No. 277.
Lord Granville to Mr. West.

No. 344.]

Sir: You have already received, with my dispatch No. 186 of the 17th June last, a copy of the dispatch addressed by Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. Lowell on the 8th May,* by whom it was communicated to me on the-31st of that month, in which the views of the Government of the United States are expressed in great detail respecting the traditional continental policy of that Government and the provisions of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty.

Her Majesty’s Government have not failed to give their most careful consideration to the important questions discussed in Mr. Frelinghuysen’s communication, and I now proceed to convey to you the following remarks upon some of the principal points:

You will have observed that three questions are raised by Mr. Frelinghuysen:

The meaning and effect of Article VIII of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty;
Whether such acts have been committed by Great Britain in British Honduras in violation of the treaty as would entitle the United States to denounce it; and,
The proposed conclusion of a fresh agreement between the two countries, having for its object the retention and renewal of certain provisions of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, and the definition of the distance from either end of the proposed canal beyond which captures might be made by belligerents in time of war.

As regards the first point, Mr. Frelinghuysen renews Mr. Blaine’s contention that the Clayton-Bulwer treaty had reference only to the interoceanic routes then in contemplation, and that Article VIII of that treaty must be read subject to the provisions of the earlier treaty of 1846 between the United States and New Granada, which, as he alleges, secures to the United States the sole protectorate of any route across the Isthmus of Panama.

Her Majesty’s Government are unable to accept that view. The routes in contemplation at the date of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty were those by way of the river San Juan and either or both of the lakes of [Page 485] Nicaragua and Managua, and Article I of the treaty no doubt applied only to those routes. By that article it was declared that neither the one nor the other of the high contracting parties would ever obtain or maintain for itself any exclusive control over any ship-canal which might be constructed between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by the way of the river San Juan de Nicaragua and either or both of the lakes of Nicaragua or Managua, to any port or place on the Pacific Ocean.

But by Article VIII the high contracting parties, after declaring that they not only desired, in entering into the convention, to accomplish a particular object, but also to establish a general principle, agreed “to extend their protection by treaty stipulations to any other practicable communications,” that is to say, other than those mentioned in Article I, “whether by canal or railway, across the isthmus which connects North and South America, and especially to the interoceanic communications, should the same prove to be practicable, whether by canal or railway, which are now proposed to be established by the way of Tehuantepec or Panama.”

This is, in effect, an agreement that all the prior provisions with reference to the protection of the particular ship-canal then in contemplation shall, in principle, be applied to any interoceanic ship canal thereafter constructed. The contention of Mr. Frelinghuysen that Article VIII “relates only to those projects now (1850) proposed to be established” is opposed to the terms of the article, which expressly refers to any communications other than those mentioned in Article I, and especially to those then projected. It is also contended that Article VIII “contemplates some future treaty stipulation.” But it is none the less an agreement because its application to any canal thereafter made is to be carried into effect by treaty stipulations.

The general principle established by Article VIII of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty was that all communications by canal or railway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans “across the isthmus which connects North and South America” should be established on the broad basis that they should be for the general benefit of mankind, and that no country should, on any pretense whatever, reap an advantage which was not enjoyed by all who should be willing to extend their protection to such enterprises.

This “general principle” was not only fully admitted by General Cass in his note to Lord Napier of the 20th October, 1857, as pointed out to you in my dispatch of the 14th January last, and in which General Cass said that “the United States demanded no exclusive privileges in the interoceanic passages of the isthmus,” but would always exert their influence to secure their free and unrestricted benefits, both in peace and war, to the commerce of the world, but it was actually carried out both by Great Britain and the United States in their subsequent treaties with Honduras and Nicaragua, in which they respectively agreed to extend their protection and guarantee to the interoceanic communications therein mentioned, in order to insure equal treatment to all nations across those public highways, and to prevent the imposition of unfair discriminating duties in matters of commerce or of unequal transit dues.

I refer to the treaties between Great Britain and Honduras of the 27th August, 1856, and between Great Britain and Nicaragua of the 11th February, 1860, and to the treaties between the United States and Honduras of the 4th July, 1864, and between the United States and Nicaragua of the 21st June, 1867, which show that Article VIII of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty had reference to the protection and guarantee to be [Page 486] extended to all interoceanic communications, and not to any one particular scheme or schemes.

