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what grounds the territory was considered as part of the British dominions, the minister did not attempt to show.
Mr. Bagot at the same time communicated the circumstances to his government, and they became the subjects of discussion between Lord Castlereagh, the British secretary for foreign affairs, and Mr. Rush, the American plenipotentiary at London. Lord Castlereagh proposed that the question respecting the claim to the post on the Columbia should be referred to commissioners, as many other disputed points had been, agreeably to the treaty of Ghent; to which Mr. Rush objected, for the simple reasons — that the spot was in the
possession of the Americans before the war; that it fell, by belligerent capture, into the hands of the British during the war; and that, " under a treaty which stipulated the mutual restitution of all places reduced by the arms of either party, the right of the United States to immediate and full repossession could not be impugned.” The British secretary, upon this, admitted the right of the Americans to be reinstated, and to be the party in possession, while treating on the title; though he regretted that the government of the United States should have employed means to obtain restitution which might lead to difficulties. Mr. Rush had no apprehensions of that kind; and it was finally agreed that the post should be restored to the Americans, and that the question of the title to the territory should be discussed in the negotiation as to limits and other matters, which was soon to be commenced. Lord Bathurst, the British secretary for the colonies, accordingly sent to the agents of the North-West Company at the mouth of the Columbia a despatch, directing them to afford due facilities for the reoccupation of the post at that point by the Americans; and an order to the same effect was also sent from the Admiralty to the commander of the British naval forces in the Pacific.
The Ontario passed around Cape Horn into the Pacific, and arrived, in February, 1818, at Valparaiso, where it was agreed between the commissioners that Captain Biddle should proceed to the Columbia, and receive possession of Astoria for the United States, Mr. Prevost remaining in Chili for the purpose of transacting some business with the government of that country, which had also been intrusted to him. Captain Biddle accordingly sailed to the Columbia, and, on the 9th of August, he took temporary possession of the country on that river, in the name of the United States, after which he returned to the South Pacific.
In the mean time, Commodore Bowles, the commander of the 1818.]
ASTORIA RESTORED TO THE UNITED STATES.
British naval forces in the South Sea, received at Rio de Janeiro the order from the Admiralty for the surrender of the post on the Columbia to the Americans. This order he transmitted to Captain Sheriff, the senior officer of the ships in the Pacific, who, meeting Mr. Prevost at Valparaiso, informed him of the contents of the order, and offered him a passage to the Columbia, for the purpose of completing the business, as it certainly could not have been done by Captain Biddle. This offer was accepted by the American commissioner, who proceeded, in the British frigate Blossom, to the Columbia, and entered that river in the beginning of October; and Mr. Keith, the superintending partner of the North-West Company at Fort George, or Astoria, having also received the order, from the colonial department at London, for the surrender of the place, the affair was soon despatched.* On the 6th of the month, Captain Hickey and Mr. Keith, as joint commissioners on the part of Great Britain, presented to Mr. Prevost a paper declaring that, in obedience to the commands of the prince regent, as signified in Lord Bathurst's despatch of the 27th of January previous, and in conformity to the first article of the treaty of Ghent, they restored to the government of the United States, through its agent, Mr. Prevost, the settlement of Fort George, on the Columbia River; and Mr. Prevost, in return, gave another paper, setting forth the fact of his acceptance of the settlement for his government, agreeably to the
* President Monroe's message to Congress of April 17th, 1922, accompanied by Mr. Prevost's letter, dated Monterey, November 11th, 1818. The two papers above mentioned are of so much importance, that they are bere given at length.
The act of delivery presented by the British commissioners is as follows:
“ In obedience to the commands of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, signified in a despatch from the right honorable the Earl Bathurst, addressed to the partners or agents of the North-West Company, bearing date the 27th of January, 1818, and in obedience to a subsequent order, dated the 26th of July, from W. H. Sheriff, Esq., captain of his Majesty's ship Andromache, we, the undersigned, do, in conformity to the first article of the treaty of Ghent, restore to the Government of the United States, through its agent, J. B. Prevost, Esq., the settlement of Fort George, on the Columbia River. Given under our hands, in triplicate, at Fort George, (Columbia River,) this 6th day of October, 1818.
“F. HICKEY, Captain of his Majesty's ship Blossom.
“ J. Keith, of the North-West Company." The act of acceptance, on the part of the American commissioner, is in these words :
“ I do hereby acknowledge to have this day received, in behalf of the Government of the United States, the possession of the settlement designated above, in conformity to the first article of the treaty of Ghent. Given under my hand, in triplicate, at Fort George, (Columbia River,) this 6th of October, 1818.
“J. B. Prevost, Agent for the United States."
above-mentioned treaty. The British flag was then formally lowered, and that of the United States, having been hoisted in its stead over the fort, was saluted by the Blossom.
