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See pages 22-23 for reference to the survey of the northern boundary, page 238 for survey of the eastern boundary, and page 242 for the survey of the boundary on the 46th parallel.




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The Oregon region in early days was a source of many disputes between the United States and Great Britain, which nearly led to war. It was claimed by the United States at different times as a part of the Louisiana Purchase, by right of discovery (see pl. 4), and as a part of the Spanish cession. In the convention of 1818 with Great Britain joint occupancy for 10 years was provided for. This status continued until 1846, when Congress by resolution authorized the President to give notice of its discontinuance. The United States at that time claimed the area as far north as latitude 54° 40', but by the treaty with Great Britain of 1846 (see p. 21) the disputes regarding title were forever settled and the 49th parallel was made the northern boundary.

The Territory of Oregon was organized August 14, 1848, with boundaries described as follows 91 (see fig. 26): all that part of the Territory of the United States which lies west of the summit of the Rocky Mountains, north of the forty-second degree of north latitude, known as the Territory of Oregon, shall be organized into and constitute a temporary government by the name of the Territory of Oregon.

In 1853 the Territory was reduced by the formation of Washington Territory, and on February 14, 1859,92 it was admitted as a State with its present limits. The boundaries were described in the State constitution of 1857 as follows: 98

Beginning one marine league at sea due west from the point where the fortysecond parallel of north latitude intersects the same; thence northerly, at the same distance from the line of the coast lying west and opposite the State, including all islands within the jurisdiction of the United States, to a point due west and opposite the middle of the north ship channel of the Columbia River; thence easterly to and up the middle channel of said river, and, where it is divided by islands, up the middle of the widest channel thereof, and in like manner up the middle of the main channel of Snake River to the mouth of the Owyhee River; thence due south to the parallel of latitude forty-two degrees north; thence west along said parallel to the place of beginning, including jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases upon the Columbia River and Snake River concurrently with States and Territories of which those rivers form a boundary in common with this State. But the Congress of the United States, in providing for the admission of this State into the Union, may make the said northern boundary conform to the act creating the Territory of Washington.

89 See Mowry, W. A., The territorial growth of the United States, ch. 7, New York, Silver, Burdett & Co., 1902, for an excellent review of these disputes.

30 For a brief outline of the principles governing acquisition of territory by discovery and occupation see Queensland Geog. Jour., vol. 38, p. 61, Brisbane, Australia, 1923. This article contains a reference to the Oregon dispute. See also Schafer, Joseph, The British attitude toward the Oregon question, 1815–1846; Am. Hist. Rev., January, 1911, pp. 273-299; and Moore, J. B., History of international arbitration : 53d Cong., 2d sess., H. Doc. 212, vol. 1, chs. 7 and 8, 1895.

81 9 Stat. L. 323.
22 11 Stat. L. 383.
28 Thorpe, F. N., op. cit., vol. 5, p. 3015.

The United States act of February 14, 1859, concludes the description as follows: 94 to a point near Fort Walla-Walla, where the forty-sixth parallel of north latitude crosses said river; thence east on said parallel to the middle of the main channel of the Shoshonnes or Snake River; thence up the middle of main channel of said river, to the mouth of the Owyhee River; thence due south, to the parallel of latitude forty-two degrees north; thence west, along said parallel, to the place of beginning.

The Oregon-Washington boundary on the 46th parallel, between the Snake and Columbia Rivers, was surveyed and marked in 1863–64 under the direction of the General Land Office. The latitude used was derived from more than 500 observations with the sextant. Two observation stations were occupied, one near the foot of Cathedral Rock on the Columbia, the other near Cottonwood Creek on the west side of the Blue Mountains. A random line was run between them, which showed an apparent difference of latitude of 4". The final line was run on the mean latitude. Marks were set at mile intervals for 42 miles east from the Columbia, then at irregular intervals over the Blue Mountains. The measured length of the line was 96 miles 57 chains. The easternmost mark, which was placed 3 chains from the west bank of the Snake River, was a 712-foot post 12 inches in diameter, marked “W” on the north, “O” on the south, and “ 46 L 1868 ” on the east side, and set in a 6-foot pile of stones.

By a joint resolution approved June 10, 1910,95 Congress gave its consent to the States of Oregon and Washington to fix their common boundary in the Columbia River and to cede the one to the other islands the title to which had been in dispute, but up to the present time no action appears to have been taken by either State to make use of the authority thus granted.

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The area included in the present State of California is part of that acquired from Mexico by the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. (See fig. 2.) From July 4, 1848, until December 20, 1849, it was under military control, the commanding officer of the military force stationed there acting as provisional governor. From the latter date until Congress passed the act for the admission of California to the Union, approved September 9, 1850,98 a form of local government was in effect.

94 11 Stat. L. 383. 06 36 Stat. L. 881. 00 9 Stat. L. 452.

See also 211 U. S. 127 and 214 U. S. 217.

The boundaries of the State, as described in the constitution of 1849, are as follows: 97

Commencing at the point of intersection of forty-second degree of north latitude with the one hundred and twentieth degree of longitude west from Greenwich, and running south on the line of said one hundred and twentieth degree of west longitude until it intersects the thirty-ninth degree of north latitude; thence running in a straight line in a southeasterly direction to the river Colorado, at a point where it intersects the thirty-fifth degree of north latitude; thence down the middle of the channel of said river to the boundary line between the United States and Mexico as established by the treaty of May 30, 1848; thence running west and along said boundary line to the Pacific Ocean, and extending therein three English miles; thence running in a northwesterly direction and following the direction of the Pacific coast to the forty-second degree of north latitude; thence on the line of said forty-second degree of north latitude to the place of beginning. Also all the islands, harbors, and bayg along and adjacent to the Pacific coast.

