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Boundaries between countries are established by treaties made by the sovereign powers concerned.

A boundary between two States of the United States may be changed by agreement of the State legislatures, but this agreement must be approved by Congress. The United States Congress can not change a State boundary without the consent of the State, nor can two States by mutual agreement change their common boundary without the consent of Congress. The consent of Congress to a a change in a boundary need not be granted by a special act but may be inferred from subsequent legislation. Several times Congress has given its consent in advance for adjoining States to fix an indefinite water boundary between them.

A boundary between a State and a Territory is fixed by joint action of Congress and the State. Boundaries between Territories are fixed

1 See Brigham, A. P., Principles in the determination of boundaries : Geog. Rev., vol. 7, pp. 201-219, 1919.

.U. 8. Supreme Court Repts., 11 Wallace, pp. 39-59 (78 U. S. 39-59); 148 U. S. 502 et al. (Prior to 1876 the volumes of the United States Supreme Court reports were designated by the name of the official reporter and a number. Some sets of these early reports are now numbered serially also. In order of issue there are 4 reports by Dallas (serial Nos. 1-4), covering the years 1790 to 1800; 9 by Cranch (serial Nos. 5–13), 1801 to 1816; 12 by Wheaton (serial Nos. 14–25), 1816 to 1827 ; 16 by Peters (serial Nos. 26-41), 1828 to 1842; 24 by Howard (serial Nos. 42–65), 1843 to 1860; 2 by Black (serial Nos. 86–87), 1861 to 1862; and 23 by Wallace (serial Nos. 68–90), 1863 to 1874. Begioning with No. 91, for 1875, the volumes have been numbered serially only. References to these reports are customarily made thus : “6 Cranch 24," "10 Howard 40.” The serial number of the volume is sometimes given also. Beginning with volume 91, the references are given in the form “97 U. S. 271," meaning volume 97 of the United States Supreme Court reports, p. 271, the page number always being given last.)

* 86 Stat. L. 1160–1161 ; 36 Stat. L. 881 ; see also 41 Stat. L. 1447. (References in this volume to acts of Congress, joint resolutions, and presidential proclamations, contained in the United States Statutes at Large, are given in the form here used ; " 36 Stat. L. 881," for example, means volume 36, p. 881.) See Article IV, sec. 3, of the Constitution of the United States. The conditions under which ratification by Congress is essential are described at length in 148 U. S. 520-522. See also an excellent review of this question in the opinion, dated June 17, 1929, rendered by the attorney general of Texas to a joint legislative committee of that State, regarding the 100th meridian boundary.


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by congressional action alone. Disputes between States regarding boundaries must be settled by the United States Supreme Court, whose decisions are final.*

It is a well-established principle, recognized by the courts and by Congress, that a State or national boundary line as marked on the ground and accepted by the parties interested is the legal boundary for all purposes, whether or not it is the place designated by statute."

Long acquiescence in the possession of territory and in the exercise of dominion and sovereignty over it is conclusive of the Nation's title and rightful authority. (See p. 130.)

The statute of limitations in the possession of land does not operate against the United States or a State, and title to Government land can not be acquired by adverse possession.?

When original boundary marks have been destroyed, the law as well as common sense must declare that a supposed boundary line long acquiesced in is better evidence of where the real line should be than any survey made after the original monuments have disappeared.'

If by treaty or statute a nonnavigable river or smaller stream is named as a boundary between States or nations and neither the bank nor the main channel is specified, the line midway between the two banks is the actual boundary. A treaty, statute, or cession may specify that one bank or the other is the boundary; in that case either the high water or the low-water mark may be the line, according to the wording of the agreement. For example, the north boundary of Kentucky is the low-water mark on the north bank of the Ohio (see p. 186), as fixed by the act of cession by Virginia, but the high-water mark on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River forms part of the west boundary of Georgia.'

If a boundary line described as following the middle of a river intersects an island, it is the usual policy to give the entire island to the State or Government to which the greater part would fall. This rule was followed by the commission acting under Article VI of the treaty of Ghent in fixing the St. Lawrence River boundary, also by the Rhode Island and Massachusetts commissions. 10

No land can be considered an island unless it is surrounded by water at all times. The same tract of land can not be sometimes in Kentucky and sometimes

• 148 U. S. 503.
6 148 U. S. 503.
6 136 U. S. 510; 202 U. S. 1; 270 U. S. 295.

