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Special Message

January 29, 1840

To the Senate of the United States:

I herewith transmit to the Senate, with reference to their resolutions of the 17th instant, copies of two official notes which have passed subsequently to the date of my message of the 22d between the Secretary of State and the British minister at Washington, containing additional information in answer to the resolutions referred to.


Mr. Fox to Mr. Forsyth.

WASHINGTON, January 26, 1840.

Hon. JOHN FORSYTH, etc.:

The undersigned, Her Britannic Majesty's envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, has the honor to acquaint Mr. Forsyth, Secretary of State of the United States, that since the date of his last official note, of the 12th instant, he has been furnished by Her Majesty's authorities in North America with more correct information than he then possessed respecting certain reported movements of British troops within the disputed territory, which formed the subject of a part of that official note, as well as of the two official notes addressed by the Secretary of State to the undersigned on the 24th of December and on the 16th of the present month. The same reported movements of troops were referred to in a recent message from the governor of Maine to the legislature of the State, and also in a published official letter addressed by the governor of Maine to the President of the United States on the 23d of December.

It appears from accurate information now in the possession of the undersigned that the governor of Maine and through him the President and General Government of the United States have been misinformed as to the facts. In the first place, no reenforcement has been marched to the British post at the Lake Temiscouata; the only change occurring there has been the relief of a detachment of Her Majesty's Twenty-fourth Regiment by a detachment of equal force of the Eleventh Regiment, this force of one company being now stationed at the Temiscouata post, as it always has been, for the necessary purpose of protecting the stores and accommodations provided for the use of Her Majesty's troops who may be required, as heretofore, to march by that route to and from the Provinces of Canada and New Brunswick. In the second place, it is not true that the British authorities either have built or are building barracks on both sides of the St. John River or at the mouth of the Madawaska River; no new barracks have in fact been built anywhere. In the third place, Her Majesty's authorities are not concentrating a military force at the Grand Falls; the same trifling force of sixteen men is now stationed at the post of the Grand Falls which has been stationed there for the last twelvemonth. It was perhaps, however, needless for the undersigned to advert to this last matter at all, as the post of the Grand Falls is beyond the bounds of the disputed territory and within the acknowledged limits of New Brunswick.

The undersigned, while conveying the above information upon a matter of fact to the Secretary of State of the United States, takes occasion to repeat distinctly his former declaration that there exists no intention on the part of Her Majesty's authorities to infringe the terms of those provisional agreements which were entered into at the beginning of last year so long as there is reason to trust that the same will be faithfully adhered to by the opposite party; but it is the duty of the undersigned at the same time clearly to state that Her Majesty's authorities in North America, taking into view the attitude assumed by the State of Maine with reference to the boundary question, will, as at present advised, be governed entirely by circumstances in adopting such measures of defense and protection (whether along the confines of the disputed territory or within that portion of it where, it has been before explained, the authority of Great Britain, according to the existing agreements, was not to be interfered with) as may seem to them necessary for guarding against or for promptly repelling the further acts of hostile aggression over the whole of the disputed territory which it appears to be the avowed design of the State of Maine sooner or later to attempt.

For the undersigned has to observe that not only is the extensive system of encroachment which was denounced and remonstrated against by the undersigned in his official note of the 2d of last November still carried on and persisted in by armed bands employed by the authorities of Maine in the districts above the Aroostook and Fish rivers, but that acts, as above stated, of a character yet more violent and obnoxious to the rights of Great Britain and more dangerous to the preservation of the general peace are with certainty meditated by the inhabitants of that State. The existence of such designs has for months past been a matter of notoriety by public report. Those designs were plainly indicated in the recent message of the governor of Maine to the legislature of the State, and they are avowed in more explicit terms in the letter addressed to the President of the United States by the governor of Maine on the 21st of November, which letter has within the last few days been communicated to Congress and published.

The undersigned, it is true, has been assured by the Secretary of State, in his note of the 16th instant, that the General Government see no reason to doubt the disposition of the governor of Maine to adhere to the existing arrangements and to avoid all acts tending to render more difficult and distant the final adjustment of the boundary question; but in face of the above clear indications of the intentions of Maine as given out by the parties themselves the Secretary of State has not given to the undersigned any adequate assurance that Maine will be constrained to desist from carrying those intentions into effect if, contrary to the expectation of the General Government, the legislature or the executive of the State should think fit to make the attempt.

