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The Determining of the Boundaries
n undetermined frontier is a fertile source of
A trouble, not so much because of the value of
the disputed territory as of the claim that it is national property. What the nation has it will hold; sentiment adds strength to the grasp; even to sell may appear an unworthy compromise in a young country. As long, therefore, as the boundaries between the United States and Canada were anywhere in dispute, a local irritation might have quickly developed into widespread inflammatory disorder. So dangerous were many of these unresolved problems that Americans and Canadians may well be thankful that they have been honourably settled, and are to-day incidents of history which rarely excite hostile comment on either side.
The fixing of the boundaries began in 1783 and was not concluded until 1908, and though there were during the negotiations one or two instances of local uprisings between the settlers on both sides of the line, the final issue was in no case due to a display of force. That such difficult matters should have been brought to a conclusion by reasonable negotiation is a great tribute to the character of those whose interests were concerned; all the greater because there are so few natural barriers as obstacles in the path of adventurers who in their haste to occupy tempting territory interpret the indefinite to their own advantage. Human nature and the countries being what they are, it is remarkable that the peace was not broken; indeed on one or two occasions the issue was accepted because England was bound that frontier matters should not end in hostilities. What would have happened had Canada always demanded to settle them for herself it is unsafe to surmise. Though she was dissatisfied with England on some occasions for what she agreed to on her behalf, probably she could not have done any better in the interpretation of treaties that had been made before she came into existence. In several of the most important cases the real cause of trouble was to be found in the ignorance or possibly the carelessness of the original negotiators.
This is especially true in respect of the settlement of the boundary between Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec, which is the oldest, the most famous and was for long the most dangerous of all frontier disputes. Even at present the Canadian, when taking the shortest route from Montreal to St John he must cross the state of Maine for some three hundred miles, speaks with disappointment of Ashburton's irreparable concession to the United States. But Lord Ashburton has been unjustly blamed. The balance of expert opinion is in his favour on the ground that he made the best of a bad bargain for Great Britain. That bargain was embodied in the Treaty of 1783 when the victorious Americans took every advantage of their success, though it must be pleaded in extenuation for the British negotiators that the only maps they had of that unexplored territory were faulty. If it is realized that even as late as 1838 roads had not yet been built from Maine into the disputed territory, and that the Americans had to ask from New Brunswick the privilege of allowing their surveyors to pass through that province in order to carry out their work in the northern part of the state, the ignorance of the original negotiators, deplorable though the results have been to Canada, is explicable. But when once the interpretation of the treaty began it was conducted by lawyers of first class ability. Britain chose men of the province affected who were deeply interested in the decision, and the sustained skill of her diplomacy finally won for her a comparatively favourable judgment.
The portion of the second article of the treaty of 1783 dealing with the eastern boundary is as follows:
And that all disputes which might arise in future on the subject of the boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared that the following are and shall be their boundaries, viz.: from the North-West
angle of Nova Scotia, viz.: that angle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of the St Croix River to the Highlands; along the said Highlands which divide those rivers which empty themselves into the River St Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean to the NorthWesternmost head of the Connecticut River, down along the middle of that river to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude; from thence by a line due West on said latitude until it strikes the River Iroquois or Cataraquy; thence down along the middle of that River into Lake Ontario. . . . East, by a line to be drawn along the middle of the River St Croix from its mouth in the Bay of Fundy to its source, and from its source directly North to the aforesaid Highlands, which divide the rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the River St Lawrence: comprehending all islands within twenty leagues of any shores of the United States, and lying between lines to be drawn due East from the points where the aforesaid boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one part, and East Florida on the other, shall respectively touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean; excepting such islands as now are, or heretofore have been, within the limits of the said Province of Nova Scotia.
Three main issues were involved in this section of the treaty: (a) What river was truly intended under the name of the river St Croix? (6) What islands in the Bay of Passamaquoddy belonged to His Britannic Majesty and what to the United States ? and (c) What was meant by “the North-West angle of Nova Scotia"?
The first issue was decided by a Commission in 1798; the second by a Commission with the same
British Commissioner, Thomas Barclay, of New Brunswick, in 1817; the third by direct negotiation between Daniel Webster, American Secretary of State, and Lord Ashburton, in 1842.
The treaty of 1783 was intended to perpetuate the accepted boundaries between the colony of Massachusetts Bay, then including what is now the state of Maine, and Nova Scotia, then including what is now the province of New Brunswick. The boundaries of Massachusetts Bay were defined in the charter given by William and Mary; those of Nova Scotia were outlined in the charter given to Sir William Alexander in 1621, and were more fully detailed, though with an unfortunate change, in the commission issued in 1763 to Wilmot as governor of Nova Scotia. Three of the American framers of the treaty, John Adams, Jay and Franklin, survived until the first commission was appointed, but they could state nothing decisive as to its intention beyond the principle just referred to, except that Adams affirmed that the St Croix river was chosen because it was the eastern boundary of Massachusetts Bay. But unfortunately, Mitchell's map of 1755, on which the negotiators had traced the accepted boundaries, had disappeared and was never afterwards produced.
(a) The question for the first commission, that of 1798, to decide, was: What was the historical St Croix river? Historical because De Monts wintered