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THE BOUNDARY OF THE UNITED STATES.
The boundary line between the United States and Great Britain is now settled from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a distance of more than three thousand miles. It has thus been settled at different times. For a portion of the long extent, the Great Lakes form a natural boundary. For a much longer extent, the forty-ninth parallel of latitude, a purely artificial and arbitrary line has been agreed upon. The only points that have given rise to difficulty have been the two extremities of the boundary at the northeast and at the north-west. It is a little singular that in both cases the trouble has arisen in the practical interpretation of words intended to define a natural boundary, — a natural boundary being one that, in theory at least, describes itself. The treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain fixed the north-eastern boundary in the "highlands which divide those rivers that, empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean ;" and the question which arose was geographical, — to find just where those " highlands " were. On the north-west, the treaty of 1846 fixed the boundary in the "channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island;" and the question which arose was to find where that channel lies.
The former question was settled, after years of controversy, by the Ashburton Treaty, in 1842. The latter question arose within a few years after the treaty of 1846. From its nature, it baffled all attempts at solution by discussion between the two governments; and its solution by arbitration was agreed to as a part of the Treaty of Washington, of May 8th, 1871, — the same treaty which provided the way for the adjustment, at Geneva, of the Alabama claims. By the terms of this treaty, the German Emperor was made the arbitrator; and the representatives of the United States and of Great Britain at Berlin respectively were made the agents of their governments to conduct their cases before him.
Under this arrangement, the management of the case at Berlin, in behalf of the United States, devolved upon Mr. Bancroft, our minister at that capital; and he appears to have prepared the papers upon the American side, no doubt under instructions, more or less general or specific, from the Department of State at Washington. On the other side, the province of Mr. Odo Russell, the British minister at Berlin, would seem to have been coufined to formal acts of communication with the German government. Admiral Prevost (who had been commissioner on the part of Great Britain for laying down the boundary under the treaty of 1846) appears to have brought to Berlin the papers on the British side, and to have resided at that capital during the greater part of the time that the case was under consideration by the Emperor. These papers were probably prepared in the Foreign Office at London, and were no doubt the work of various hands.
We need cite but two documents in order to state the whole case as it rested with the arbitrator. The first is an extract from the treaty between the United States and Great Britain, 15th June, 1846: —
Article I. From the point on the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude where the boundary laid down in existing treaties and conventions between the United States and Great Britain terminates, the line of boundary between the territories of the United States and those of Her Britannic Majesty shall be continued westward along the said fortyninth parallel of north latitude to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island, and thence southerly through the middle of said channel, and of Fuca's Straits, to the Pacifio Ocean; provided, however, that the navigation of the whole of said channel and straits south of the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude remain free and open to both parties.
Second, from the Treaty of Washington, 8th May, 1871: —
Article XXXIV. Whereas, it was stipulated by Article I. of the treaty concluded at Washington on the 15th of June, 1846, between the United States and Her Britanuic Majesty, that the line of boundary between the territories of the United States and those of Her Britannic Majesty, from the point on the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude up to which it had already been ascertained, should be continued westward along the said parallel of north latitude " to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island, and thence southerly, through the middle of the said channel and of Fuca Straits, to the Pacific Ocean ;" and, whereas, the commissioners appointed by the two high contracting parties to determine that portion of the boundary which runs southerly through the middle of the channej aforesaid, were unable to agree upon the same; and, whereas, the government of Her Britannio Majesty claims that such boundary line should, under the terms of the treaty above recited, be run through the Rosario Straits, and the government of the United States claims that it should be run through the Canal de Haro, it is agreed that the respective claims of the government of the United States and of the government of Her Britannio Majesty shall be submitted to the arbitration and award of His Majesty the Emperor of Germany, who, having regard to the abovementioned article of the said treaty, shall decide thereupon, finally and without appeal, which of those claims is most in accordance with the true interpretation of the treaty of June 15,1846.
The earlier treaty thus denned the boundary in certain terms; a difference arose respecting their meaning; the second treaty states the claim of each party, and invites the German Emperor to decide which of those claims is " most in accordance " with the true interpretation of the earlier treaty.
