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DISCUSSION OF THE RUSSIAN CLAIMS.
coasts of America, and at the promulgation, by that power, of rules of restriction so deeply affecting the rights of the United States and their citizens; and he desired to know whether the minister was authorized to give explanations of the grounds of the right claimed, upon principles generally recognized by the laws and usages of nations.
To this M. Poletica replied by a long letter, containing a sketchgenerally erroneous — of the discoveries of his countrymen on the
north-west coasts of America, which extended, according to his idea, southward as far as the 49th parallel of latitude. He defended the assumption of the 51st parallel as the southern limit of the possessions of his sovereign, upon the ground that this line was midway between the mouth of the Columbia, where the citizens of the United States had made an establishment, and the Russian settlement of Sitka; and he finally maintained that his government would be justifiable in exercising the rights of sovereignty over the whole of the Pacific north of the said parallel, inasmuch as that section of the sea was bounded on both sides by Russian territories, and was thus, in fact, a close sea. The secretary of state, in return, asserted that, “ from the period of the existence of the United States as an independent nation, their vessels had freely navigated those seas; and the right to navigate them was a part of that independence, as also the right of their citizens to trade, even in arms and munitions of war, with the aboriginal natives of the northwest coast of America, who were not under the territorial jurisdiction of other nations." He denied in toto the claim of the Russians to any part of America south of the 55th degree of latitude, on the ground that this parallel was declared, in the charter* of the Russian American Company, to be the southern limit of the dis
* The first article of the charter or privilege granted by the emperor Paul to the Russian American Company, on the 8th of July, 1799, is as follows:
“In virtue of the discovery, by Russian navigators, of a part of the coast of America in the north-east, beginning from the 55th degree of latitude, and of chains of islands extending from Kamtchatka, northward towards America, and south ward towards Japan, Russia has acquired the right of possessing those lands; and the said company is authorized to enjoy all the advantages of industry, and all the establishments, upon the said coast of America, in the north-east, from the 55th degree of latitude to Bering's Strait, and beyond it, as also upon the Aleutian and Kurile Islands, and the others, situated in the eastern Arctic Ocean.”
By the second article,
“ The company may make new discoveries, not only north, but also south, of the said 55th parallel of latitude, and may occupy and bring under the dominion of Russia all territories thus discovered, observing the rule, that such territories should not have been previously occupied and placed under subjection by another nation.”
coveries of the Russians in 1799; since which period they had made no discoveries or establishments south of the said line, on the coast now claimed by them. With regard to the suggestion that the Russian government might justly exercise sovereignty over the Pacific Ocean as a close sea, because it claims territories both on the Asiatic and the American shores, Mr. Adams merely observed, that the distance between those shores, on the parallel of 51 degrees north, is four thousand miles; and he concluded by expressing the persuasion of the president that the citizens of the United States would remain unmolested in the prosecution of their lawful commerce, and that no effect would be given to a prohibition manifestly incompatible with their rights.
The Russian minister plenipotentiary, a few days after the receipt of Mr. Adams's last communication, sent another note, supporting the rights of his sovereign, in which he advanced “the authentic fact, that, in 1789, the Spanish packet St. Charles, commanded by Captain Haro, found, in the latitude of forty-eight and forty-nine degrees, Russian establishments, to the number of eight, consisting, in the whole, of twenty families, and four hundred and sixty-two individuals, who were the descendants of the companions of Captain Tchirikof, supposed until then to have perished.” Respecting this “authentic fact,” it has been shown, in the account* already given of the Spanish voyage to which the Chevalier Poletica refers, that Martinez and Haro did find eight Russian establishments on the North Pacific coast of America in 1788, but that they were all situated in the latitudes of fifty-eight and fifty-nine degrees, and that the persons inhabiting them had all been, a short time previous, transported thither, from Kamtchatka and the Aleutian Islands, by Schelikof, the founder of the Russian American Company. The minister doubtless derived his information from the introduction to the journal of Marchand's voyage ; but he neglected to read the note appended to that account, in which the error is explained.
The prohibitory regulation of the Russian emperor, and the correspondence relating to it, were immediately submitted to the Congress of the United States; and, in the ensuing year, a negotiation was commenced at St. Petersburg, the object of which was to settle amicably and definitively the limits of the territories on the north-west side of America, claimed by the two nations respectively, and the terms upon which their navigation and trade in the North Pacific were in future to be conducted. A negotiation,
* See p. 186.
DECLARATION OF PRESIDENT MONROE.
for similar purposes, was, at the same time, in progress at St. Petersburg, between the governments of Russia and Great Britain ; the latter power having formally protested against the claims and principles advanced in the ukase of 1821, immediately on its appearance, and subsequently, during the session of the congress of European sovereigns at Verona.* Under these circumstances, a desire was felt, on the part of the government of the United States, that a joint convention should be concluded between the three nations having claims to territories on the north-west side of America; and the envoys of the republic at London and St. Petersburg were severally instructed to propose a stipulation to the effect that no settlement should, during the next ten years, be made, in those territories, by Russians south of the latitude of 55 degrees, by citizens of the United States north of the latitude of 51 degrees, or by British subjects south of the 51st or north of the 55th parallels.
