No. 149.
Lord Granville to Mr. West.

Sir: In my dispatch No. 296 of the 31st ultimo, I have forwarded to you a copy of a dispatch from Mr. Blaine to the United States minister at this court, containing further observations in support of his arguments and proposals for a modification of the treaty between this country and the United States of the 19th of April, 1850. In this dispatch Mr. Blaine gives extracts from the correspondence which passed between the two governments between 1856 and 1858, in consequence of questions that arose as to the construction to be placed on certain provisions of the treaty. Mr. Blaine seeks to establish from these extracts that “the vexatious and imperfect character of the treaty has been repeatedly recognized on both sides;” and he adds that the present proposal of the United States Government “is to free it from those embarrassing features, and to leave it, as its framers intended it should be, a full and perfect settlement, for all time, of all possible issues between the United States and Great Britain with regard to Central America.”

The correspondence in question was laid before Parliament in 1860, and the principal papers included in it have also been published in Hertslet’s State Papers.* A reference to the context of the passages quoted by Mr. Blaine will be necessary in order to appreciate the character which Mr. Blaine has attributed to them.

In cases where the details of an international agreement have given rise to difficulties and discussions to such an extent as to cause the contracting parties at one time to contemplate its abrogation or modification as one of several possible alternatives, and where it has yet been found preferable to arrive at a solution as to those details rather than to sacrifice the general basis of the engagement, it must surely be allowed that such a fact, far from being an argument against that engagement, is an argument distinctly in its favor. It is equally plain that either of the contracting parties which had abandoned its own contention for the purpose of preserving the agreement in its entirety would have reason to complain if the differences which had been settled by its concession were afterwards urged as a reason for essentially modifying those other provisions which it had made this sacrifice to maintain. That both these arguments apply in the present instance a brief review of the correspondence will, I think, suffice to show.

The treaty of 1850 was concluded (as is declared in the VIIIth Article) with the desire “not only to accomplish a particular object, but also to establish a general principle,” in regard to the protection, by treaty stipulations, of any practical communications, whether by canal or railway, across the isthmus which connects North and South America.

The preamble and 1st article of the treaty run as follows:

Her Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, being desirous of consolidating the relations of amity which so happily subsist between them, by setting forth and fixing in a convention their views and intentions with reference to any means of communication by ship-canal, which may be constructed between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, by the way of the river St. Juan de Nicaragua, and either or both of the lakes of Nicaragua or Managua, to any port or place on the Pacific Ocean; * * *

Art. I. The Governments of Great Britain and the United States hereby declare that neither the one nor the other will ever obtain or maintain for itself any exclusive [Page 306] control over the said ship-canal; agreeing that neither will ever erect or maintain any fortifications commanding the same, or in the vicinity thereof, or occupy, or fortify, or colonize, or assume or exercise any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America; nor will either make use of any protection which either affords, or may afford, or any alliance which either has, or may have, to or with any state or people, for the purpose of erecting or maintaining any such fortifications, or of occupying, fortifying, or colonizing Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America, or of assuming or exercising dominion over the same. Nor will Great Britain or the United States take advantage of any intimacy, or use any alliance, connection, or influence that either may possess with any state or government through whose territory the said canal may pass, for the purpose of acquiring or holding, directly or indirectly, for the subjects or citizens of the one, any rights or advantages in regard to commerce or navigation through the said canal which shall not he offered, on the same terms, to the subjects or citizens of the other.

Soon after the signature of the treaty various discussions arose as to the interpretation to be put upon those clauses which debarred either of the contracting parties from occupying, fortifying, or colonizing, or assuming or exercising any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America, &c. Great Britain being at the time in possession of Ruatan and other islands off the coast of Honduras, and having a protectorate over the Mosquito Indians located on the coast of Nicaragua, a lengthened correspondence arose as to the effect to be given to the treaty in this respect, and also as to the boundary of British Honduras. A treaty was eventually signed by Lord Clarendon and Mr. Dallas, for the settlement of the various questions at issue, on the 17th October, 1856; but this agreement was not received with favor by the United States Senate, and the incoming government of President Buchanan, who had acceded to office in March, 1857, declined to confirm it without certain modifications. To these the British Government proposed further amendments, which were not at that time deemed acceptable by that of the United States, and the treaty was never formally ratified.

