WHEN Fish took office, he knew that the question of the Alabama Claims was rising to an imminent crisis in the defeat of the treaty planned by Sumner to settle it. That question he justly expected to be the most important he would face.
During the Civil War the two veteran British statesmen, Lord Palmerston as Prime Minister and Lord John Russell as Foreign Secretary --men who had been fighting the battle for liberalism in Europe when Fish was a young lawyer--had incurred the anger of most American citizens. Their Ministry was believed to be sympathetic with the South. Until midsummer of 1863 the North feared they would join the willing Napoleon III in recognizing the independence of the Confederacy. Indeed, just before the news of Antietam reached England, Palmerston and Russell had discussed presenting an offer of mediation based upon Southern freedom, while Gladstone in his Newcastle speech had declared that the Confederate leaders had made an army, were making a navy, and what was more than either, "have made a nation." Palmerston's Whig Ministry seemed at times the very mouthpiece of the widespread Tory hostility toward the North.
In addition, the British Government was blamed for specific commissions and omissions which were held to be improper, offensive, and gravely injurious.1 The Queen's proclamation of neutrality on May 13, 1861, was regarded by many Americans as hasty and unfriendly, and Seward made it the subject of reiterated complaints. The North usually termed it a proclamation of "Confederate belligerency," for it automatically granted the South the rights of belligerents; the Confederate flag was thereafter recognized on the high seas, and Southern ships had the same privileges in British ports as Northern ships. In 1862, despite warnings by Minister Adams, the British Government permitted the Florida to leave Liverpool and take on guns in the Bahamas, and the Alabama to escape from Liverpool and take armament from a British tender in the Azores. In 1863 the steamer Georgia was allowed to leave the Clyde and arm herself at sea; and in 1864 the Shenandoah, a former____________________