Moreover, the United States, in their treaty with Nicaragua, not only agreed to extend their protection to all such routes of communication” between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, “and to guarantee the neutrality and innocent use of the same,” but did further “agree to employ their influence with other nations to induce them to guarantee such neutrality and protection.”

The Government of the United States having, therefore, since the conclusion of its treaty of 1846 with New Granada, entered into treaties of a more recent date with Great Britain and other powers, carrying out the “general principle” established by the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, which is opposed to all idea of exclusive advantages in any interoceanic communication which may be constructed, they can hardly now appeal, without inconsistency, to their treaty with New Granada as giving them exclusive rights of protection over the projected canal across the Isthmus of Panama.

Moreover, there is nothing in the terms of the treaty of 1846 which confers on the United States any exclusive right of protection, or which is inconsistent with the joint protection of Great Britain and the United States; and in the view, therefore, of Her Majesty’s Government the guarantee given by the United States to New Granada in the treaty of 1846 meant no more than the guarantee given by the United States jointly with this country in the Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 1850, or the guarantees given by this country, by France and by the United States in their separate treaties with Honduras and Nicaragua.

I now pass to the second point raised by Mr. Frelinghuysen, namely, whether such acts have been committed by Great Britain in British Honduras in violation of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty as would entitle the United States to denounce it. It is alleged that Great Britain has violated, and continues to violate, its provisions, by exercising sovereignty over British Honduras, and treating that territory as a British colony.

On this point it is important to refer to the following correspondence on the subject, which took place at the time between Sir Henry Bulwer and Mr. Clayton.

On the 29th June, 1850, Sir H. Bulwer handed to Mr. Clayton the following declaration in writing:

In proceeding to the exchange of ratifications of the convention signed at Washington on the 19th April, 1850, between Her Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, relative to the establishment of a communication by ship-canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the undersigned, Her Britannic Majesty’s plenipotentiary, has received Her Majesty’s instructions to declare that Her Majesty does not understand the engagements of that convention to apply to Her Majesty’s settlement at Honduras, or to its dependencies. Her Majesty’s ratification of the said convention is exchanged under the explicit declaration above mentioned.

Done at Washington, the 29th day of June, 1850.


To this Mr. Clayton replied, on the 4th July, as follows:

Department of State, Washington, July 4, 1850.

Sir: I have received the declaration you were instructed by your Government to make to me respecting Honduras and its dependencies, a copy of which is herewith subjoined.

The language of Article I of the convention concluded on the 19th day of April last between the United States and Great Britain, describing the country not to be occupied, &c., by either of the parties, was, as you know, twice approved by your Government, and it was neither understood by them nor by either of us (the negotiators) to include the British settlement in Honduras (commonly called British Honduras, as distinct from the State of Honduras) nor the small islands in the neighborhood [Page 487] of that settlement, which may be known as its dependencies. To this settlement and these islands the treaty we negotiated was not intended by either of us to apply.

The title to them it is now and has been my intention, throughout the whole negotiation, to leave as the treaty leaves it, without denying, affirming, or in any way meddling with the same, just as it stood previously.

The chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, the Hon. William R. King, informed me that “the Senate perfectly understood that the treaty did not include British Honduras.” It was understood to apply to, and does include, all the Central American States of Guatemala, Honduras, San Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, with their just limits and proper dependencies. The difficulty that now arises seems to spring from the use in our convention of the term “Central America/’ which we adopted because Viscount Palmerston had assented to it and used it as the proper term, we naturally supposing that on this account it would be satisfactory to your Government; but if your Government now intend to delay the exchange of ratifications until we shall have fixed the precise limits of Central America, we must defer further action until we have further information on both sides, to which at present we have no means of resort, and which it is certain we could not obtain before the term fixed for exchanging the ratifications would expire. It is not to be imagined that such is the object of your Government, for not only would this cause delay, but absolutely defeat the convention.

Of course no alteration could be made in the convention as it now stands without referring the same to the Senate; and I do not understand you as having authority to propose any alteration. But on some future occasion a conventional article clearly stating what are the limits of Central America might become advisable.

There is another matter, still more important, which the stipulations of the convention direct that we shall settle, but which you have no instructions now to determine, and I desire you to invite the attention of your Government to it: “The distance from the two ends of the canal within which vessels of the United States or Great Britain traversing the said canal shall, in case of war between the contracting parties, be exempted from blockade, detention or capture by either of the belligerents.”