To show how far this part of the discussion belonged in some of its features to a state of affairs that is now past, one of the objections taken by General Cass to the treaty in its last amended form was that it involved a recognition by the United States of a treaty between Great Britain and Honduras for the cession of the Bay Islands to the latter country, in which it was stipulated that slavery should not at any time be permitted to exist there. General Cass stated that “a treaty with such a provision would never be recognized by a United States Senate.” (Lord Napier to Lord Clarendon, May 3, 1857.)

I now proceed to examine some of the extracts given in Mr. Blaine’s dispatch.

The first paper quoted is one from Lord Napier to the Earl of Clarendon, dated the 12th March, 1857.

The only passage quoted is as follows:

General Cass then passed some reflections on the Clayton-Bulwer treaty; he had voted for it, and in doing so he believed that it abrogated all intervention on the part of England in the Central American territory. The British Government had put a different construction on the treaty, and he regretted the vote he had given in its favor.

But the dispatch goes on to say:

He did not, however, pretend that the British Government should now unconditionally abandon the Mosquitos, with whom they had relations of an ancient date; it was just, and consistent with the practice of the United States, that those Indians should be secured in the separate possession of lands, the sale of which should be prohibited, and in the enjoyment of rights and franchises, though in a condition of dependency and protection. The British Government had already removed one impediment to the execution of the Bulwer-Clayton treaty by the cession of their claims on [Page 307] Ruatan; two difficulties now remained—the frontier of Belize, and delimitation and settlement of the Mosquito tribe. If the frontier could be defined, and if the Mosquitos could be placed in the enjoyment of their territory by treaty between Great Britain and Nicaragua, in which the concessions and guarantees of the latter in favor of the Indians should be associated with the recognition of the sovereignty of Nicaragua—so I understood the general—then the Bulwer-Clayton treaty might he a permanent and satisfactory settlement between the contracting parties; the United States desiring nothing else than an absolute and entire neutrality and independence of the Central American region, free from the exercise of any exclusive influence or ascendancy whatever.

The next quotation is from another dispatch of Lord Napier, dated the 6th of May, 1857, and the passage given runs thus:

The President denounced the Clayton-Bulwer treaty as one which had been fraught with misunderstanding and mischief from the beginning; it was concluded under the most opposite constructions by the contracting parties. If the Senate had imagined that it could obtain the interpretation placed upon it by Great Britain, it would not have passed. If he had been in the Senate at the time, that treaty never would have been sanctioned.

But President Buchanan went on to say:

With reference to arbitration (which Lord Napier had only thrown in as a suggestion of his own), he could not give any opinion at present. The President also inveighed against the excess of treaties, affirming that they were more frequently the cause of quarrel than of harmony, and that if it were not for the interoceanic communications, he did not see there was any necessity for a treaty respecting Central America at all.

It seems, therefore, that the President’s condemnation of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty was principally founded on the construction placed upon it by Great Britain at the time, and was also in some measure explained by his objections to treaties in general, but that he admitted that the question of the interoceanic connection made such an agreement necessary.

Mr. Blaine then quotes a note from Mr. Cass to Lord Napier, of the 29th May, 1857, as follows:

The Clayton-Bulwer treaty, concluded in the hope that it would put an end to the differences which had arisen between the United States and Great Britain concerning Central American affairs, had been rendered inoperative in some of its most essential provisions by the different constructions which had been reciprocally given to it by the parties. And little is hazarded in saying that, had the interpretation since put upon the treaty by the British Government, and yet maintained, been anticipated, it would not have been negotiated under the instructions of any Executive of the United States, nor ratified by the branch of the government intrusted with the power of ratification.

But how does General Cass continue? He goes on to say:

A protracted discussion, in which the subject was exhausted, failed to reconcile the conflicting views of the parties; and, as a last resort, a negotiation was opened for the purpose of forming a supplementary treaty which should remove, if practicable, the difficulties in the way of their mutual good understanding, and leave unnecessary any further discussion of the controverted provisions of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty. It was to effect this object that the Government of the United States agreed to open the negotiation which terminated in the treaty of the 17th October, 1856, and though the provisions of that instrument, even with the amendments proposed by the Senate, were not wholly unobjectionable either to that body or to the President, still, so important did they consider a satisfactory arrangement of this complicated subject, that they yielded their objections, and sanctioned, by their act of ratification, the convention as amended, It was then transmited to London for the consideration of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government, and, having failed to meet its approbation, has been returned unratified. The parties are thus thrown back upon the Bulwer-Clayton treaty, with its disputed phraseology and its conflicting interpretations; and after the lapse of seven years, not one of the objects connected with the political condition of Central America which the United States had hoped to obtain by the arrangement has been accomplished.

