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Special Message

March 09, 1840

To the Senate.

In addition to information already communicated in compliance with the resolutions of the Senate of the 17th January last, I think it proper to transmit to the Senate copies of two letters, with inclosures, since received from the governor of Maine, and of a correspondence relative thereto between the Secretary of State and the British minister.



Augusta, February 15, 1840.

His Excellency M. VAN BUREN,

President United States.

SIR: A communication from Mr. Fox, the British minister, to Mr. Forsyth, Secretary of State, under date of January 26, contains the following statement:

"It appears from accurate information now in 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."

This statement has been read by the citizens of this State with the most profound astonishment, and however high may be the source from which it emanates I must be permitted to say, in the language of that high functionary, that "it is not true," though in justice to him I should add that he has undoubtedly been misinformed. Though this State, in the vindication of her rights and maintenance of her interests relative to her territorial boundary, from past experience had no reason to expect any material admissions of the truth on the part of the British authorities, she was not prepared to meet such a positive and unqualified denial of facts as the foregoing exhibits, especially of facts so easily susceptible of proof. The " accuracy " of the information alleged to be in the possession of the minister is only equaled by the justice of the pretensions heretofore set up in regard to title.

But not to be bandying assertions where proof is abundant, I deem it my duty to transmit to Your Excellency the depositions+ of a number of gentlemen, citizens of this State, of great respectability, and whose statements are entitled to the most implicit confidence.


These depositions abundantly prove that up to May last, nearly two months subsequent to the arrangement entered into through the mediation of General Scott, no troops whatever were stationed at Temiscouata Lake; that in August, September, and October the number did not exceed 25, while now it has been increased to about 200; that prior to May no barracks had been erected at Temiscouata, but that since that time two have been built at the head of the lake, besides some five or six other buildings apparently adapted to the establishment of a permanent military post, and at the foot of the lake two or more buildings for barracks and other military purposes; that though no new barracks have been erected at Madawaska, certain buildings heretofore erected have been engaged for use as such; that a road has been constructed connecting the military post at the head and foot of the lake, a towpath made the whole length of the Madawaska River, the road from the head of the lake to the military post at the river Des Loup thoroughly repaired, transport boats built, etc.

I would further inform Your Excellency that an agent has been dispatched to Temiscouata and Madawaska for the purpose of procuring exact information of the state of things there at the present moment; but having incidentally found some evidence of the state of things prior to November last, I have thought best to forward it without delay for the purpose of disabusing the Government and the country of the errors into which they may have been led by the communication before alluded to. The report of the agent will be transmitted as soon as received, which may not be short of two weeks.

Under these circumstances, I have only to repeat my official call upon the General Government for the protection of this State from invasion.

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


Governor of Maine.


Washington, February 27, 1840.

His Excellency JOHN FAIRFIELD,

Governor of Maine.

SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt at this Department of your excellency's letter to the president of the 15th instant, inclosing three depositions of citizens of Maine in relation to certain movements of British troops in the disputed territory. The depositions have been informally communicated to the British minister by direction of the President, who desires me to apprise your excellency of his intention to cause an official communication to be addressed to the minister on the subject so soon as the report of the agent dispatched by your order to Temiscouata and Madawaska for the purpose of procuring exact information as to the present state of things there shall have been received.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,



Augusta, February 27, 1840.

His Excellency M. VAN BUREN,

President United States.

SIR: Having received the report of Benjamin Wiggin, esq., the agent referred to in my last communication, dispatched by me to the disputed territory to obtain exact information of British military movements in that quarter and of the existing state of things, I hasten to lay the same *before you, accompanied by his plan* of the British military post at the head of Lake Temiscouata. It will be perceived that it goes to confirm in every essential particular the evidence already forwarded in the depositions of Messrs. Varnum, Bartlett, and Little, and is directly opposed to the statement contained in the letter of Mr. Fox to Mr. Forsyth under date of 26th of January last.


The course thus clearly proved to have been pursued by the British Government upon the disputed territory is utterly inconsistent with the arrangement heretofore subsisting, and evinces anything but a disposition to submit to an amicable termination of the question relating to the boundary.

Permit me to add that the citizens of Maine are awaiting with deep solicitude that action on the part of the General Government which shall vindicate the national honor and be fulfilling in part a solemn obligation to a member of the Union.

I have the honor to be, with high respect, your most obedient servant,


Governor of Maine.

Mr. Forsyth to Mr. Fox.


Washington, March 6, 1840.

HENRY S. Fox, Esq., etc.:

By the directions of the President, the undersigned, Secretary of State of the United States, communicates to Mr. Fox, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Great Britain, the inclosed copy of a report* made to the governor of the State of Maine by the agent commissioned on the part of the authorities of that State to ascertain the precise character and extent of the occupation of parts of the disputed territory by troops of Her Britannic Majesty and of the buildings and other public works constructed for their use and accommodation.