This proposition for a joint convention was not accepted by either of the governments to which it was addressed; the principal ground of the refusal by each being the declaration made by President Monroe in his message to Congress, at the commencement of the session of 1823, that — in the discussions and arrangements then going on with respect to the north-west coasts " the occasion had been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for colonization by any European power.”+ Against this declaration,
* Debate in Parliament on the inquiry made by Sir James Mackintosh on this subject, May 21, 1823.
1 The message of December 22, 1823, containing this declaration, also announced the resolution of the United States to view “as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition" towards themselves any attempt, on the part of a European power, to oppress or control the destiny of any of the independent states of America. This noble resolution was taken upon the assurance that the United States would, if necessary, be sustained in enforcing it by Great Britain, without whose coöperation it would have been ineffective, certainly as to the prevention of the attempts. The circumstances which induced the American government thus, at the same time, openly to offer a blow at the only nation on whose assistance it could depend, in case the anticipated attempts should be made by the despotic powers of Europe, have not been disclosed. That it is the true policy of the United States, by all lawful means, to resist the extension of European dominion in America, and to confine its limits, and abridge its duration, wherever it may actually exist, is a proposition which no arguments are required to demonstrate, either to American citizens or to European sovereigns; but this proclamation, by the government of the United States, of its intention to pursue those ends, could have no other effect than to delay the attainment of them, as it has evidently done.
which - however just and politic might have been the principle announced — was unquestionably imprudent, or at least premature, the British and the Russian governments severally protested ; and as there were many other points on which it was not probable that the three powers could agree, it was determined that the negotiations should be continued, as they had been commenced, separately at London and at St. Petersburg.
Another publication, equally impolitic on the part of the American government, soon after contributed to render more difficult the settlement of the question of boundaries on the Pacific between the United States and Great Britain.
A select committee, appointed by the House of Representatives of the United States, in December, 1823, with instructions to inquire into the expediency of occupying the mouth of the Columbia, requested General Thomas S. Jesup, the quartermaster-general of the army, to communicate his opinions respecting the propriety of the measure proposed, as well as its practicability and the best method of executing it; in answer to which that officer sent, on the 16th of February, 1824, a letter containing an exposition of his views of the true policy of the United States with regard to the north-west coasts and territories of America, and of the means by which they might be carried into effect. Leaving aside the question as to the rights of the United States, he considered the possession and military command of the Columbia and of the Upper Missouri necessary for the protection, not only of the fur trade, but also of the whole western frontier of the republic, which is every where in contact with numerous, powerful, and warlike tribes of savages : and, for this purpose, he recommended the immediate despatch of two hundred men across the continent to the mouth of the Columbia, while two merchant vessels should transport thither the cannon, ammunition, materials, and stores, requisite for the first establishment; after which, four or five intermediate posts should be formed at points between Council Bluffs, on the Missouri, (the most western spot then occupied by American troops,) and the Pacific. By such means, says the letter, " present protection would be afforded to our traders, and, on the expiration of the privilege granted to British subjects to trade on the waters of the Columbia, we should be enabled to remove them from our territory, and to secure the whole trade to our own citizens."
The report of the committee, with the letter from General Jesup annexed, was ordered to lie on the table of the House, and nothing
NEGOTIATION AT LONDON.
more was done on the subject during that session ; the papers, however, were both published, and they immediately attracted the attention of the British ministry. In a conference held at London, in July following, between the American envoy, Mr. Rush, and the British commissioners, Messrs. Huskisson and Stratford Canning, the latter gentlemen commented upon the observations of General Jesup, particularly upon those respecting the removal of British traders from the territories of the Columbia, which, they said, "were calculated to put Great Britain especially upon her guard, appearing, as they did, at a moment when a friendly negotiation was pending between the two powers for the adjustment of their relative and conflicting claims to that entire district of country.”
It is moreover certain, from the accounts of Mr. Rush, as well as from those given subsequently by Mr. Gallatin, that the publication of General Jesup's letter, and the declaration in President Monroe's message against the establishment of European colonies in America, rendered the British government much less disposed to any concession, with regard to the north-west territories, than it would otherwise have been; and there is reason to believe, from many circumstances, that they tended materially to produce a union of views, approaching to a league, between that power and Russia, which has proved very disadvantageous to the interests of the United States on the North Pacific coasts.
The negotiation respecting the north-west coasts of America, commenced at London in April, 1824, was not long continued ; the parties being so entirely at variance with regard to facts as well as principles, that the impossibility of effecting any new arrangement soon became evident. Mr. Rush,* the American plenipotentiary, began by claiming for the United States the exclusive possession and sovereignty of the whole country west of the Rocky Mountains, from the 42d degree of latitude, at least as far north as the 51st, between which parallels all the waters of the Columbia were then supposed to be included. In support of this claim, he cited, as in 1818, the facts — of the first discovery of the Columbia by Gray— of the first exploration of that river from its sources to the sea by Lewis and Clarke of the first settlement on its banks by the Pacific Fur Company, “a settlement which was reduced by the arms of the British during the late war, but was formally sur
* Letter from Mr. Rush to the secretary of state, of August 12th, 1824, among the documents accompanying President Adams's message to Congress of January 31st, 1826.