Swords into Plowshares: A Pilgrimage for the CSS Alabama

William Park


During the American Civil War, Britain sold ships to the Southern Confederacy in breach of neutrality obligations, triggering a dispute with the United States carrying threats of armed conflict. Some American politicians saw the dispute as an opportunity to annex Canada, then a weak assemblage of British colonies. Ultimately, arbitration in Geneva averted war, opening an era of long Anglo-American cooperation. The historical consequence of this landmark 1872 arbitration remains difficult to overstate. In addition to its diplomatic importance, the case introduced significant procedural precedents for international arbitration, including dissenting options, reasoned awards, party-appointed arbitrators, collegial deliberations, and arbitrators’ declarations on their own jurisdiction. The saga of the CSS Alabama, the vessel from which the arbitration took its name, provides a narrative as griping in detail as the arbitral proceedings prove meaningful in legal legacy.