Page images
PDF
EPUB

every point touched by either of the parties has been already examined minutely in the foregoing pages, it only remains now to recapitulate them, and to add some remarks, which could not have been conveniently introduced at an earlier period.

Mr. Gallatin claimed for the United States the possession of the territory west of the Rocky Mountains, between the 42d and the 49th parallels of latitude, on the grounds of -

The acquisition by the United States of the titles of France through the Louisiana treaty, and the titles of Spain through the Florida treaty;

The discovery of the mouth of the Columbia, the first exploration of the countries through which that river flows, and the establishment of the first posts and settlements in those countries by American citizens ;

The virtual recognition of the title of the United States, by the British government, in the restitution, agreeably to the first article of the treaty of Ghent, of the post near the mouth of the Columbia, which had been taken during the war ;

And, lastly, upon the ground of contiguity, which should give the United States a stronger right to those territories than could be advanced by any other power — a doctrine always maintained by Great Britain, from the period of her earliest attempts at colonization in America, as clearly proved by her charters, in which the whole breadth of the continent, between certain parallels of latitude, was granted to colonies established only at points on the borders of the Atlantic.*

Messrs. Huskisson and Addington, on the other hand, declared that Great Britain claims no exclusive sovereignty over any portion of the territory on the Pacific between the 42d and the 49th parallels of latitude; her present claim, not in respect to any part, but to the whole, being limited to a right of joint occupancy, in common with other states, leaving the right of exclusive dominion in abeyance. They then proceeded to examine the grounds of the claims of the United States, none of which they admitted to be

[ocr errors]

“If,” says Mr. Gallatin, “some trading factories on the shores of Hudson's Bay have been considered by Great Britain as giving an exclusive right of occupancy as far as the Rocky Mountains; if the infant settlements on the more southern Atlantic shores justified a claim thence to the South Seas, and which was actually enforced to the Mississippi, – that of the millions already within reach of those seas cannot con. sistently be rejected.” This argument, it may be added, has been since constantly increasing in force.

1826.)

CLAIMS OF GREAT BRITAIN.

349

valid, except that acquired from Spain, through the Florida treaty, in 1819; and the right thus acquired they pronounced to be nothing more than the right secured to Spain, in common with Great Britain, by the Nootka convention, in 1790, to trade and settle in any part of those countries, and to navigate their waters. Dismissing the claims of Spain, on the grounds of discovery, prior to 1790, as futile and visionary, and inferior to those of Great Britain on the same grounds, they maintained that all arguments and pretensions of either of those powers, whether resting on discovery or on any other consideration, were definitively set at rest by the Nootka convention, after the signature of which, the title was no longer to be traced in vague discoveries, several of them admitted to be apocryphal, but in the text and stipulations of that convention itself; and that, as the Nootka convention applied to all parts of the north-west coast of America not occupied, in 1790, by either of the parties, it of course included any portion of Louisiana which might then have extended, on the Pacific, north of the northernmost Spanish settlement, and which could not, therefore, be claimed by the United States, in virtue of the treaty for the cession of Louisiana to that republic, in 1803.

Having assumed this ground, it was scarcely necessary for the British plenipotentiaries to go further into the examination of the titles of the United States; and they probably acted on this supposition, as it is otherwise impossible to account for the gross misstatements with regard to the discoveries of the Americans, the extravagant and unfounded assumptions, and the illogical deductions, in the document presented by them to Mr. Gallatin, on the part of their government. Thus, with regard to the discovery of the mouth of the Columbia, they insisted that “Mr. Meares, a lieutenant in the royal navy, who had been sent by the East India Company on a trading expedition to the north-west coasts of America,” really effected that discovery four years before Gray is even pretended to have entered the river ;* though they indeed admitted that “Mr. Gray, finding himself in the bay formed by the discharge of the waters of the Columbia into the Pacific, was the first to ascertain that this bay formed the outlet of a great river, a discovery which had escaped Lieutenant Meares” when he entered the same bay; but that, even supposing the priority of Gray's discovery to be proved, it was of no consequence in the case, as the country in which it was made “falls within the provisions of the convention of 1790." They refused to allow that the claims of the United States are strengthened by the exploration of the country through which the Columbia flows, as performed in 1805–6 by Lewis and Clarke, “because, if not before, at least in the same and subsequent years,” the agents of the North-West Company had established posts on the northern branch of the river, and were extending them down to its mouth, when they heard of the formation of the American post at that place in 1811.* That the restoration of Astoria, in 1818, conveyed a virtual acknowledgment by Great Britain of the title of the United States to the country in which that post is situated, was also denied, on the ground that letters protesting against such title were, at the time of the restoration, addressed, by members of the British ministry, to British agents in the United States and on the Columbia.t It is needless to add any thing to what has been already said on these points, in order to prove the entire groundlessness of the assertions contained in the British statement with regard to them.

* See p. 177.