? 39 Fed. 654; 95 Pacific 278. See Act of Dec. 22, 1928, Public No. 645, 70th Cong., for conditions under which a patent may be obtained to United States land held for 20 years under "color of title."

8 Stewart v. Carleton, 31 Mich. Repts. 270; Diehl v. Zanger, 39 Mich. Repts. 601. • 13 Howard 380.

10 For reference to the use of the water of rivers that cross State lines, abstract of laws, and bibliography of 70 entries relating to that subject, see Hinderlider, M. C., and Meeker, R. I., Soc. Civil Eng. Trans., vol. 90, pp. 1035–1051, 1927. See also 206 U. S. 46; 259 U. S. 419,


& 11 5 Wheaton 374. See decision regarding Wolf Island, Mississippi River, 11 Wallace 395.

in Indiana, according to the rise and fall of the river. It must be always in the one State or the other." Where running streams are the boundaries between States,

when the bed and channel are changed by the natural and gradual processes known as erosion and accretion, the boundary follows the varying course of the stream (see 265 U. S. 499); while if the stream from any cause, natural or artificial, suddenly leaves its old bed and forms a new one, by the process known as avulsion, the resulting change of channel works no change of boundary, which remains in the middle of the old channel (or on one bank if so fixed by statute), although no water may be flowing in it."

So long as that channel (as it was previous to avulsion) remains a running stream the boundary marked by it is still subject to be changed by erosion and accretion; but when the water becomes stagnant * the boundary then becomes fixed in the middle of the channel.”

Thus it may happen that a line described by statute or treaty as a river boundary later runs across dry land, where it remains fixed unless the river returns to its former channel and changes it by slow action. There are many illustrations of this rule in the United States—for example, along the Rio Grande below El Paso, along the Missouri River between Missouri and Kansas and between Missouri and Nebraska, and on the Mississippi between Tennessee and Arkansas.

If after an avulsion the boundary is again moved by new accretions, a Supreme Court rule" requires that the boundary be so placed that each State (or individual) shall have a water frontage proportional to what it was immediately after the avulsion occurred, general directions only being considered."

When a navigable river constitutes the boundary between two independent States, the line defining the point at which the jurisdiction of the two separates is well established to be the middle of the main channel of the stream." The controlling consideration which fixes the jurisdiction between neighboring States bordering on a navigable stream“ is that which preserves to each State equality in the right of navigation in the river."18


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246 U. S. 173. 18 246 U. S. 175.

14 See Geological Survey maps of the Nemaba quadrangle (Mo.-Nebr.), Fort Leavenworth quadrangle (Mo.-Kans.), El Paso quadrangle (Tex.), etc. See also maps in Elimination of bancos, treaty of 1905 ; International Boundary Comm., United States and Mexico. Proc., 2d ser., Nos. 59 and 89, U. S. Dept. State, 1912.

33 18 Howard 150; 1 Black 209. See also 48 Mich. 88.

16 Many examples of the application of this rule are shown on the maps accompanying the reports of the commissioners who established the boundary between Oklahoma and Texas along the Red River. See report No. 4, Jan. 31, 1927, Supreme Court of the U. S., original No. 6, October term, 1926.

17 This general rule has no application to a case governed by convention or by a special right based on prior possession. (See 202 U. S. 29.)

18 143 U. S. 359-367 ; 147 U. S. 7–13; 202 U. S. 149; 211 U. S. 127–134 ; 214 U. S. 205, 215; 246 U. S. 158; 247 U. S. 461 ; 250 U. S. 39 ; 252 U. S. 282; 259 U. S. 572. Convention with Mexico, Nov. 12, 1884, Art. I. See Opinions of the Attorney General, vol. 8, pp. 175–180, for many references to these rules in international law.


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The rule as to what constitutes a navigable stream or lake was
reaffirmed in a decision by the United States Supreme Court 18 dated
February 1, 1926, as follows:
Streams or lakes

are navigable

when they are used or susceptible of being used in their natural or ordinary condition as highways for commerce

whether by steamboats, sailing vessels, or flat boats. At common law only arms of the sea and streams where the tide ebbs and flows are deemed navigable.20 The terms “thalweg," "fairway," “midway,” or “main channel”


“ are used in the definition of water boundaries between States, meaning the middle or deepest or best navigable channel. They are applied to water boundaries in sounds, bays, straits, gulfs, estuaries, and other arms of the sea, also to boundary lakes and land-locked seas in which there is a deep-water sailing channel.

