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negotiations were commenced with the view of agreeing on an
arbitration, and these negotiations terminated in a convention,
which was signed in London, on the 29th of September, 1827,
under the administration of Mr. Adams. By this time, collis
ions had already begun on the borders, notwithstanding it had
been understood that neither party should exercise exclusive
possession pending the negotiation. Mr. Adams, in his mes
sage of the 8th of December. 1827, after stating the conclusion
of the convention for arbitration, adds :

" While these conventions have been ponding, incidents have oc
curred of conflicting pretensions, and of a dangerous character, upon the
territory itself in dispute between the two nations. By a common un
derstanding between the governments, it was agreed that no exercise of
exclusive jurisdiction by either party, while the negotiation was pending,
should change the state of the question of right to be definitely settled.
Such collision has, nevertheless, recently taken place, by occurrences
the precise character of which has not yet been ascertained."

The King of the Netherlands was appointed arbitrator under
this convention, and he made his award on the 10th of January,
1831. This award was satisfactory to neither party ; it was re
jected by both, and so the whole matter was thrown back upon
its original condition.

This happened during the first term of General Jackson s ad
ministration. He immediately addressed himself to new efforts
for the adjustment of the controversy. His energy and diligence
have both been much commended by his friends ; and they have
not been disparaged by his opponents. He called to his aid, in
the Department of State, successively, Mr. Van Buren, Mr. Liv
ingston, Mr. Me Lane, and Mr. Forsyth.


Now, Mr. President, let us see what progress General Jackson
made, with the assistance of these able and skilful negotiators,
in this highly important business. Why, Sir, the whole story
is told by reference to his several annual messages. In his
fourth annual message, of December, 1832, he says : " The ques
tion of our northeastern boundary still remains unsettled.* In
December, 1833, he says : " The interesting question of our
northeastern boundary remains still undecided. A negotiation,
however, upon that subject, has been renewed since the close of
the last Congress." In December, 1834, he says : " The ques
tion of the northeastern boundary is still pending with Great
Britain, and the proposition made, in accordance with the reso
lution of the Senate, for the establishment of a line according to
the treaty of 1783, has not been accepted by that government.
Believing that every disposition is felt on both sides to adjust
this perplexing question to the satisfaction of all the parties in
terested in it, the hope is yet indulged that it may be effected on
the basis of that proposition." In December, 1835, a similar
story is rehearsed. " In the settlement of the question of the
northeastern boundary," says President Jackson, " little prog
ress has been made. Great Britain has declined acceding to the


proposition of the United States, presented in accordance with
the resolution of the Senate, unless certain preliminary condi
tions are admitted, which I deemed incompatible with a satis
factory and rightful adjustment of the controversy." And in his
last message the President gives an account of all his efforts,,
and all his success, in regard to this most important point in our
foreign relations, in these words : " I regret to say, that many
questions of an interesting nature, at issue with other powers,
are yet unadjusted ; among the most prominent of these is that
of the northeastern boundary. With an undiminished confi
dence in the sincere desire of his Britannic Majesty s govern
ment to adjust that question, I am not yet in possession of the
precise grounds upon which it proposes a satisfactory adjust

With all his confidence, so often repeated, in the sincere
desire of England to adjust the dispute, with all the talents and
industry of his successive cabinets, this question, admitted to be
the most prominent of all those on which we were at issue with
foreign powers, had not advanced one step since the rejection of

VOL. v. 8


the award of the King of the Netherlands, nor did General Jack
son know the grounds upon which a satisfactory adjustment
was to be expected. All this is undeniably true ; and it was all
admitted to be true by Mr. Van Buren when he came into
office ; for in his first annual message he says :

" Of pending questions the most important is that which exists with
the government of Great Britain in respect to our northeastern boun
dary. It is with unfeigned regret that the people of the United States
must look back upon the abortive efforts made by the executive for a
period of more than half a century to determine what no nation should
suffer long to remain in dispute, the true line which divides its possessions
from those of other powers. The nature of the settlements on the bor
ders of the United States, and of the neighboring territory, was for a
season such, that this, perhaps, was not indispensable to a faithful per
formance of the duties of the federal government.

" Time has, however, changed this state of things, and has brought
about a condition of affairs in which the true interests of both countries
imperatively require that this question should be put at rest. It is not
to be disguised, that, with full confidence, often expressed, in the desire
of the British government to terminate it, we are apparently as far from
its adjustment as we were at the time of signing the treaty of peace in

1783 The conviction, which must be common to all, of the

injurious consequences that result from keeping open this irritating ques
tion, and the certainty that its final settlement cannot be much longer
deferred, will, I trust, lead to an early and satisfactory adjustment. At
your last session, I laid before you the recent communications between
the two governments, and between this government and that of the State
of Maine, in whose solicitude concerning a subject in which she has so
deep an interest every portion of the Union participates."

