Front Page Titles (by Subject) GALLATIN TO CHARLES S. DAVIES. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2
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GALLATIN TO CHARLES S. DAVIES. - Albert Gallatin, The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2 
The Writings of Albert Gallatin, ed. Henry Adams (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1879). 3 vols.
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GALLATIN TO CHARLES S. DAVIES.
New York, 14th June, 1839.
Your letter of the 7th reached me the 12th, and that of the 10th this day; too late of course for any answer being received in time for your purpose. This is not to be regretted. The question seems to be one of expediency, and which belongs exclusively to the State of Maine. I doubt whether I could suggest anything new even if I was acquainted with the new proposals; and, ignorant as I am either of those, or of the views in general of the British and American governments, I can only allude to some of your suggestions.
Your reference to the former convention of Mr. King, and to that proposed by Messrs. Monroe and King [Pinkney?], has alarmed me. You might as well throw dice for the territory as to leave the decision to a third commissioner. If British, he will infallibly decide in favor of the British claim. Objectionable as it may be in many respects, another reference to a foreign sovereign would be preferable.
With respect to the convention which I negotiated at London, although it has not been executed, nothing should be done that would admit that its provisions are abrogated. The acknowledgment of the map A as binding the two parties is advantageous; but that of Mitchell’s map is far more important and decisive as to the intentions of the parties to the treaty of 1783. The defects of that convention are, 1st, that the words of the Treaty of Ghent, “in conformity with the treaty of 1783,” though implied, were not actually inserted in defining the subjects referred to the arbitrator; 2dly, that the respective claims of the two parties were not explicitly expressed in the body of the convention; 3dly, that the arbitrator was not expressly authorized to call on the parties for the instructions given to (and the correspondence between each government respectively and) the negotiators of the treaty of 1783.
For the first omission I may perhaps be blamed. The two other propositions were rejected by the British negotiators. This is mentioned in order to call your attention to the subject if a new reference should be proposed. The last point is the most important, and might be brought to bear in the course of any negotiation. We have published everything, and the British have used against us not only our instructions and correspondence, but even the previous deliberations of Congress. If that government means to prove that it did not intend to yield what we claim under the treaty, why decline to communicate the evidence which will show what that intention was? and if they will decline a formal application to that effect, it will strengthen our case in public opinion even in England.
As to the second point, it was not more outrageous than an egregious act of folly on the part of Great Britain to claim the pretended north-west angle of Nova Scotia and the boundary-line which was first suggested by the perverted mind of Chipman. As the matter stood in 1827 I wanted to tie them to it, which I did by the reference to their line as traced in the map A; but I tried unsuccessfully to make them express it in writing, which would have made the absurdity of the claim still more glaring. I do not precisely understand your allusion to that point, but agree with you in the conclusion that the British government will probably hereafter only contend that our line is not consistent with the treaty of 1783.
It may be that the object of both governments is to procrastinate; and if that is necessary in order to preserve peace (a question on which, for want of sufficient data, I cannot even form an opinion), I certainly wish that Maine may find it practicable to acquiesce without impairing her just claim. Permit me, in reference to that point, to observe that new surveys can be of no use but to gain time; that it is highly important not to depart from the principle; that the words “high lands” are purely relative; that the distinctive character of the boundary is its dividing the waters; and that the absolute elevation, the continuity, the depressions, and the character of the ground over which that dividing line passes cannot affect the question. Governor Sullivan’s blunder in that respect was the source whence arose our difficulties, and which led our government to declare, in fact, that in its opinion there were, in the topography of the country, obstacles to the execution of the treaty. And even apart of Mr. Livingston’s incomprehensible proposal, it seems to me, from the general course of negotiations since the award or mystification of the King of the Netherlands, that our government at Washington has not taken the pains to imbue itself thoroughly with the merits of the case and the points on which the question in reality turned. I think, therefore, that if, for the sake of procrastination, new surveys are resorted to, great care should be taken, in giving the assent, to guard against any inference unfavorable to the rights of Maine which might be drawn from that acquiescence.
I believe at the same time that the corner of territory watered by the Restigouche might be yielded without its being a disgraceful concession. The letter of the treaty is in our favor; but resorting to the intentions of the parties, I am inclined to think that, if the negotiators had known the fact, they would have defined the north-west angle as being at the intersection of the north line with the highlands which divided the rivers emptying into the Atlantic from those falling into the Gulf or river St. Lawrence.
