HC Deb 27 March 1839 vol 46 cc1223-8
Sir S. Canning

begged leave to address a few observations to the House upon a subject of great national importance—he meant the state of our relations with the United States of America. He thought, that hon. Gentlemen would feel that it would not be satisfactory to the country, that it would scarcely be decent, he might say, if that House were to adjourn for the holidays without an opportunity being afforded to her Majesty's Ministers of making, as far as circumstances would permit, some statement of the position in which we stand towards that power at the present moment. If the present circumstances of the country were of an ordinary character, the House might, perhaps, be satisfied to trust to the discretion of her Majesty's Ministers. But he must say, looking back to the transactions of the last few years, that he saw little reason to induce the House to count upon the energy, the decision, or even upon the discretion of their counsels respecting foreign affairs. By the accounts which had been received within the last few days, it appeared that the transaction which had lately occurred on the borders of the state of Maine had been taken up with a very strong and decided national spirit in the Congress of the United States; that the negotiations, which he understood from the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Department to have been set on foot, had been suspended, but that there was some reason to suppose, although there were doubts upon the subject, that a plenipotentiary would be sent from America to this country to resume those negotiations for the adjustment of the boundary question. The country was aware, that on one side an official statement had been made that the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick was acting under instructions which imposed upon him the necessity of maintaining, if necessary, by military force, exclusive jurisdiction over the disputed territory; and that, on the other side, it was said, that a docu- ment had been signed by the American Minister of State and her Majesty's Minister at Washington, recommending a peaceable arrangement of the question. He was aware of the delicacy of this subject, and he would not advance anything that might produce excitement or embarrass her Majesty's Government. His only object was to afford the noble Lord an opportunity of giving that information to the country which, under existing circumstances, not only with reference to what had occurred in the United States, but in various other parts of the world, might naturally be expected. The questions, therefore, which he had to put were, whether her Majesty's Ministers had received any official intelligence of the appointment of an American plenipotentiary to open a fresh negotiation in London for the adjustment of the boundary question; whether they had reason to believe that Sir John Harvey had acquiesced in the line of conduct recommended to him in the mean time by her Majesty's Minister at Washington and the American Minister of State; and whether they had any objection to lay on the Table of the House a copy of the instruction to which Sir John Harvey referred in his letter of Feb. 18, 1839, to the Governor of Maine, as making it imperative upon him to maintain, even if necessary by military force, an exclusive jurisdiction over the disputed territory? In putting these questions, he had no wish to embarrass her Majesty's Ministers. He sincerely hoped that our relations with the United States, which involved such great commercial and national interests, might be found capable of being maintained in a pacific state, and that the difficulties which had hitherto attended the adjustment of this question would soon be dissipated.

Viscount Palmerston

quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that this was a question of the utmost delicacy and importance. He, therefore, trusted the House would excuse him if he declined to avail himself of the opportunity thus afforded him of entering into a full explanation with respect to the present state of these matters. He thought the answer which he should give to the first question would sufficiently account to the House for the reserve which he felt it his duty to maintain. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether her Majesty's Government had received any acccount of the intention of the government of the United States to send over a special plenipotentiary to this country for the purpose of communicating with the British Government on the subject. He yesterday received a despatch from Mr. Fox, dated the 7th of March, at Washington, communicating to him officially, that the American government had it under consideration whether they should send a special plenipotentiary for that purpose, or whether fresh negotiations would be opened; and as it, therefore, appeared to him some communication might be expected very shortly from the government of the United States in reference to the unfortunate circumstance which had taken place in Maine, and possibly also in reference to more general questions, he was sure the House would feel that he should be departing from his duty if he were to enter into any discussion or explanation touching those matters upon which it was likely the plenipotentiary might be instructed. With regard to the second question, he had reason to believe, that the last despatches received at the Colonial-office from Sir John Harvey were dated at a time when Sir John Harvey could not have received a communication of the memorandum of Mr. Fox and Mr. Forsyth. With regard to the other part of the question, he was sure his right hon. Friend would see, that it was not expedient at this moment to lay the papers before Parliament. He was convinced that the Government of the United States felt a no less sincere desire than her Majesty's Government that these incidental questions, as well as the main question, and as well as any others which might arise between the two Governments, should be satisfactorily adjusted, and that nothing should occur to interrupt those friendly relations which it was the interest of both countries to maintain.

Mr. C. Buller

wished to make a remark on a misinterpretation which had been put on some observations he had made the other night, which it had been said were calculated to have a bad effect on the settlement of the question. All he had intended by his remark was to press upon the House his conviction that Great Britain ought to abandon the untenable line, and take that which was in accordance with justice; by doing which she would gain more undisputedly than by attempting to maintain the other by force of arms. In saying, that our claim was untenable, he did not mean to say, that the claim of the other party was at all tenable.