Now, Sir, let us pause and consider this. Here we are, fifty-
three years from the date of the treaty of peace, and the boun
dary not yet settled. General Jackson has tried his hand at
the business for five years, and has done nothing. He cannot
make the thing move. And why not ? Do he and his advisers
want skill and energy, or are there difficulties in the nature of
the case not to be overcome till some wiser course of proceeding
shall be adopted ? Up to this time not one step of progress has
been made. This is admitted, and is, indeed, undeniable.

Well, Sir, Mr. Van Buren then began his administration,
under the deepest conviction of the importance of the question,


in the fullest confidence in the sincerity of the British govern
ment, and with the consciousness that the solicitude of Maine
concerning the subject was a solicitude in which every portion
of the Union participated.

And now. Sir, what did he acccomplish ? What progress
did he make? What step forward did he take, in the whole
course of his administration? Seeing the full importance of
the subject, addressing himself to it, and not doubting the just
disposition of England, I ask again, What did he do ? What
advance did he make ? Sir, not one step, in his whole four
years. Or rather, if he made any advance at all, it was an
advance backward ; for, undoubtedly, he left the question in a
much worse condition than he found it, not only on account of
the disturbances and outbreaks which had taken place on the
border, for the want of an adjustment, and which disturbances
themselves had raised new and difficult questions, but on ac
count of the intricacies, and complexities, and perplexities, in
which the correspondence had become involved. The subject
was entangled in meshes, which rendered it far more difficult to
proceed with the question than if it had been fresh and unem

I must now ask the Senate to indulge me in something of a
more extended and particular reference to proofs and papers,
than is in accordance with my general habits in debate ; because
I wish to present to the Senate, and to the country, the grounds
of what I have just said.

Let us, accordingly, follow the administration of Mr. Van
Buren, from his first message, arid see how this important mat
ter fared in his hands.

On the 20th of March, 1838, he sent a message to the Senate,
with a correspondence between Mr. Fox and Mr. Forsyth. In
this correspondence Mr. Fox says :

" The United States government have proposed two modes in which
such a commission might be constituted ; first, that it might consist of
commissioners, named in equal numbers by each of the two govern
ments, with an umpire to be selected by some friendly European power.
Secondly, that it might be entirely composed of scientific Europeans,
to be selected by a friendly sovereign, and might be accompanied, in its
operations, by agents of the two different parties, in order that such
agents might give to the commissioners assistance and information.


" Her Majesty s government have themselves already stated that
they have little expectation that such a commission could lead to any
useful result, and that they would, on that account, be disposed to object
to it ; and if her Majesty s government were now to agree to appoint
such a commission, it would only be in compliance with the desire so
strongly expressed by the government of the United States, and in spite
of doubts, which her Majesty s government still continue to entertain,
of the efficacy of the measure."

To this Mr. Forsyth replies, that he perceives, with feelings
of deep disappointment, that the answer to the propositions of
the United States is so indefinite, as to render it impracticable
to ascertain, without further discussion, what are the real wishes
and intentions of her Majesty s government. Here, then, a new
discussion arises, to find out, if it can be found out, what the par
ties mean. Meantime, Mr. Forsyth writes a letter of twenty or
thirty pages to the Governor of Maine, concluding with a sug
gestion that his Excellency should take measures to ascertain
the sense of the State of Maine with respect to the expediency
of a conventional line. This correspondence repeats the propo
sition of a joint exploration, by commissioners, and Mr. Fox
accedes to it, in deference to the wishes of the United States,
but with very little hope that any good will come of it.

This is the result of one whole year s work. Mr. Van Buren
sums it up thus, in his message of December, 1838 :

" With respect to the northeastern boundary of the United States, no
official correspondence between this government and that of Great Brit
ain has passed since that communicated to Congress towards the close
of their last session. The offer to negotiate a convention for the appoint
ment of a joint commission of survey and exploration, I am, however,
assured, will be met by her Majesty s government in a conciliatory and
friendly spirit, and instructions to enable the British minister here to
conclude such an arrangement will be transmitted to him without need
less delay."

We may now look for instructions to Mr. Fox, to conclude
an arrangement for a joint commission of survey and explora
tion. Survey and exploration ! As if there had not already
been enough of both ! But thus terminates 1838, with a hope
of coming to an agreement for a survey ! Great progress this,
surely !


And now we come to 1839. And what, Sir, think you, was the
product of diplomatic fertility and cultivation in the year 1839?
Sir, the harvest was one project, and one counter-project. On
the 20th of May, Mr. Fox sent to Mr. Forsyth a draft of a
convention for a joint exploration, by commissioners, the com
missioners to make report to their respective governments. This
was the British project.

