Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1879
to Mr. Evarts.
London, September 5, 1879. (Received September 17.)
Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith an extract (in duplicate) from the Daily News of the 3d instant, in relation to our claim for damages arising out of the transactions in Fortune Bay.
I have, &c.,
Simultaneously with the return of Mr. Welsh, the late minister of the United States in this country, to America, the public was enigmatically informed from New York that his successor would be “a great dealer in fish.” Among us it is no new thing for a “fishmonger” to occupy a high place in the state, to sit on the bench, or to be a member of the cabinet, but no similar usage was known to prevail in America. The puzzle is now explained, and what is meant is that one of the most important duties of the new minister of the United States on his arrival among us will be to state the views of his government as to the condition in which the fishermen of his country are placed by the joint operation of the treaty of Washington and the acts of the Canadian Government, and to claim a substantial indemnity for injury which, it is affirmed, they have sustained. The newspapers both of the Union and of the Dominion are publishing their respective views on the subject with much of the warmth of sentiment and luxuriance of imagery which usually characterize these discussions. The United States Government, however, has not yet made its final demand, as before doing so it wishes to complete an inquiry which it has instituted in the waters where the difficulty has arisen. It has, however, claimed of our foreign office the sum of $103,000 on account of damages alleged to have been done to a small American fishing fleet at Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, in January, 1876. A correspondence, setting forth both the American and the Canadian accounts of this collision, was published by the foreign office shortly after its occurrence, and it is sufficient here to say that it was of the contradictory character to which we are-accustomed in descriptions of frays between rough men who regard one another with jealousy. The American fishermen were interfered with in Fortune Bay on the ground that they had violated a local law, which forbids the taking of fish on Sunday “and the fastening of seines to the shore. Upon the occasion complained of, the Newfoundland men interfered, destroyed the American nets, and prevented the intended take. During the conflict one American master drew his revolver, and only in this manner secured his fish.
It certainly seems as though a dispute arising out of an affray of this kind might be settled without any great diplomatic parade. It must be remembered, however, that soreness of feeling respecting these fisheries has been manifested as long as any one now alive can remember, and that it was increased by the recent award of the Halifax Commission, under which the United States have paid $5,500,000 as the value on balance of the fishing privileges secured to them by the treaty of Washington. The people and Government of the Union believe, and have maintained in formal documents and before the Halifax Commission, that the privileges accorded to British subjects under Article XVIII of that treaty are vastly greater than any that have been or will be realized by citizens of the United States under the fishery clauses of the same instrument. The United States Government do not indeed call the Halifax award in question, and disavow all intention of asking that it may be reconsidered. Still it is always important to know under the influence of what views and feelings any demand is pressed. When we look a little further into the matter, we find the impatience of the Americans relates more to provincial; that is, Canadian, pretensions than to any terms by which they are bound to this country. Their chief complaint is that when they have made a bargain with us, by which, be it bad or good, they are ready to abide, the advantages secured to them are annulled by the manner in which the Canadians apply the stipulations. How far this complaint can be substantiated remains to be ascertained. The local laws of the maritime British provinces of America are of course framed with a view to the protection of the fisheries, which are a most valuable property, and no claim that might be set up to fish in a manner to injure them permanently could be allowed. But inasmuch as since the Halifax award the Americans must be considered to have bought of us and paid for their right to fish, it is not to be expected that they will permit the Canadians to alter the conditions of the contract. Their jealousy of the Dominion Government on this point is shown by the demand made by the American journals, that in any negotiations that may become necessary between Great Britain and the United States Canada shall not be allowed to participate. This requirement appears to have originated in a misconception. On the one hand, inasmuch as the interests which we are called to defend are Canadian, it is impossible that they should not be considered; and, on the other, inasmuch as treaties on this subject can only be made by the Queen’s government, the American demand to negotiate directly with us is conceded before it is made. After what has happened, indeed, it would be most unwise to make any Canadian prominent in the negotiation, and it would be well if the Canadian administration could be dispensed with in the construction and enforcement of any terms that may be further agreed on. That there will be abundant opportunity of considering the future working of the inshore fisheries in all its breadth may be regarded as quite certain; for although the Americans do not challenge the Halifax award, their objection to the manner in which the local laws are enforced against their fishermen raises the whole question. How are the relations between the British and American fishermen to be regulated in future? The [Page 453] whole subject bristles with difficulties, which are not to be got rid of by taking a merely legal view of the rights of each party, and leaving the local courts to apply it. The object of both governments should be to arrive at some working arrangement likely to be permanent. The contention of the Americans that the Canadians shall not have it in their power to nullify their rights is one that is sure to be persisted in, and our government should therefore be prepared to consider the matter. Whenever it does so, it should also be ready to deal with the old dispute respecting the headlands, with which the Halifax Commission declined to meddle.
The American objection to permit Canadian public men to take part in the coming negotiations may be overstrained, but it is intelligible. Canada cannot be made responsible to the United States as one European state is politically responsible to another. England speaks for it whenever its acts are called in question; with England, therefore, the Americans wish to negotiate, and with her alone. But if this claim is good, it follows that with just as much right the American Government may object to the laws by which the use of the fisheries is regulated being enacted without the sanction of the imperial government. And even if not, still from the point of view of our own national convenience it is unreasonable that the American should come to us to complain of the operations of a law as to the reasonableness of which we were not consulted. Of course no claim on the part of a foreign government to prescribe or even suggest the manner or process of our legislation could be listened to; but inasmuch as our foreign office will have to maintain the closest communications with the Canadian Government during the impending negotiations, it will have opportunities of pointing out the propriety on the part of the local governments of the Dominion taking care that their laws affecting foreigners to whom we have conceded treaty rights shall be such as we can justify in case of need. Of course the relevancy of these considerations depends entirely upon the Americans being able to show that they have a case, and that the laws enforced against them are unreasonable and destructive of their rights. This, however, has yet to be proved. The people of this country desire, on the one hand, that the important material interests of the Canadians in their fisheries may be upheld, and, on the other, that the engagements into which we have entered with the United States shall be honorably fulfilled. Every English government, whatever its origin or complexion, must have the same desire. We may, therefore, expect that whenever the time comes for dealing practically with this question, it will be dealt with in a spirit of conciliation, and with no other desire than to remove once for all every cause of difference arising out of the fisheries of the Dominion, and to place the relations of the hardy and industrious people of the two countries who meet in the waters of Canada upon a permanent and satisfactory footing.