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2d Session.

s Ex. Doc.

No. 144.

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A letter from the Secretary of State submitting the official correspondence

betroeen the Government of the United States and the Government of Great Britain touching the seal fisheries of the Behring Sea since the 19th of July last.

JANUARY 6, 1891.-Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

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To the House of Representatives :

In further response to the resolution of the House of Representatives requesting me, if in my judgment not incompatible with the public interest, to furnish to the House the correspondence since March 4, 1889, between the Government of the United States and the Government of Great Britain touching the subjects in dispute in the Behring Sea, I transmit herewith a letter from the Secretary of State, which is accompanied by the correspondence which has taken place since my message of July 23, 1890.


January 5, 1891.


In response to your direction I submit herewith the official correspondence between the Government of the United States and the Gov. ernment of Great Britain touching the seal fisheries of the Behring Sea since the 19th of July last. I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,


Washington, January 5, 1891.

Lord Salisbury to Sir Julian Pauncefote. No. 166.]

FOREIGN OFFICE, August 2, 1890. SIR: I have received and laid before the Queen your dispatch No. 101 of the 1st ultimo, forwarding a copy of a note from Mr. Blaine, in which he maintains that the United States have derived from Russia rights of jurisdiction over the waters of Behring's Sea to a distance of 100 miles from the coasts transferred to them under the treaty of the 30th March, 1867.

In replying to the arguments to the contrary effect contained in my dispatch No. 106A of the 22d May, Mr. Blaine draws attention to certain expressions which I had omitted for the sake of quoting from Mr. Adams's dispatch of the 22d July, 1823. He contends that these words give a different meaning to the dispatch, and that the latter does not refute but actually supports the present claim of the United States. It becomes necessary, therefore, that I should refer in greater detail to the correspondence, an examination of which will show that the passage in question can not have the significance which Mr. Blaine seeks to give to it, that the words omitted by me do not in reality affect the point at issue, and that the view which he takes of the attitude both of Great Britain and of the United States towards the claim put forward by Russia in 1822 can not be reconciled with the tenor of the dispatches.

It appears from the published papers that in 1799 the Emperor, Paul 1, granted by charter to the Russian-American Company the exclusive right of hunting, trade, industries, and discoveries of new land on the northwest coast of America, from Behring's Strait to the fifty-fifth degree of north latitude, with permission to the company to extend their discoveries to the south and to form establishments there, provided they did not encroach upon the territory occupied by other powers.

The southern limit thus provisionally assigned to the company corresponds, within 20 or 30 miles, with that which was eventually agreed upon as the boundary between the British and Russian possessions. It comprises not only the whole American coast of Behring's Sea, but a long reach of coast line to the south of the Alaskan peninsula as far as the level of the southern portion of Prince of Wales' Island.

The charter, which was issued at a time of great European excitement, attracted apparently little attention at the moment and gave rise to no remonstrance. It made no claim to exclusive jurisdiction over the sea, nor do any measures appear to have been taken under it to restrict the commerce, navigation, or fishery of the subjects of foreign nations. But in September, 1821, the Russian Government issued a fresh ukase, of which the provisions material to the present discussion were as follows:

SECTION 1. The pursuits of commerce, whaling, and fishing, and of all other industry, on all islands, ports, and gulfs, including the whole of the northwest coast of America, beginning from Behring's Strait to the 51st degree of northern latitude; also from the Aleutian Islands to the eastern coast of Siberia, as well as along the Kurile Islands from Behring's Strait to the south cape of the Island of Urup, viz, to 45° 50' northern latitude, are exclusively granted to Russian subjects.

SEC. 2. It is therefore prohibited to all foreign vessels not only to land on the coasts and islands belonging to Russia, as stated above, but also to approach them within less than 100 Italian miles. The transgressor’s vessel is subject to confiscation, along with the whole cargo.

By this ukase the exclusive dominion claimed by Russia on the American continent was pushed some 250 miles to the south as far as Vancourer Island, and notice was for the first time given of a claim to maritime jurisdiction which was regarded both in England and the United States as extravagant, or, to use Lord Stowell's description of it, “ very unmeasured and insupportable.”

Upon receiving communication of the ukase the British and United States' Governments at once objected both to the extension of the territorial claim and to the assertion of maritime jurisdiction. For the present I will refer only: to the protest of the United States Government. This was made in a note from Mr. John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, to the Russian representative, dated the 25th February, 1822, which contains the following statement:

I am directed by the President of the United States to informn you that he has seen with surprise in this edict the assertion of a territorial claim on the part of Russia extending to the fifty-first degree of north latiturle on this continent, and a regulation interdicting to all commercial vessels other than Russian, upon the penalty of seizure and confiscation, the approach upon the high seas within 100 Italian miles of the shores to which that claim is made to apply. The relations of the United States with His Imperial Majesty have always been of the most friendly character, and it is the earnest desire of this Government to preserve them in that state. It was expected, before any act which should define the boundary between the territories of the United States and Russia on this continent, that the same would have been arranged by treaty between the parties. To exclude the vessels of our citizens from the shore, beyond the ordinary distance to which the territorial jurisdiction extends, has excited still greater surprise.

This ordinance affects so deeply the rights of the United States and of their citizens that I am instructed to inquire whether you are authorized to give explanations of the grounds of right, upon principles generally recognized by the laws and usages of nations, which can warrant the claims and regulations contained in it.

The Russian representative replied at length, defending the territorial claim on grounds of discovery, first occupation, and undisturbed possession, and explaining the motive - which determined the Imperial Government to prohibit foreign vessels from approaching the northwest coasts of America belonging to Russia within the distance of at least 100 Italian miles. This measure,” he said, “ however severe it may at first view appear, is after all but a measure of prevention.” He went on to say that it was adopted in order to put a stop to an illicit trade in arms and ammunition with the natives, against which the Russian Govern. ment bad frequently remonstrated ; and further on he observed :

. I ought, in the last place, to request you to consider, sir, that the Russian possessions in the Pacific Ocean extend, on the northwest coast of America, from Behring's Strait to the fifty-first degree of north latitude, and on the opposite side of Asia and the islands adjacent, from the same strait to the forty-fifth degree. The extent of sea of which these possessions form the limits comprehends all the conditions which are ordinarily attached to shut seas (“mers fermées'), and the Russian Government migbt, consequently, judge itself authorized to exercise upon this sea the right of sovereignty, and especially that of entirely interdicting the entrance of foreigners. But it preferred only asserting its essential rights, without taking any advantage of localities.

To this Mr. Adams replied (30th March, 1822), pointing out that the only ground given for the extension of the Russian territorial claim was the establishment of a settlement, not upon the continent, but upon a small island actually within the limits prescribed to the Russian American Company in 1799, and he went on to say:

This pretension is to be considered not only with reference to the question of territorial right, but also to that prohibition to the vessels of other nations, including those of the United States, to approach within 100 Italian miles of the coasts. From the period of the existence of the United States as an independent nation their vessels have freely navigated those seas, and the right to navigate them is a part of that independence.

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