The subject is one of deep interest, and I shall be happy to receive the views of your Government in regard to it as soon as it may be convenient for them to decide upon it.

I avail, &c.,


Sir H. Bulwer acknowledged the receipt of Mr. Clayton’s dispatch, on the same day, in the following words:

British Legation, July 4, 1850.

Sir: I understand the purport of your answer to the declaration dated the 29th of June, which I was instructed to make to you on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, to be that you do not deem yourself called upon to mark out at this time the exact limits of Her Majesty’s settlement at Honduras, nor of the different Central American States, nor to define what are or what are not the different dependencies of the said settlement; but that you fully recognize that it was not the intention of our negotiation to embrace in the treaty of the 19th April whatever is Her Majesty’s settlement at Honduras, nor whatever are the dependencies of that settlement, and that Her Majesty’s title thereto, subsequent to the said treaty, will remain just as it was prior to that treaty, without undergoing any alteration whatever in consequence thereof.

It was not the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to make the declaration I submitted to yon more than a simple affirmation of this fact, and consequently I deem myself now authorized to exchange Her Majesty’s ratification of the treaty of the 19th April for that of the President of the United States.

I shall take the earliest, opportunity of communicating to Her Majesty’s Government the desire which you express to have determined the distance from the two ends of the canal within which vessels of the United States or Great Britain traversing the said canal shall, in case of war between the contracting parties, be exempted from blockade, detention or capture by either of the belligerents, and I will duly inform Her Majesty’s Government of the interest which you take in this question.

I avail, &c.,


And finally, on the 5th July, Mr. Clayton signed the following memorandum:

The within declaration of Sir H. L. Bulwer was received by me on the 29th day of June, 1850. In reply, I wrote to him my note of the 4th July, acknowledging that I understood British Honduras was not embraced in the treaty of the 19th April last, [Page 488] but, at the same time, carefully declining to affirm or deny the British title in their settlement or its alleged dependencies.

After signing my note last night I delivered it to Sir Henry, and we immediately proceeded, without any further action, to exchange the ratifications of said treaty. The consent of the Senate to the declaration was not required, and the treaty was ratified as it stood when it was made.


To this memorandum the following postscript was attached:

The rights of no Central American State have been compromised by the treaty, or by any part of the negotiation.

It would seem, then, to be opposed to all sound principle that the United States should now claim to abrogate the treaty of 1850 by reason of the existence of a state of things which has prevailed, to their knowledge, before as well as since its ratification, to which the treaty was never intended to apply, and notwithstanding the known existence of which they have more than once recognized the treaty as subsisting.

It seems, indeed, to be suggested that, at the time the Clayton-Bulwer treaty was made, Honduras was only a British settlement under Spanish-American sovereignty, and that it has since been converted into a British possession, and that to this conversion the United States has never given its assent.

It is true that, during the middle of the last century, the British settlement at Belize owed its existence to the permission of Spain, and that the colonists were gradually allowed to occupy the territory now called British Honduras, for the purpose only of cutting logwood and exporting mahogany; but it is also a matter of history that, when England and Spain were subsequently at war, an attack made by the forces of the latter on the British settlement was successfully repulsed; and, in consequence, from that time British Honduras remained under the dominion of the British Crown.

When peace was signed most of the British conquests from Spain were restored to her; but the settlement in Honduras, like that of the Falkland Islands, was not given up, and continued on the same footing as any other possession under the British Crown.

At the time of the abandonment by Spain of all her possessions in South America she made no protest against the rights which the British Crown had acquired over Belize and British Honduras.

It is therefore clear that the sovereignty of British Honduras was acquired by conquest, and was possessed by this country long prior to the time of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty. I would observe, moreover, that the preamble of the postal convention, concluded at Washington on the 11th August, 1809, and in London on the 4th of September of the same year, shows that the United States have formally recognized British Honduras as being a “colony” of Great Britain.

The preamble of that convention, which received the formal approval of President Grant on the same day on which it was signed at Washington, runs as follows:

The General Post-Office of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the General Post-Office of the United States of America, being desirous of establishing and maintaining an exchange of mails between the United States, on the one side, and the colony of British Honduras on the other, by means of the British mail-packet plying between New Orleans and Belize, the undersigned, duly authorized for that purpose, have agreed upon the following articles.