Sir C. Grey

did not intend to renew the notice which he had on the paper a few evenings ago. He contended, however, that it was open to every Member of that House to express his opinion on the subject of the correspondence between this country and America, which was laid on the Table of the House last year by the noble Lord; and he was surprised to perceive that newspapers of this country seemed to be of a different opinion. If it was not intended that hon. Members should express their opinions upon such documents, for what purpose were they laid before the House? When the reference was made to the King of the Netherlands he gave it as his opinion, that neither the line claimed on the one hand by Great Britain, nor on the other, that which the United States asserted to be the limits of her territory, did in truth constitute the true boundary. He affirmed, that neither line could be said to answer to the terms of the treaty, and that the matter in dispute must be arranged by adopting an intermediate boundary, or by a cession of territory on the one side, or on the other. Now, he (Sir Charles Grey) was desirous of having laid on the Table of the House, Mitchell's map, which bore date in the year 1755; and he was the more anxious on this account, that he desired to prevent its being confounded in the minds of Members with any more recent map; for as he was prepared to contend, that map, and that only, showed the true line. He had heard—not certainly from any source that he could call an authority—but he had heard, that there was no such map. If that happened to be the case, his purpose would still be in some degree, answered by calling the attention of the House to the fourth article of the treaty. He believed, that the map itself, or a French edition of it, dated in 1756, might be seen at the British museum. There was another map, of which a lithographic sketch had during the last year been laid before the House in connection with papers upon the subject of our North American possessions, and those two, namely Mitchell's map and the sketch he had just mentioned, were according to the convention of 1829, the only maps which were to guide the proceedings of the par- ties concerned in settling the boundary question. In his opinion, it was very clear either that they must be governed by the maps, or that they must seek to arrange differences upon the footing of an intermediate line, or else by a concession on the one side or on the other.

Sir R. Peel

said, that as Parliament was now about to adjourn for several days, be did not regret, that some hon. Member should have thought it right to make inquiries of her Majesty's Government on the great question of the disputed boundary between our North American posessions and the United States. He was sure the House would agree with him in thinking, that upon the present occasion the right hon. Gentleman who put those questions had done so in a temper which showed no inclination to throw any impediments in the way of bringing the matters in dispute to a satisfactory conclusion. No one could feel more fully than he (Sir R. Peel) did, the inconvenience which must arise to any Government from a premature demand for papers, or from entering into any discussion respecting the course, which, at a moment like the present, they intended to adopt; for he felt, that in making their defence upon any charges which might be brought against them, Ministers would labour under the disadvantage of not being able to produce all the documents, that might be necessary, lest their disclosure should be prejudicial to the public service; he should, therefore not pursue the matter further than to say, that he fully reserved to himself the right of hereafter discussing whether her Majesty's Government, after rejecting the award of the King of Holland, and after having discovered, that our Canadian subjects had been exposed to apprehension and to danger—he repeated, he should claim for himself, at a future time, the right to consider whether the responsible advisers of the Crown had shown sufficient energy and decision in their attempt to bring this matter to an issue. Limiting himself, then, for the present, to this single remark, he could not at the same time help saying, that if there were any document which could possibly be called for, and the production of which was not liable to be objected to on the part of the Government, as raising any impediment in the way of a satisfactory settlement, he confessed he should have thought, that that document was an old map, dated in the year 1755—a map drawn at a time when no differences could exist between the United States and this country. If that map had any bearing on the question, he did hope that the right hon. Gentleman would persevere in his motion. If the map were not in existence, no jealous feeling need be excited, and he hoped if it did exist, that the particular map which had been moved for, and no more recent map, would be laid upon the Table of the House. It might be, however, that there were some well-founded objections to the production of the map which did not strike his mind. If the greater caution of the right hon. Gentleman suggested any to him, and that he felt unwilling to press his own Friends on the other side of the House, he too highly estimated the right hon. Gentleman's circumspection not to treat it with respect; but if there were no substantial objection to their seeing the old map, he hoped that it might be produced.

Sir C. Grey

was sorry on so important a question the attention of the right hon. Baronet had been so distracted. He had never said the map was not in existence, and any hon. Gentleman who went to the British Museum could see it there in eight sheets. He felt he had done his duty in calling the attention of the Foreign-office to it, being quite sure, that if it was discovered to be useful there would be no objection to produce it.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that he understood his right hon. and learned Friend to express a wish that the map in question should be laid on the Table of the House, but at the same time to express some doubts as to its existence. He understood him, further, as not urgently pressing for the production of the map, but rather leaving it to him (Lord Palmerston) to make inquiry on the subject, and bring forward the map if it could conveniently be had. To this he had assented, as they sometimes did in that House, by signs, and it therefore became unnecessary, as he thought, that there should be any motion on the subject.

Sir R. Peel.

I did not see the signs. If the map mentioned were the real map, the production of it could do no harm, but might do good.

The Motion for the adjournment of the House till the 8th of April was agreed to.