It was not, therefore, to the principles or basis of the arrangement (the importance of which was fully recognized), but to the unfortunate phraseology of a single portion of the treaty, that objection was taken.

[Page 308]

Mr. Blaine then refers to Sir W. Gore Ouseley’s missions, the object of which was to settle the points at issue in a manner practically satisfactory to the United States by independent negotiations with the Central American states, after first communicating with the government at Washington. Mr. Blaine quotes a passage from a letter of General Cass to Lord Napier, of the 20th October, 1857, as follows:

I have thus endeavored to meet the frank suggestions of your lordship by restating, with corresponding frankness, the general policy of the United States with respect to the governments and the interoceanic transits of Central America; but since your lordship has referred to the Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 1850 as contemplating a “harmonious course of action and counsel between the contracting parties in the settlement of the Central American interests,” you will pardon me for reminding your lordship that the differences which this treaty was intended to adjust between the United States and Great Britain still remain unsettled, while the treaty itself has become the subject of new and embarrassing complications.

It will be useful to refer to the previous portion of this note to show what was the statement of the “general policy of the United States” thus referred to, and how far that policy corresponds with Mr. Blaine’s present proposals. The note begins thus:

I have had the honor to receive your lordship’s communication of the 9th instant, in reference to the existing relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and have submitted it to the consideration of the President.

These relations have attracted the earnest attention of the President, not only from the importance of the San Juan transit to the commerce of the world, but from the interest which is naturally felt by the United States in the neighboring republics of this continent. The President has witnessed, therefore, the restoration of peace to Nicaragua and Costa Rica with the highest gratification; and he sincerely hopes that it may not again be interrupted, either by the calamity of civil war or the invasion of their territory from other countries. Their security and welfare would undoubtedly be promoted by a just and friendly settlement between them of their mutual boundaries and jurisdiction; and I need hardly add that such an adjustment would be viewed with satisfaction by the United States. This government, however, has never admitted the pretensions of Costa Rica to an equal control with Nicaragua of the San Juan River, but has regarded the sovereignty of the river, and consequently of the interoceanic transit by that route, as rightly belonging to the republic of Nicaragua.

A similar view of the question appears to have been recognized by Great Britain; and, whatever may be the rights of Costa Rica with respect to the free passage of her own products by the river to the ocean, it is better, probably, that what has been thus acquiesced in, and has led, moreover, to important contracts and responsibilities, should not now be disturbed. But under any circumstances the commercial nations of the world can never permit the interoceanic passages of the isthmus to be rendered useless for all the great purposes which belong to them in consequence of the neglect or incapacity of the States through whose territories they happen to run. The United States, as I have before had occasion to assure your lordship, demand no exclusive privileges in these passages but will always exert their influence to secure their free and unrestricted benefits, both in peace and war, to the commerce of the world.

And in a later note to Lord Napier, of the 8th November, 1858, General Cass states with still greater clearness the object with which the treaty was concluded, and the grounds on which the difference between the two governments had arisen. He says:

Since the announcement by your lordship, in October, 1857, of Sir William Ouseley’s special mission, the President has awaited not so much any new proposition for the adjustment of the Central American questions as the statement in detail, which he had been led to expect, of the method by which Sir William Ouseley was to carry into effect the previous proposition of the British Government. To make this plain, your lordship will pardon me for making a brief reference to what has occurred between the two governments in respect to Central America since the ratification of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 1850.

While the declared object of that convention had reference to the construction of a ship-canal, by the way of San Juan and the Lakes of Nicaragua and Managua, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, yet it avowed none the less plainly a general principle in reference to all practicable communications across the isthmus, and laid down a distinct policy by which the practical operation of this principle was likely to be kept free from all embarrassment. The principle was that the interoceanic routes should remain under the sovereignty [Page 309] of the states through which they ran, and should he neutral and free to all nations alike. The policy was that, in order to prevent any government outside of those states from obtaining undue control or influence over those interoeeanic transits, no such nation should erect or maintain any fortifications commanding the same, or in the vicinity thereof, or should “occupy, or fortify, or colonize, or assume, or exercise any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America.” So far as the United States and Great Britain were concerned, those stipulations were expressed in unmistakable terms; and in reference to other nations it was declared that the “contracting parties in this convention engage to invite every state with which both or either have friendly intercourse to enter into stipulations with them similar to those which they have entered into with each other.”