The charters granted by the sovereigns of Great Britain and France, conveying to individuals or companies large tracts of territory in America, were represented, by the British plenipotentiaries, as being nothing more, in fact, than a cession to the grantee or grantees of whatever rights the grantor might suppose himself to possess, to the exclusion of other subjects of the same nation, binding and restraining those only who were within the jurisdiction of the grantor, and of no force or validity against the subjects of other states, until recognized by treaty, and thereby becoming a part of international law." The erroneousness of these views is obvious, and was easily demonstrated by Mr. Gallatin, who showed, by reference to the history of British colonization and dominion in America, that the royal grantors of territories in that continent did consider their charters as binding on all, whether their own subjects or not, and with regard to countries first discovered and settled by people of other nations, whenever they were found to be within the limits thus indicated. These facts were cited, not in vindication of the justice of those grants, but merely to prove in what light they had been regarded by Great Britain : and, if the principle thus assumed by that power, and maintained from 1580 to 1782, as relating to Atlantic colonies, were correct, she could not

[blocks in formation]

1826.]

DETERMINATIONS OF GREAT BRITAIN.

351

deny its application to the United States, now the owners of Louisiana.*

The British plenipotentiaries were, however, clear and explicit as to the intentions of their government, which were declared, at the conclusion of their statement, in terms of moderation and forbearance truly edifying. Great Britain, they assert, claims, at present, nothing more than the rights of trade, navigation, and settlement, in the part of the world under consideration, agreeably to the provisions of the Nootka convention, the basis of the law of nations with regard to those territories and waters, under the protection of which many important British interests have grown up; and she admits that the United States have the same rights, but none other, although they have been exercised only in one instance, and not at all since 1813. In the territory between the 42d and the 49th parallels of latitude, are many British posts and settlements, for the trade and supply of which, the free navigation of the Columbia, to and from the sea, is indispensable; the United States possess not a single post or settlement of any kind in that whole region. Great Britain, nevertheless, for the sake of peace and good understanding, agrees to submit to a definitive partition of that territory, giving to the United States the whole division south of the Columbia, and a large tract containing an excellent harbor, north of that river; and, the United States having declined to accede to this proposition, it only remains for Great Britain to maintain and up

* “ This construction does not appear either to have been that intended at the time by the grantors, or to have governed the subsequent conduct of Great Britain. By excepting from the grants, as was generally the case, such lands as were already oc, cupied by the subjects of other civilized na ns, it was clearly implied that no other exception was contemplated, and that the grants were intended to include all unoccupied lands within their respective boundaries, to the exclusion of all other persons or nations whatsoever. In point of fact, the whole country drained by the several rivers emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, the mouths of which were within those charters, has, from Hudson's Bay to Florida, and, it is believed, without exception, been occupied and held by virtue of those charters. Not only has this principle been fully confirmed, but it has been notoriously enforced much beyond the sources of the rivers on which the settlements were formed. The priority of the French settlements on the rivers flowing westwardly from the Alleghany Mountains into the Mississippi was altogether disregarded; and the rights of the Atlantic colonies to extend beyond those mountains, as growing out of the contiguity of territory, and asserted in the earliest charters, was effectually and successfully enforced.”

The American minister might also have cited the charters granted to the Virginia Company by King James I., in 1609 and 1611, in virtue of which, the Dutch settlements on the Hudson River, in a country first discovered, explored, and occapied, under the flag of the United Provinces, were, in 1664, — forty years after the dissolution of the company, — during peace between the two nations, seized by British forces, as being included in the territories conceded to that company.

hold the qualified rights which she now possesses over the whole of the territory in question. “To the interests which British industry and enterprise have created Great Britain owes protection. That protection will be given, both as regards settlement and freedom of trade and navigation, with every attention not to infringe the coördinate rights of the United States; it being the earnest desire of the British government, so long as the joint occupancy continues, to regulate its own obligations by the same rule which governs the obligations of any other occupying party.” Thus, in 1826, the British government based its claims, with regard to the territories west of the Rocky Mountains, entirely on the Nootka convention of 1790, and the acts of occupation by its subjects under that agreement; the abrogation of which, by the war between the parties, in 1796,- ten years before a single spot in those territories had been occupied by a British subject, — has been already so

fully demonstrated, * that any further observations would be superfluous.

The proposition of the British plenipotentiaries, with regard to the renewal of the existing arrangement for ten years, was rejected by the president of the United States,t on the grounds — that, so far as it would tend to prevent the Americans from exercising exclusive sovereignty at the mouth of the Columbia River, it would be contrary to their rights, as acknowledged by the treaty of Ghent, and by the restitution of the place agreeably to that treaty; — that the proposed additional provisions do not define, but leave open to disputation, the acts which might be deemed an exercise of exclusive sovereignty ;-—and that, from the nature of the institutions of the United States, their rights in the territory in question must be protected, and their citizens must be secured in their lawful pursuits, by some species of government, different from that which it has been, or may be, the pleasure of Great Britain to establish there. Mr. Gallatin, on the 24th of May, 1827, communicated to the British commissioners the fact of the rejection of their proposition, and the reasons for it, declaring, at the same time, formally, in obedience to special instructions, that his government did not hold itself bound hereafter in consequence of any proposal which it had made for a line of separation between the territories of the two nations beyond the Rocky Mountains ; but would consider itself at liberty to contend for the full extent of the claims of the United States.

* See the examinations of this question, at pp. 213, 257, and 318. + Letter of February 24th, 1827, from the Hon. Henry Clay to Mr. Gallatin.

« PreviousContinue »