On the 29th of July, Mr. Forsyth sent to Mr. Fox a counter-
project, embracing the principle of arbitration. By this, if the
commissioners did not agree, a reference was to be had to three
persons, selected by three friendly sovereigns or states ; and
these arbitrators might order another survey. Here the parties,
apparently fatigued with their efforts, paused ; and the labors of
the year are thus rehearsed and recapitulated by Mr. Van Buren
at the end of the season :

" For the settlement of our northeastern boundary, the proposition
promised by Great Britain, for a commission of exploration and survey,
has been received, and a counter-project, including also a provision for
the certain and final adjustment of the limits in dispute, is now before
the British government for its consideration. A just regard to the deli
cate state of this question, and a proper respect for the natural impa
tience of the State of Maine, not less than a conviction that the negotia
tion has been already protracted longer than is prudent on the part of
either government, have led me to believe that the present favorable
moment should on no account be suffered to pass without putting the
question for ever at rest. I feel confident that the government of her
Britannic Majesty will take the same view of this subject, as I am per
suaded it is governed by desires equally strong and sincere for the ami
cable termination of the controversy."

Here, Sir, in this " delicate state of the question," all things
rested till the next year.

Early after the commencement of the warm weather, in 1840,
the industrious diplomatists resumed their severe and rigorous
labors, and on the 22d of June, 1840, Mr. Fox writes thus to
Mr. Forsyth :

" The British government and the government of the United States

agreed, two years ago, that a survey of the disputed territory, by a joint

commission, would be the measure best calculated to elucidate and solve

the questions at issue. The President proposed such a commission, and



her Majesty s government consented to it ; and it was believed by her
Majesty s government, that the general principles upon which the com
mission was to be guided in its local operations had been settled by mu
tual agreement, arrived at by means of a correspondence which took
place between the two governments in 1837 and 1838. Her Majesty s
government accordingly transmitted, in April of last year, for the con
sideration of the President, a draft of the convention, to regulate the
proceedings of the proposed convention.

" The preamble of that draft recited, textually, the agreement that had
been come to by means of notes which had been exchanged between the
two governments ; and the articles of the draft were framed, as her
Majesty s government considered, in strict conformity with that agree

" But the government of the United States did not think proper to as
sent to the convention so proposed.

" The United States government did not, indeed, allege that the pro
posed convention was at variance with the result of the previous corre
spondence between the two governments ; but it thought that the conven
tion would establish a commission of mere exploration and survey ;
and the President was of opinion, that the step next to be taken by the
two governments should be to contract stipulations, bearing upon the
face of them the promise of a final settlement, under some form or oth
er, and within a reasonable time.

" The United States government accordingly transmitted to the un
dersigned, for communication to her Majesty s government, in the month
of July last, a counter-draft of a convention, varying considerably in
some parts (as the Secretary of State of the United States admitted, in
his letter to the undersigned of the 29th of July last) from the draft pro
posed by Great Britain.

" There was, undoubtedly, one essential difference between the Brit
ish draft and the American counter-draft. The British draft contained
no provision embodying the principle of arbitration. The American
counter-draft did contain such a provision. The British draft contained
no provision for arbitration, because the principle of arbitration had not
been proposed on either side during the negotiations upon which that
draft was founded ; and because, moreover, it was understood, at that
time, that the principle of arbitration would be decidedly objected to by
the United States. But as the United States government have now ex
pressed a wish to embody the principle of arbitration in the proposed
convention, her Majesty s government are perfectly willing to accede
to that wish.

" The undersigned is accordingly instructed to state officially to Mr.


Forsyth, that her Majesty s government consent to the two principles
which form the main foundation of the American counter-draft ; namely,
first, that the commission to be appointed shall be so constituted as ne
cessarily to lead to a final settlement of the questions of boundary at
issue between the two countries ; and secondly, that, in order to secure
such a result, the convention by which the commission is to be created
shall contain a provision for arbitration upon points as to which the Brit
ish and American commission may not be able to agree.

" The undersigned is, however, instructed to add, that there are many
matters of detail in the American counter-draft which her Majesty s
^government cannot adopt.

" The undersigned will be furnished from his government, by an
early opportunity, with an amended draft, in conformity with the princi
ples above stated, to be submitted to the consideration of the President.
And the undersigned expects to be at the same time furnished with in
structions to propose to the government of the United States a fresh,
local, and temporary convention, for the better prevention of incidental
border collisions within the disputed territory during the time that may
be occupied in carrying through the operations of survey or arbitration."

And on the 26th of June, Mr. Forsyth replies, and says :

" That he derives great satisfaction from the announcement that her
Majesty s government do not relinquish the hope, that the sincere desire
which is felt by both parties to arrive at an amicable settlement will at
length be attended with success ; and from the prospect held out by Mr.
Fox of his being accordingly furnished, by an early opportunity, with
the draft of a proposition amended in conformity with the principles to
which her Majesty s government has acceded, to be submitted to the
consideration of this government."

