Skip to main content

Alabama Claims Documents

Identifier: MSS-4160

Scope and Contents

The collection contains historical documents relating to the Geneva Award claims which were the result of a post Civil War action by the US government against the British government for damages suffered by American merchant ships, primarily whalers, resulting from attacks by the CSS Alabama and other Confederate ships.


  • 1870-1886


Biographical / Historical

The Alabama Claims were a series of suits sought by the U. S. government against the British government in 1869 for the attacks on American merchant ships by the CSS Alabama and other Confederate warships. Despite its neutrality, Great Britain did little to stop the sale of several ships built in private British shipyards to the Confederacy. These ships, the most famous being the CSS Alabama, converted into warships and armed outside of Britain, became commerce raiders that created havoc with the American merchant marine fleet.

After the war, the U. S. government and private citizens sought restitution from Great Britain, claiming millions of dollars of damage and loss at the hands of these cruisers, particularly the Alabama. In 1871, Hamilton Fish, President Ulysses S. Grant's Secretary of State, worked out an agreement with British representative to create a commission in Washington comprising six members from the British Empire and six from the United States, with the assignment to resolve the Alabama claims. Representatives of the two governments met in Geneva to argue their cases before an international tribunal, the first of its kind. The tribunal session was held in a reception room in the Town Hall of Geneva, Switzerland (the room has since been known as salle de l'Alabama.). The final award of $15,500,000 formed part of the Treaty of Washington and was paid out by Great Britain in 1872. The United States in turn paid to Great Britain $1,929,819 for illegal Union blockade practices and ceded fishing privileges.

On March 8, 1871, the Treaty of Washington was signed at the State Department; it was ratified by the U.S. Senate on May 24, 1871.

The Treaty of Washington established the principle of international arbitration and launched a movement to codify public international law with the hopes of finding peaceful solutions to international disputes.


0.2 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Historical documents relating to the Geneva Award claims


gift of Lawrence, Marcia, and Micaela Schuffman and Theodore B. Robinson, 2015


To provide faster access to our materials, this finding aid was published without formal and final review. Email us at if you find mistakes or have suggestions to make this finding aid more useful for your research.

Processed by

Martha Bace, 2015



Guide to the Alabama Claims Documents
November 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266