Thomas Jefferson Papers

Continuation of an Examination of the Boundaries of Louisiana, 15 January 1804

Continuation of an Examination of the Boundaries of Louisiana

P.S. the Northern boundary of Louisiana, Coterminous with the possessions of England.1

The limits of Louisiana have been spoken of, in the preceding statement,2 as if those established to the West & North, by the charter of Louis XIV. remained still unaltered. in the West they are so, as already explained. but, in the North, a material change has taken place. with this however it was unnecessary to complicate our subject, while considering the interests of Spain alone: because the possessions of Great Britain, & not of Spain, are coterminous with Louisiana on it’s Northern boundary. we will now therefore proceed to examine the state of that boundary, as between Gr. Britain & the US.

Disputes having arisen between Gr. Britain & France as to the limits between Canada & Louisiana on the one side, & the countries of the Hudson’s bay, & North Western companies on the other, it was agreed by the treaty of Utrecht (1713) Art. X. that ‘Commissaries should be forthwith named by each party to determine the limits between the bay of Hudson and the places appertaining to the French, & to describe & settle the boundaries between the other British & French colonies in those parts’ these Commissaries accordingly fixed the Northern boundaries of Canada & Louisiana, by a line beginning on the Atlantic, at a Cape or Promontory in 58°-30’ N. Lat. thence South Westwardly to the lake Misgosink, or Mistasin, thence farther S.W. to the lat. of 49.° North from the Equator, and along that line indefinitely. [Hutchins’s topographical description of Louisiana. pa. 7.] thus the Northern boundary of Canada and Louisiana became fixed, & the latter particularly became changed to the parallel of 49.° from the Equator, instead of the highlands inclosing the Northern3 waters running directly or indirectly into the Misipi, as settled by Louis XIV. Canada being, by the peace of 1763. transferred to England, it’s Southern boundary was settled by the treaty of 1783. with the US. along the St. Croix & highlands bounding the Southern waters of the St: Laurence, the 45th. degree of latitude to the water communication between the lakes, and along that communication to the lake of the woods; whence the line of the US. was to run due West, till it should strike the Missisipi. now, according to the maps of that time, and particularly Mitchell’s on* which the boundary of 1783. was predicated, the line of 49.° passes through the Southern part of the lake of the Woods:4 and the NorthWestern point of the lake of the Woods, as observed by Thompson, Astronomer to the North West company, is in Lat. 49°-37.’ [Mc.Kenzie’s 2. voyage chapt. 13.] at that lake therefore the English negotiators ceased to pursue the water communication, because, South of the latitude of that lake, they owned nothing: and to have followed the water line further Northwardly, would have broken in upon the continuity of their Southern boundary. Canada was thus closed to the West, by it’s Northern & Southern limits meeting in a point in the lake of the Woods. it was at that time believed that the Missisipi, heading North of 49.° would have been intersected by that line of latitude, and our possessions consequently closed. but subsequent information rendered it probable that that river did not extend so far North; (it is now said only to 47.° 38’)5 and consequently that there was an unclosed space between it’s source & the lake of the woods. without undertaking to decide what were the limits dividing Great Britain & Spain in that quarter, we concluded it would be safest to settle, as occasions should offer, our boundary there with both nations, on the principle of ‘valeat quantum valere potest’ with each. having to form a convention with England for ascertaining our limits in the North Eastern quarter, we took that occasion for closing, as far as depended on her right, the vacancy in our North Western angle; & therefore proposed it to her. while negociations were going on at London for this purpose, an opportunity occurred of our acquiring Louisiana: and the stipulations being promptly concluded, a treaty for that acquisition was actually signed at Paris twelve days before that of London was concluded. but this treaty was not known to the negociators of either party at London; nor could the rights acquired by it, be affected by arrangements instituted & compleated there merely for the purpose of explaining and supplying the provisions in the treaty of 1783. in result, this acquisition rendered these explanations unnecessary, and the Vth. article respecting them merely nugatory. for England holding nothing in that quarter Southward of 49.° the line proposed in the Vth. article, from the NorthWestern point of6 the lake of the Woods Southwardly to the nearest source of the Misipi, is through a country, not belonging to her, but now to the US. consequently the consent of no other nation can now be necessary to authorise it. it may be run, or not, and in any direction which suits ourselves. it has become a merely municipal object respecting the line of division which we may chuse to establish between two of our territories.7   It follows then that the Vth. Article of the Convention of London of May 12. 1803. should be expunged, as nugatory; and that instead of it, should be substituted one declaring that the dividing line between Louisiana & the British possessions adjacent to it, shall be from the North Western point of the Lake of the Woods, along the water edge Westwardly8 to it’s intersection with the parallel of 49.° North from the Equator, then along that parallel (as established by the treaty of Utrecht between Gr. Britain & France) until it shall meet the limits of the Spanish province next adjacent. and it would be desirable to agree further9 that, if that parallel shall, in any part, intersect any waters of the Missouri, then the dividing line shall pass round all those waters to the North until it shall again fall into the same parallel, or meet the limits of the Spanish province next adjacent.10 or, unapprised that Spain has any right as far North as that, & Westward of Louisiana, it may be as well to leave the extent of the boundary of 49.° indefinite, as was done on the former occasion.