By that report and the three depositions which the undersigned informally communicated to Mr. Fox a few days since he will perceive that there must be some extraordinary misapprehension on his part of the facts in relation to the occupation by British troops of portions of the disputed territory. The statements contained in these documents and that given by Mr. Fox in his note of the 20th of January last exhibit a striking discrepancy as to the number of troops now in the territory as compared with those who were in it when the arrangement between Governor Fairfield and Lieutenant-Governor Harvey was agreed upon, and also as to the present and former state of the buildings there. The extensive accommodations prepared and preparing at an old and at new stations, the works finished and in the course of construction on the land and on the water, are not in harmony with the assurance that the only object is the preservation of a few unimportant buildings and storehouses for the temporary protection of the number of troops Her Majesty's ordinary service can require to pass on the road from New Brunswick to Canada.

The undersigned will abstain from any remarks upon these contradictory statements until Mr. Fox shall have had an opportunity to obtain the means of fully explaining them. How essential it is that this should be promptly done, and that the steps necessary to a faithful observance on the part of Her Majesty's colonial authorities of the existing agreements between the two Governments should be immediately taken, Mr. Fox can not fail fully to understand.

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


Mr. Fox to Mr. Forsyth.

WASHINGTON, March 7, 1840.

The undersigned, Her Britannic Majesty's envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the official note of yesterday's date addressed to him by Mr. Forsyth, Secretary of State of the United States, to which is annexed the copy of a report from Mr. Benjamin Wiggin, an agent employed by the State of Maine to visit the British military post at Lake Temiscouata, and in which reference is made to other papers upon the same subject, which were informally communicated to the undersigned by Mr. Forsyth a few days before; and the attention of the undersigned is called by Mr. Forsyth to different points upon which the information contained in the said papers is considered to be materially at variance with that which was conveyed to the United States Government by the undersigned in his official note of the 26th of last January.

The undersigned had already been made acquainted by the lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick with the circumstance of Mr. Wiggin's visit to the military post at Lake Temiscouata, where the officer in command very properly furnished to Mr. Wiggin the requisite information upon all matters connected with the British station which he appeared desirous to inquire about.

The alleged points of variance, after deducting what is fanciful and conjectural in the reports now produced and after comparing what is there stated in contradiction to other reports before produced from the same quarters, do not appear to the undersigned to be by any means so material as they seem to have been considered by the Government of the United States. The British military detachment stationed at Lake Temiscouata, which the agents employed by the State of Maine had, in the first instance with singular exaggeration represented as amounting to two regiments, is now discovered by the same parties to amount to 175 men, which instead of two regiments is something less than two companies. It is indeed true, should such a point be considered worth discussing, that the undersigned might have used a more technically correct expression in his note of the 26th of January if he had stated the detachment in question to consist of from one to two companies instead of stating it to consist of one company. But a detachment of Her Majesty's troops has been stationed at the Lake Temiscouata from time to time ever since the winter of 1837 and 1838, when the necessity arose from marching reenforcements by that route from New Brunswick to Canada; and it will be remembered that a temporary right of using that route for the same purpose was expressly reserved to Great Britain in the provisional agreement entered into at the beginning of last year.

It is not, therefore, true that the stationing a military force at the Lake Temiscouata is a new measure on the part of Her Majesty's authorities; neither is it true that that measure has been adopted for other purposes than to maintain the security of the customary line of communication and to protect the buildings, stores, and accommodations provided for the use of Her Majesty's troops when on march by that route; and it was with a view to correct misapprehensions which appeared to exist upon these points, and thus to do away with one needless occasion of dispute, that the undersigned conveyed to the United States Government the information contained in his note of the 26th of January.

With regard again to the construction of barracks and other buildings and the preserving them in an efficient state of repair and defense, a similar degree of error and misapprehension appears still to prevail in the minds of the American authorities.

The erection of those buildings within the portion of the disputed territory now referred to, for the shelter of Her Majesty's troops while on their march and for the safe lodgment of the stores, is no new act on the part of Her Majesty's authorities. The buildings in question have been in the course of construction from a period antecedent to the provisional agreements of last year, and they are now maintained and occupied along the line of march with a view to the same objects above specified, for which the small detachments of troops also referred to are in like manner there stationed.

The undersigned will not refrain from here remarking upon one point of comparison exhibited in the present controversy. It is admitted by the United States authorities that the armed bands stationed by the government of Maine in the neighborhood of the Aroostook River have fortified those stations with artillery, and it is now objected as matter of complaint against the British authorities with reference to the buildings at Lake Temiscouata, not that those buildings are furnished with artillery, but only that they are defended by palisades capable of resisting artillery. It would be difficult to adduce stronger evidence of the acts on the one side being those of aggression and on the other of defense.

The fact, shortly, is (and this is the essential point of the argument) that Her Majesty's authorities have not as yet altered their state of preparation or strengthened their military means within the disputed territory with a view to settling the question of the boundary, although the attitude assumed by the State of Maine with reference to that question would be a clear justification of such measures, and it is much to be apprehended that the adoption of such measures will sooner or later become indispensable if the people of Maine be not compelled to desist from the extensive system of armed aggression which they are continuing to carry on in other parts of the same disputed territory.

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.

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

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