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Special Message

March 28, 1840

To the Senate:

I communicate to the Senate, in compliance with their resolution of the 12th instant, a report from the Secretary of War, containing information on the subject of that resolution.


WAR DEPARTMENT, March 27, 1840.


SIR: The resolution of the Senate of the 12th instant, "that the President of the United States be requested to communicate to the Senate, if in his judgment compatible with the public interest, any information which may be in the possession of the Government, or which can be conveniently obtained, of the military and naval preparations of the British authorities on the northern frontier of the United States from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean, designating the permanent from the temporary and field works, and particularly by noting those which are within the claimed limits of the United States," having been referred by you to this Department, it was immediately referred to Major-General Scott and other officers who have been stationed on the frontier referred to for such information on the subjects as they possessed and could readily procure, and an examination is now in progress for such as may be contained in the files of this Department. General Scott is the only officer yet heard from, and a copy of his report is herewith submitted, together with a copy of that to which he refers, made upon the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 9th instant. As soon as the other officers who have been called upon are heard from and the examination of the files of the Department is completed, any further information which may be thus acquired will be immediately laid before you.

Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,



Elizabethtown, N. J., March 23, 1840.

Brigadier-General R. JONES,

Adjutant-General United States Army

SIR: I have received from your office copies of two resolutions, passed, respectively, the 12th and 9th instant, one by the Senate and the other by the House of Representatives, and I am asked for "any information on the subject of both or either of the resolutions that may be in (my) possession."

In respect to the naval force recently maintained upon the American lakes by Great Britain, I have just had the honor to report to the Secretary of War, by whom the resolution of the House of Representatives (of the 9th instant) was directly referred to me.

I now confine myself to the Senate's resolution, respecting "military (I omit naval) preparations of the British authorities on the northern frontiers of the United States from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean, distinguishing the permanent from the temporary and field works, and particularly noting those which are within the claimed limits of the United States."

I will here remark that however well my duties have made me acquainted with the greater part of the line in question, I have paid but slight attention to the forts and barracks erected by the British authorities near the borders of Maine above Frederickton, in New Brunswick, or in Upper Canada above Cornwall, being of the fixed opinion (which need not here be developed) that all such structures would be of little or no military value to either of the parties in the event of a new war between the United States and Great Britain.

I was last summer at the foot of Lake Superior, and neither saw nor heard of any British fort or barrack on the St. Marys River, the outlet of that lake.

Between Lakes Huron and Erie the British have three sets of barracks--one at Windsor, opposite to Detroit; one at Sandwich, a little lower down; and the third at Malden, 18 miles from the first--all built of sawed logs, strengthened by blockhouses, loopholes, etc. Malden has long been a military post, with slight defenses. These have been recently strengthened. The works at Sandwich and Windsor have also, I think, been erected within the last six or eight months.

Near the mouth of the Niagara the British have two small forts--George and Mississauga; both existed during the last war. The latter may be termed a permanent work. Slight barracks have been erected within the last two years on the same side near the Falls and at Chippewa, with breastworks at the latter place, but nothing, I believe, above the works first named on the Niagara which can be termed a fort.

Since the commencement of recent troubles in the Canadas and (consequent thereupon) within our limits Fort William Henry, at Kingston, and Fort Wellington, opposite to Ogdensburg (old works), have both been strengthened within themselves, besides the addition of dependencies. These forts may be called permanent.

On the St. Lawrence below Prescott, and confronting our territory, I know of no other military post. Twelve miles above, at Brockville, there may be temporary barracks and breastworks. I know that of late Brockville has been a military station.

In the system of defenses on the approaches to Montreal the Isle aux Noix, a few miles below our line, and in the outlet of Lake Champlain, stands at the head. This island contains within itself a system of permanent works of great strength. On them the British Government has from time to time since the peace of 1815 expended much skill and labor.

Odletown, near our line, on the western side of Lake Champlain, has been a station for a body of Canadian militia for two years, to guard the neighborhood from refugee incendiaries from our side. I think that barracks have been erected there for the accommodation of those troops, and also at a station, with the like object, near Alburgh, in Vermont.

It is believed that there are no important British forts or extensive British barracks on our borders from Vermont to Maine.

In respect to such structures on the disputed territory , Governor Fairfield's published letters contain fuller information than has reached me through any other channel. I have heard of no new military preparations by the British authorities on the St. Croix or Passamaquoddy Bay.

Among such preparations, perhaps I ought not to omit the fact that Great Britain, besides numerous corps of well-organized and well-instructed militia, has at this time within her North American Provinces more than 20,000 of her best regular troops. The whole of those forces might be brought to, the verge of our territory in a few days. Two-thirds of that regular force has arrived out since the spring of 1838.

I remain, sir, with great respect, your most obedient servant,


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

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