Classic History Books


The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

Government. Webster certainly was a good attorney for the United States in settling the boundary
disputes, as is shown by the battle of the maps. The territorial contentions of both countries hung largely

upon the interpretation of certain clauses of the first American treaty of peace. Webster therefore ordered

a search for material to be made in the archives of Paris and London. In Paris there was brought to light a

map with the boundary drawn in red, possibly by Franklin, and supporting the British contention.

Webster refrained from showing this to Ashburton and ordered search in London discontinued. Ironically

enough, however, a little later there was unearthed in the British Museum the actual map used by one of

the British commissioners in 1782, which showed the boundary as the United States claimed it to be.

Though they had been found too late to affect the negotiations, these maps disturbed the Senate

discussion of the matter. Yet, as they offset each other, they perhaps facilitated the acceptance of the

treaty.

Rapidly Webster and Ashburton cleared the field. Webster obtained the release of McLeod and effected
the passage of a law to prevent a similar crisis in the future by permitting such cases to be transferred to a

federal court. The Caroline affair was settled by an amicable exchange of notes in which each side

conceded much to the other. They did not indeed dispose of the slave trade, but they reached an

agreement by which a joint squadron was to undertake to police efficiently the African seas in order to

prevent American vessels from engaging in that trade.

Upon the more important matter of boundary, both Webster and Ashburton decided to give up the futile
task of convincing each other as to the meaning of phrases which rested upon half-known facts reaching

back into the misty period of first discovery and settlement. They abandoned interpretation and made

compromise and division the basis of their settlement. This method was more difficult for Webster than

for Ashburton, as both Maine and Massachusetts were concerned, and each must under the Constitution

be separately convinced. Here Webster used the "Red Line" map, and succeeded in securing the consent

of these States. They finally settled upon a boundary which was certainly not that intended in 1782 but

was a compromise between the two conceptions of that boundary and divided the territory with a regard

for actual conditions and geography. From Passamaquoddy Bay to the Lake of the Woods, accepted lines

were substituted for controversy, and the basis of peace was thus made more secure. The treaty also

contained provision for the mutual extradition of criminals guilty of specified crimes, but these did not

include embezzlement, and "gone to Canada" was for years the epitaph of many a dishonest American

who had been found out.

The friendly spirit in which Webster and Ashburton had carried on their negotiations inaugurated a
period of reasonable amity between their two nations. The United States annexed Texas without serious

protest; in spite of the clamor for "fifty-four forty or fight," Oregon was divided peacefully; and England

did not take advantage of the war with Mexico. Each of these events, however, added to American

territory, and these additions gave prominence to a new and vexing problem. The United States was now

planted solidly upon the Pacific, and its borders were practically those to which Adams had looked

forward. Natural and unified as this area looks upon the map and actually is today, in 1850 the extent of

territorial expansion had overreached the means of transportation. The Great Plains, then regarded as the

Great American Desert, and the Rockies presented impossible barriers to all but adventurous individuals.

These men, uniting in bands for self-protection and taking their lives in their hands, were able with good

luck to take themselves but little else across this central region and the western barrier. All ordinary

communication, all mail and all freight, must go by sea. The United States was actually divided into two

very unequal parts, and California and Oregon were geographically far distant colonies.

 

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