Grover Cleveland

Special Message

February 20, 1888

To the Senate of the United States:

In my annual message transmitted to the Congress in December, 1885, it was stated that negotiations were then pending for the settlement of the questions growing out of the rights claimed by American fishermen in British North American waters.

As a result of such negotiations a treaty has been agreed upon between Her Britannic Majesty and the United States, concluded and signed in this capital, under my direction and authority, on the 15th of February instant, and which I now have the honor to submit to the Senate with the recommendation that it shall receive the consent of that body, as provided in the Constitution, in order that the ratifications thereof may be duly exchanged and the treaty be carried into effect.

Shortly after Congress had adjourned in March last, and in continuation of my efforts to arrive at such an agreement between the Governments of Great Britain and the United States as would secure to the citizens of the respective countries the unmolested enjoyment of their just rights under existing treaties and international comity in the territorial waters of Canada and of Newfoundland, I availed myself of opportune occurrences indicative of a desire to make without delay an amicable and final settlement of a long-standing controversy, productive of much irritation and misunderstanding between the two nations, to send through our minister in London proposals that a conference should take place on the subject at this capital.

The experience of the past two years had demonstrated the dilatory and unsatisfactory consequences of our indirect transaction of business through the foreign office in London, in which the views and wishes of the government of the Dominion of Canada were practically predominant, but were only to find expression at second hand.

To obviate this inconvenience and obstruction to prompt and well-defined settlement, it was considered advisable that the negotiations should be conducted in this city and that the interests of Canada and Newfoundland should be directly represented therein.

The terms of reference having been duly agreed upon between the two Governments and the conference arranged to be held here, by virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution I duly authorized Thomas F. Bayard, the Secretary of State of the United States, William L. Putnam, a citizen of the State of Maine, and James B. Angell, a citizen of the State of Michigan, for and in the name of the United States, to meet and confer with the plenipotentiaries representing the Government of Her Britannic Majesty, for the purpose of considering and adjusting in a friendly spirit all or any questions relating to rights of fishery in the seas adjacent to British North America and Newfoundland which were in dispute between the Government of the United States and that of Her Britannic Majesty, and jointly and severally to conclude and sign any treaty or treaties touching the premises; and I herewith transmit for your information full copies of the power so given by me.

In execution of the powers so conveyed the said Thomas F. Bayard, William L. Putnam, and James B. Angell, in the month of November last, met in this city the plenipotentiaries of Her Britannic Majesty and proceeded in the negotiation of a treaty as above authorized. After many conferences and protracted efforts an agreement has at length been arrived at, which is embodied in the treaty which I now lay before you.

The treaty meets my approval, because I believe that it supplies a satisfactory, practical, and final adjustment, upon a basis honorable and just to both parties, of the difficult and vexed question to which it relates.

A review of the history of this question will show that all former attempts to arrive at a common interpretation, satisfactory to both parties, of the first article of the treaty of October 20, 1818, have been unsuccessful, and with the lapse of time the difficulty and obscurity have only increased.

The negotiations in 1854 and again in 1871 ended in both cases in temporary reciprocal arrangements of the tariffs of Canada and Newfoundland and of the United States, and the payment of a money award by the United States, under which the real questions in difference remained unsettled, in abeyance, and ready to present themselves anew just so soon as the conventional arrangements were abrogated.

The situation, therefore, remained unimproved by the results of the treaty of 1871, and a grave condition of affairs, presenting almost identically the same features and causes of complaint by the United States against Canadian action and British default in its correction, confronted us in May, 1886, and has continued until the present time.

The greater part of the correspondence which has taken place between the two Governments has heretofore been communicated to Congress, and at as early a day as possible I shall transmit the remaining portion to this date, accompanying it with the joint protocols of the conferences which resulted in the conclusion of the treaty now submitted to you.

You will thus be fully possessed of the record and history of the case since the termination on June 30, 1885, of the fishery articles of the treaty of Washington of 1871, whereby we were relegated to the provisions of the treaty of October 20, 1818.

As the documents and papers referred to will supply full information of the positions taken under my Administration by the representatives of the United States, as well as those occupied by the representatives of the Government of Great Britain, it is not considered necessary or expedient to repeat them in this message. But I believe the treaty will be found to contain a just, honorable, and therefore satisfactory solution of the difficulties which have clouded our relations with our neighbors on our northern border.

Especially satisfactory do I believe the proposed arrangement will be found by those of our citizens who are engaged in the open-sea fisheries adjacent to the Canadian coast, and resorting to those ports and harbors under treaty provisions and rules of international law.

The proposed delimitation of the lines of the exclusive fisheries from the common fisheries will give certainty and security as to the area of their legitimate field. The headland theory of imaginary lines is abandoned by Great Britain, and the specification in the treaty of certain named bays especially provided for gives satisfaction to the inhabitants of the shores, without subtracting materially from the value or convenience of the fishery rights of Americans.