Which is the more in accordance with the true interpretation of the treaty of 1846 would have been a phrase more rigidly in compliance with the strict rules of grammar. We mention this point (of course of no practical importance) merely to illustrate the extreme simplicity of the question presented to the arbitrator. He was not invited to make a new boundary for the two countries. The arbitration, bythe act of both parties, proceeded on the theory that the boundary had been, in fact, determined by the treaty of 1846. Nor was he even called upon to examine and decide at large where the line should be run in order to accord with the definition of 1846, but was limited to two particular lines, one being claimed by the United States and the other by Great Britain, as being, in fact, the line described, or attempted to be described, by the earlier treaty. If the question had been put nakedly, without the use of the word "most," or some phrase of equivalent force, even if the question had still been confined to the two lines claimed respectively by each of the two nations, the German Emperor might have answered, and probably would have answered, that neither of those lines exactly fulfilled the conditions of the treaty of 1846, and thus the arbitration would have left the question in dispute precisely where it was before.
We say that the German Emperor might have made this answer, and probably would have made it, because that would have been the true answer. The fact is, that the language of the treaty of 1846, taken by itself, betrays an imperfect knowledge of the geography of the premises. It speaks of "the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island." This form of language would leave no difficulty in interpretation, if we had to deal only with the continent and with Vancouver's Island. But even ordinary maps in use at the time, drawn upon a small scale, showed at least one or two islands lying to the east of Vancouver's Island, between it and the mainland; and the very perfect surveys which have now been made on both sides show that between Vancouver's Island and the mainland there are at least forty or fifty islands south of the parallel of 49°, most of which are very small, that of San Juan, which is the largest, having an area of scarcely one hundred square miles. The space which " separates the continent from Vancouver's Island" is, in fact, rather an archipelago than a channel. Among so many islands are, of course, almost as many passages. A Rob-Roy canoe traveller, who should choose to amuse himself by threading his course among them in as great a variety of ways as possible, would be able to make innumerable voyages from north to south, or in the opposite direction, before he would exhaust all possible variations. But setting aside, on the one hand, narrow passages navigable for canoes, and, on the other, variations from the principal courses, unimportant as affecting the practical question, the number of passages sufficiently considerable to lay any possible claim to the title of "the channel" is reduced to two, — one to the west and the other to the east of the cluster of islands of which San Juan is the principal and the most western.
It was accordingly quite natural that the dispute should arise, which, in point of fact, did arise, as soon as commissioners met on the spot to lay down the boundary. It was natural that Great Britain should claim as the boundary that one of the two passages among the islands which is nearer the continent, and that the United States should claim that one of these two passages which is nearer Vancouver's Island.
It was natural enough that this dispute should arise; but in making a claim for the more eastern passage, and in adhering to it at the last, the agents of Great Britain took the step which led in the end to their utter discomfiture. It is conclusively shown by Mr. Bancroft that this more eastern passage never had a name till it received, during the discussions subsequent to 1846, that of the Rosario Straits (a name originally belonging in a different locality); and in fact Mr. Bancroft is inclined to dispute its right to be called a channel at all. On the other hand, the more western channel, that directly between Vancouver's Island and the island of San Juan, has been known from the earliest times as the Canal de Haro, or Arro, as it is written on the older maps, and is, beyond all question, entitled to be called "the channel." This fact is proved by a formidable array of geographical and nautical evidence.
Independently, therefore, of an entirely different class of considerations leading to the same conclusion, the German Emperor, when called upon to decide between these two particular passages, with reference to the words of the treaty of 1846, could scarcely refrain from giving the preference to the Canal de Haro on purely geographical grounds. Neither the Canal de Haro, nor what are now called the Rosario Straits, "separate the continent from Vancouver's Island" in the sense of being all that separates them; both he between the continent and Vancouver's Island, and the former is the principal and more important passage.
But the decision would have been less certainly in our favor had the British taken from the outset and adhered throughout, to the ground which was proposed in 1857 by Captain Prevost, their commissioner to lay down the boundary, and upon which they rested their latest proposal in the joint high commission before the arbitration was agreed to. This proposal was in substance that the words of the treaty of 1846 should be regarded as descriptive of the whole space between Vancouver's Island and the continent, and that the line should be run through the middle of that space, — cutting through the archipelago of small islands where it might.
There would have been a certain plausibility in this solution of the question. But, as will appear more clearly presently, it would have in effect given to Great Britain all that is of consequence in the question; so that this solution, or even the presentation of the question for arbitration in any terms which would have admitted such a solution, would have been inadmissible on the part of the United States.