At that time the United States had no possessions whatever in Central America, and exercised no dominion there. In respect to this government, therefore, the provisions of Article I of the treaty could operate only as a restriction for the future; but Great Britain was in the actual exercise of dominion over nearly the whole eastern coast of that country, and in relation to her this article had a present as well as a prospective operation. She was to abandon the occupancy which she already had in Central America, and was neither to make acquisitions, or erect fortifications, or exercise dominion there in the future. In other words, she was to place herself in the same position with respect to possessions and dominion in Central America which was to be occupied by the United States and which both of the contracting parties to the treaty engaged that they would endeavor to induce other nations to occupy.

This was the treaty as it was understood and consented to by the United States, and this is the treaty as it is still understood by this government.

He then recapitulates the discussions and abortive negotiations which had ensued in consequence of the different interpretations put upon the treaty by the two governments; and, after criticising and expressing disappointment at the last communication made to him by Lord Napier, he concludes:

It is of no small consequence either to the United States or Great Britain that these Central American controversies between the two countries should be forever closed. On some points of them, and, I have been led to hope, on the general policy which ought to apply to the whole isthmian region, they have reached a common ground of agreement. The neutrality of the interoeeanic routes, and their freedom from the superior and controlling influence of any one government; the principles upon which the Mosquito protectorate maybe arranged, with justice alike to the sovereignty of Nicaragua and the Indian tribes; the surrender of the Bay Islands, under certain stipulations for the benefit of trade and the protection of their British occupants; and the definition of the boundaries of British Belize; about all these points there is no apparent disagreement, except as to the conditions which shall be annexed to the Bay Islands surrender and as to the limits which shall be fixed to the settlements of Belize. Is it possible that, if approached in a spirit of conciliation and good feeling, these two points of difference are not susceptible of a friendly adjustment? To believe this would be to underestimate the importance of the adjustment and the intelligent appreciation of this importance which must be entertained by both nations. What the United States want in Central America, next to the happiness of its people, is the security and neutrality of the interoceanic routes which lead through it. This is equally the desire of Great Britain, of France, and of the whole commercial world. If the principles and policy of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty are carried into effect, this object is accomplished. When, therefore, Lord Malmesbury invites new overtures from this government upon the idea that it has rejected the proposal embraced in Sir William Ouseley’s mission for an adjustment of the Central American questions by separate treaties with Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, upon terms substantially according with the general tenor of the American interpretation of the treaty, I have to reply to his lordship that this very adjustment is all that the President has ever desired, and that, instead of having rejected that proposal, he had expressed his cordial acceptance of it, so far as he understood it, and had anticipated from it the most gratifying consequences.

Further, in a dispatch to Mr. Lamar of July 25, 1858, subsequently communicated to Lord Malmesbury by Mr. Dallas on the 29th of April, 1859, General Cass says:

These great avenues of intercommunication are vastly interesting to all commercial powers, and all may well join in securing their freedom and use against those dangers to which they are exposed from aggressions or outrages, originating within or without the territories through which they pass.

[Page 310]

It is difficult to conceive a more distinct statement of adherence to the general principles of the Clayton-Bulwer arrangement or a more positive disclaimer of the policy involved in Mr. Blaine’s present proposals than is contained in the passages I have just quoted.

I return, however, to the extracts given in Mr. Blaine’s dispatch. Mr. Blaine alludes to an important interview which Lord Napier had with President Buchanan on the 19th October, 1857, in which Lord Napier asked that pending the negotiation intrusted to Sir W. Gore Ouseley no proposal to annul the Clayton-Bulwer treaty should be sanctioned or encouraged by the President or members of the United States Government. Lord Napier’s account of the President’s language is as follows:

The President commenced his observations by referring to the Clayton-Bulwer treaty as a fruitful source of misunderstanding between the contracting parties. Without that treaty the United States and Great Britain might long since have co-operated for the welfare of Central America. That treaty had never been acceptable to the people of the United States, and would not have obtained a vote in the Senate had the least suspicion existed of the sense in which it was to be construed by Great Britain; yet, if it were now the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to execute it according to the American interpretation, that was as much as we could insist upon.

