had done so, all Birmingham would have been in arms against it. The object of the statute was this: that we should not have our ports in this country made the ground of hostile movements between the vessels of two belligerent powers, which might be fitted out, furnished, and armed in these ports. The Alexandra was clearly nothing more than in the course of building.

It appears to me that, if true that the Alabama sailed from Liverpool without any arms at all, as a mere ship in ballast, and that her armament was put on board at Terceira, which is not in her Majesty's dominions, then the Foreign Enlistment Act was not violated at all.

After reading some of the evidence, his lordship said:

If you think that the object was to furnish, fit out, equip, and arm that vessel at Liverpool, that is a different matter; but if you think the object really was to build a ship in obedience to an order, in compliance with a contract, leaving those who bought it to make what use they thought fit of it, then it appears to me that the Foreign Enlistment Act has not been broken.

The jury immediately returned a verdict for the defendants. An appeal was made, but the full bench decided that there was no jurisdiction. Against this decision an appeal was taken to the House of Lords, and there dismissed on some technical ground.

Sufficient has been said to show that the action of the Confederate government relative to these cruisers is sustained and justified by international law. The complaints made by the government of the United States against the government of Great Britain for acts involving a breach of neutrality find no support in the letter of the law or in its principles, and were conclusively answered by the interpretations of American jurists. At the same time they are condemned by the antecedent acts of the United States government. Some of these will be presented.

In the war of the American Revolution, Dr. Franklin and Silas Deane were sent to France as commissioners to look after the interests of the colonies. In the years 1776 and 1777 they became extensively connected with naval movements. They built, purchased, equipped, and commissioned ships, all in neutral territory, even filling up blank commissions sent out to them by the Congress for the purpose. Among expeditions fitted out by them was one under Captain Wickes to intercept a convoy of linen ships from Ireland. He went first into the Bay of Biscay, and afterward entirely around Ireland, sweeping the sea before him of everything that was not of force to render the attack hopeless. Deane [230] observes to Robert Morris that it ‘effectually alarmed England, prevented the great fair at Chester, occasioned insurance to rise, and even deterred the English merchants from shipping in English bottoms at any rate, so that, in a few weeks, forty sail of French ships were loading in the Thames, on freight, an instance never before known.’

In the spring of 1777 the commissioners sent an agent to Dover, who purchased a fine, fast-sailing English-built cutter, which was taken across to Dunkirk. There she was privately equipped as a cruiser, and put in command of Captain Gustavus Conyngham, who was appointed by filling up a blank commission from John Hancock, the President of Congress. This commission bore date March 1, 1777, and fully entitled Conyngham to the rank of captain in the navy. His vessel, although built in England like many of our cruisers, was not armed or equipped there, nor was his crew enlisted there, but in the port of a neutral. This vessel was finally seized under some treaty obligations between France and England. The commissioners immediately fitted out another cruiser, and still another. It was also affirmed that the money advanced to John Adams for traveling expenses, when he arrived in Spain a year or two later, was derived from the prizes of these vessels, which had been sent into the ports of Spain.

Captain Conyngham was a very successful commander, but he was made a prisoner in 1779. The matter was brought before Congress in July of the same year, and a committee reported that this ‘late commander of an armed vessel in the service of the States, and taken on board of a private armed cutter, had been treated in a manner contrary to the dictates of humanity, and the practice of Christian civilized nations.’ Whereupon it was resolved to demand of the British Admiral in New York that good and sufficient reason be given for this conduct, or that he be immediately released from his rigorous and ignominious confinement. If a satisfactory answer was not received by August 1st, so many persons as were deemed proper were ordered to be confined in safe and close custody, to abide the fate of the said Gustavus Conyngham. No answer having been received, one Christopher Hale was thus confined. In December he petitioned Congress for an exchange, and permission to procure a person in his room. Congress replied that his petition could not be granted until Captain Conyngham was released, ‘as it had been determined that he must abide the fate of that officer.’ Conyngham was subsequently released.

The whole number of captures made by the United States in this contest is not known, but six hundred fifty prizes are said to have been [231] brought into port. Many others were ransomed, and some were burned at sea.

Prescribed limits will not permit me to follow out in detail the past history of the United States as a neutral power. It must suffice to recall the memory of readers to a few significant facts in our more recent history:

The recognition of the independence of Greece in her struggle with Turkey, and the voluntary contributions of money and men sent to her; the recognition of the independence of the Spanish provinces of South America, and the war vessels equipped and sent from the ports of the United States to Brazil during the struggle with Spain for independence; the ships sold to Russia during her war with England, France, and Turkey; the arms and munitions of war manufactured at New Haven, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, sold and shipped to Turkey to aid her in her late struggle with Russia.