For reference to surveys of the eastern boundary see pages 236–237.

The principal islands claimed as part of the State of California are:

Santa Catalina and San Clemente, 20 to 50 miles off the coast, included in Los Angeles County.

San Nicolas, 60 miles from the coast, included in Ventura County.

Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel, 20 to 25 miles from the coast, included in Santa Barbara County.

These and many smaller islands passed under the control of the United States in consequence of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The question of sovereignty over these islands has been raised several times, the claim being made that as they were not mentioned in the treaty of 1848, Mexico had not given up its title to them, but it is evident from the following references that it was generally understood after the treaty was signed that the islands were a part of the territory ceded to the United States.

A general assertion of jurisdiction over the “islands adjacent to the Pacific coast” was made in the State constitution of 1849, which was formally approved by Congress in 1850.

In an act of Congress approved August 31, 1852,98 an appropriation was made for subdividing these islands, several of which were mentioned by name, “ so that said islands may be readily disposed of under the laws of the United States."

The United States Supreme Court at its December term, 1859, decided a case relating to a land grant on the island of Santa Cruz,99 in which the claim was based on a Mexican grant of 1839. The ques

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97 Thorpe, F. N., op. cit., vol. 1, p. 405. For a brief review of the events that resulted in the adoption of the boundaries of California as at present fixed and of attempts to change them see Guinn, J. M., How California escaped State division : Hist. Soc. Southern California Pub., vol. 6, 1905.

98 10 Stat. L. 91. 90 23 Howard 465.

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tion of jurisdiction of the United States over the island was not brought up, although it must have been considered.

Patents have been issued from time to time by the General Land Office for land on the several islands, and reservations have been made on behalf of the United States for lighthouses.

So far as can be ascertained no formal adverse claim to these islands has ever been presented by Mexico, and in view of the foregoing facts it is certain that none can now be made with a hope for favorable consideration.1

To determine the proper position for the northeast corner of California (latitude 42°, longitude 120°) an astronomic station was established at Camp Bidwell, where more than 3,000 measurements of lunar distances were said to have been made for longitude in 1868–69. The position for the corner was computed to be 9 miles 56 chains north and 4 miles 78 chains east from the observatory. From the corner thus found the line was run west a distance of 212 miles 28 chains to a terminal mark 12 chains from the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The geographic position of this post is latitude 41° 59' 55.7", longitude 124° 12' 29.5".2

The marks consisted of wooden posts or small stones with “O” cut on the north side, “C” on the south, and the mile number and date on the other sides.





Nearly all boundaries of States west of the Mississippi, as well as those of many central and southern States, have been surveyed under the direction of the General Land Office. Notes of all such surveys and plats for most of them are on file in the General Land Office, Department of the Interior, in Washington, D. C. Many of the field notes are in excellent form, in books especially prepared for them, and are illustrated by photographs or sketches. Other notes are in books of field notes with the regular township surveys. Many resurveys or retracements of short parts of boundary lines have been made, and numerous corners have been reestablished in connection with the regular surveys of the public lands, which are not mentioned in the foregoing pages but are noted in the records of the General Land Office.

1 See Land Dec., vol. 20, p. 106, Washington, 1895. 2 U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Special Pub. 31, p. 73, 1915.

The notes and plats are open to public inspection and are indexed so that reference to them is easy; or copies will be supplied to anyone on payment of nominal fees.

Historical diagrams showing changes in State or national boundaries are to be found in many publications, a few of which are listed below:

Faris, J. T., The romance of the boundaries, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1926. This book contains a bibliography of boundary references with 138 entries. Lamberton, R. H., An historical atlas

from the dawn of history to the present time, 7th ed., New York, Townsend Mac Coun, 1884.

MacCoun, Townsend, An historical geography of the United States, rev. ed., New York, Silver, Burdett & Co., 1901.

Mowry, W. A., The territorial growth of the United States, New York, Silver, Burdett & Co., 1902.

U. S. Bureau of Statistics, Monthly Summary of Commerce and Finance of the United States for August, 1902.

Stocking, S. W., Areas and political divisions of the United States, with map: Statistical atlas of the United States Bureau of the Census, Washington, 1874.


The name united States of America was used in the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, and the use of the name “ United States” for all State papers was ordered by the Continental Congress on September 9, 1776. The first of the "Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union,” etc., of 1777, is “ The stile of this Confederacy shall be The United States of America."

The Articles of Confederation, agreed to by delegates from the thirteen original colonies on November 15, 1777, were ratified by them on the dates given below. The defects in the form of government thereby instituted were so many that steps were soon taken to change it. A convention called in 1787 to draft a constitution for the United States completed its labors on September 17 of the same year. The Constitution of the United States of America was ratified and the States became members of the Union on various dates between 1787 and 1790.

8 See Meginness, J. F., Otzinachson; or, a history of the West Branch Valley of the Susquehanna, pp. 192–193, Philadelphia, 1857, and Report of the commission to locate the sites of frontier forts of Pennsylvania, vol. 1, pp. 407-409, for references to the Declaration of Independence, which by a strange coincidence was adopted on the same day at Pine Creek, Lycoming County, 150 miles from Philadelphia.

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