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Special Message

February 27, 1839

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States.

I transmit to Congress copies of various other documents received from the governor of Maine, relating to the dispute between that State and the Province of New Brunswick, which formed the subject of my message of the 26th instant, and also a copy of a memorandum, signed by the Secretary of State of the United States and Her Britannic Majesty's envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary near the United States, of the terms upon which it is believed that all hostile collision can be avoided on the frontier consistently with and respecting the claims on either side.

As the British minister acts without specific authority from his Government, it will be observed that this memorandum has but the force of recommendation on the provincial authorities and on the government of the State.



Augusta, February 22, 1839.

His Excellency M. VAN BUREN,

President United States.

SIR: I have the honor to inclose herewith copies of letter from the lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, under date of February 18, with my reply thereto; letter from the solicitor-general of the Province of New Brunswick to the Hon. Charles Jarvis, temporary land agent, under date of the 17th instant, with Mr. Jarvis's reply; parole of honor given by Messrs. McIntire, Cushman, Bartlett, and Webster, dated 18th February; my message to the legislature of the 21st instant.

These papers will give Your Excellency all the additional information of any importance not heretofore communicated that has been received in relation to the state of affairs upon our eastern frontier. I can not but persuade myself that Your Excellency will see that an attack upon the citizens of this State by a British armed force is in all human probability inevitable, and that the interposition of the General Government at this momentous crisis should be promptly afforded.

I have the honor to be, with high respect, Your Excellency's obedient servant,


Governor of Maine.


Frederickton, New Brunswick, February 18, 1839.

His Excellency the GOVERNOR OF MAINE.

SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt, by the hands of Hon. Mr. Rogers, of your excellency's letter of the 15th instant. Mr. McIntire and the gentlemen with him have been subjected to an examination before Her Majesty's attorney general of this Province, who has reported to me that the offense of which they stand charged is one rather against the law of nations and of treaties than against those of this Province. They must accordingly be regarded as "state offenders." In this view, their disposal rests exclusively with Her Majesty's Government, to which I shall accordingly report the case. In the meantime I have had pleasure in directing that they shall immediately be allowed to return to the State of Maine upon pledging their parole of honor to present themselves to the Government of this Province whenever Her Majesty's decision may be received, or when required to do so. The high respectability of their characters and situations and my desire to act in all matters relating to the disputed territory in such a manner as may evince the utmost forbearance consistent with the fulfillment of my instructions have influenced me in my conduct toward these gentlemen; but it is necessary that I should upon this occasion distinctly state to your excellency--

First. That if it be the desire of the State of Maine that the friendly relations subsisting between Great Britain and the United States should not be disturbed, it is indispensable that the armed force from that State now understood to be within the territory in dispute be immediately withdrawn, as otherwise I have no alternative but to take military occupation of that territory, with a view to protect Her Majesty's subjects and to support the civil authorities in apprehending all persons claiming to exercise jurisdiction within it.

Second. That it is my duty to require that all persons subjects of Her Majesty who may have been arrested in the commission of acts of trespass within the disputed territory be given up to the tribunals of this Province, there to be proceeded against according to law.

Third. That in the event of the rumor which has just reached me relative to the arrest, detention, or interruption of James Maclauchlan, esq., the warden of the disputed territory, being correct, that that officer be enlarged and the grounds of his detention explained.

Mr. Rogers takes charge of this letter, of which a duplicate will be placed in the hands of the Hon. Mr. McIntire, with both of whom I have conversed and communicated to them my views in regard to the actual position in which I shall be placed and the measures which will be forced upon me if the several demands contained in this letter be not complied with; and I have reason to believe that Mr. McIntire leaves me fully impressed with the anxious desire which I feel to be spared the necessity of acting as the letter of my instructions would both warrant and prescribe.

With regard to trespasses upon the lands of the disputed territory, I beg to assure you that the extent to which those trespasses appear to have been carried, as brought to my knowledge by recent occurrences, will lead me to adopt without any delay the strongest and most effectual measures which may be in my power for putting a stop to and preventing the recurrence of such trespasses.

With high respect, I have the honor to be, your excellency's most obedient servant,


Major-General, Lieutenant-Governor .


Augusta, February 21, 1839.

His Excellency SIR JOHN HARVEY,

Lieutenant-Governor New Brunswick.

SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your excellency's communication of the 18th instant, by the hand of Colonel J. P. Rogers.

To your demand for the discharge of the persons arrested by the authorities of this State for being engaged in acts of trespass upon the public lands of this State I have to say that the persons named are now in the custody of the law. With that custody I have neither the disposition nor the authority to interfere.

In regard to James Maclauchlan, esq., provincial land agent, and Mr. Tibbets, his assistant, I have advised that they be released upon the same terms upon which the Hon. Rufus McIntire and his assistants were released, to wit, upon their parole of honor to return to Bangor whenever they should be thereto required by the executive government of this State, to answer to any charges that may be brought against them for their acts and proceedings upon what your excellency is pleased to call "the disputed territory."