The reader will observe the promptitude with which the government of the United States not only accorded belligerent rights, but, even more, recognized the independence of nations struggling for deliverance from oppressive rulers. The instances of Greece and the South American republic are well known, and that of Texas must be familiar to everyone. One could scarcely believe, therefore, that the chief act of hostility, or rather, the great crime of the government of Great Britain in the eyes of the government of the United States, was the recognition by the latter of the Confederate States as a belligerent power, and that a state of war existed between them and the United States. This was the constantly repeated charge against the British government in the dispatches of the United States government from the commencement of the war down nearly to the session of the Geneva Conference in 1872. In the correspondence of the Secretary, in 1867, he says:

What is alleged on the part of the United States is, that the Queen's proclamation, which, by conceding belligerent rights to the insurgents, lifted them up for the purpose of insurrection to an equality with the nation which they were attempting to overthrow, was premature because it was unnecessary, and that it was, in its operation, unfriendly because it was premature.

Again he says, and, if sincerely, shows himself to be utterly ignorant of the real condition of our affairs:

Before the Queen's proclamation of neutrality, the disturbance in the United States was merely a local insurrection. It wanted the name of war to enable it to be a civil war and to live, endowed as such, with maritime and other belligerent rights. Without the authorized name, it might die, and was expected not to live and be a flagrant civil war, but to perish a mere insurrection.


The first extract in itself contains a fiction. If the Queen's proclamation possessed such force as to raise the Confederate States to an equality with the United States as a belligerent, perhaps another proclamation of the Queen might have possessed such force, if it had been issued, as to have lifted the Confederate States from the state of equality to one of independence. This is a novel virtue to be ascribed to a Queen's proclamation. This idea must have been borrowed from our neighbors of Mexico, where a pronunciamiento dissolves one and establishes a rival administration. How much more rational it would have been to say that the resources and the military power of the Confederate States placed them, at the outset, on the footing of a belligerent, and the Queen's proclamation only declared a fact which the announcement of a blockade of the Southern ports by the government of the United States had made manifest!—blockade being a means applicable only against a foreign foe.

Nevertheless the government of the United States, although refusing to concede belligerent rights to the Confederate States, was very ready to take advantage of such concession by other nations whenever an opportunity offered. The voluminous correspondence of the Secretary of State of the United States government, relative to the Confederate cruisers and their so-called ‘depredations,’ was filled with charges of violations of international law which could be committed only by a belligerent, and which, it was alleged, had been allowed to be done in the ports of Great Britain. On this foundation was based the subsequent claim for damages, advanced by the Government of the United States against that of Great Britain; for the pretended lack of ‘due diligence’ in watching the actions of this Confederate belligerent in her ports, she was mulcted in a heavy sum by the Geneva Conference, and paid it to the government of the United States.

It is a remarkable fact that the government of the United States, in no one instance from the opening to the close of the war, formally spoke of the Confederate government or states as belligerents. Although on many occasions it acted with the latter as a belligerent, yet no official designations were ever given to them or their citizens but those of ‘insurgents,’ or ‘insurrectionists.’ Perhaps there may be something in the signification of the words which, combined with existing circumstances, would express a state of affairs that the authorities of the government of the United States were in no degree willing to admit, and vainly sought to prevent from becoming manifest to the world.

The party or individuality against which the government of the [233] United States was conducting hostilities consisted of the people within the limits of the Confederate States. Was it against them as individuals in an unorganized condition, or as organized political communities? In the former condition they might be a mob; in the latter condition they formed a state. By the actions of unorganized masses may arise insurrections, and by the actions of organized people or states, arise wars.

The government of the United States adopted a fiction when it declared that the execution of the laws in certain states was impeded by ‘insurrection.’ The persons whom it designated as insurrectionists were the organized people of the states. The ballot boxes used at the elections were state boxes. The judges who presided at the elections were state functionaries. The returns of the elections were made to the state officers. The oaths of office of those elected were administerd by state authority. They assembled in the legislative chambers of the states. The results of their deliberations were directory to the state, judicial, and executive officers, and by them put in operation. Is it not evident that only by a fiction of speech can such proceedings be called an insurrection?

