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For many years after its discovery the chief interest in the north-west coast of America lay in its maritime wealth,
comparatively little importance being attached by England or Russia to the delimitation of their respective jurisdictions on land. The whole negotiations which led to the treaty of
scribe the sea :--
“So entirely and absolutely true is this proposition,' writes Mr. Canning, who as Foreign Minister had charge of the negotiations,
that the settlement of the limits of the respective possessions of Great Britain and Russia on the north-west coast of America was proposed by us only as a mode of facilitating the adjustment of the difference arising from the ukase by enabling the Court of Russia, under cover of the more comprehensive arrangement, to withdraw, with less appearance of concession, the offensive pretensions of that edict.
'It is comparatively indifferent to us whether we hasten or postpone all questions respecting the limits of territorial possession on the continent of America, but the pretensions of the Russian ukase of 1821 to exclusive dominion over the Pacific could not continue longer unrepealed without compelling us to take some measure of public and effectual remonstrance against it.'
This indifference to the ascertainment and settlement of the boundaries between the British and Russian possessions accounts for the fact that no survey of the north-west coast
original exploration by Vancouver, during the whole of which period that discoverer's charts remained the standard and indeed the only original authority.
Such was the state of affairs regarding Alaska when, in March 1867, it was announced that Russia had ceded her North American possessions to the United States. The negotiations were conducted with the utmost secrecy, and nothing was known of the transaction in America until the issue of the President's proclamation summoning an extra session of the Senate to consider it. The motives for the sale were subsequently declared to be the small value and unproductive nature of the territory, the cost of its protection and maintenance, and the desire of Russia to be rid of a possession which at some future time might involve her in difficulties with the United States. To these reasons her Majesty's Minister of the day at Washington opined should be added a secret hope of possible complications between England and the United States which the extension of the latter's jurisdiction to the north of British America migbt entail. This was afterwards openly stated by Charles Sumner, who, in his speech in Congress on the cession, suggested that in parting with Alaska Russia was moved by considerations similar to those which had influenced Napoleon in the sale of Louisiana—that he was glad thereby to establish for
ever the power of the United States, and give to England a 'maritime rival destined to humble her pride.
With the transfer of sovereignty to the United States passed also the policy of neglect and indifference which had characterised Russia's possession of Alaska. When in 1872, shortly after the discovery of gold in the Cassiar district of British Columbia, her Majesty's Government, at the instance of the Canadian Ministry, suggested to the United States the expediency of delimiting the boundary between Alaska and British Columbia, Mr. Fish, then Secretary of State, replied that, while he was satisfied as to the expediency of the proceeding, he feared that Congress might not be willing to vote the necessary appropriation. His surmise proved well founded, for in the following year a bill to provide for the cost of a joint survey, which had been recommended by the President in his annual Message, failed to pass. The amount asked for was about 300,0001. Owing to the disinclination on the part of Congress to provide the means necessary for the delimitation of the whole boundary, or indeed of any part of it, the question remained in abeyance for some years. In 1885 it was revived by President Cleveland, who, in his Message to Congress, suggested for the first time the idea, subsequently developed by Messrs. Bayard and Phelps, that the descriptive portions of the treaty of 1825 were founded upon erroneous conceptions of the natural features of the country, and that consequently the line contemplated by the negotiators was impracticable of location. The recommendation by the President of a preliminary survey, with a view to the adoption of a more
convenient line,' was frustrated by Congress, which again declined to make the necessary appropriations, and it was not until 1892 that an agreement was reached between Great Britain and the United States for the appointment of a Survey Commission, having for its object the ascertainment of facts and data necessary to the permanent delimitation of the boundary line in accordance with the spirit and intent of existing treaties. This agreement was embodied in a convention, under which each Government appointed commissioners, who on the last day of the year 1895 submitted their joint report, together with elaborate maps and photographic views indicating the topographical features of the country, but unaccompanied by any recommendation as regards the boundary.