For a reply to the remainder of your excellency's communication I must refer you to nay letter of the 18th instant, which you will receive by the hand of R. English, esq.

I have the honor to be, with high respect, your excellency's obedient servant,


Governor of Maine.


Province of New Brunswick, February 17, 1839.


SIR: I am directed by His Excellency Major-General Sir John Harvey, lieutenant-governor and commander in chief of this Province, to express to you his great surprise at the very extraordinary occurrence of an armed force of the description now with you having entered upon the disputed territory (so called) and attempted to exercise a jurisdiction there foreign to the British Government, seizing upon and maltreating British subjects and retaining many of them prisoners without having in the first instance given any notice or made any communication whatever to the government authorities of this province of such your intention, or the causes which have led to these acts of aggression. If you are acting under any authority from your own government, the proceedings are still more unjustifiable, being in direct defiance and breach of the existing treaties between the Central Government of the United States and England. If you have not any such authority, you and those with you have placed yourselves in a situation to be treated by both Governments as persons rebelling against the laws of either country. But be that as it may, I am directed by his excellency to give you notice that unless you immediately remove with the force you have with you from any part of the disputed territory (so called) and discharge all British subjects whom you have taken prisoners and at once cease attempting to exercise any authority in the said territory not authorized by the British Government every person of your party that can be found or laid hold of will be taken by the British authorities in this Province and detained as prisoners to answer for this offense, as his excellency is expressly commanded by his Sovereign to hold this territory inviolate and to defend it from any foreign aggression whatever until the two Governments have determined the question of to whom it shall belong; and to enable him to carry these commands into full effect, a large military force is now assembling at this place, part of which has already arrived, and will be shortly completed to any extent that the service may require. In doing this his excellency is very desirous to avoid any collision between Her Majesty's troops and any of the citizens of the United States that might lead to bloodshed, and if you remove from the territory peaceably and quietly without further opposition such collision will be avoided, as in that case his excellency will not think it necessary to move the British troops farther; but if you do not he will, in the execution of the commands of the British Government, find it necessary to take military possession of the territory in order to defend it from such innovation; and the consequences must be upon your own heads or upon the authority, if any, under which you act. The three gentlemen who were with you, and were taken prisoners by some of our people, have been forwarded on to Frederickton by the magistrates of the country and will be detained (as all persons heretofore have been who on former occasions were found endeavoring to set up or exercise any foreign jurisdiction or authority in the territory in question ). They will, however, be well treated and every necessary attention paid to their comfort; but I have no doubt they will be detained as prisoners, to be disposed of as may hereafter be directed by the British Government. The warden of the disputed territory, Mr. Maclauchlan, went out, I understood, a few days since to explain all this to you; but he not having returned we are led to suppose you have still further violated the laws and treaties of the two nations by detaining him, who was a mere messenger of communication, together with Mr. Tibbets, the person who was employed to convey him. But as Mr. Maclauchlan was an accredited officer, acknowledged by the American Government as well as the British, and appointed for the very purpose of looking after this territory, I trust you will on reflection see the great impropriety and risk you run, even with your own government, by detaining him or his attendant, Mr. Tibbets, any longer.

I shall await at this place to receive your answer to this.

I am, sir your most obedient, humble servant,


Solicitor-General of the Provinces.


Township No. 10, State of Maine, February 19, 1839.


Solicitor-General of Province New Brunswick.

SIR: Your communication of the 17th instant has been this moment received. The solicitor-general of the Provinces must have been misinformed as to the place where the force under my direction is now located, or he would have been spared the impropriety of addressing such a communication to me, a citizen of the State of Maine, one of the North American Confederacy of United States.

It is also to be hoped, for the honor of the British Empire, that when Major-General Sir John Harvey, lieutenant-governor and commander in chief of the Province of New Brunswick, is made acquainted with the place where the Hon. Rufus McIntire, land agent of the State of Maine, and the two other gentlemen with him were forcibly arrested by a lawless mob, that he will direct their immediate discharge and bring the offenders to justice.

The officer to whom you allude and the person in company with him were arrested for serving a precept on a citizen of Maine. He was sent on immediately to Augusta, the seat of government, to be dealt with by the authorities of the State. Their persons are not, therefore, in my power, and application for their discharge must be made to the government of the State.

If, however, I have been in error as to your being under a mistake as to the place where I am now stationed, on land which was run out into townships by the State of Massachusetts and covered by grants from that State before Maine was separated from Massachusetts, and which has therefore been under the jurisdiction of Maine since she has taken her rank among the independent States of the North American Union, therefore, as a citizen of Maine, in official capacity, I have but one answer to return to the threat conveyed: I am here under the direction of the executive of the State, and must remain until otherwise ordered by the only authority recognized by me; and deeply as I should regret a conflict between our respective countries, I shall consider the approach to my station by an armed force as an act of hostility, which will be met by me to the best of my ability.

