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THE NORTHEASTERN BOUNDARY.*
Mr. President:- I have had very great gratification in listening to your dissertation on the topics connected with the newly found map of the late Mr. Jay. I came here to be instructed, and I have been instructed, by an exhibition of the results of your information, and consideration of that subject. I came, however, without the slightest expectation of being called on to say any thing upon that or any other topic connected with the treaty, in the negotiation of which it was my fortune to bear a part. I am free to say, Sir, that the map which hangs over your head does appear to be proved, beyond any other documents now producible, to have been before the commissioners in Paris in 1782. That fact, and the lines and marks which the map bears, lead to inferences of some importance. If they be not such inferences as remove all doubts from these contested topics, they may yet have no inconsiderable tendency towards rebutting or controlling other inferences of an opposite character, drawn, or attempted to be drawn, from similar sources.
Before making any particular remarks upon the subject of the several maps, I will advert to two or three general ideas, which it is always necessary to carry along with us in any process of reasoning upon this subject. Let us remember, then, in the first place, that the treaty of 1783 granted nothing to the United States, - nothing. It granted no political rights. It granted not one inch of territory. The political rights of the United States
Remarks made at a Meeting of the New York Historical Society, on the 15th of April, 1843.
† It must be particularly borne in mind, in reading this speech, that intelligence of the discovery of Oswald's map, and of the line marked upon it, had not yet reached America. VOL. II.
had been asserted by the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and stood, and stand, and always will stand, upon that Declaration. The territorial limits of the several States stood upon their respective ancient charters and grants from the British crown, going back to the times of the Stuarts. The treaty of peace of 1783 acknowledged, it did not grant, the independence of the United States. It acknowledged the independence of the United States as they then existed, with the territories that belonged to them, respectively, as colonies. That which has since become, or afterwards became, the subject of dispute, was territory claimed by Great Britain on the one hand, and by Massachusetts on the other. The question was the definition of the boundary between the English Provinces of Canada and Nova Scotia or New Brunswick,«and Massachusetts. But as, by the acknowledgment of the independence of the United States, England had put herself in a condition to treat diplomatically with the whole Union, this matter of disputed boundary between England and the State of Massachusetts thenceforward became a question of boundary between the United States and England; because the treaty-making power necessarily devolved upon the whole Union, as well according to the Articles of Confederation, as, afterwards, according to the Constitution of the United States. Well, then, the question was, What is, or what was, the boundary between the State of Massachusetts and the British Province of Nova Scotia? Nova Scotia did not join in the war of independence, and did not separate from the mother country; Massachusetts did, and the question therefore arose, What was the boundary between them?
Now, in order to a general understanding of that, we must go a little back in the history of political occurrences on this continent. The war of 1756 brought on a general conflict in America between England on the one side, and France and Spain on the other. From that period till the peace of 1763, which terminated the war, Spain possessed Florida, and Canada belonged to the French. By the peace of Paris, in 1763, Canada on the north, and Florida on the south, were ceded by France and Spain, respectively, to Great Britain. Other conquests were made by British power in the West Indies; and the British ministry, in October of that year, by the celebrated proclamation of the 7th of that month, defined the boundaries of these re
spective Colonies thus obtained from France and Spain; and so far as the present subject is concerned, it may be enough to say, that the British government, in issuing the proclamation of 1763, defining, describing, and settling the boundaries of the newly acquired Province of Canada or Quebec, asserted as the boundary of Canada a line against which Massachusetts had contended with France during the preceding thirty or forty years. That is to say, the Colony of Massachusetts had insisted that her territory ran to the north bank of the St. Law
She claimed not to the highlands, but over them down to the river. England had never discountenanced this claim of her colony as against France. England, then becoming owner of Canada by conquest and subsequent cession, described its boundaries as she desired to fix them, by the celebrated line of “ highlands.” According to the proclamation, the line from Lake Nepissing (at the northwest) was to cross the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain in the 45th degree of north latitude, and thence to proceed along the highlands which divide the rivers that empty themselves into the St. Lawrence from those which fall into the sea.