The middle of the channel refers to the space within which ships can and usually do pass. This may be and often is midway between the two banks. It is not necessarily the deepest channel, which may be so crooked that it can not be used. 21

The true water boundary lines for Mississippi River States are lines along the middle of the main channel of navigation as it existed in 1783, subject to such changes as have occurred since that time through natural and gradual processes."

For States bordering on the Mississippi the terms “ middle of the Mississippi River," "middle of the main channel of the Mississippi River," “ the center of the main channel of that river" are synonymous.

Changes in rivers caused by the works of man do not change boundaries.

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The building of docks or other structures in a river does not work an alteration in a boundary line, nor does it affect the sovereignty of the State over the area occupied by such structures.

He who owns submerged land owns the land reclaimed.25

Each. State may establish rules of property over land which emerges on either side of an interstate boundary stream, but such rules extend to the interstate boundary line only."

In a case before the United States Supreme Court regarding title to land along a tidal stream in a newly created State it was decided 27 that the shores of navigable rivers and the soil under them up to


19 270 U. S. 49. 20 140 U. S. 383.

M 147 U. S. 1. For many references to court decisions regarding water boundaries see Hyde, C. C., International law, vol. 1, pp. 243-248, Boston, 1922 ; and Clark, F. E., A treatise on the law of surveying and boundaries, p. 38 and ch. 14, Indianapolis, 1922.

22 246 U. S. 158. 28 147 U. S. 11.

24 See brief for the United States in Marine Rallway & Coal Co. V. the United States U. S. Supreme Court, October term, 1920, p. 70.

2 Idem, p. 155.
28 246 U. S. 176.
27 3 Howard 212; 9 Howard 471 ; 13 Howard 25.






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high-water mark belong to the adjoining State, not to the United States, but this general rule may be modified by treaty, by statute, or by agreement between States when approved by Congress.?

Grants of land by the United States bordering on navigable waters extend to the mean high-water line, but State laws differ in this respect.

When a State is admitted to the Union it becomes vested with the title to lands under navigable waters up to mean high-water mark.29

What constitutes the high-water line on the shores of oceans, lakes, and rivers has been the subject of a great many court decisions, which may be summarized as follows: 80

The point on the bank or shore up to which the presence and action of the water is so continuous as to leave a distinct mark either by erosion, destruction of terrestrial vegetation, or other easily recognized characteristic.

The following are Supreme Court definitions : 82
The bed of the river includes

all of the area which is kept practically bare of vegetation by the wash of the waters of the river from year to year

*; although parts of it are left dry for months at a time. The bank of the river (the Red River]

is the waterwashed and relatively permanent elevation or declivity [commonly called a cut bank] at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland *

and serves to confine the waters within the bed

*. The boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.

The shore line is “the line which is washed by the water wherever it covers the bed of the river within its banks." 33 It lies " along the bank at the mean level attained by the waters of the river when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.” 34

The question has often been asked whether a boundary defined by statute or treaty, as on a specified parallel of latitude or meridian of longitude, should be located by direct astronomic observations or from geodetic computations giving a mean position derived from a great number of observations. It has generally been agreed that an astronomic location is the proper one, but astronomic and geodetic positions may differ materially. For example the astronomic stations on the 49th parallel boundary east of the Rocky Mountains

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28 See Opinions of the Attorney General, vol. 8, p. 443; also 94 U. S. 324; 138 U. S. 226; 253 U. 8. 56; and Clark, F. E., A treatise on the law of surveying and boundaries, p. 295, 1922.

2 140 U. S. 371 ; 94 U. 8. 325.
* 156 Wisconsin 261, 272. See also 258 U. S. 574.

* For references to the meaning of shore and shore line see 224 Illinois 43; 79 North Eastern 296, 1907; 12 Lawyer's Reports Annotated, new ser., 687, 1908; 53 Arkansas 314, 1890 ; 13 South Western 931, 1890 ; 8 Lawyer's Reports Annotated, 559, 1890.

* Oklahoma v. Texas (Red River boundary case], 260 U. S. 632, 645. 83 18 Howard 418. See also 5 Wheaton 379.

* See opinion of the attorney general of the State of New York, Sept. 30, 1925, relative to the meaning of the “ line of high water," which gives references to numerous decisions.

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