The uninterrupted navigation of the Strait of Canso is expressly and for the first time affirmed, and the four purposes for which our fishermen under the treaty of 1818 were allowed to enter the bays and harbors of Canada and Newfoundland within the belt of 3 marine miles are placed under a fair and liberal construction, and their enjoyment secured without such conditions and restrictions as in the past have embarrassed and obstructed them so seriously.

The enforcement of penalties for unlawfully fishing or preparing to fish within the inshore and exclusive waters of Canada and Newfoundland is to be accomplished under safeguards against oppressive or arbitrary action, thus protecting the defendant fishermen from punishment in advance of trial, delays, and inconvenience and unnecessary expense.

The history of events in the last two years shows that no feature of Canadian administration was more harassing and injurious than the compulsion upon our fishing vessels to make formal entry and clearance on every occasion of temporarily seeking shelter in Canadian ports and harbors.

Such inconvenience is provided against in the proposed treaty, and this most frequent and just cause of complaint is removed.

The articles permitting our fishermen to obtain provisions and the ordinary supplies of trading vessels on their homeward voyages, and under which they are accorded the further and even more important privilege on all occasions of purchasing such casual or needful provisions and supplies as are ordinarily granted to trading vessels, are of great importance and value.

The licenses, which are to be granted without charge and on application, in order to enable our fishermen to enjoy these privileges, are reasonable and proper checks in the hands of the local authorities to identify the recipients and prevent abuse, and can form no impediment to those who intend to use them fairly.

The hospitality secured for our vessels in all cases of actual distress, with liberty to unload and sell and transship their cargoes, is full and liberal.

These provisions will secure the substantial enjoyment of the treaty rights for our fishermen under the treaty of 1818, for which contention has been steadily made in the correspondence of the Department of State and our minister at London and by the American negotiators of the present treaty.

The right of our fishermen under the treaty of 1818 did not extend to the procurement of distinctive fishery supplies in Canadian ports and harbors, and one item supposed to be essential--to wit, bait--was plainly denied them by the explicit and definite words of the treaty of 1818, emphasized by the course of the negotiation and express decisions which preceded the conclusion of that treaty.

The treaty now submitted contains no provision affecting tariff duties, and, independently of the position assumed upon the part of the United States that no alteration in our tariff or other domestic legislation could be made as the price or consideration of obtaining the rights of our citizens secured by treaty, it was considered more expedient to allow any change in the revenue laws of the United States to be made by the ordinary exercise of legislative will and in the promotion of the public interests. Therefore the addition to the free list of fish, fish oil, whale and seal oil, ect., recited in the last article of the treaty, is wholly left to the action of Congress; and in connection therewith the Canadian and Newfoundland right to regulate sales of bait and other fishing supplies within their own jurisdiction is recognized, and the right of our fishermen to freely purchase these things is made contingent by this treaty upon the action of Congress in the modification of our tariff laws.

Our social and commercial intercourse with those populations who have been placed upon our borders and made forever our neighbors is made apparent by a list of United States common carriers, marine and inland, connecting their lines with Canada, which was returned by the Secretary of the Treasury to the Senate on the 7th day of February, 1888, in answer to a resolution of that body; and this is instructive as to the great volume of mutually profitable interchanges which has come into existence during the last half century.

This intercourse is still but partially developed, and if the amicable enterprise and wholesome rivalry between the two populations be not obstructed the promise of the future is full of the fruits of an unbounded prosperity on both sides of the border.

The treaty now submitted to you has been framed in a spirit of liberal equity and reciprocal benefits, in the conviction that mutual advantage and convenience are the only permanent foundation of peace and friendship between States, and that with the adoption of the agreement now placed before the Senate a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse between the two countries will be established so as to secure perpetual peace and harmony.

In connection with the treaty herewith submitted I deem it also my duty to transmit to the Senate a written offer or arrangement, in the nature of a modus vivendi, tendered. after the conclusion of the treaty on the part of the British plenipotentiaries, to secure kindly and peaceful relations during the period that may be required for the consideration of the treaty by the respective Governments and for the enactment of the necessary legislation to carry its provisions into effect if approved.

This paper, freely and on their own motion signed by the British conferees, not only extends advantages to our fishermen pending the ratification of the treaty, but appears to have been dictated by a friendly and amicable spirit.

I am given to understand that the other Governments concerned in this treaty will within a few days, in accordance with their methods of conducting public business, submit said treaty to their respective legislatures, when it will be at once published to the world. In view of such action it appears to be advisable that by publication here early and full knowledge of all that has been done in the premises should be afforded to our people.

It would also seem to be useful to inform the popular mind concerning the history of the long-continued disputes growing out of the subject embraced in the treaty and to satisfy the public interests touching the same, as well as to acquaint our people with the present status of the questions involved, and to give them the exact terms of the proposed adjustment, in place of the exaggerated and imaginative statements which will otherwise reach them.

I therefore beg leave respectfully to suggest that said treaty and all such correspondence, messages, and documents relating to the same as may be deemed important to accomplish those purposes be at once made public by the order of your honorable body.


Grover Cleveland, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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