Massachusetts complained of the proclamation of 1763 as taking into Canada what she had insisted on as matter of her own right. Mr. Borland, the Massachusetts agent, presented it strongly to the British ministry, as an invasion of the territorial rights of that Colony. It happened, however, that in the interior of Maine, near the Kennebec, there was a tract of country to which it was alleged the crown of England had rightful claim. There grew up, therefore, a tacit consent, soon after the peace of 1763, between the crown of England and Massachusetts, that, if the former would forbear to assert any right to this territory, included within the general limits of the Province of Maine, Massachusetts would not press the matter respecting the boundary between that Province and Canada. Well, under these circumstances, when the peace of 1783 was made, the question was to ascertain what was the boundary between Massachusetts and Nova Scotia. The country was a wilderness, and the line was not easily defined. Many historical documents, the proclamation of 1763, and many prior and subsequent proceedings of the governments, were resorted to. Now I suppose that the object of the commissioners of 1783 was to
ascertain what was the existing line, and not to run any new line, as England, being possessor of Canada by conquest from France, claimed under the French, and, acccording to general principles, would be bound by what had been the claims of her grantor. Now it is certain, that whilst the French owned Canada, down to the very day of its cession to Great Britain by the peace of 1763, the French maps, so far as I know, with hardly an exception, if any, represent the divisional line between Massachusetts and Nova Scotia exactly according to the line contended for by us.
The French maps which gave another representation were the production of a subsequent epoch. It was fair, therefore, to say to England, “ You must claim under your grantors, and according to their claim.”
The provisions of the treaty of 1783 undoubtedly meant to ascertain what the line was as it then existed, and so to describe it. In regard to the map now presented, supposing the fact to be as I take it to be, that it was before the commissioners, because it has Mr. Jay's memorandum upon it, and connecting it with the proposition of the British minister of the 8th of October, 1782, several things seem very fairly to be deducible; and an important one is, that the northwest angle of Nova Scotia and the sources of the River St. John are identical according to this map and according to Mr. Oswald's proposition. How comes it, then, the northwestern angle of Nova Scotia and the sources of the St. John being identical in the minds of men of that day, that that idea has not been followed up? And this leads to one of the questions about which it is impossible to say that any one can lay down beforehand any positive rule, or decide fairly, without a full knowledge of the facts of the particular case. The commissioners proceeded upon a conviction of the accuracy and correctness of the geographical delineation upon the paper on their table. Should it afterwards turn out, either that that delineation was in some small degree incorrect, or that it was materially incorrect, or that it was altogether incorrect, what is the rule for such a case, or how far are mutual and common mistakes of this kind to be corrected? On the face of Mitchell's map, (and a copy of that map was before the commissioners, as all admit,) the Madawaska is laid down as a north and south line, or a river running from the north to the south. Mr. Oswald accordingly says, “ beginning at the northwest angle of Nova Scotia,"
and then tracing the boundary to the Mississippi, down that river to latitude thirty-one north, and so to the sea, and along the sea; and then says, the eastern boundary shall be the River St. John, from its source to its mouth. He goes, therefore, on the idea, evidently, that the source of the St. John is at the northwest angle of Nova Scotia ; or else he leaves a hiatus in his description. The fact, as stated by you, Sir, is, that this delineation of the Madawaska was erroneous. It is not a north and south river. Errors in the calculation of the longitude had led to giving it a north and south direction on the map, whereas it should have had a northwest and southeast direction; and this error carries it, in order to conform to the fact, from forty to fifty miles farther to the west. Now, of the various questions which we may reasonably suppose to arise in a case of this sort, one would be, whether, in a case of mutual mistake of that kind, founded on a mutual misapprehension, this error was to be corrected, or whether the parties were to be bound by it, let the true course of that river be what it might. These questions are no longer of great importance to us, since the whole matter has been settled; but they may have their influence, and are worthy of consideration in an historical point of view.
The conflict of these maps is undoubtedly a pretty remarkable circumstance. The great mass of contemporaneous maps are favorable to the claims of the United States, and the remarks read by the President of the Society are most cogent to evince this. The treaty negotiated in Paris by Mr. Oswald, on the part of the British government, met with great opposition in Parliament. It was opposed on the very ground that it made a line of boundary "exceedingly inconvenient to Great Britain"; or, as a leading member of Parliament said, that it made the United States masters both of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; and maps were published exhibiting this line exactly as claimed by the United States. These maps accompanied the Parliamentary papers and debates. Now, it is very extraordinary, it would be deemed almost incredible, that, if these maps, thus making out a case on which so much stress had been laid against the British ministry and their negotiation, had been erroneous, nobody in the Foreign Office, nor the minister, nor Mr. Oswald himself, should have one word to suggest against the accuracy of these maps. They defended the treaty and boun