Why, then, did an intelligent and powerful government like that of the United States so outrage the understanding of mankind as to adopt a fiction on which to base the authority and justification of its hostile action? The United States government is the result of a compact between the states—a written Constitution. It owes its existence simply to a delegation of certain powers by the respective states, which it is authorized to exercise for their common welfare. One of these powers is to ‘suppress insurrections’; there is no power delegated to subjugate states, the authors of its existence, or to make war on any of the states. If, then, without any delegated power or lawful authority for its proceedings, the government of the United States commenced a war upon some of the states of the Union, how could it expect to be justified before the world? It became the aggressor—the Attila of the American continent. Its action inflicted a wound on the principles of constitutional liberty, a crushing blow to the hopes that men had begun to repose in this latest effort for self-government, which its friends should never forgive nor ever forget. To palliate the enormity of such an offense, its authors resorted to vehement denial that their hostile action was a war upon the states, and persistently asserted the fiction that their immense armies and fleets were merely a police authority to put down insurrection. They hoped to conceal from the observation of the American people that the contest, on the part of the central government, was for [234] empire, for its absolute supremacy over the state governments; that the Constitution was rolled up and laid away among the old archives; that the conditions of their liberty, in the future, were to be decided by the sword or by ‘national’ control of the ballot box.

With like disregard for truth, our cruisers were denounced as ‘pirates’ by the government of the United States. A pirate or armed piratical vessel, is by the law of nation the enemy of mankind, and can be destroyed by the ships of any nation. The distinction between a lawful cruiser and a pirate is that the former has behind it a government which is recognized by civilized nations as entitled to the rights of war, and from which the commander of the cruiser receives his commission or authority, but the pirate recognizes no government, and is not recognized by any one. As the attorney general of Great Britain said in the Alexandra case:

Although a recognition of the Confederates as an independent power was out of the question, yet it was right they should be admitted by other nations within the circle of lawful belligerents—that is to say, that their forces should not be treated as pirates, nor their flag as a piratical flag. Therefore, as far as the two belligerents were concerned, on the part of this and other governments, they were so far put on a level that each was to be considered as entitled to the right of belligerents—the Southern States as much as the other.

The government of the United States well knew that, after the issue of the Queen's proclamation recognizing our government, the application of the word ‘pirate’ to our cruisers was simply an exhibition of vindictive passion on its part. A de facto government by its commission legalizes among nations a cruiser. That there was such a government even its own courts also decided. In a prize case3 Justice Greer delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court, saying:

It [the war] is not less a civil war, with belligerent parties in hostile array, because it may be called an ‘insurrection’ by one side, and the insurgents be considered as rebels and traitors. It is not necessary that the independence of the revolted province or State be acknowledged in order to constitute it a party belligerent in a war, according to the laws of nations. Foreign nations acknowledge it a war by a declaration of neutrality. The condition of neutrality can not exist unless there be two belligerent parties.

In the case of the Santissima Trinidad4 the United States Supreme Court says:

The Government of the United States has recognized the existence of a civil war between Spain and her colonies, and has avowed her determination to remain neutral between the parties. Each party is therefore deemed by us a belligerent, having, so far as concerns us, the sovereign rights of war.


The belligerent character of the Confederate States was thus fully acknowledged by the highest judicial tribunal of the United States. This involved an acknowledgment of the Confederate government as a government de facto having ‘the sovereign rights of war,’ yet the Executive Department of the United States government, with reckless malignity, denounced our cruisers as ‘pirates,’ our citizens as ‘insurgents’ and ‘traitors,’ and the action of our government as an ‘insurrection.’

It has been stated that during the war of the colonies with Great Britain many of the prizes of the colonial cruisers were destroyed. This was done by Paul Jones and other commanders, although during the entire period of the war some of the colonial ports were open, into which prizes could be taken. In that war Great Britain did not attempt to blockade all the ports of the colonies. Sailing vessels only were then known, and with these a stringent blockade at all seasons could not have been maintained. But at the later day of our war the powerful steamship had appeared, and revolutionized the commerce and the navies of the world. During the first months of the war all the principal ports of the Confederacy were blockaded, and finally every inlet was either in possession of the enemy or had one or more vessels watching it. The steamers were independent of wind and weather, and could hold their positions before a port day and night. At the same time the ports of neutrals had been closed against the prizes of our cruisers by proclamations and orders in council. Says Admiral Semmes:

During my whole career upon the sea, I had not so much as a single port open to me, into which I could send a prize.

Our prizes had been sent into ports of Cuba and Venezuela under the hope that they might gain admittance, but they were either handed over to the enemy under some fraudulent pretext, or expelled. Thus, by the action of the different nations and by the blockade with steamers, no course was left to us but to destroy the prizes, as was done in many instances under the government of the United States confederation.