The limit to the Russian possessions on the continent of America established by the treaty of 1825 is in part a natural boundary and in part a meridian line. From the head of Portland Canal it follows the summit of the mountains situated parallel to the coast (subject to an alternative proviso to be considered hereafter) as far as the intersection of the same by the 141st degree of west longitude, and thence along that meridian to the Polar Sea. The negotiations we have been considering related to the south-eastern or natural boundary of the coast strip.
Meanwhile the miners of Cassiar were pushing their way northward through the mountain passes and down the valley of the Yukon river, in certain small tributaries of which, as far back as 1886, deposits of gold had been found. Several of these streams, notably Forty Mile Creek,' were known to be crossed by the 141st meridian, though no one could say exactly where the line ran. As its ascertainment was a matter of urgency, the Canadian Government in the summer of 1887 sent out surveyors who astronomically determined the points of intersection both with respect to the Yukon and to Forty Mile Creek. Two years later the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey despatched a party on a similar mission. The result of their observations at the Yukon differed about 600 feet from that of the Canadian survey, but at Forty Mile Creek the two very nearly coincided. Nothing further was done for some years, when on the eve of the Klondike discoveries the United States Government proposed, with respect to this survey, that where discrepancies occurred between the results of American and Canadian experts as to the correct geographical co-ordinates of one and the same point, a position midway between the two locations should be adopted. Canada accepted this offer to 'split the difference. She also agreed to a characteristic proposal of the United States Government made at the same time. Near the intersection by the 141st meridian of the mountains parallel to the coast, Mount St. Elias rears its lofty crest full 18,000 feet above the level of the sea. As the highest mountain on the American continent, it should as a matter of course, in the estimation of the good people of the United States, bave been situated within their borders Unluckily for them, it stands more than two miles east of the 141st meridian, and is thus indisputably within British territory. Canada was invited to repair this oversight on the part of nature by consenting to a deflection of the southern portion of the line so as to make it range with the
summit of Mount St. Elias, thus sharing possession of this great landmark. She smilingly acquiesced, and in so doing gave a further proof of her good-will.
Early in the year 1897 a convention embodying these concessions was signed at Washington by the representatives of the respective Powers. Unfortunately this treaty failed to obtain the necessary ratification by the United States Senate. It accordingly fell to the ground, and the line of the 141st meridian remains unsettled to this day, save so far as the common sense of the people in the localities through which it passes has accepted and recognised a conventional division between British and American territory.
In view of the difficulty experienced in reaching an agreement as to the determination of a meridian line, with respect to which one would think there could be no possible room for difference of opinion, it is not surprising that the southeastern boundary, depending as it does upon the obscure language of the treaty of 1825, should furnish abundant material for controversy.
A reference to Articles III. and IV. of the treaty of 1825, quoted above, shows that the line, starting from the southernmost point of Prince of Wales Island, is to ascend to the north along the channel called Portland Channel until it reaches the 56th degree of north latitude, from which point it is to follow the summit of the mountains situated parallel to the coast as far as their intersection by the 141st meridian, provided these mountains are within ten marine leagues from the ocean. Should the mountains at any point prove to be inore than that distance from the ocean, then the limit shall be a line parallel to the windings of the coast, from which it shall never be farther distant than 10 marine leagues.
Having ascertained the southernmost point of Prince of Wales Island, one is suddenly confronted by the fact that between it and Portland Channel sixty miles of open ocean intervene. Furthermore, Portland Channel lies almost due east from the southernmost point. How then is the line joining the two to ascend to the north? Again, the line is to ascend to the north along Portland Channel, until it strikes the 56th degree of north latitude. But Portland Channel does not attain to latitude 56, and there is no provision made for the course the line is to take between the head of the channel and the point where the mountains situated parallel to the coast are crossed by that parallel. Then follow the all-important questions, (1) which are the