I am, sir, your most obedient servant,




Whereas the offense wherewith you stand charged has been pronounced by the law officers of this Province as one rather against the law of nations and of treaties than against the municipal laws of this country, and as such must be referred for the decision of Her Majesty's Government, you are hereby required to pledge your parole of honor to present yourselves at Frederickton, in this Province of New Brunswick, whenever such decision shall be communicated, or you shall be otherwise required by or on the part of this government; and for this purpose you shall make known the place or places to which such requisition shall be sent.


FEBRUARY 18, 1839.

We have no hesitation in giving, and hereby do give, the parole of honor above referred to.



COUNCIL CHAMBER, February 21, 1839 .

To the House of Representatives:

Under the order of the House of Representatives of the 19th instant, I herewith lay before you certain correspondence since had with the lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, and the correspondence between Geo. Frederick Street, esq., solicitor-general for the Province of New Brunswick, and Charles Jarvis, esq., provisional land agent of this State.

The reply of Mr. Jarvis to the inadmissible and preposterous claims and pretensions of Her Majesty's solicitor-general for the Province of New Brunswick must, I think, command the unqualified approbation of everyone having a just regard for the honor of his State. It is in the true spirit, and I have every reason to believe that the same spirit animates the whole body of our citizens. While it prevails, though success will be deserved, defeat can bring no disgrace.

You will see by the accompanying papers (and I take great pleasure in communicating the fact) that Mr. McIntire and his assistants have been released. It was, however, upon their parole of honor to return when thereto required by the government of that Province. Immediately upon the receipt of this information I advised the release of James Maclauchlan, esq., provincial land agent, and his assistant, upon the same terms.

Since my last communication the land agent's forces at the Aroostook have been reenforced by about 600 good and effective men, making the whole force now about 750.

I have a letter from Mr. Jarvis dated the 19th, before the reenforcement had arrived, and when his company consisted of only 100 men. He says he found the men in good spirits and that they had been active in making temporary but most effectual defenses of logs, etc.

After describing his defenses, he says: "By to-morrow noon a force of 100 men would make good our position against 500. Retreating, therefore, is out of the question . We shall make good our stand against any force that we can reasonably expect would be brought against us." He says further: "I take pleasure in saying to you that a finer looking set of men I never saw than those now with me, and that the honor of our State, so far as they are concerned, is in safe-keeping."

The draft of 1,000 men from the third division has been made with great dispatch. The troops, I understand, arrived promptly at the place of rendezvous at the time appointed in good spirits and anxious for the order to march to the frontier. The detachment from this second division will be ordered to march at the earliest convenient day--probably on Monday next. Other military movements will be made, which it is unnecessary to communicate to you at this time.

The mission of Colonel Rogers to the lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick has resulted successfully so far as relates to the release of the land agent and his assistants, and has been conducted in a manner highly satisfactory



WASHINGTON, February 27, 1839.

Her Majesty's authorities consider it to have been understood and agreed upon by the two Governments that the territory in dispute between Great Britain and the United States on the northeastern frontier should remain exclusively under British jurisdiction until the final settlement of the boundary question.

The United States Government have not understood the above agreement in the same sense, but consider, on the contrary, that there has been no agreement whatever for the exercise by Great Britain of exclusive jurisdiction over the disputed territory or any portion thereof, but a mutual understanding that pending the negotiation the jurisdiction then exercised by either party over small portions of the territory in dispute should not be enlarged, but be continued merely for the preservation of local tranquillity and the public property, both forbearing, as far as practicable, to exert any authority, and when any should be exercised by either placing upon the conduct of each other the most favorable construction.

A complete understanding upon the question thus placed at issue of present jurisdiction can only be arrived at by friendly discussion between the Governments of the United States and Great Britain, and as it is confidently hoped that there will be an early settlement of the general question, this subordinate point of difference can be of but little moment.

In the meantime the government of the Province of New Brunswick and the government of the State of Maine will act as follows: Her Majesty's officers will not seek to expel by military force the armed party which has been sent by Maine into the district bordering on the Restook River, but the government of Maine will voluntarily and without needless delay withdraw beyond the bounds of the disputed territory any armed force now within them; and if future necessity shall arise for dispersing notorious trespassers or protecting public property from depredation by armed force, the operation shall be conducted by concert, jointly or separately, according to agreement between the governments of Maine and New Brunswick.

The civil officers in the service, respectively, of New Brunswick and Maine who have been taken into custody by the opposite parties shall be released.

Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to fortify or to weaken in any respect whatever the claim of either party to the ultimate possession of the disputed. territory.

The minister plenipotentiary of Her Britannic Majesty having no specific authority to make any arrangement on this subject, the undersigned can only recommend, as they now earnestly do, to the governments of New Brunswick and Maine to regulate their future proceedings according to the terms hereinbefore set forth until the final settlement of the territorial dispute or until the Governments of the United States and Great Britain shall come to some definite conclusion on the subordinate point upon which they are now at issue.


Secretary of State of the United States of North America.

H. S. FOX,

Her Britannic Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary.

Martin van Buren, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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