THE ALASKA BOUNDARY LINE (Historic Information)
For a century the boundary line has been of serious importance to nations, but the discovery of gold in the Klondike, some on our and more on the Canadian side of the line, made it necessary to fix it definitely.
At the time we were insisting on our rights of discovery in this Northwest Russia would have been highly pleased if we had extended the "Oregon Country" to the Alaska line, entirely shutting England off from the sea. In 1822-25 England and Rusia agreed upon a boundary tribunal which fixed the line practically as it is now, without marking it.
At that time the English members contended for the whole Alaska panhandle. Failing in that, they urged that the coast line was the outer coast of the islands, leaving nothing but a fringe of islands for Alaska, but at last yielding to every point, and being entirely cut off from all the waters north of Dixon Entrance.
For boundary commissioners in 1903 the United States appointed Secretary Root, Senator Lodge of Massachusetts and Senator Turner of Washington; Great Britain selected Lord Chief Justice Alverston and Canada chose Jette and Aylesworth. They convened in London September 3d and rendered a decision October 20th, 1903. The commissioners for the United States and England practically agreed that the line was practically where we contended. The commissioners for Canada (like the press of their country) were very poor losers, refusing to sign any report or finding.
No case has ever been more ably argued or exhaustively presented than this one, before the tribunal of 1825, unless it was the presentation of the same issues before the commissioners of 1903.
The treaty of 1825 was drawn in French. The 1903 English advocates argued long on the interpretation and construction of the words "crete-crest," "cote-coast," "lisiere strip" and the like. The maps of George Vancouver were used in fixing the line by the commission of 1825, which showed a continuous line of mountains parallel with the coast (so have many subsequent geographers). The fact is that the mountain range is not continuous nor parallel to the coast, although it would have that appearance to a person cruising near the coast. This was also a reason advanced by them for their construction of the Treaty of 1825. and every other possible contention that skilled diplomats and shrewd lawyers could make was presented. Maps from the archives and antiquated vaults of all nations were dug out, compared and discussed.
On February 25th, 1903, the Fifty-seventh Congress appropriated $100,000 for the expense of the boundary commission. The decision gave to Canada Wales (not Prince of Wales) and Pearse Islands, at the entrance to Port Simpson, and Sitklan Island to the United States.
A well defined and permanently marked boundary line is now being established on the ground, so that it need never again be disputed.
The international questions for these waters are not all settled yet, however. In time, as fish become more scarce or the industry more extensive, Canadians and Americans will jealously contend for exclusive rights in the waters on and near their own coasts, and the hundreds of island passages. To settle these contentions their respective governments, together with the British government, must decide upon, mark and patrol the "open sea" and "three-mile limits." If one nation fosters and propagates the fish at its expense, and limits the catch while the subjects of the other have unlimited authority to take the fish, the issue will soon be as grave and annoying as the seal question. Some small dirty fishing craft will sometime eagerly pursue a school of splashing salmon, and in its haste carry a weather-beaten, ten-cent flag, without courtesy, beyond the limits of a patrol or national line, and become the target for a cruiser. Hie trial will bring up national or individual rights which may be heard in Washington, London or Ottawa, or provoke international war.