Alabama Claims, claims entered against Great Britain by the United States for destruction of shipping by Confederate cruisers built or armed in Britain during the Civil War. Early in the war, the Confederacy contracted to have warships built by British shipyards. The United States minister to Britain, Charles Francis Adams, protested these arrangements as violations of Britain's neutral status. Before the British government intervened, 11 vessels had been built or armed.
The ship named Alabama, by whose name the claims negotiations are known, was the most famous of the Confederate raiders. During two years at sea, 1862–64, under Captain Raphael Semmes, it destroyed or captured more than 60 United States vessels. In a battle off the coast of France in 1864, the Alabama was sunk by the USS Kearsarge.
After the war, the United States insisted upon compensation of $19,021,000 from the British government for damages caused by the 11 Confederate ships. Negotiations supervised by Secretary of State William Seward continued for some time, but without success. Then in 1869 the Johnson-Clarendon Convention was signed, providing for arbitration of Civil War claims and all other controversies dating from 1853. However, the agreement was rejected by the U.S. Senate. Opponents, led by Charles Sumner, objected to the lack of an apology from Britain and the failure to consider “indirect damages” resulting from Britain's alleged partiality to the Confederacy.
Informal negotiations with Britain were conducted for two years by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish. The result was the signing of the Treaty of Washington in 1871. It expressed Britain's regrets, called for international arbitration of the Alabama claims, and arranged for the settlement of all other controversies between the two countries.
An arbitration tribunal at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1872 awarded the United States $15,500,000 in damages. It held Britain responsible only for the destruction committed by the Alabama, Florida , and Shenandoah. The sum was promptly paid, and more cordial relations were restored.