On the 28th of July, 1840, the British amended draft came.
This draft proposed that commissioners should be appointed, as
before, to make exploration ; that umpires or arbitrators should
be appointed by three friendly sovereigns, and that the arbitra
tion should sit in Germany, at Frankfort on the Maine. And
the draft contains many articles of arrangement and detail, for
carrying the exploration and arbitration into effect.

At the same time, Mr. Fox sends to Mr. Forsyth the report
of two British commissioners, Messrs. Mudge and Featherston-
haugh, who had made an ex parte survey in 1839. And a most
extraordinary report it was. These gentlemen had discovered,
that, up to that time, nobody had been right. They invented a


new line of highlands, cutting across the waters of the Aroos-
took and other streams emptying into the St. John, which, in
every previous examination and exploration, had escaped all mor
tal eyes.

Here, then, we had one project more for exploration and ar
bitration, together with a report from the British commissioners
of survey, placing the British claim where it had never been
placed before. And on the 13th of August, there comes again,
as a matter of course, from Mr. Forsyth, another counter-project.
Lord Palmerston is not richer in projects than Mr. Forsyth is
in counter-projects. There is always a Roland for an Oliver.
This counter- project of the 13th of August, 1840, was drawn in
the retirement of Albany. It consists of eighteen articles, which
it is hardly necessary to describe particularly. Of course, it pro
ceeds on the two principles already agreed on, of exploration
and arbitration ; but in all matters of arrangement and detail
it was quite different from Lord Palmerston s draft, communi
cated by Mr. Fox.

And here the rapid march of diplomacy came to a dead halt
Mr. Fox found so many and such great changes proposed to
the British draft, that he did not incline to discuss them. Pie
did not believe the British government would ever agree to Mr.
Forsyth s plan, but he would send it home, and see what could
be done with it.

Thus stood matters at the end of 1840, and in his message, at
the meeting of Congress in December of that year, his valedic
tory message, Mr. Van Buren thus describes the condition of
things which he found to be the result of his four years of nego

" In my last annual message you were informed that a proposition for
a commission of exploration and survey, promised by Great Britain, had
been received, and that a counter-project, including also a provision for
the certain and final adjustment of the limits in dispute, was then before
the British government for its consideration. The answer of that gov
ernment, accompanied by additional propositions of its own, was re
ceived through its minister here, since your separation. These were
promptly considered ; such as were deemed correct in principle, and
consistent with a due regard to the just rights of the United States and
of the State of Maine, concurred in ; and the reasons for dissenting from
the residue, with an additional suggestion on our part, communicated by


the Secretary of State to Mr. Fox. That minister, not feeling himself
sufficiently instructed upon some of the points raised in the discussion,
felt it to be his duty to refer the matter to his own government for its
further decision."

And now, Sir, who will deny that this is a very promising
condition of things, to exist FIFTY-SEVEN years after the conclu
sion of the treaty !

Here is the British project for exploration ; then the Amer
ican counter-project for exploration, to be the foundation of
arbitration. Next, the answer of Great Britain to our counter-
project, stating divers exceptions and objections to it, and with
sundry new and additional propositions of her own. Some of
these were concurred in, but others dissented from, and other
additional suggestions on our part were proposed ; and all these
concurrences, dissents, and new suggestions were brought to
gether and incorporated into Mr. Forsyth s last labor of diplo
macy, at least his last labor in regard to this subject, his coun
ter-project of the 13th of -August, 1840. That counter- project
was sent to England, to see what Lord Palmerston could make
of it. It fared in the foreign office just as Mr. Fox had fore
told. Lord Palmerston would have nothing to do with it. He
would not answer it; he would not touch it; he gave up the
negotiation in apparent despair. Two years before, the parties
had agreed on the principle of joint exploration, and the princi
ple of arbitration. But in their subsequent correspondence, on
matters of detail, modes of proceeding, and subordinate arrange
ments, they had, through the whole two years, constantly receded
farther, and farther, and farther from each other. They were
flying apart ; and, like two orbs moving in opposite directions,
could only meet after they should have traversed the whole circle.

But this exposition of the case does not describe, by any
means, all the difficulties and embarrassments arising from the
unsettled state of the controversy. We all remember the
troubles of 1839. Something like a border war had broken out.
Maine had raised an armed civil posse ; she fortified the line,
or points on the line, of territory, to keep off intruders and to
defend possession. There was Fort Fairfield, Fort Kent, and I
know not what other fortresses, all memorable in history. The
legislature of Maine had placed eight hundred thousand dollars
at the discretion of the Governor, to be used for the military


Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 9 of 53)