And after reporting what passed at the interview with regard to the Bay Islands and Honduras, Lord Napier continued:

I then went on to animadvert upon the danger of some movement in the approaching Congress which would interfere with the contemporary negotiation of Sir William Ouseley, remarking that should the President, in his message, allude to the position of the two countries in reference to Central America, and if, in consequence of his Excellency’s reflections, a resolution should be proposed for the abrogation of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, such a step would not only frustrate the purposes of Sir William Ouseley’s mission, but would have a calamitous influence on the future relations of England and America. It would, therefore, be highly gratifying to me to be enabled to assure your lordship that pending the negotiation intrusted to Sir William Ouseley no proposal to annul the treaty would be sanctioned or encouraged by his Excellency or by the members of his government.

The President stated, in reply, that it was certainly his intention to give an account in his message of all that had passed between the two governments respecting the Dallas-Clarendon treaty. He appeared to intimate that the effect of such a narrative would be to place the conduct of Great Britain in an unfavorable light, and he added that the passage in which he commented upon these transactions was already prepared; but his Excellency went on to affirm, with emphasis, that if the resolutions of her Majesty’s Government were such as I had related, if they really meant to execute the Clayton-Bulwer treaty according to the American interpretation, and would, before the meeting of Congress, make some communication to him in that sense, such as he could use, he would cancel what he had written and insert another passage referring to the mission of Sir William Ouseley, and that “nothing would give him greater pleasure than to add the expression of his sincere and ardent wish for the maintenance of friendly relations between the two countries.”

His Excellency also distinctly declared that, under the circumstances here described, no attempt against the Clayton-Bulwer treaty in Congress would have any countenance from him whatever. To him it was indifferent whether the concession contemplated by Her Majesty’s Government were consigned to a direct engagement between England and the United States, or to treaties between the former and the Central American republics; the latter method might, in some respects, be even more agreeable to him, and he thought it would be more convenient to Her Majesty’s Government, who might, with greater facility, accede to the claims of the weaker party.

I pass over some passages given in Mr. Blaine’s dispatch which seem to call for no remark, and I would only observe that the proposal for arbitration alluded to in Lord Napier’s note to General Cass of February 17, 1858, applied only to the controverted points in the treaty, and not to the whole instrument.

Mr. Blaine refers to a conversation with General Cass, reported by Lord Napier in a dispatch of the 22d March, 1858, in which reference was made to the idea of an abrogation of the treaty. It may be well to [Page 311] give a larger extract of this dispatch, because, although Lord Napier’s remarks were stated to be personal and unofficial, they show his view of the form which such an abrogation should take. He says:

I have, accordingly, on two occasions, informed General Cass that, if the Government of the United States he still of the same mind, and continue to desire the abrogation of the treaty of 1850, it would be agreeable to Her Majesty’s Government that they should insert proposal to that effect in their reply to my note respecting arbitration, and to that in which I explained the character and motives of the mission intrusted to Her Majesty’s commissioner in Central America.

Some conversation ensued regarding the manner in which the dissolution of the treaty should be effected, and the condition by which it might be accompanied, and on these topics I have held the following language, premising that the views expressed were altogether spontaneous and personal, for I had no information of the intentions of Her Majesty’s Government beyond the bare fact that they would entertain a proposal to cancel the engagements of 1850 emanating from the United States.

I stated that, in my opinion, the treaty in question could only be repealed by a new treaty in the usual forms, and that it might be desirable that such a treaty should not be restricted to a single article annulling its predecessor. Both for considerations of decency and policy I advocated the insertion of stipulations involving an expression of a common policy in Central America, and the disavowal of any exclusive or monopolizing projects on either side. I said that I thought a treaty might be framed of three articles.

The first should declare the desire of the contracting parties to encourage and protect the organization of transit routes in the interoceanic region, and bind those parties never to negotiate for any rights or privileges of transit with the Central American states of a preferential or exclusive character, to which other nations might not, by negotiation, be equally admitted, establishing thus the principle of an equal enjoyment of those avenues of trade for all the countries of the world.