Unfortunately, this concession would not give to Great Britain what she wants, and I do not perceive, unless she should be induced to yield altogether, how the dispute can be ultimately arranged peaceably otherwise than by an amicable exchange of territory. Yet, for myself, I would prefer another attempt (properly defined and guarded) to refer the subject to a foreign independent sovereign, to war.
I have the honor to be, respectfully, your obedient servant.
GALLATIN TO WM. WOODBRIDGE, Governor of Michigan.
New York, 19th September, 1840.
Your letter of 25th May has been duly received. My age and infirmities do not permit me to write long letters, still less to enter into discussions of important public questions. Yet on that which you proposed I never entertained or now have any doubt. The title of the United States to the lands within the new Western States is derived either from treaties with foreign nations or from cessions of some of the thirteen original States. The United States never had any claim to lands in Vermont and Kentucky, because both those States were entirely within the chartered and acknowledged bounds of old States, Kentucky within those of Virginia, and Vermont within those of New York and New Hampshire; and Virginia, New York, and New Hampshire ceded their rights respectively to the people of Kentucky and of Vermont, and not to the United States. All the lands south of the Lakes, east of the Mississippi, west of Pennsylvania, and north of the Ohio were, prior to the war of independence, claimed by the Crown. Almost if not the whole was claimed by Virginia as lying within its chartered bounds, and portions were, on the same principle, also claimed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. By virtue of cessions from those several States and of the treaty of peace of 1783 with Great Britain, every possible claim (save that of the aborigines and a few previous French grants to the inhabitants of Detroit, Vincennes, and Kaskaskia) to those lands was released to the confederated thirteen United States, whose title to the same was indisputable and questioned by none.
By the ordinance of 1787 it is declared that certain articles shall be considered as articles of compact between the original States and the people and States in the said territory, and forever remain unalterable, unless by common consent, to wit: and the fourth article contains the following provisions:
The Legislatures of those districts, or new States, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil by the United States in Congress assembled, nor with any regulations Congress may find necessary for securing the title in such soil to the bona fide purchasers. No tax shall be imposed on lands the property of the United States, and in no case shall non-resident proprietors be taxed higher than residents.
I have always considered those provisions as just in themselves and binding on the parties.
It is true that, generally speaking, the right of sovereignty embraces that of the unappropriated soil. But that right may, like all others, be limited by contract. To declare war, to make peace, to coin money, are attributes of sovereignty universally acknowledged. Yet they have been yielded to the general or common government by the several independent sovereign States of America. The Western States have all been admitted in the Union subsequent to the adoption of the Constitution, which provides that “the Congress shall have power to dispose of, and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States, &c.”
I do not recollect ever to have heard it suggested that the new States had or claimed a right to the soil by virtue of their sovereignty till after my return from Europe, in the year 1823; and I was quite astonished when, for the first time, I heard the claim asserted in a speech of Mr. Hendricks, of Indiana.
I certainly never had entertained such an idea; and I presume that any report which may have reached you has grown out of some confused notion respecting a letter written by me as Secretary of the Treasury to Mr. Giles, chairman of the committee on the admission of the North-West Territory into the Union; of which I enclose a copy.
Congress very properly reduced the term of exemption from taxation from ten to five years; and now that the idea of a quid pro quo has been set aside, and that the lands are sold for cash, I see no reason why the lands once sold should be at all exempted from taxation. But it is a matter of regret that the ten per cent. intended for the national road should have been reduced.
Whether, now that the public debt has been paid, there may not be considerations in favor of a less rigid line of policy, is another question. Michigan has certainly a right to be treated as favorably as any other of the Western States. Every arrangement, however, should be by mutual consent, and with a due regard for the rights of the people of every part of the Union. For my part, I wish that the public lands, now that the resources of the Union are sufficient to meet any exigency, might be so disposed of as to become in fact (as was the case under the colonial system) the patrimony of the poorer classes of society throughout the Union.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, sir, your obedient servant.
I never had any conversation with Mr. Griswold, and do not recollect any with Mr. Randolph, on the subject.