Little Bits of History

August 9

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 9, 2017

1842: The Webster-Ashburton Treaty is signed. The Aroostook War, aka the Pork and Beans War, was a conflict between the United States and the United Kingdom over the border between the US State of Maine and the British colony of New Brunswick. When the Revolutionary War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, there was no definitive mention of the actual border between the new country and her northern neighbor, still a part of the British Empire. Massachusetts began issuing land grants in its District of Maine to Americans even though some of the land was already owned and lived on by British North Americans (what would become Canadians). The Jay Treaty of 1794 was supposed to settle the question with the boundary being the St. Croix River.

There were still questions about a northern border and during the War of 1812, the British occupied much of eastern Maine for eight months. The Treaty of Ghent ended that war with the line held at the 1783 date which still was not entirely settled. Maine became separate from Massachusetts in 1820 and the state’s border was of concern. The British were of the opinion the state was claiming land far to the north of where they should be. The question remained a hot item with both sides laying claim to the same lands. In 1830, as America was gathering data for the census, the issue became even hotter. It was found that treaties and maps were in disagreement and there were many areas of concern. Although no actual fighting ever took place and this War had no casualties, militias were called out as tensions rose.

On this day a new treaty was signed by Daniel Webster, US Secretary of State, and British diplomat Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton. The treaty established the border between the British North American colonies, and later Canada, and the United States. It settled on a line from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. It gave shared use to the Great Lakes, named seven crimes subject to extradition, and called for an end to the slave trade on the high seas. The treaty also retroactively confirmed the southern boundary of Quebec which had been improperly surveyed in the late 1700s.

The crimes listed for extradition did not included slave revolt or mutiny which would allow an estimated 12,000 fugitive slaves to remain outside the US and safe on Canadian soil. As part of the treaty, the US was required to cede about 5,000 square miles to Britain along the Maine border – including the Halifax-Quebec Route. However, the US was allowed to keep 7,000 square miles of disputed wilderness territory in Maine and another 6,500 square miles of land along the Minnesota-Canada border. Most of the negotiations for the treaty, held over ten months’ time, were done at the Ashburton House on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. which is now a US National Historic Landmark.

Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.

A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue.

Failure is more frequently from want of energy than want of capital.

We are all agents of the same supreme power, the people. – all from Daniel Webster