Jan. 15. 1804.

MS (PPAmP); entirely in TJ’s hand, including brackets; begins on final page of “An examination into the boundaries of Louisiana,” 7 Sep. (see Vol. 41:329-38); endorsed as received by the American Philosophical Society on 18 Jan. 1818 and “to be published.” PoC (ViU). Dft (DLC: TJ Papers, 135:23271); entirely in TJ’s hand; lacks authorial note. PrC (same, 137:23692-3); undated. Tr (DLC: Monroe Papers); in Lewis Harvie’s hand; undated. Tr (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans); in a clerk’s hand; undated.

preceding statement: Document II in the Boundaries of Louisiana, at 7 Sep. 1803.

The line of demarcation between British and French possessions that TJ discovered in Thomas hutchins’s Historical Narrative and Topographical Description of Louisiana was never agreed to by the French. The boundary discussed in Hutchins would have divided the territory of the Hudson’s Bay Company (along with New Britain, or what is now Labrador and Nunivak) from the parts of Canada corresponding with Quebec on the left, or north, side of the St. Lawrence River, then extended indefinitely westward along the 49th parallel (J. P. D. Dunbabin, “Red Lines on Maps: The Impact of Cartographical Errors on the Border between the United States and British North America, 1782-1842,” Imago Mundi, 50 [1998], 111; William E. Lass, “How the Forty-Ninth Parallel Became the International Boundary,” Minnesota History, 44 [1975], 215-16).

American and British peace negotiators believed that the lake of the woods was, like the Great Lakes, part of the St. Lawrence River watershed. In this, they were following John mitchell’s Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (Dunbabin, “Red Lines on Maps,” 109-10).

valeat quantum valere potest: the legal maxim meaning, let it have effect as far as it can (Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed. [St. Paul, Minn., 2004], 1763).

vth. article: for the convention with Great Britain, which would have defined the boundary between the U.S. and British North America by the shortest line connecting the northwest corner of the Lake of the Woods with the nearest source of the Mississippi River, see Vol. 41:600-2. It is uncertain if TJ shared this statement declaring the fifth article nugatory with any of his allies in the Senate, but that body voted accordingly on 9 Feb., with Pickering and most other New England senators in the minority. The British then rejected the entire convention. The Jefferson administration subsequently worked to have the 49th parallel acknowledged as the boundary between the western portions of the United States and Canada, appealing to the Treaty of Utrecht and the commercial charter granted by Louis XIV to Antoine Crozat as the authorities for this claim. Madison asked Monroe to research the proceedings of the boundary commissioners appointed under the Treaty of Utrecht and instructed Robert R. Livingston to obtain an authenticated copy of the Crozat grant. Settling this westernmost boundary was not, however, a priority. Given, Madison wrote Monroe, “the remoteness of the time at which such a line will become actually necessary,” a delay might be preferable to both parties (Lass, “How the Forty-Ninth Parallel Became the International Boundary,” 215-17; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:463-4; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 37 vols.: Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 10 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984- , 8 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 6:408, 476).

1Dft, PrC, and Trs lack this heading.

2Preceding four words lacking in Trs. In Dft TJ first wrote “hitherto spoken of” before altering the text to read as above. He made that change sometime after he created the PrC.

3Word interlined in Dft, lacking in PrC.

4In Dft TJ interlined the remainder of the sentence (including citation) in place of “& according to some later maps of Arrowsmith, it passes through the Northern part of it”; interlineation lacking in PrC.

5Parenthetical material interlined in Dft, with “perhaps” instead of “it is now said”; interlineation lacking in PrC.

6Preceding four words interlined in Dft.

7Sentence lacking in Dft, PrC, and Trs.

8In Dft TJ first wrote “along it’s margin to the mouth of the River Winnipeg, and along the middle of that river” before altering the passage to read as above.

9Preceding eight words interlined in Dft in place of “but,” with “obtain” instead of “agree”; alteration lacking in PrC and Trs.

10Dft and Trs end here.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

º *the identical map used by the negociators, with their MS. marks on it, is deposited in the office of state.

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