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2. State boundary monuments

3-4. Maps:

3. Conterminous United States showing accessions of territory from

1803 to 1853

4. Maine, showing claims of the United States and Great Britain

5. Landsat image of the Puget Sound region

6. Map showing acquisitions of territory since 1853

7. Photograph of the Arctic Ocean terminus of the Alaska Canada boundary--

8-9. Maps:

8. U.S.-Canada boundary for southeast Alaska

9. Relative size of Alaska and the conterminous United States

10. Photographs of the northernmost and southernmost points in U.S. territory--

11-17. Maps:

11. Canal Zone

12. Antarctica

13. The Trust Territories of the Pacific

14. Arrowsmith map of 1814

15. Principal meridians and base lines of the public land surveys---

16. Principal meridians and base lines in Alaska

17. The Gore, at the northeast corner of Vermont

18–19. Historical diagrams:

18. New York

19. Pennsylvania

20. Photograph of a section of a tree that had been used as a boundary mark

21-22. Historical diagrams:

21. Virginia

22. Georgia

23. Stone set by Andrew Ellicott in his survey of the 31st parallel

24-29. Historical diagrams:

24. Mississippi

25. Louisiana

26. Indiana

27. Missouri

28. Arkansas

29. Texas

30. Apollo photograph showing the boundary between Texas and New Mexico

Historical diagram of Michigan

32. Boundaries of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the Great Lakes

33. Common boundaries of Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota

34-36. Historical diagrams:

34. North and South Dakota

35. Nebraska

36. Oklahoma

37. Photograph of telescope used by Arthur Kidder in determining longitude--

38. Photograph of the junction of four States

39. Early topographic map of the Green River area in Wyoming, Utah, and

Colorado

40.

Boundaries of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado as surveyed

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BOUNDARIES OF THE UNITED STATES

AND THE
SEVERAL STATES

BY FRANKLIN K. VAN ZANDT

EXPANSION AND GROWTH OF THE UNITED STATES

1

The original territory of the United States, as de- North Carolina. Maine was a part of Massachusetts fined by the treaties of November 30, 1782, and Septem- until it entered the Union in 1820. Vermont was the subber 3, 1783, with Great Britain, was bounded on the ject of conflicting claims of the States bordering upon north by Canada, on the south by the Spanish Colonies it. The parent States all relinquished their claims and of East and West Florida, on the east by the Atlantic consented to the admission of the new States. West Ocean, and on the west by the Mississippi River. It Virginia was separated from Virginia in 1863 and be included the Thirteen Original Colonies and the areas came a State by act of Congress. All these new States claimed by them.

retained title to the vacant unappropriated lands within One of the difficult problems of the new nation was

their limits. the existence of extensive unoccupied territory between Additions to the original territory—the acquisitions the Thirteen Original Colonies and the Mississippi of Louisiana from France in 1803 and of Florida from River. Seven of the Colonies claimed large parts of Spain in 1819, the Texas annexation in 1845, the estabthis territory and some of the claims were conflicting. lishment of American title to Oregon Territory in 1846, Recognizing the possibilities for dispute in this situation, the Mexican cession of 1848, and the Gadsden Purthe Continental Congress on October 30, 1779, passed a chase from Mexico in 1853–brought the aggregate area resolution recommending to Virginia and the other in- of the conterminous : United States within its present terested States that they refrain from granting the un- boundaries to 3,022,387 square miles. All the vast area appropriated lands in the western territory during the west of the Mississippi except the State of Texas becontinuance of the Revolutionary War.

came a part of the public domain, the United States The seven States claiming these areas responded retaining the ownership of the public lands. Congress favorably to this action and during the period from made an exception for Texas, consenting to its admis1781 to 1802 ceded the lands to the Federal Govern- sion into the Union with the provision that Texas should ment. These lands, which became the nucleus of the hold title to all vacant unappropriated lands within its public domain, included the area that is now Ohio. limits. Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, part of Min- The Thirteen Original States organized the Federal nesota, Alabama, and Mississippi. The United States Union under the name of "The United States of Amercontinued to hold title to the unappropriated lands and ica" by ratifying the Articles of Confederation and, subto administer the laws relating to them.

sequently, the Constitution. The boundaries of these The remainder of the original territory, embracing States were not defined in the Acts of ratification, but what is now included in the States of Kentucky, West in general the States maintained their claim to their Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, and Vermont, was claimed colonial boundaries which had been established by by various States as being within their original limits.

1 The word "conterminous" is used to refer to the 48 States, excluding Kentucky was part of Virginia and Tennessee a part of

Alaska and Hawaii. "Continental" United States includes Alaska.

