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CONVENTION OF 1824 WITH RUSSIA.
Singular controversy-Only point ever in dispute-Ukase of September 1821, claiming the North West-Letter of Russian ministerGrounds of claim-Americans on coast in '83-Russian titles examined-Discovery-Occupation-Possession--Behring--Tschirikoff-- Cook-La Perouse-Dixon-Vancouvre--Baranoff--No foundation for claim-Renounced by convention of 1824-Always on best terms with Russia-Very useful as mediator-No treaty of commerce-Great trade-American and Russian ministers.
SINCE the general peace of Europe there has been but a single moment, when the friendly relations of the United States with Russia were interrupted, and that in a manner, so singular and unexpected, as to be attributed rather to accident, or to an ignorance of claims and boundaries, than to a settled design to encroach upon the possessions of this country. The act, also, may, in all probability, be traced to the influence of individuals, concerned in the trade of the Russian north-west. But for the proper understanding of the subject, it is necessary to place before the reader, in an authentic shape, an account of this transaction, which derives almost the whole of its importance, so far as it respects Russia, from the circumstance of its being the only cause of misunderstanding, though of a transient nature, the United States have ever had with the imperial government.
In September 1821, the Emperor Alexander issued a Ukase in the following terms:
"SECT. 1. The pursuits of commerce, whaling and fishery and of all other industry on all islands, ports and gulfs, including the whole of the north west coast of America, beginning from Behring's Straits 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 Straits to the south cape of the island of Urup, viz. to the 45° 50′ northern latitude, are exclusively granted to the Russian subjects.
"SECT. 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 within less than an hundred Italian miles. The transgressor's vessel is subject to confiscation along with the whole cargo."
At an early period after the peace of 1783, our ships had found their way to the north-west coast in pursuit of the valuable furs, collected on those inhospitable shores. The habits of our seamen were well adapted to this peculiar and dangerous navigation and employment, and as little capital, beyond the equipment of the vessel was required, the impoverished condition of the country, during that critical situation of our affairs, presented no serious obstacles to enterprises of that description. This traffic was conducted with so much zeal and spirit, that in the first and second years of the present century, there were no less than fifteen American vessels on the coast, though, of late, the trade has decreased, in consequence of the wasteful and wanton destruction made of the sea otter by the Russians and Indians. But it is, still, valuable, not only on account of the furs, but as connected with a great variety of expeditions round Cape Horn, in which little positive capital is embarked, but that lead to rich returns in teas, silks, sugars and other articles of general consumption. No molestation was encountered in the prosecution of this traffic till the year 1821, and though it was, of course, always known, that the Russians held settlements towards the head of the continent at the Aleutian islands and in the neighbourhood of Behring's Straits, it never occurred to any one, that the imperial government would undertake, without notice to foreign powers, to appropriate to itself the whole coast of the north-west, in the least degree, valuable for the fur fishery. The only grounds, that, at all remunerate the expense and risk of a mercantile enterprise, lie to the north of the 51st degree, and the higher
latitudes of the coast, most convenient and accessible to the Russians, being now nearly exhausted, the partiality, which the fur company of that nation manifested for the 51st degree of north latitude, is at once explained.
Our commerce has never been assailed in a more fell, unsparing manner, and, yet, in the European seas it has passed through every variety and degree of vexation, insult and oppression. A Berlin decree, or an order in council sealing and investing the distant and desolate coast of the north west! The ancient and celebrated doctrine of the mare clausum of Selden applied to an ocean, four thousand miles in breadth! Our ships, after toiling through a long and difficult navigation round Cape Horn, and passing up the opposite shore of this hemisphere, find themselves menaced with a maritime persecution and proscription, only reminding them of the tyrannical edicts of the old world from its absurdity and impotence. This unexplored, unclaimed region, the scene for thirty years of the undisturbed trade of several nations, has not escaped the contamination of the modern, monstrous principles of maritime legislation, and, as our merchant vessels have gradually and successively penetrated to every shore of the globe, they have not yet found a spot, which, in the course of the last half century, has not been visited with a blockade or the exercise of some despotic usurpation of war.