The laws of maritime war are well known. The enemy's vessel when captured becomes the property of the captor, which he may immediately destroy; or he may take the vessel into port, have it adjudicated by an admiralty court as a lawful prize, and sold. That adjudication is the basis of title to the purchaser against all former owners. In these cases the captor sends his prizes to a port of his own country or to a friendly port for adjudication. But if the ports of his own country are under blockade by his enemy, and the recapture of the prizes, if sent there, is most probable; if, at the same time, all friendly ports are closed against the [236] entrance of his prizes, then there remains no alternative but to destroy the prizes by sinking or burning. Courts of admiralty are established for neutrals, not for the enemy, who has no right of appearance before them. If, therefore, any neutrals suffered during our war for want of adjudication, the fault is with their own government, and not with our cruisers.

Many other objections were advanced by the United States government as evidence that we committed a breach of international law with our cruisers, but their principles are embraced in the preceding remarks, or else they were too frivolous to deserve notice. Suffice it to say that if the Confederate government had been successful in taking to sea every vessel which it built, it would have swept from the oceans the commerce of the United States, would have raised the blockade of at least some of our ports, and if by such aid our independence had been secured, there is little probability that such complaints as have been noticed would have received attention—if, indeed, they would have been uttered.

In January, 1871, the British government proposed to the government of the United States that a joint commission should be convened to adjust certain differences between the two nations relative to the fisheries, the Canadian boundary, etc. To this proposition the latter acceded, on condition that the so-called Alabama claims should also be considered. To this condition Great Britain assented. In the convention the American commissioners proposed an arbitration of these claims. The British commissioners replied that Her Majesty's government could not admit that Great Britain had failed to discharge toward the United States the duties imposed on her by the rules of international law, or that she was justly liable to make good to the United States the losses occasioned by the acts of the cruisers to which the American commissioners referred.

Without following the details, it may be summarily stated that the Geneva Conference ensued. That decided that ‘England should have fulfilled her duties as a neutral by the exercise of a diligence equal to the gravity of the danger,’ and that ‘the circumstances were of a nature to call for the exercise, on the part of her Britannic Majesty's Government, of all possible solicitude for the observance of the rights and duties involved in the proclamation of neutrality issued by her Majesty on May 13, 1861.’ The Conference also added: ‘It can not be denied that there were moments when its watchfulness seemed to fail, and when feebleness in certain branches of the public service resulted in great detriment to the United States.’

The claims presented to the conference for damages done by our several cruisers were as follows: the Alabama, $7,050,293.76; the [237] Boston, $400; the Chickamauga, $183,070.73; the Florida, $4,057,--934.69; the Clarence, tender of the Florida, $66,736.10; the Tacony, tender of the Florida, $169,198.81; the Georgia, $431,160.72; the Jefferson Davis, $7,752; the Nashville, $108,433.96; the Retribution, $29,--018.53; the Sallie, $5,540; the Shenandoah, $6,656,838.81; the Sumter, $179,697.67; the Tallahassee, $836,841.83. Total, $19,782,917.60. Miscellaneous, $479,033; increased insurance, $6,146,219.71. Aggregate, $26,408,170.31.

The conference rejected the claims against the Boston, the Jefferson Davis, and the Sallie, and awarded to the United States government $15,500,000 in gold.

But the indirect damages upon the commerce of the United States produced by these cruisers were far beyond the amount of the claims presented to the Geneva Conference. The number of ships owned in the United States at the commencement of the war, which were subsequently transferred to foreign owners by a British register, was 715, and the amount of their tonnage was 480,882 tons. Such are the laws of the United States that not one of them has been allowed to resume an American register.

In the year 1860 nearly seventy per cent of the foreign commerce of the country was carried on in American ships. But, in consequence of the danger of capture by our cruisers to which these ships were exposed, the amount of this commerce carried by them had dwindled down in 1864 to forty-six per cent. It continued to decline after the war, and in 1872 it had fallen to twenty-eight and a half per cent.

Before the war the amount of American tonnage was second only to that of Great Britain, and we were competing with her for the first place. At that time the tonnage of the coasting trade, which had grown from insignificance, was 1,735,863 tons. Three years later, in 1864, it had declined to about 867,931 tons.

The damage to the articles of export is illustrated by the decline in breadstuffs exported from the Northern states. In the last four months of each of the following years the value of this export was as follows: 1861, $42,500,000; 1862, $27,842,090; 1863, $8,909,042; 1864, $1,--850,819. Some of this decline resulted from good crops in England; in other respects, it was a consequence of causes growing out of the war.

The increase in the rates of marine insurance, in consequence of the danger of capture by the cruisers, was variable. But the gross amount so paid was presented as a claim to the conference, as given above.

1 Wheaton's International Law, sixth edition, p. 571, 1855.

2 Kent's Commentaries, Vol. I, p. 145, 1854.

3 2 Black, 635.

4 Wheaton, 337.

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