The Webster–Ashburton Treaty, signed August 9, 1842, was a treaty resolving several border issues between the United States and the British North American colonies. It resolved the Aroostook War, a nonviolent dispute over the location of the Maine–New Brunswick border. It established the border between Lake Superior and the Lake of the Woods, originally defined in the Treaty of Paris (1783), reaffirmed the location of the border (at the 49th parallel) in the westward frontier up to the Rocky Mountains defined in the Treaty of 1818, defined seven crimes subject to extradition, called for a final end to the slave trade on the high seas, and agreed to shared use of the Great Lakes.
In the East
The treaty incorporated a geographic oddity. Since "Fort Blunder", an unnamed US fort in what is now part of northeastern New York, had been inadvertently constructed on Canadian soil, the northern border of New York between the Saint Lawrence River and the New York-Vermont line was adjusted 3/4 of a mile northward, beyond the 45th parallel, to incorporate the half-finished and abandoned fort on US soil. Following the signing of the treaty, construction was resumed on the site. The new project replaced the aborted 1812-era construction with a massive third-system masonry fortification known as Fort Montgomery.
This treaty marked the end of local confrontations between lumberjacks (known as the Aroostook War) along the Maine border with the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick. It also resolved issues that had led to the Indian Stream dispute as well as the Caroline Affair. The border was fixed with the disputed territory divided between the two nations. The British acquired the Halifax-Quebec road route their military desired because it gave a wintertime connection from Quebec to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Portions of the US-Canada border were adjusted so as to give the US a little more land to the north. The Webster–Ashburton Treaty failed to clarify ownership of Machias Seal Island and nearby North Rock, which remain in dispute today.
In the West
The border between Lake Superior and the Lake of the Woods needed clarification because the faulty Mitchell Map used in the negotiations for the Treaty of Paris (1783) was inadequate to define the border according to the terms of that treaty. The ambiguity in the map and treaty resulted in Minnesota's Arrowhead region being disputed, and previous negotiations had not resolved the question. The treaty speaks of the border passing through "Long Lake", the location of which was unstated, but the map showed the lake flowing out into Lake Superior near Isle Royale, which is consistent with the Pigeon River route.
The British, however, had previously taken the position that the border should leave Lake Superior at Fond du Lac (the "head of the lake") in modern Duluth, Minnesota, proceed up the Saint Louis and Embarrass rivers, across the height of land, and down Pike River and Lake Vermilion to the Rainy River.
To counter this western route, the U.S. advocated for an eastern route, used by early French explorer Jacques de Noyon in 1688, and the later a well-used fur traders' route after 1802. This way headed north from the lake at the site of Fort William, Ontario up the Kaministiquia and Dog Rivers to Cold Water Lake, crossed the divide by Prairie Portage to Height of Land Lake, then went west by way of the Savanne, Pickerel, and Maligne rivers to Lake La Croix, where it joined the present border.
The traditional traders' route left the Lake at Grand Portage and went overland to the Pigeon, up that river and a tributary across the Height of Land Portage, and thence down tributaries of the Rainy River to Lac La Croix, Rainy Lake and River, and Lake of the Woods. This is finally the route which was designated as the border in the treaty.
Another clarification made in this treaty resulted in clarifying the anomaly of the Northwest Angle. Again, due to errors on the Mitchell Map, Treaty of Paris reads "... through the Lake of the Woods to the most northwesternmost point thereof, and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi ..." The Anglo-American Convention of 1818 defined the boundary about Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains.
This 1842 treaty reaffirmed the border and further defined it by modifying the border definition to instead read as
"... at the Chaudiere Falls, from which the Commissioners traced the line to the most northwestern point of the Lake of the Woods, thence, along the said line to the said most northwestern point, being in latitude 49°23′55″ north, and in longitude 95°14′38″ west from the Observatory at Greenwich; thence, according to existing treaties, due south to its intersection with the 49th parallel of north latitude, and along that parallel to the Rocky Mountains ..."