The second article might recognize the jurisdiction of the transit route by the San Juan River as being vested in the Government of Nicaragua. This had been already avowed by the United States in a treaty negotiated with that republic. It had not been definitely affirmed by Great Britain, and might seem to clash with the claims of the King of Mosquitia to territorial possession or authority in those parts. I thought, however, that in regard to the views lately expressed by Her Majesty’s Government in the course of recent negotiations, in consideration of the necessity of obtaining a suitable treaty with Nicaragua, and for the purpose of placing themselves in harmony with the course pursued by the United States, Her Majesty’s Government might, on this head, accede to an article which would practically restrict their protectorate in Mosquitia, and prevent the imputation of any interference on their part with the territory traversed by the river, and, therefore, by the transit route.

Finally, I suggested that Article III of the treaty should simply declare the provisions of the treaty of 1850 to be void and of no effect. I added that the question of future territorial acquisition in Central America would thus be thrown open to the United States; that Her Majesty’s Government, on the other hand, would retain the colony of Honduras in the proportions which might be given to it by treaty arrangements with Guatemala, and that the Bay Islands would remain attached to the British Crown. Indeed, I affirmed, still as a personal opinion, but of the most positive character, that in case of the dissolution of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, the Bay Islands would not be relinquished by Her Majesty’s Government. I felt bound to make this statement, having observed in some quarters an impression that Her Majesty’s Government might be disposed not only to annul the treaty, thus opening a path for the eventual annexation of the isthmus to the Federal Union, but to give up the Bay Islands as well; a notion altogether unfounded in any intimation which has hitherto reached me from the foreign office, and which could not be reconciled, in my opinion, to the interests of England.

Lord Napier adds that he was most careful to remark throughout that the opinions he enunciated with reference to the treaty were exclusively his own.

Mr. Blaine gives only a very short extract from Lord Malmesbury’s dispatch in reply of the 8th April, 1858. It will be desirable to quote it more at length. Lord Malmesbury says:

Her Majesty’s Government, if the initiative is still left to them by the unwillingness of the United States themselves to propose abrogation, desire to retain full liberty as to the manner and form in which any such proposal shall be laid on their behalf before the Cabinet at Washington; but without pronouncing any decided opinion at the present moment, I think it right to point out to your lordship that the effect of [Page 312] such an article as that suggested in your dispatch, as the second, might be to perpetuate an entanglement with the Government of the United States, and to place that government in a position to question or control the free action of Her Majesty’s Government in everything that relates to Central America. The Clayton-Bulwer treaty has been a source of unceasing embarrassment to this country, and Her Majesty’s Government, if they should be so fortunate as to extricate themselves from the difficulties which have resulted from it, will not involve themselves, directly or indirectly, in any similar difficulties for the future.

Her Majesty’s Government would have no objection to enter with the United States into a self-denying engagement such as that suggested in your first article, by which both parties should renounce all exclusive advantage in the use of any of the interoceanic routes, and should bind themselves, each to the other, not to interfere with free transit. Such an article would he a suitable substitute for the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, for it would secure, as regards the contracting parties, the avowed object of that treaty—the freedom of interoceanic communication.

But beyond this Her Majesty’s Government, as at present advised, are not prepared to contract any engagement as a substitute for the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, and from the abrogation of that compact, if it should take place, they will hold themselves as free to act in regard to Central America in the manner most conducive to the advancement of British interests and the fulfillment of British obligations as if the treaty had never been concluded.

Your lordship was, therefore, perfectly right in using decided language such as that reported in your dispatch respecting the Bay Islands; and whenever the subject of the abrogation of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty is mooted in your presence, you will make it perfectly clear to the Government of the United States that to abrogate the treaty is to return to the status quo ante its conclusion in 1850; that Her Majesty’s Government have no kind of jealousy respecting American colonization in Central America, which, indeed, it would help to civilize; and that we neither ask nor wish for any exclusive privileges whatever in those regions.