Having recited the Ukase of the emperor, we shall now examine the grounds on which this claim was founded. They are contained in a letter of February 28, 1822, of M. de Poletica, (at that time Russian minister in this country) to the Secretary of State ;-the subject is deserving of a critical discussion on account of the protracted and unsatisfactory controversies, that have arisen between the United States and Great Britain, concerning much of the territory, claimed, on this occasion, by Russia.
The imperial envoy asserts, in the official note we have mentioned, the three following titles, on the part of his gov. ernment, to that portion of the north west coast of America, which extends to the 51st degree of north latitude, viz. the
title of the first discovery ;-the title of first occupation, and thirdly; the title of a long and undisputed possession. On examination it will probably be found, that no one of these titles can be maintained by the facts, that are known to exist upon this curious and interesting subject;-facts, which the reader may find in the celebrated and perfectly authentic voyages of Behring and Tschirikoff by Muller; and of Cook, la Perouse, Dixon and Vancouvre. Not having access to the unpublished journals of those navigators, to whom M. de Poletica* alludes, we know not what value belongs to their authority; but probably many of them were little more than the chiefs of those small hunting establishments, the Russians are known to possess in the high latitudes of the north west. We are farther confirmed in this opinion from the circumstance, that Dixon and Vancouvre complain greatly of the ignorance of the Russians in Cook's River and Prince William's Sound. They appeared to know very little of the geography of the coasts, a degree of ignorance that could not have existed, if the discoveries had been made by
*Extract from the letter of the Russian minister. "In 1728 the celebrated Capt. Behring made his first voyage. The recitals of his discoveries attracted the attention of the government, and the Empress Anne, intrusted to Capt. Behring (1741), a new expedition in these same latitudes. She sent with him the academicians Gamelin, Delisle, de la Croyere, Muller, Steller, Fisher, Krasilnicoff and others, and the first chart of these countries, which is known, was the result of their labours, published in 1758. Besides the strait, which bears the name of the chief of this expedition, he discovered a great part of the islands, which are found between the two continents; cape or mount St. Elias, which still bears this name, upon all the charts, was so called by Capt. Behring, who discovered it on the day of the feast of this saint, and his second captain Tschirikoff, pushed his discoveries as far as the 49th degree of north latitude. If the imperial government had, at the time, published the discoveries, made by the Russian navigators after Behring and Tschirikoff, (viz. Chlodiloff, Screbreanicoff, Krassilnicoff, Paycoff, Poushcareff, Lazareff, Medwedeff, Solowieff, Lewasheff, Krenitsin and others), no one would refuse to Russia the right of first discovery, nor could any one deny her that of first occupation."
skilful and enlightened men, previous to the voyage of Cook. We shall presently have occasion to quote the unanswerable declarations of that great navigator to the same point.
America was, doubtless, seen by the Russian navigators, Krupischew and Gwosdew, as early as 1730 or '31, about latitude 66, but they obtained nothing beyond a hasty glimpse of the coast. On the 4th of June 1741, two vessels, called the St. Peter and St. Paul (whence Petropaulowska on the coast of Kamtschatka) sailed from Awatchka bay for the coast of America. One was commanded by Commodore Behring, who had made a voyage between the two continents in 1728, and the other by Alexei Tschirikoff, one of his lieutenants on that voyage. On the 20th the two ships separated in bad weather. On the 15th of July, according to Steller, a physician embarked with Behring, the commodore's ship made land in latitude 58. 28 north;—we omit the longitude, the art of navigation being imperfect in those days, and as the coast here trends nearly east and west, it was not easy to ascertain their exact position. Here they saw a high mountain, which they called St. Elias, a name it has preserved to this day. Steller, and the ship master, both landed to explore the gulf, that Cook afterwards called Prince William's Sound,
After his separation from the commodore, Tschirikoff sailed for the American coast, which he, also, made on the 15th of July, in latitude 55. 36, according to the geographer de Lisle. Here he lost two boats, with their crews, in a singular manner, and, in consequence of that misfortune, had no means of communicating with the natives or the country. He now set out to return, but, having met with contrary winds, he was compelled to run 100 German miles along the coast to the southward. Notwithstanding the assertions of the author of this voyage, it may reasonably be doubted, whether Tschirikoff actually saw the land in going south, for it appears, that the weather was foggy and tempestuous. rate, he did not land, and possession of the country was not taken either by him or Behring.
These are the only claims, we have been able to find,