The documents above cited - the only ones which passed between the commissioners on this occasion — are sufficient to show that no reservation or exception was made on the part of Great Britain, and that the restoration of Astoria to the United States was complete and unconditional. Nevertheless, in a negotiation between the governments of those nations, in 1826, relative to the territories of the Columbia, it was maintained by the plenipotentiaries of Great Britain,* that the restoration of Astoria could not have been legally required by the United States, in virtue of the treaty of Ghent, because the place was not a national possession, nor a military post, and was not taken during war; but “ in order that not even the shadow of a reflection might be cast upon the good faith of the British government, the latter determined to give the most liberal extension to the terms of the treaty of Ghent; and in 1818, the purchase which the British Company had made in 1813 was restored to the United States ; particular care being, however, taken, on this occasion, to prevent any misapprehension as to the extent of the concession made by Great Britain.” In support of this last assertion, two documents are produced, as having been addressed, in 1818, by the British ministers to their own agents, and which, though never before published, or communicated in any way to the United States, were considered by the plenipotentiaries, in 1826, as putting the case of the restoration of Fort Astoria in too clear a light to require further observation." One of these documents is presented as an extract from Lord Castlereagh's despatch to Mr. Bagot, dated February 4th, 1818, in which his lordship says, “ You will observe, that whilst this government is not disposed to contest with the American government the point of possession, as it stood in the Columbia River, at the moment of the rupture, they are not prepared to admit the validity of the title of the government of the United States to this settlement. In signifying, therefore, to Mr. Adams the full acquiescence of your government in the reoccupation of the limited position which the United States held in that river at the breaking out of the war, you will, at the same time, assert, in suitable terms, the claim of Great Britain to that territory, upon which the American settlement must be considered an encroach
Statement presented by the British plenipotentiaries to Mr. Gallatin, among the Proofs and Illustrations, letter H. See hereafter, chap. xvi.
PRETENDED RESERVATION OF BRITISH RIGHTS.
ment;" the plenipotentiaries add that “this instruction was executed verbally by the person to whom it was addressed.” The other document purports to be a copy of the despatch from Lord Bathurst to the partners of the North-West Company, mentioned in the Act of Delivery, presented by Messrs. Keith and Hickey, directing them to restore the post on the Columbia, “in pursuance of the first article of the treaty of Ghent,” in which the words “ without, however, admitting the right of that government to the possession in question" appear in a parenthesis.*
Now, as the treaty of Ghent provides for the restoration of all territory, places, and possessions whatsoever, taken by either party from the other during the war,” except those specially named on the Atlantic coast, it is needless to inquire whether Astoria was a military post or not. As to its being a national possession, the question is sufficiently answered by the mere statement of the facts. The establishment was founded by a company of American citizens formed under a charter from an American authority, legally empowered to grant it, in a territory which either belonged to the United States or to Spain, or was free and open to the whole world. The United States had acquired rights, by discovery and occupation, which no other power than Spain could contest ; for the Nootka Convention, under which Great Britain might have advanced any claim in the country, had expired in 1796, and it is not pretended that this agreement was renewed until August, 1814. That the establishment thus formed was a national possession, agreeably to the principles maintained by the British government, there can be no doubt; the fact being conclusively proved by the conduct of that power with respect to the pretended settlement at Nootka in 1790. That this possession was taken by the British during war, is also equally clear. A party of British traders came to the fort, or factory, and informed its holders that a naval force was on its way from England, with orders to take and destroy every thing American in that quarter : these traders, at the same time, offered to purchase the property of the American company; to which the agents of the latter party agreed, in consideration of the probability that it would otherwise be lost to them, either by capture or by their own destruction of it. The property of the American citizens thus passed into the hands of the British subjects by a mercantile operation : yet the latter could not thereby acquire, nor the former cede, in any way, the na
See copy of this order, as first produced by the British plenipotentiaries, in 1827, in their statement, at page 453 of the present volume.
+ Upon these points see hereafter, pages 318 to 320
tional rights of the United States, whatsoever they may have been, to the territory; nor was any such idea entertained there at the time of the transaction. The arrangement between the chiefs of the two companies was kept secret, and the American flag remained flying over the fort, until its surrender to the British naval commander, who took possession of it in the name of His Britannic Majesty, and hoisted the ensign of his nation in the place of that of the United States. Then, and not till then, did the rights of the American republic cease; from that moment, and only from that moment, did they remain dormant, until their revival by the treaty of Ghent. Under what other title than that of conquest did Great Britain hold possession during the intermediate period ?
The two documents, which the British plenipotentiaries consider as putting “the case of the restoration of Astoria in too clear a light to require further observation,” are wholly inadmissible as evidence in the case,” being simply despatches from British ministers to their own agents, intended exclusively for the instruction of the latter, and with which the United States have no more concern than with the private opinions of those ministers. The attempt to represent such communications as reservations of right on the part of Great Britain to the very territory which she was then in the act of restoring to the United States, expressedly in pursuance of a treaty, is alike at variance with the common sense and the common morals of the day; and no arguments are required to show that, if such reservations were allowable, all engagements between nations would be nugatory, and all faith at an end. The statement respecting the assertion of the British claim to Astoria, verbally made by Mr. Bagot to Mr. Adams, is incomplete ; for, as Mr. Gallatin justly observed in answer, “it is not stated how the communication was received, nor whether the American government consented to accept the restitution with the reservation, as expressed in the despatch to
"* and it is, moreover, by no means consonant with the usages of diplomatic intercourse at the present day, to treat verbally on questions so important as those of territorial sovereignty, or to
* Upon the subject of this verbal communication, the following may be found in Mr. Adams's despatch to Mr. Rush, of July 22d, 1823 : -- “ Previous to the restoration of the settlement at the mouth of the Columbia River, in 1818, and again upon the first introduction in Congress of the plan for constituting a territorial government there, some disposition was manifested, by Sir Charles Bagot and Mr. [Stratford) Canning, to dispute the right of the United States to that establishment, and some vague intimation was given of the British claims on the north-west coast. The restoration of the place, and the convention of 1818, were considered as a final disposal of Mr. Bagot's objections, and Mr. Canning declined committing to paper those which he had intimated in conversation."