These, then, were the terms upon which Her Majesty’s Government were alone prepared, if at, all, to consider the abrogation of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty. And such an alternative was deprecated by General Cass in a note to Lord Napier of the 6th April, 1858, in which, while declining the proposal of arbitration on the disputed points of the treaty, he alluded to a personal expression of opinion he had given in favor of an unconditional renunciation of the treaty, and called attention to the serious consequences which might result from its dissolution, if no provision were made at the same time for adjusting the questions which led to it. He then concluded with the passage quoted by Mr. Blaine, to the effect that “if the President does not hasten to consider now the alternative of repealing the treaty of 1850, it is because he does not wish prematurely to anticipate the failure of Sir William Ouseley’s mission, and is disposed to give a new proof to Her Majesty’s Government of his sincere desire to preserve the amicable relations which now happily subsist between the two countries.”

But subsequent events make it unnecessary to dwell further upon this part of the discussion, for the question was settled by the practical accomplishment of that which the United States Government regarded as the most satisfactory conclusion.

It is here that the extracts and account of the negotiation given by Mr. Blaine come to an end at a point when the most important episode commences. The continuation of the correspondence shows that on the 30th April, 1859, a treaty was concluded between Great Britain and Guatemala for the settlement of the question of the boundary of Belize; that on the 28th November, 1859, another treaty was concluded between this country and Honduras for the transfer of the Bay Islands to that republic, as well as for the settlement of other questions relating to the Mosquito Indians and the claims of British subjects, including the withdrawal of the British protectorate, and that on the 28th January, 1860, a third treaty was concluded between this country and Nicaragua, also with reference to the Mosquito Indians and the claims of British subjects.

[Page 313]

Copies of these three treaties were officially communicated to the United States Government, with the expression of a hope on the part, of Her Majesty’s Government that they would “finally set at rest the questions respecting the interpretation of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty which had been the subject of so much controversy between this country and the United States.”

And in his message to Congress of the 3d December, 1860, President Buchanan says the dangerous questions arising from the Bulwer-Clayton treaty “have been amicably and honorably adjusted. The discordant constructions of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty between the two governments, which at different periods of the discussion bore a threatening aspect, have resulted in a final settlement entirely satisfactory to this government.”

I have been forced to give the above extracts at considerable length, and I refrain from adding other passages which would tend to illustrate and confirm them. A persual of them, however, will, I think, suffice to show—

That the differences which arose between the two governments in regard to the treaty, and which occasioned at one time considerable irritation, but which have long since been happily disposed of, did not relate to the general principles to be observed in regard to the means of interoceanic communication across the isthmus, but had their origin in a stipulation which Mr. Blaine still proposes in a great part to maintain. He wishes every part of the treaty in which Great Britain and the United States agree to make no acquisition of territory in Central America to remain in full force, while he desires to cancel those portions of the treaty which forbid the United States fortifying the canal, and holding the political control of it in conjunction with the country in which it is located.
That the declarations of the United States Government during the controversy were distinctly at variance with any such proposal as that just stated. They disclaimed any desire to obtain an exclusive or preferential control over the canal. Their sole contention was, that Great Britain was bound by the treaty to abandon those positions on the mainland or adjacent islands, which, in their opinion, were calculated to give her the means of such a control. Nor did they in any way seek to limit the application of the principles laid down in the treaty so as to exclude Colombian or Mexican territory, as Mr. Blaine now suggests, nor urge that such application would be inconsistent with the convention between the United States and New Granada of 1846. On the contrary, they were ready to give those principles their full extension.
That at a time when the British Government had been induced by the long continuance of the controversy to contemplate the abrogation of the treaty, they were only willing to do so on the condition of reverting to the status quo ante its conclusion in 1850; a solution which was at that time possible—though, as the United States Government justly pointed out, it would have been fraught with great danger to the good relations between the two countries—but which is now rendered impossible by the subsequent events.
That a better and more conciliatory conclusion, which for twenty years has remained undisputed, was effected by the independent and voluntary action of Great Britain. The points in dispute were practically conceded by this country, and the controversy terminated in a manner which was declared by President Buchanan -to be amicable and [Page 314] honorable, resulting in a final settlement entirely satisfactory to the Government of the United States.

You are authorized to read this dispatch to the United States Secretary of State, and to offer him a copy of it, if he should desire, in the same manner in which a copy of Mr. Blaine’s dispatch was offered to me.

I have, &c.,


The Hon. L. S. S. West.

  1. Vol. xl, p. 953; xli, p. 757; xlii, p. 153; xlvi, p. 244; xlvii, p. 661; xlviii, p. 630; l, p. 126.