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The Alabama Claims were a series of claims for damages by the United States government against the government of Great Britain for the covert assistance given to the Confederate cause during the American Civil War. After arbitration, in 1872 Britain paid the U.S. $15.5 million for damages done by warships built in Britain and sold to the Confederacy, thus ending the dispute and ensuring friendly relations.


The CSS Alabama

During the American Civil War, Confederate commerce raiders (the most famous being the CSS Alabama) were built in Britain and did significant damage to the American merchant marine.

British political involvement

The British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, and Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell had allowed the Alabama to put to sea from the shipyards of John Laird Sons and Company in Birkenhead despite the explicit objections of the American Legation in London, and charges from the American Minister to Britain Charles Francis Adams that the ship was bound for the Confederacy. Though both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary were thought to favor the Confederacy slightly at the time of Alabama's construction this position was against British public opinion and MPs such as Richard Cobden campaigned against it. The subsequent release of the Alabama proved to be publicly embarrassing when both were later forced to admit that the ship should not have been allowed to depart, despite the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales that her release did not violate neutrality.

Even so, the next year two ironclad warships under construction in Birkenhead and bound for the Confederacy were detained after their completion but before their launch. As a direct consequence of the flap over the Alabama rather than turn the ships over to Monsieur Bravay of Paris, who had ordered their construction as intermediary for Confederate principals, Palmerston instructed the British Admiralty to tender an offer for the purchase of the ships.

The claims

The United States claimed direct and collateral damage against Britain, the so-called Alabama Claims. United States Senator Charles Sumner originally requested $2 billion, or alternatively the ceding of Canada to the United States.

In the particular case of the Alabama the United States claimed that the United Kingdom had violated neutrality by allowing the Alabama to be constructed, knowing that it would enter into service with the Confederacy.

The tribunal

The tribunal was composed of representatives:

Negociations had taken place in Suitland, businessman Samuel Taylor Suit 's estate , and the tribunal session took place in a reception room of the Town Hall in Geneva. This room is since named salle de l'Alabama.

The final award of $15,500,000 formed part of the Treaty of Washington and was paid out in 1872.


This established the principle of international arbitration, and launched a movement to codify public international law with hopes for finding peaceful solutions to international disputes. The Alabama claims was thus a precursor to the Hague Convention, the League of Nations, the World Court, and the United Nations.

See also

  • Samuel Taylor Suit, whose Suitland estate was the scene of some of the Alabama Claims negotiations


  • Adams, E. D. (1924). Great Britain and the American Civil War. New York: Russell & Russell.   (see external links)
  • The Alabama Arbitration. Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & Scott. 1900.  
  • Beaman, C. C. (1871). The National and Private Alabama Claims and their Final and Amicable Settlement. Washington: W. H. Moore.  , reprinted in the Michigan Historical Reprint Series, ISBN 1418129801
  • Bowen, C. S. C. (1868). The Alabama Claims and Arbitration Considered from a Legal Point of View. London.  
  • Cook, A. (1975). The Alabama Claims. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.  
  • deKay, T. (2003). The Rebel Raiders: The Warship "Alabama", British Treachery and the American Civil War. London: Pimlico. ISBN 0712664904.  

External links



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