Of the Hon. Joseph R. Ingersoll, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives of the United States, in relation to the claims of Maine and Massachusetts under the Treaty of Washington
[Prepared but not finally acted on by the Committee]
By the fourth article of the Treaty of Washington, it is provided that "all grants of land heretofore made by either party within the limits of the territory which by this treaty falls within the dominions of the other party, shall be held valid, ratified and confirmed to the persons in possession under such grants, to the same extent as if such territory had by this treaty fallen within the dominions of the party by whom such grants were made."
It is understood that this clause applies to land which was claimed respectively by each government, but is now within the line assigned to the United States--that individuals who hold the same, derived their rights under the British government, and have made the regular payment to that government of purchase money--that if the ground had been always regarded as within the United States, the States of Maine and Massachusetts would have received the purchase money-- that if the individual holders should pay Maine and Massachusetts, they will be twice assessed, and thus, that the two States are now in effect losers to the extent of the proper estimate of the original value of the ground.
It will be borne in mind that the line run is merely a conventional one--neither drawn according to any original evidence of title, nor intended to be made in conformity to previous possession, but according to present convenience and believed material advantage. Territory heretofore well understood to be on one side of the line, has been by equivalent arrangement placed on the other. Thus a state of things is presented which is somewhat peculiar. The only question which arises, must be decided by the language of the treaty. If there could be any doubt from a bare inspection of the language alone, it would be resolved by the history of the events which led to the formation of it. These events are not invoked for the purpose of asking against legal principle, that parol evidence should be used to aid in relief from latent ambiguity, a written instrument. BUt where terms are used in intended application to a given state of things, it is not only lawful and just, but necessary, that the whole of the circumstances, geographical, political and historical, should be known and understood. The sovereign states of Maine and Massachusetts having a deep interest in the grave issue which had been depending for many years, and having besides, political influences and perhaps positive authority incidental to the controversy, were consulted through their proper organs. Their patriotism overcame all minor considerations, and they yielded to the requisitions of their country. In doing so, however, they stipulated with becoming caution for the protection of those whose allegiance, theretofore uncertain, from local causes, was about to be fixed forever. In a letter from the Commissioners of Maine to the Secretary of State, July 22, 1842, those gentlemen express their willingness "to interpose no obstacles to an adjustment which the general judgment of the nation shall pronounce as honorable and expedient, even if that judgment shall lead to a surrender of a portion of the birthright of the people of their State, and prized by them because it is their birthright," and state that they "have determined to overcome their objections to the proposal, so far as to say, that if upon mature consideration the Senate of the United States shall advise and consent to the ratification of a treaty, corresponding in its terms with your proposal and with the condition in our memorandum accompanying this note, (marked A) and identified by our signatures, they, by virtue of the power vested in them by the resolves of the Legislature of Maine, give the assent of that State to such conventional line, with the terms, conditions and equivalent herein mentioned."
The paper thus referred to, after stipulating that all grants of land within that portion of the disputed territory conceded to Great Britain, made by Maine and Massachusetts, or either of them, should be confirmed, and that all equitable possessory titles should be quieted to those who possessed the claims, declared assent to a reciprocal provision for the benefit of settlers falling within the limits of Maine. This provision is understood to apply to cases where the British government having made grants intended and expected to apply to territory that should definitively fall within British jurisdiction, but which do not thus apply, because the territory unexpectedly has fallen within American limits and jurisdiction. The consequence of such arrangement is, that owners of land now a part of Maine or Massachusetts have never paid Maine or Massachusetts the purchase money for it, but have paid the purchase money to the British government. Maine and Massachusetts have lost exactly to the extent of that purchase money, as by the provision above quoted the grants are to be confirmed. Accordingly the fourth article of the Treaty, carrying out in good faith the stipulation of the Commissioners, confirms the grants made by one party, of land which by the treaty has fallen within the limits of the other, without farther assessment or liability on the individual holders. It leaves however the States the losers. Justice obviously requires that the point necessarily omitted by the treaty should be supplied by legislation, otherwise manifest injury and wrong will be done.
Statements have been made in behalf of the States, the accuracy and correctness of which the Committee do not question, but the adjustment of which can more satisfactorily be made to the accounting officers of the Treasury. A Bill is reported which, recognizing the principles herein set forth, authorizes the payment of such a sum as may be found due to Maine and Massachusetts, under the provisions of the Treaty of Washington, of 9th August, 1842.