The Webster–Ashburton Treaty failed to deal with the Oregon question, although the issue was discussed in negotiations.
Article 10 of the Webster–Ashburton Treaty identified seven crimes subject to extradition: "murder, or assault with intent to commit murder, or piracy, or arson, or robbery, or forgery, or the utterance of forged paper." It did not include slave revolt or mutiny. In addition, the United States did not press for the return or extradition of an estimated 12,000 fugitive slaves who had reached Canada.
While agreeing to call for a final end to the slave trade on the high seas, Webster and Ashburton agreed to pass over the Creole case of 1841 in the Caribbean, which was then in contention. In November 1841, a slave revolt on the American brig Creole, part of the coastwise slave trade, had forced the ship to Nassau. Bahama officials eventually emancipated all 128 slaves who chose to stay in Nassau, as Britain had abolished slavery in its colonies, effective in 1834. The US initially demanded return of the slaves, then compensation. A settlement was made in 1855 as part of a much larger claims treaty of 1853, covering claims by both nations to 1814.
Shortly after ratification of the Webster-Ashburton treaty, the Ojibwa nations about the south shore of Lake Superior ceded land to the United States in the Treaty of La Pointe. However, the news of the ratification of the international treaty did not reach either of the parties negotiating the land cession. The Grand Portage Band was mistakenly omitted from the Ojibwe treaty council. In addition, the Grand Portage Band was misinformed on the details of the Treaty of Paris; they believed that the border passed through the center of Lake Superior to the Saint Louis River, placing both Isle Royale and their band in British territory. The Treaty of Paris specifically notes Isle Royale to be in the territories of the United States. Consequently, the Isle Royale Agreement was signed between the United States and the Grand Portage Band in 1844 as an adhesion to the Treaty of La Pointe, with other Ojibwa tribes reaffirming the treaty.
Ten months of negotiations for the treaty were held largely at the Ashburton House, home of the British legation on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. The house has been designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
In order to make the controversial treaty more popular in the United States, Webster released a map of the Maine-Canada border, which he claimed had been drawn by Benjamin Franklin. It showed British ownership at the time of the area the United States claimed and largely received under the Treaty.
- List of treaties
- Timeline of United States diplomatic history
- Estcourt Station, Maine
- Oregon boundary dispute
Notes and references
- Carroll, Francis M. "Drawing the Line" Beaver 2003 83(4): 19-25
- Carroll, Francis M. "The Passionate Canadians: The Historical Debate about the Eastern Canadian-American Boundary," New England Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 83–101 in JSTOR
- Carroll, Francis M. A Good and Wise Measure: The Search for the Canadian-American Boundary, 1783-1842. (University of Toronto Press, 2001) 462 pp.; the standard scholarly history
- Corey, Albert B. The Crisis of 1830-1842 in Canadian-American Relations (1941) online edition
- Jones. Howard. "Anglophobia and the Aroostook War," New England Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 519–539 in JSTOR
- Jones. Howard. To the Webster–Ashburton Treaty: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1783-1843 (1977). 251 pp. online edition
- Jones, Wilbur Devereux. "The Influence of Slavery on the Webster-Ashburton Negotiations," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Feb., 1956), pp. 48–58 in JSTOR
- LeDuc, Thomas. "The Webster-Ashburton Treaty and the Minnesota Iron Ranges," Journal of American History, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Dec., 1964), pp. 476–481 in JSTOR, shows the value of the iron range was not known when the treaty was drawn
- Merk, Frederick. "The Oregon Question in the Webster-Ashburton Negotiations," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Dec., 1956), pp. 379–404 in JSTOR
- Remini, Robert. Daniel Webster (1997) pp 535–64
- Text of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (The Avalon Project at Yale Law School)
- Webster-Ashburton Treaty (U.S. Department of State)
- Franklin Map Possibly Forged