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1

BOUNDARIES OF THE
UNITED STATES AND THE SEVERAL STATES

2

full of suits brought to settle ownership of property. The
same type of disagreements arise over limits of political
divisions: nations, states, and even counties. Unfor-
tunately, in the case of nations, there usually exist no
courts that can make a decision and enforce it. Bitter
quarrels have arisen over boundaries and some sur-

prising claims have been advanced, such as the cry royal decree or by agreement. Some overlapping terri- of "Fifty-four forty or fight." Yet almost always cooler torial claims were not finally settled until many years judgment has prevailed and the matter was settled later by decision of our highest court.

fairly. The surrender to the Federal Government of land The other States were admitted into the Union by in the Northwest Territory claimed by some of the acts of Congress, usually upon petition of the citizens Thirteen Original States illustrates the concessions that residing in the territories in question. The boundaries were made which permitted the orderly development of these States were defined in the enabling acts. How- of the new nation. ever for some States, notably Missouri and Texas, the

Surveying methods and practices have been greatly boundaries were changed by subsequent legislation.

improved since the days when most of our State and

national boundaries were located. Latitude and longiBOUNDARY PROBLEMS

tude determinations are made with greater accuracy The boundaries of the United States and of the sev- today, as are angle and distance measurements. This eral States were determined as a result of treaties, accuracy is due to better instruments and higher repurchases, colonial charters, and Acts of Congress. The quirements. The early surveyor had to endure many actual location of the boundary on the ground has fre- hardships. Sometimes it is surprising that his work was quently been a difficult problem because of lack of as good as it was. knowledge of the physical features of the topography It is legally well established that a boundary or by those who defined the course of the boundary, lack property line once marked on the ground and accepted of clarity in the description, and errors in surveying by the interested parties becomes the true line, whether the prescribed lines.

or not it follows the written description. The surveyor These difficulties are understandable. The need for who reruns the line must find where it is rather than a determination of jurisdiction arises early in the settle- move it to conform to the wording of the original document of a new country, frequently before much explor- ment (148 U.S. 503; 103 U.S. 316; 137 U.S. 584; 267 U.S. ation has been done. Old maps show many mistakes 39). Conflicting boundary claims and lack of knowledge easily recognizable from our knowledge of geography as to the exact location of the boundary have presented today. Often the remarkable thing about these maps is problems to the courts and to the surveyor through the how accurate they are.” The mapmaker knows that years. Disagreements between adjoining States, or bemuch data and many position determinations enter tween States and the Federal Government, that cannot into making an accurate map. The historian has given be settled by negotiations are brought to the Supreme us a picture of the vast regions unexplored in the 18th Court for decision. century, the lack of roads, the hostile Indians, and the The following discussion on how boundaries are small population for so large an area. It is little wonder, established and changed, on the boundaries of the then, that the treatymakers found it difficult to define United States and additions to its territory, and on the the limits of national sovereignty and that it is even formation of the various States and the establishment more difficult to mark them on the ground.

of their boundaries are presented for their historical Inexact wording has frequently made ambiguous the and geographical interest and for a reference to those intent of the signers of the document fixing a boundary. who do not care to take time to go to original source Disputes over the meaning of treaties have led to long material. Certain factual information concerning areas, negotiation and sometimes to war. Court records are altitudes, and geography is presented at the end of the

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? A map of the colonial period, the "Map of the British and French dominions in North America," by Dr. John Mitchell, was possibly printed between 1762 and 1775 but retained the original publication date, 1755.

Copies of Mitchell's map were used at different stages of the negotiations in Paris between the American and British framers of the peace treaties of 1782-83.

John Adams wrote regarding this map: "We had before us, through the whole negotiations, a variety of maps; but it was the Mitchell's map upon which was marked out the whole boundary lines of the United States." No particular copy has so far been identified as the one thus referred to.

A copy of the Mitchell map used by John Jay, one of the American commissioners, on which a red line was drawn to indicate one of the prelim

inary boundary proposals, is now in the library of the New York Historical Society.

In the British Museum there is a heavily annotated copy of Mitchell's map that has on it a red boundary line, which differs from that on the Jay copy (Moore, 1898, p. 154, 161).

The Library of Congress has many copies of the Mitchell map besides those published in England, including 7 French, 2 Dutch, 2 Italian, and 2 Spanish issues, as well as 40 or more reproductions of parts of the map.

Although there are many errors in this map, in 1782-83 it was the best available. Martin (1927) stated, "It appears to be the most important map in American history."

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