The undersigned not only preserves the hope, but he entertains the firm belief, that if the duty of negotiating the boundary question be left in the hands of the two national Governments, to whom alone of right it belongs, the difficulty of conducting the negotiation to an amicable issue will not be found so great as has been by many persons apprehended. But the case will become wholly altered if the people of the State of Maine, who, though interested in the result, are not charged with the negotiation, shall attempt to interrupt it by violence.

Her Majesty's authorities in North America have on their part no desire or intention to interfere with the course of the pending negotiation by an exertion of military force, but they will, as at present advised, consult their own discretion in adopting the measures of defense that may be rendered necessary by the threats of a violent interruption to the negotiation which have been used by all parties in Maine and which the undersigned regrets to find confirmed by the language (as above referred to) employed by the highest official authority in that State.

The undersigned avails himself of this occasion to renew to the Secretary of State of the United States the assurance of his distinguished consideration.

H. S. FOX.

Mr. Forsyth to Mr. Fox.


Washington, January 28, 1840.

HENRY S. FOX, Esq., etc.:

The undersigned, Secretary of State of the United States, has the honor to reply, by direction of the President, to the note addressed to him on the 26th instant by Mr. Fox, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Great Britain.

The President derives great satisfaction from the information conveyed by Mr. Fox's note that, with reference to the reported movements of British troops within the territory in dispute, no actual change has taken place in the attitude of Her Majesty's authorities in the territory since the arrangements entered into by the two Governments at the commencement of last year for the preservation of tranquillity within its limits, and from his assurances that there exists no intention on the part of Her Majesty's authorities to infringe the terms of those arrangements so long as they are faithfully observed on the side of the United States. The President, however, can not repress a feeling of regret that the British colonial authorities, without graver motives than the possibility of a departure from the arrangements referred to by the State of Maine, should take upon themselves the discretion, and along with it the fearful responsibility of probable consequences, of being guided by circumstances liable, as these are, to be misapprehended and misjudged in the adoption within the disputed territory of measures of defense and precaution in manifest violation of the understanding between the two countries whenever they may imagine that acts of hostile aggression over the disputed territory are meditated or threatened on the part of the State of Maine. The President can not but hope that when Her Majesty's Government at home shall be apprised of the position assumed in this regard by its colonial agents proper steps will be taken to place the performance of express and solemn agreements upon a more secure basis than colonial discretion, to be exercised on apprehended disregard of such agreements on the part of the State of Maine.

It is gratifying to the President to perceive that Mr. Fox entertains the firm belief that the difficulty of conducting to an amicable issue the pending negotiation for the adjustment of the question of boundary is not so great as has by many persons been apprehended. As, under a corresponding conviction, the United States have, with a view to the final settlement of that exciting question, submitted a proposition for the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, the President hopes that the sentiments expressed by Mr. Fox have their foundation in an expectation of his having it in his power at an early day to communicate to this Government a result of the deliberations had by that of Her Britannic Majesty upon the proposition alluded to which will present the prospect of a prompt and satisfactory settlement, and which, when known by the State of Maine, will put an end to all grounds of apprehensions of intentions or disposition on her part to adopt any measures calculated to embarrass the negotiation or to involve a departure from the provisional arrangements. In the existence of those arrangements the United States behold an earnest of the mutual desire of the two Governments to divest a question abounding in causes of deep and growing excitement of as much as possible of the asperity and hostile feeling it is calculated to engender; but unless attended with the most scrupulous observance of the spirit and letter of their provisions, it would prove but one more cause added to the many already prevailing of enmity and discord. Mr. Fox has already been made the channel of conveyance to his Government of the desire and determination of the President that the obligations of the country shall be faithfully discharged; that desire is prompted by a sense of expediency as well as of justice, and by an anxious wish to preserve the amicable relations now, so manifestly for the advantage of both, subsisting between the United States and Great Britain.

The undersigned avails himself of the occasion to renew to Mr. Fox assurances of his distinguished consideration.


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

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