The contention, therefore, in Mr. Frelinghuysen’s dispatch, that “a settlement” has been converted into “a possession,” and a material change thereby effected, in consequence of the employment of the word [Page 489] “possession” in the treaty with Guatemala of 1859, cannot be supported consistently with the facts above stated

As regards the third question, Mr. Frelinghuysen states that “the President is still ready, on the part of the United States, to agree that the reciprocal engagements respecting the acquisition of territory in Central America, and respecting the establishment of a free port at each end of whatever canal may be constructed, shall continue in force, and to define by agreement the distance from either end of the canal where captures may be made by a belligerent in time of war, and with this definition thus made, to keep alive the second article of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty.”

A similar proposal respecting captures by belligerents, as already shown, was made to Her Majesty’s Government by Mr. Clayton shortly after the conclusion of the treaty of the 19th April, 1850, in fact, on the very day on which the ratifications were exchanged (4th July, 1850), and no objection was then offered by Her Majesty’s Government to the conclusion of such an arrangement.

In a dispatch which was addressed to Sir H. Bulwer by Viscount Palmerston on the 4th October, 1850, his lordship stated: With reference to your dispatch of the 8th July last, requesting to be informed of the views of Her Majesty’s Government as to the arrangement which remains to be agreed upon between Great Britain and the United States, with regard to the limit’s within which vessels traversing the ship-canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are to enjoy exemption from blockade, detention or capture, I have to acquaint you that the lords commissioners of the admiralty consider that a segment of a circle of 25 nautical miles radius, drawn to seaward from each end of the canal, as from a center, should be the limits within which vessels should enjoy the exemption in question and on the substance of this dispatch being communicated to Mr. Clayton at Boston, he informed Sir H. Bulwer that, the proposal appeared to him to be a fair . one, although he added that on his return to Washington, after receiving a written communication from Sir H. Bulwer on the subject, he would give him a more decided answer with respect to it.

On the 19th May of the following year, however. Sir H. Bulwer reported that although he had had conversations with Mr. Webster respecting the different points which then remained unsettled in regard to the convention of the 19th April, his mind and time had been so occupied with a variety of other matters that he had frankly confessed to him that he had been unable, up to that time, to give that full attention to those subjects which would enable him to make what he should consider a satisfactory proposal concerning them.

Sir H. Bulwer then suggested to Lord Palmerston a plan for the settlement of some of these disputed questions, and added:

Should your lordship, under all the circumstances, he disposed to consider favorably this suggestion, the course which, after some consideration, I should be disposed to advise would be a new treaty, supplementary to that of the 19th April with Mr. Webster, settling, among other things, the distance from the two ends of the proposed canal, at which, in case of war, neutrality should be observed.

No result was, however, arrived at.

The conclusions arrived at by Her Majesty’s Government, after a careful consideration of the questions raised in Mr. Frelinghuysen’s dispatch, are, that the meaning and effect of Article VIII of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty are not open to any doubt; that the British Government have committed no act in relation to British Honduras or otherwise which can invalidate that treaty and justify the Government of [Page 490] the United States in denouncing it; and that no necessity exists for renewing any of the provisions of that treaty.

There might, perhaps, be advantages in defining by agreement the distance from each end of the canal within which no hostilities should be committed by belligerents, in order to maintain the freedom of the passage through the Panama Canal, should that route be completed; and when the time approaches for its completion, Her Majesty’s Government would, no doubt, be prepared to give its careful attention to the question of concluding an arrangement with that object, should such a proposal be made to them; but in the present stage of the enterprise, they conceive that it would be premature to enter upon negotiations for that purpose. I have not thought it necessary to allude in this dispatch to the “traditional continental policy” of the United States as laid down in what is commonly called the “Monroe doctrine,” since Mr. Frelinghuysen, in his note of the 8th May last, in which he explained the views which were entertained by his Government on that subject, admitted that Her Majesty’s Government was not called upon either to admit or deny the views therein expressed.

You will state to Mr. Frelinghuysen that Her Majesty’s Government are animated by the most sincere desire to arrive at an amicable settlement of the questions which have given rise to this correspondence, and that they note with great satisfaction the friendly assurance with which he concludes his dispatch, that the diversity of opinion which now exists will not in any wise impair the good understanding happily existing between the people and Governments of the United States and Great Britain.

You will read this dispatch to Mr. Frelinghuysen, and, if he should desire it, place a copy of it in his hands.

I am, &c.,