Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Blaine .

No. 394.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith, for your information, a cutting from to-day’s Times, reporting an answer, in the House of Commons yesterday, of Sir James Fergusson to a question asked by Prof Bryce as to the present status of the Behring Sea question.

I have, etc.,

Robert T. Lincoln.
[Page 534]
[Inclosure in No. 394.—From the London Times, January 24, 1891.]

The Behring Sea fisheries.

Mr. Bryce asked the undersecretary for foreign affairs whether he could give the House any information regarding the present position of the negotiations between Her Majesty and the Government of the United States of America regarding the seal fisheries in Behring Sea; whether, in particular, he could state what was the nature of the proceedings reported to have been recently taken in the Supreme Court of the United States in connection with the seizure of a sealing vessel which was sailing under the British flag; and when it was intended to present to Parliament papers relating to this subject.

Sir J. Fergusson. Negotiations regarding the seal fisheries in the North Pacific Ocean are proceeding in ordinary diplomatic course. A long note was addressed by the United States Government to Her Majesty’s minister at Washington on the 17th of December, to which a reply has not yet been made. The proceedings taken in the Supreme Court of the United States are a motion for a writ of prohibition to the district court of Alaska in respect of alleged excess of jurisdiction by that court in condemning a Canadian vessel which was engaged in seal fishery in the open sea. That application has not yet been heard. This course was taken at the instance of the Canadian Government, with the approval of Her Majesty’s Government, and upon the advice of American lawyers. Its object is to bring the case before the highest tribunal in the United States in the fullest manner. It is desirable to point out that in this course there is no interference in any sense with the diplomatic question. Diplomatic negotiations have reference to a wrong which we say has been committed against international law and can only be redressed by diplomacy. The legal proceedings, on the other hand, before the Supreme Court have reference to a wrong committed, as we believe, on British subjects against the municipal law of the United States; and redress for that wrong can only be maintained, at least in the first instance, from the supreme tribunal of the United States. At present I am unable to say anything as to the presentation of further papers. [Hear, hear.]

Mr. Bryce. Can the right honorable gentleman at all indicate when he thinks any papers bearing on the question of the proceedings in the Supreme Court will be presented?

Sir J. Fergusson. I think the honorable member will see that, as the application has not been heard, it is quite impossible to make any promise at present. [Hear, hear.]